(Design & illustration by Robert Roxby)
By Jon Skovron, author of MISFIT
In the 1980s, I was obsessed with a television show called Amazing Stories. Each episode was a self-contained tale about some bizarre, impossible event. You never knew what kind of story it would be though, because they ran the gamut from silly to heartwarming to macabre.
There was one episode in particular about a horror novelist that I still consider one of the scariest things I’ve ever seen. I can’t quite remember why it happens to him. Something to do with him being arrogant and mean to everyone he knows (yanno, as us novelists generally are). Anyway, for whatever reason, one day while he’s looking at himself in the mirror, he sees a hideously deformed man sneaking up behind him. But when he turns around, there’s no one there. This experience repeats whenever he sees himself in any reflective surface. And each time, the deformed man is a little closer. After a few times, you can tell the man has a wire stretched between his hands and he means to strangle the novelist with it. Well, of course the poor novelist is freaking out, trying desperately to make amends with everyone he knows. But it doesn’t work. The man gets closer and closer. Finally, the novelist covers all the reflective surfaces in his house and refuses to go outside ever again. But then his girlfriend comes over. They’re sitting on the couch, gazing adoringly at each other and the novelist sees his reflection in his girlfriend’s beautiful blue eyes. The man is in that reflection of course, and this time there is no escape. He strangles the novelist. But the novelist doesn’t actually die. Instead he becomes the deformed man. The girlfriend screams in horror and loathing, he throws himself through the front window and runs out into the street, where he’s hit by a car and dies.
Rarely do you get to see such a blatant visual depiction of a person consumed by their own darkness. And that’s what scares me more than anything else. Whether it’s the slow descent into madness in the stories of Edgar Allan Poe or the temptation of Anakin Skywalker to the dark side of the Force, there is nothing that haunts me more than our own human capacity for evil. I remember sitting in the movie theater as a very small boy watching Empire Strikes Back. When Vader tried to tempt Luke over to the dark side, I cried out “Luke! Doooon’t doooo it!” and sobbed hysterically into my stoic father’s shoulder. I do get some chills from the forced conversion, when someone gets possessed or gets infected with a zombie plague or whatever. But the real horror for me is when someone makes the conscious choice to let the darkness in.
You might think, then, that I would avoid evil, darkness, and anything to do with it. All smiles and dashing heroics for me! But nope. I never dressed up as Luke Skywalker for Halloween, but I dressed up as Darth Vader twice. My favorite thing about G.I. Joe was the bizarre menagerie of villains they battled against, and I longed for Skeletor or Megatron to win, just once. The only “good guy” I actually liked was Batman. And really, his “goodness” has always been a bit in question. And I still rooted for the Joker.
This fondness for the dark side has carried with me into adulthood. The difference is, now I write my own villains. But the fear remains. And it is very strange to fear the product of your own imagination. I hope you’ll forgive the allusion to my own work, but I often wonder, by writing about the darkness, am I exorcising my demons or encouraging them? How long can I dance along the edge of the abyss before I fall in?
But like all of us, I’m not just one type of person, all brooding and angst. In fact, in real life I’m probably closer to Han Solo than Darth Vader. Because even as I’m pondering the abyss, I’m smirking at it, turning it into a joke, mocking it like anything that takes itself too seriously deserves to be mocked. And at other times, I am ethereal, in love with life, my head so far in the clouds it’s as though I’ve forgotten the abyss even exists. And perhaps in the end, my humor and my hope will keep me safe. In the meantime, I continue to write along the edge of my own fear, which, for better or worse, is my favorite place to be.
Jon Skovron is the author of Misfit, a YA novel about a half-demon girl in Catholic school, as well as the indie rock novel Struts & Frets. He lives with his two sons outside Washington DC. His sons, ages 6 and 8, chose to dress up as Darth Vader and Darth Maul this year for Halloween. He would like it known that this was entirely their own idea and not something he pressured them into.
Visit Jon at jonskovron.com.
Follow @jonnyskov on Twitter.
Comment on this guest blog and you’ll gain an extra entry for the big Halloween giveaway on October 31, containing prize packs of signed books plus books and ARCs donated by my publisher Penguin Teen!
Here’s a sneak peek of some books I’m giving away: