Frankenstein

Frankenstein.

That is, the Creature, not the man. Mary Shelley’s incredible work of fiction – written when she was only 18 years old, and published in 1818 when she was 20 – has become a classic because her main character, Victor Frankenstein, a young man obsessed with experimentation, creates a monster made of body parts – a monster because it is frighteningly ugly and has no soul.41NM5XO+yUL

The Creature wreaks havoc with Victor’s life out of jealousy and because he cannot forgive his creator for giving him a life without love or happiness. Because who would love a soulless hideous monster?

Critics have called this romantic, gothic masterpiece the first true science fiction novel. Shelley was the wife of Percy Bysshe Shelley, and the novel was written during the summer of 1816 in a rented house in Switzerland when Gordon, Lord Byron, Mary Shelley’s sister’s lover, challenged all the visiting company to write a ghost story. That summer was cold and wet and dark worldwide due to the eruption of Mt. Tambora, and the miserable weather must have contributed atmospherics to Shelley’s fictional world.download

I think we have come to love this story because it is such a rich metaphor for human nature. Happiness, the comfort of fellowship, and love are all crucial to mental health. I also think we love this story because is the product both of a brilliant young woman, and of her immersion into a literary “crockpot”. The house guests in Villa Diodati spent that cold, wet summer in deep discourse about philosophy, human nature, and politics. They talked and argued through the dark nights. What a rich environment – no cell phones, no television, no interruptions.

One of my favorite new takes on this great work is Lita Judge’s MARY’S MONSTER, about the creation of the tale and about Shelley’s life.

The Graveyard Hook

When this group of “spooky authors” first began chatting it emerged that many of us had graveyard experiences as kids.

What???

Now, I don’t think that having such a might-be-creepy background is a requirement for writing spooky books, but it is interesting. Right?

I have my own graveyard experience. My dad was an Episcopal priest, so we lived next door to the church, which meant next door to the graveyard. This was a very old New England church. And a very old graveyard. But that didn’t bother me. I found my own secret spot inside the graveyard, where I would take my reading, and my homework, and my daydreams. It was a little nook with a big headstone on one side and overgrown shrubs on two other sides, so I could sit there completely hidden for hours. I never thought of it as scary…then. Of course, there was also an underground mausoleum with a broken door, and I looked inside that tiny dark place more than once – on a dare, but also because I was curious.IMG_0259

Did I see ghosts in that graveyard? You can ask…

I’ve asked some of my fellow spooky authors to tell us about their graveyard “hooks”:

Jonathan Rosen: I grew up in a section called of Brooklyn called Gravesend, which was settled in around the 1640’s. Such a creepy name, and as a matter of fact, that’s why I named the town in my book, Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies, Gravesend. I figured, why make anything else up? The reality is creepier than what I could come up with. I lived right next to Gravesend Neck Road, and if you followed it all the way, it led to a really old cemetery, which we used to go exploring. It was right in the middle of a neighborhood, near homes. So creepy that everyone was living around it, with tombstones dating back hundreds of years. I was fascinated by that and it always spurred the imagination of what it was like to live right next to this old cemetery.

S.A. Larsen: As an elementary-age child, I used to visit our town cemetery often with my grandparents. By the time I was middle school and high school age, both my grandparents had passed away, and I found myself drawn to that same cemetery – which I preferred to call the boneyard much like my main character, Ebony Charmed in Motley Education. I’d stroll what felt like endless rows of graves after graves, lifetimes after lifetimes. I could create unseen worlds and playgrounds for the dead. (I think that’s why I fell in love with Lydia the first time I watched Betelgeuse; she got me.) Sometimes, when I’d find an interesting name etched on an old tombstone, I’d sit and stay a while. And crypts? They were way cool! Who was in there? Were they really in there? OMGosh, I needed to know! Weird? Maybe, but I was completely fascinated by who these people were, what kind of life they led, and what they left behind. I was never frightened there; not really. Of course, there were times my mind would play tricks on me, fooling me into thinking I saw something I didn’t. And then there were the times during middle school when a group of use would wait until dark, sneak into the cemetery (no telling!), and scare the screams out of each other. I just loved that!

