The Scariest Part: Merry Jones Talks About CHILD’S PLAY

This week on The Scariest Part, my guest is author Merry Jones, whose latest novel in the Elle Harrison Thriller series is Child’s Play. Here is the publisher’s description:

Since her husband’s murder two years earlier, life hasn’t been easy for Elle Harrison. Now, at the start of a new school year, the second grade teacher is determined to move on. She’s selling her house and delving into new experiences — like learning trapeze.

Just before the first day of school, Elle learns that a former student, Ty Evans, has been released from juvenile detention where he served time for killing his abusive father. Within days of his release, Elle’s school principal, who’d tormented Ty as a child, is brutally murdered. So is a teacher at the school. And Ty’s former girlfriend. All the victims have links to Ty.

Ty’s younger brother, Seth, is in Elle’s class. When Seth shows up at school beaten and bruised, Elle reports the abuse, and authorities remove Seth and his older sister, Katie, from their home. Is Ty the abuser?

Ty seeks Elle out, confiding that she’s the only adult he’s ever trusted. She tries to be open-minded, even wonders if he’s been wrongly condemned. But when she’s assaulted in the night, she suspects that Ty is her attacker. Is he a serial killer? Is she his next intended victim?

Before Elle discovers the truth, she’s caught in a deadly trap that challenges her deepest convictions about guilt and innocence, childhood and family. Pushed to her limits, she’s forced to face her fears and apply new skills in a deadly fight to survive.

 And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Merry Jones:

Imagine that you’re talking with friends and suddenly realize that you’ve missed a chunk of conversation. That everyone is waiting for you to respond to a question you haven’t heard. Imagine the moment of panic as you try to cover up for your lapse. You tell yourself you must have been daydreaming.

No big deal, right? So let’s raise the stakes a bit.

Imagine that you’ve just accomplished something you find terrifying — maybe bungee jumping or parachuting from a plane — and you have absolutely no memory of having done it.

Bothersome? Unsettling? But never mind. You’re okay. And you must have done it; everyone around you is congratulating you. Maybe you figure you blocked out the memory because of fear.

Fine. But what if you wake up covered with blood and have no memory of how it got there or whose it is?

Or you find yourself standing over a colleague’s body, not knowing who killed her or even how you got there.

Disturbing, right? These grisly situations are the kinds that Elle Harrison, protagonist of Child’s Play, faces on an all too regular basis. The reason: Elle suffers from a dissociation disorder.

Having that disorder means that Elle involuntarily escapes from reality. She disconnects from thoughts, consciousness and memory, particularly when she’s under stress or enduring a traumatic experience — which would likely include finding herself covered with blood or standing over a colleague’s body.

This escape reaction isn’t one of convenience. Elle can’t control them. Faced with danger, fear or extreme tension, her mind might slip into an alternate state of reality. And to me, that involuntary slipping away — Elle’s condition of dissociation — is the scariest part of Child’s Play.

Oh, yes, the book has its serial killers, its mutilated bodies. But these have become fairly standard commodities in thrillers and suspense. Neither is particularly scary.

The possible pedophile? He’s revolting, but not terrifying.

Even the murderer released from juvenile detention evokes more sympathy than fear.

I admit that the sociopaths, yes, are scary. Very scary. They have no mercy, no compassion. To them, cruelty is an idle sport. I’m afraid of them.

But not nearly as much as I’m afraid of Elle’s internal, invisible, intangible, uncontrollable, unavoidable condition.

It might seem strange that she mentally checks out when things get dicey. But think about it. At a time of great stress or intensity, have you ever felt like you were “out of your body,” watching from afar, or somehow detached or numb? Have you ever forgotten details or lacked emotions about a traumatic experience?

According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, fully half of American adults have had or will have such experiences. They are common forms of dissociation and are called depersonalization or derealization events.

In its most extreme and uncommon form, dissociative disorders result in multiple personalities. But two per cent of the population, mostly women, develop depersonalization disorders similar to Elle’s.

