Finding the Monster by Josh Stricklin

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

 

People ask me that all the time. That’s a very boring story though, because the answer is “always.” That doesn’t make for a very good story though. Two sentences? Not very good at all, sir. I carried a Comp. Notebook in junior high where I wrote anything from songs to jokes, anything I thought was worth reading later. I carried one when I had my first short story published and did until I graduated from Southern Miss with too many stories in my head.

 

Still not a very good read though. But this is where it gets better. Because my story isn’t the answer to the question, “When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?” No, my story is the answer to the question, “When were you able to become a writer?”

 

The short answer is December 23rd, 2013. A lot of people think being in the hospital on Christmas Day would just be awful, and without morphine it probably would’ve been. I’m here to tell you, if you can time it right, it’s not so bad. I’ve referred to being an artist as “feeding the monster.” That night I found the monster, and in the following months it tore off its chains and has ran rampant ever since. On Monday December 23rd 2013, I was hit by a car and left in the street.

 

At the time I worked for T-Mobile, and I rode my bike to work everyday. Sometimes even when it rained, but not that day. That day I drove, but the storm let up a couple hours into my shift, so on my break I went home for my bike. When I returned work was right there where I left it.

 

So I finished the shift and closed the store, just like always. I took the mall parking lot to avoid as many unlit roads as possible, just like always. I rode the same streets and sidewalks I did nearly every other day, only that night I was thrown a curveball in the form of a white Lincoln Town Car using part of the road that wasn’t a passing lane as a passing lane, and I just happened to be there. I heard the engine rev violently, I saw the grille between the headlights, I even tried to get out of the way.

 

The thing about being in the air…once you’ve already flipped once and you’ve made the full rotation you think, OK, now to stick the landing, exchange insurance info and call it a day. But then your feet start to go over your head again. That’s the one that changes everything. That second flip takes it from silly to severe. Finally you hit the asphalt, and the wind explodes out of your lungs.

 

I lay in the street unable to breathe, unable to move. I heard a car slam on brakes, everything was bright and then dark again. I could feel the heat from the engine. I could reach up and scrape the bugs off the front bumper if I wanted to. I didn’t. Horns were blaring and people yelled as they passed the car. A scrawny guy with a misshapen, reddish afro gets out and drops a dark red blanket over me. I asked if he could hand me my phone. “I can’t,” was all he said. He left me there.

 

Luckily a car behind him stopped. The driver’s name was Ariel, and I truly believe she saved my life. I spent a total of two weeks in the hospital and four months of physical therapy, which I used to write The King of Evil. I was told I’d never be able to walk again. The driver was never caught even though my brother saw a white Lincoln Town Car with a smashed in driver’s side grille. The police just said, “We just do,” when we asked how they knew it wasn’t that person that committed a felony. “What do you want me to do about it?” the officer said a week later after returning from vacation. They threw my family out of the police station.

 

For any “constant readers” I have, I apologize. I know there is a fictionalized version of this story in Those Who Are Left, and it does come into play in The King of Evil. My accident allowed me to become a writer. It has its claws in both of my novels, and I owe my entire career to it.

 

Every time there’s a pain in my leg, every time I sit down at the computer to pound out another ten pages, I will always think about it. Every signing, every interview, or even when I catch a glance at a cover, I will think about it. It never fails. I always think of the grille coming toward me. The headlights. The revving engine that changed my life forever. And every time I do…

 

I thank God it wasn’t a Prius.

 

#feedthemonster 

What is Evil? by Josh Stricklin

“That looks like something the devil would read.”

 

A lot of people talk about good and bad, right and wrong. Growing up when I did, the fear of an impending World War 3 looming over every news broadcast for years and years certainly dragged the matter of good and evil into light as often as possible. It was a real-life super villain movie, and we were all the innocent civilians of Metropolis.

Good guys/bad guys, naughty or nice, saintly and evil. With the recent rise of the super hero culture, the idea of good and evil is just as prevalent as it always has been.

What is evil? Pure evil?

Is it something real? Can any real person truly be evil? Like Osama bi Laden? Ed Gein? Adolf Hitler?

Or is evil something that can’t exist in reality? Something so bad that people have to create it so no one truly gets hurt. Someone like The Joker? Eric Cartman? Or Cthulhu?

I’ve thought a lot about the idea of evil lately. I can’t say there is true difference between bad and evil, because both are destructive. For either to exist, if has to take away from the good in the world. And in that sense they are very similar.

I have noticed one difference in the two as I wrote The King of Evil. Bad is something that is relative. When a man kills another man as an act of retribution, there is at very least a motive behind the murder. Something that some people would even be able to relate to.

Even when bad isn’t easily justifiable, it is usually the result of some unstoppable belief or desire. Google the Manson family, or Jeffery Dahmer if you need an example. In this case, bad is something that feeds a need—sleeping with another man’s wife for a more general example. But evil…

Evil is something that isn’t vengeful and it doesn’t feed a craving. Evil is completely unmotivated and at the same time, completely unstoppable. Being evil is the act of being bad for no other reason than to be bad.

Evil controls its victims—even when it isn’t there—shutting off parts of the day. Because when it’s dark, or a little too quiet, people stay inside for fear that the evil thing will get them. People don’t go outside when the threat of evil is imminent. They lock the doors and windows and definitely don’t look under the bed.

