On that night, my parents went out for the evening and of course (since I was seven and my sisters were five and three) our baby-sitter came over to watch us. It was a beautiful night and we were sitting outside at around dusk. I forget what I was doing that had me so distracted, but I hardly noticed my baby-sitter go to get something out from her bag. Next thing I know, I hear this high-pitched almost witch-like voice from behind me say "Hi, little girl..."
I turn around, and this is what I saw staring back at me:
Totally true story: my baby-sitter thought it would be funny to sneak up behind me with a certain book open to the very page with the above photo. Yes, it was the very first book in the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark Trilogy.
After my seven-year-old self jumped about six feet in the air, I did become very intrigued with the book, especially as she began to read some of the stories aloud. From that point on, I wanted her to bring the book all the time, and when the second and third books came out, oh you better believe I was all over those.
That seemingly passe evening from my childhood actually would go on to have more of an impact on me than I think even I knew at the moment (and it was also a reading of Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow at school later that Halloween that also sealed my tastes). From that point on, I was a fan of dark fiction and horror, and the Scary Stories series would also be among those works that would go on to shape how I write my own stories.
Yes, I very much thank my baby-sitter, Alvin Schwartz, and Stephen Gammell.
With that said, I guess I also pose the question of what was it really that intrigued not only myself, but other kids who grew up with these books. Even as adults, many of us still love them and still are freaked out by Stephen Gammell's illustrations. Oh, those illustrations...like this one:
NOTE: The sadist in me really wanted to post the illustration from the story The Thing, but that particular drawing still REALLY freaks me out. If you don't know what I'm talking about and are feeling brave, google Scary Stories to tell in the Dark, The Thing and you will see what I mean.
To be honest, I really can't pinpoint one specific reason as to why those stories stay with me, even to this day. Several things about these books continue to intrigue me and influence my own writing:
-One aspect IS the illustrations. I mean, come on. Even the stories that weren't really that scary were given gruesome visuals that made them so. And Gammell's drawings are so wonderfully macabre and detailed that one can almost feel the terror and unease experienced by those in the story.
- Another is the pure simplicity of the stories. In fact, the stories aren't even that long. Some are actually only a page long. But when the stories get going, they really get going and pack a lot within a mere couple pages.
- Much of the stories are based in urban legend and folklore. I love folklore.
- The stories embrace the unknown and acknowledge that some things don't always end happily. I'm sure some might disagree with me on this, but I do feel this is an important lesson for kids to be taught. Not all my stories end happily, and even those that do have some sort of unresolve (at least for the most part). Then there's the unknown; you really don't know what's out there, or who the person sitting next to you on the bus or subway is. Or the person passing you by on the street (as per The Walk: "...and the man looked at my uncle, and my uncle looked at the man...")...
The more I think about it, the more I really can acknowledge how these stories have shaped my own writing and storytelling. In fact, my short stories series, Stories from Colony Drive is named for the street I grew up on. The street on which my baby-sitter sneaked up on me with one of Stephen Gammell's brilliant illustrations in front of her face.
The stories kept me up at night, I'm not going to lie about that. I would sometimes lay in bed wondering if the creepy lady from The Dream was going to come out of my closet:
But what they also did was stir my imagination, and really get me thinking outside the box and start to challenge myself as a writer and a creative from a young age. It was the reason I began writing stories and wondering about the world around me. It was the beginning of me becoming someone who questions things and isn't afraid to.
Now, I look back on that fateful evening on Colony Drive with great fondness and I am thankful to my baby-sitter for getting the idea to scare the ever living crap out of me.
And, thanks to Alvin Schwartz and Stephen Gammell for awakening my and probably many others' imaginations. You guys rocked it. :)
My stories, "The Cemetery by the Lake" and "Dusk to Dawn" are available at Smashwords and Barnes & Noble NOOK. More retailers will follow, but Smashwords is pretty compatible with most e-reader and PC formats.
Tiffany Apan at Smashwords
"The Cemetery by the Lake" at Smashwords and Barnes & Noble NOOK
"Dusk to Dawn" at Smashwords
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