Sam Clark: I didn’t live next to a graveyard, but when I was doing my A-levels in England, I used to walk home from school and there was a graveyard smack bang in the middle of a short cut. And, given that it was an old English town, the graves were ancient. Many had slabs of concrete over the actual grave, as well as headstones, and a lot of the slabs were broken. It was easy to imagine bony fingers inching around the broken pieces and pushing up! In the summer, it wasn’t too much of an issue. I’d walk through there, but I’d walk quickly with eyes darting around to make sure no zombies were rising. In the winter, though, when it got dark around 4pm, I only took the short cut once. I accidentally got locked in the graveyard and had to climb the gate on the other side to get out. I scrambled up that gate so fast! I walked the long way home after that.

Jan Eldredge: A few times a year, my parents would take us to some of the cemeteries along the Mississippi Gulf Coast so we could tend to our family gravesites there. At one particular cemetery, there was a statue of a little boy angel standing a few rows over from my great-grandmother’s grave. From the time I could walk, until I grew too old for such things, I would always wander over and talk to him. Many years later, I went back to that cemetery, hoping to see my little angel friend again, but he was gone. I don’t know what happened to him. My guess is that he’d been damaged in a hurricane and the caretaker had hauled away his remains.lil-jan

It’s funny how I never really thought about it, but graveyards appear in many of the stories I’ve written. I actually find them to be beautiful and peaceful places . . . as long as I visit them in the daylight.

Patrick Moody: I grew up in a very close knit neighborhood in Trumbull, CT. A small public library sat at the bottom of the street, and up the hill, rounding a corner, where my house stood, a long rock wall separated Hilltop Circle from the Nothenagle Cemetery (that’s quite a name, isn’t it?). The cemetery was a mix of old and new. The first people to be laid to rest were the Nichols family, who’d founded the area in the late 1600’s. Their plots were set with stone monuments towering seven or eight feet tall, entire lines of the family collected together behind wrought iron fences. The Nichols were in a corner, where the forest had begun to creep in over the grass, like it was coming to swallow up the graves. That part of the cemetery was perpetually covered in shadow, and if there was ever a truly spooky spot, that was it.

Myself and the other neighborhood kids loved exploring the cemetery. It was our playground. Our sanctuary. Being an old boneyard, it didn’t get many visitors. For us, it was a place where we could be free, out from under the watchful gaze of those ever curious “grown ups”. None of us found the place scary, at least not in the daytime. We’d walk through the rows, reading the names inscribed in granite and marble, and would talk about the lives of the people laying sleeping beneath our feet. I think that’s where my knack for storytelling really began. I was endlessly curious about the residents of the yard. What they were like in life. Who their families were. What they did for a living. How they saw the world through the eyes of their time.

We would take grave rubbings from the more artistic markers, and I was endlessly fascinated by the images of angels, and in some cases, figures from other cultures’ mythologies. Norse and Celtic runes were there in good numbers.

At night, on those summertime Saturdays when we didn’t have a care in the world, the cemetery became a magical place. As fireflies danced between the rows, we’d play hide and go seek, using the graves, bushes, and trees as our hiding spots. Sometimes we’d play capture the flag, or flashlight tag. When we didn’t really feel like chasing each other in the dark, risking tripping over a gravestone (or breaking it…that wouldn’t have been good), we would post up in a comfy area, usually inside the Nichols family plot behind those fences, and try to best each other with our scariest ghost stories.

We walked a fine line between embracing the inherent “scariness” of the graveyard, and looking at it as a place of practicality: literally, seeing it as a place for the dead to be lain to rest. You can either be scared, or at least mildly creeped out, or you can be interested in the cultural aspects of it. I found myself clinging to both: the ghostly aspects, and the way that we as Americans (or in a broader sense, the Western world), view and experience death.

Needless to say, the cemetery shaped me. Probably in some ways I haven’t even recognized. But I do know that I wouldn’t be a writer today, or an artist of any kind, had I not spent my youth dodging between those tombstones alongside my friends, exploring our moonlit kingdom of granite slabs and towering statues.

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