Because evil won’t stop until it’s got them. The only thing evil exists to do is became more evil. And just like everything else in the world, evil has a hierarchy. And the most powerful go to the top. And what’s up there at the top? Who rules over everything evil?

The King.

#feedthemonster

It's louder now. by Josh Stricklin

“I just don’t like it. Oh, no. There’s a place for all the scary stuff you write though.”

A horror writer’s mind is a lonely, dark room. It waits at the end of a long, wet tunnel in the cold. The heavy door to the room creaks and muffles the sounds of scratches and groans from the other side. Most people avoid that noisy staircase that leads down into the dark, the one with the blown light bulb.

There are people who do go down into the dark though.

The door to the lonely, dark room is eerie and unsettling to look at, and at the right angle it seems to be covered in an unnerving, dark liquid, but for those who walk the cold passageway, those who dare to open the heavy door and peek inside, there is magic. Infinite, beautiful magic. There are toys and trinkets, robes and gowns. There are pianos and sheets of music. And of course, there are monsters and madmen.

When a horror writer goes into the room, he isn’t going to just poke around and leave everything the way it is. No. A horror writer is looking to bring something back up with him. To decorate his home with it.

People ask me why I write vulgar, nasty stories, why I write horror. The answer is simple. Because when I go down the stairway and open the heavy, creaky door to that room, I fall in love with everything inside. All the creatures and playthings excite me, and I want to take them all out and display them. I don’t see a room filled with shadows, and harmful boogeymen. I see a mom-and-pop antique shop of weird lamps and garden decorations, and knickknacks for my living room. When I go into the room, I know what children in toy stores feel like. I want to take everything home.

Unfortunately I can’t bring everything up at once. So I take it up one at a time. And right now there is only one piece of bric-a-brac sitting on the table between us. It’s a dirty statue of a man in a tee shirt and jeans, wearing a baseball cap. There’s a logo on the front that you may even recognize. By itself, maybe you find it uninteresting. Maybe you don’t want to look at it. You find it vulgar. And I’m OK with that. Because I’m coming back up with a fancy top hat. Maybe you’ll like that. Maybe you won’t. The pressure isn’t on you to like it. I’m going to keep going down to that room anyway, because as I said, I love everything in that room. I’m decorating my home with the things in there. Not yours. Besides, I saw some flowers down there you might like. There are a few things in front of them though.

Don’t worry. They won’t die before you get a chance to see them.

The wonderful thing about the room is that I can’t get a good look at that back wall—too many chests and cloaks blocking my view. I have to go. I can hear it calling. It’s louder now.

 

#feedthemonster

Why we fight. by Josh Stricklin

“You know, I wanted to do that when I was a kid.” “Well yeah, but what do you do for money?” “So, what are you going to do when that doesn’t work out?”

“Oh. That’s nice.”

I am an artist. And I probably know what you’re thinking when I tell you that. No, I’m not tortured, I’m just like you and the closest five people to you. Only I have a problem. Because every artist—every violinist, or photographer, or ballet dancer—has something in common. Every one of us is constantly fighting. It’s an intense struggle that is at times crippling in severity. And it’s a battle that began long before any of us realized we were fighting.

It takes a very special person—and some would even say dumb—to recognize the ease of getting that degree in teaching or motorcycle engineering or welding and say, “Yeah, that’s stable and all, but…”

All it took was a little spark. Maybe it was watching Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, or hearing The Stones on the radio painting a red door black, but some time back in an artist’s life the allure of security lost out over the monster inside us. The monster that creates the drive. The monster screams ideas—great ideas—at us from the back of our minds. We tried our best to keep it at bay.

Everyone has this monster, but for a writer, or actor, or blues guitarist the monster is exponentially louder and more persuasive. It shouts at us as if from across an airplane hanger, and as a child we didn’t have the ability to resist its siren song. We couldn’t ignore the stories the monster told, or the melodies it played. We lost the fight to the monster, so we fed it. We couldn’t get away from it so we followed its directions. I’ve learned now that if you follow something, the only way to get it is to chase it.

We give everything to the monster including the garbage that no one else wants. We don’t do it for money. If money was what we were after, we’d still be in med. school. We don’t do it so the monster gets what it wants. We don’t even do it to stifle the creature of creation. We give it everything so the monster will get fed, and by doing so we make it stronger, giving it the power to take over our thoughts anytime it wants.

We fight to keep the monster alive. Even if it means playing a local gig to no one but bartenders, or sharing a our eleven-minute documentary on every website we’ve ever been on, even when a stranger gives our finished product nothing more than a passing glance, meets us in the eyes and says “I don’t like that,” we feed the monster.

Being an artist is having the least satisfying addiction available. We can’t finish one project without the monster shouting ideas about the next. By the time I finished Those Who Are Left I was halfway through with my second, and making plans for the third, The King of Evil. The monster doesn’t let up. It feeds, and feeds, and pumps ideas out until I can’t focus on anything, but what it says.

I have to fight just to do anything other than writing down the stories in my head. I have to fight to slow down long enough to get the words onto a Word document. I have to fight to edit the words, to make sure they come to life on the pages. And when the fight is finished, I’m done, exhausted. I hit save and pull up the next story, the one I’ve already begun. And if it doesn’t work out, I’ll start a new document.

Because when the monster dies, we’re the ones who have to bury it.

So we fight.

Never stop fighting.