Elle lives with the awareness that she will sometimes lose seconds or minutes, even hours of time. She is afraid that her condition will worsen, making her unable to teach or function independently or live a productive life. Her days are therefore tentative, her interactions uncertain. She is anxious, watchful, wary of her moods, careful of her emotions. Unsure of the difference between daydreaming and slipping away. Often, but not always, she is unable to recall the chunks of time surrounding particularly dramatic or traumatic events.

Elle surrounds herself with caring, sympathetic and supportive friends. Even so, like all of us, she’s essentially alone in her skin and her mind. As she faces an ongoing battle against a force within her own being, she is alone.

Imagine it. Minute by minute. Waiting for the next time you’ll slip away. Not sure what will set you off. Or when it will do so. Or how long it will last. Not trusting that you’ll function in your altered state, or that you’ll even survive it. Not sure that your impressions or memories of events are accurate. Not knowing what’s occurred while you were drifting. Not trusting your own perceptions, even your own mind.

To me, a condition like depersonalization disorder is far scarier than an external villain who can be captured, overcome, defeated, even killed. Serial killers? They aren’t to be trifled with, but they aren’t nearly as menacing and terrifying as an untouchable, elusive villain lurking in the protagonist’s own psyche. To me, that is the scariest part.

Merry Jones: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Goodreads

Child’s Play: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Powell’s / IndieBound

Merry Jones is the author of twenty books of non-fiction (including Birthmothers), humor (including I Love Him, But…) and suspense (including the Elle Harrison, Harper Jennings and Zoe Hayes novels). Jones was a regular contributor to Glamour, and her work has been translated into seven languages, including Sanskrit. She taught college level writing for over a dozen years, and is a member of International Thriller Writers, the Authors Guild, Mystery Writers of America, and The Philadelphia Liars Club.

Doctor Who: “The Return of Doctor Mysterio”

I haven’t had the chance to write up my thoughts about the 2016 Doctor Who Christmas special, “The Return of Doctor Mysterio,” so let me start by getting this out of the way: It’s pretty stupid.

Sure, there are funny bits and fun bits, but overall it’s a trifle — shallow, uninspired, and forgettable. It’s especially disappointing compared to last year’s surprisingly good Christmas special, “The Husbands of River Song.” Speaking of which, Nardole is back from that episode and in one piece again, and his role as the Doctor’s companion is one of the better things about “The Return of Doctor Mysterio.” He’s a fun character, an alien who is equally confounded by the Doctor and humans alike but doesn’t spend the whole episode asking questions the way most companions do. I’m happy to see he’ll be sticking around for the new season.

Among the other things I liked was the Doctor’s utter bewilderment that Lucy can’t tell her nanny Grant is actually the superhero called the Ghost, despite the two of them looking exactly the same but for Grant’s glasses (a nice nod to one of the peculiarities of the Superman mythos). In fact, another thing I liked a lot about this episode were its frequent shout-outs to classic comics, with lines like “With great power comes great responsibility,” all the characters’ alliterative names (Grant Gordon, Lucy Lombard, etc.), the Daily Chronicle building looking exactly like the Daily Planet, the Defenders poster on the wall of Grant’s childhood bedroom, and the names of comics creators sprinkled throughout. The scene with Grant in high school discovering what a curse x-ray vision is during puberty was cute, too.

Everything else I pretty much didn’t like. The plot is just another convoluted alien invasion story, this time involving brain removal and body swapping (if only the baddies had been H.P. Lovecraft’s brain-swapping Mi-Go instead of…sentient space brains with eyes, or whatever the hell they were). The love story between Grant and Lucy doesn’t work, at least for me, because I didn’t find myself invested in it at all. The script bends over backward in service of writer Steven Moffat’s conceits (there’s a lot of the usual manic Moffaty nonsense on display), such as when early in the episode Grant addresses Lucy on the phone as Mrs. Lombard so that we won’t know it’s Lucy he works for until the big reveal. Why not just have Grant not mention any names on the phone? Why have him do something so obviously phony considering he and Lucy have known each other since high school?

But I think the worst part of all is how everyone keeps saying Grant is such a great nanny (his true superpower, we learn with the usual Moffat-penned soppiness) when he is continually leaving the apartment to go fight crime or stop fires or whatever, and leaving the baby all alone! The script tries to hand wave it off by saying he’s so fast he’s back quicker than the average person can make it from the living room to the nursery, but please. He leaves the baby alone constantly. How does that make him the world’s best nanny? I kept yelling at the TV, “Someone needs to watch the baby!”

Anyway, the whole thing is pretty forgettable. “The Return of Doctor Mysterio” isn’t as bad as, say, any of the episodes from season 7, but it’s not going to be anyone’s favorite, either.

There’s a “coming soon” trailer at the end for season 10, which introduces new companion Bill, played by Pearl Mackie. Given what I’ve seen, I’m a little trepidatious. Steven Moffat has this idea that making people talk really fast and act manically shows how charming and intelligent they are, and Bill looks like no exception to this rule. I’m excited to see where things go because I’m really liking Peter Capaldi as the Doctor, but I’m so ready for a new dynamic on the show, and at this point I seriously doubt Moffat can supply it. Luckily, this will be his last season as show runner, because it’s definitely time for a new approach to the material.

The Naming of the Books 2016

I don’t do “best of the year” lists because I’m rarely reading anything that current, but for over a decade now I’ve been posting a list of the books I read each year. I suspect it’s more interesting to me than to anyone else, but it’s become a tradition that I enjoy. Here’s what I read in 2016, in the order I read them:

Mr. White by John C. Foster
Boroughs of the Dead: New York City Ghost Stories by Andrea Janes
Batman: The Doom That Came to Gotham by Mike Mignola & Richard Pace
Hellboy in Hell: The Descent by Mike Mignola
Fatale: Death Chases Me by Ed Brubaker
Sandman: Overture by Neil Gaiman
Night Film by Marisha Pessl
High-Rise by J.G. Ballard
The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle
Slade House by David Mitchell
The Last Days of Jack Sparks by Jason Arnopp
Glorious Plague by Karen Heuler
The Magicians by Lev Grossman
The Magician King by Lev Grossman
The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman
Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
Bird Box by Josh Malerman
Disappearance at Devil’s Rock by Paul Tremblay
Aickman’s Heirs edited by Simon Strantzas
Man With No Name by Laird Barron
The Inner City by Karen Heuler
Shock SuspenStories: Volume 1 edited by Al Feldstein
The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins
Dead Ringers by Christopher Golden
Steve Lichman, Vol. 1 by David Rapoza & Daniel Warren
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Young Frankenstein: The Story of the Making of the Film by Mel Brooks
Grendel by John Gardner
Baby Powder and Other Terrifying Substances by John C. Foster

That’s 29 books for the year, just one short of my usual goal of 30. It’s interesting to see that I both started and ended the year with books by John Foster (with both books as ARCs at the time). It’s hard to choose favorites — everything I read this year was pretty good — but I will say that I was especially charmed by Grossman’s Magicians trilogy, and had my mind truly blown by Gaiman’s Sandman: Overture and LaValle’s The Ballad of Black TomSteve Lichman, currently only available to its Kickstarter supporters, is a hilarious D&D-themed graphic novel that I hope to see more of (and hope to see reach a wider audience through trade distribution, too). I’m glad I finally got to read some of Karen Heuler’s work this year after knowing her socially for several years now; she’s an extremely talented literary-fantasist. And of course I loved Tartt’s The Secret History, which reminded me in ways both good and bad of my own Northeastern liberal-arts college experience, and can only wonder why I didn’t get to it sooner.

And now, onto a new year with new books!

Wag the Axe

Yay! Horror book blog Wag the Fox named In the Shadow of the Axe one of its top 13 books of 2016, calling it “a treat to read!” You can see the entire list here.

And if you haven’t read it yet, why not pick up a copy today?



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