Ascent Publication
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Ascent Publication

Finding Fiction Set Me Free

How opening the door to my imagination changed my life

Photo of a gray bookshelf with books sparsely spaced and a road bicycle leaning in front of it. Neutral toned and relaxing to look at.
Photo by Roman Mager on Unsplash

I fell in love with science fiction and horror at an early age. My first experience with the fascinating, dreamscape worlds crafted through the art of sci-fi occurred on a road trip to visit my grandmom. She lived six hours from us, or twelve batman episodes as my mom would say, which left plenty of time to entertain two young kids.

Love at First Listen

As a mother, I imagine you can only play “I spy” so many times before silence is the only thing you seek, and what better way to bring silence to the car than to put in a book-on-tape? This is precisely what my mom did, and I’m sure she had no idea how profound an impact this simple action would have on my future.

The tape of choice was Ray Bradbury’s Dark They Were and Golden Eyed, and after a minute or two, the only sounds in the car were the steady hum of the highway under our wheels, and the narrator of Bradbury’s story guiding us on our extraterrestrial adventure. Her plan for silence was a success, and I was captivated. Before long, the tug of my seatbelt and the hum of the highway began to fade away and I found myself on Mars watching a story unfold.

I don’t remember much else about that trip other than it was over before I knew it, and I had been exposed to something that imprinted itself on my young mind. I now wanted to explore more worlds, I wanted to know about the flora and fauna inhabiting those worlds and, little did I know, I would soon want to create those worlds.

Hearing this audiotape opened my mind to the possibilities that authors could create for readers. Simply by listening to this book, I was able to escape a mundane hours-long car ride and be transported to another world where characters I had no idea I cared about were experiencing life-altering events.

My mom discovered something on that family trip as well; all she had to do now was play more audiobooks and she would be afforded more quiet time. No more fighting about who gets to sit up-front and no more answering ten different versions of the same question: “Are we there yet?”

Introduction to Horror

On our trip back home, my mom decided she was going to push the limits and see how much we could handle. I don’t know her actual thought process on this decision, but it’s how I like to think she approached it. She decided to give us our first taste of horror.

This first sampling came in the form of a 1946 radio show called “Suspense.” This radio show featured different suspenseful stories on each tape and was done audio-drama style with multiple actors playing out individual roles, accompanied by suspenseful music, and incredible sound effects. As soon as the tape started, I was hooked, I forgot about the long road home and once again, was lost in a story.

The story was The House In Cypress Canyon, written by Robert L. Richards, and was about a couple who move into a house in Cypress Canyon. Who would’ve thought, right? But there was so much more to this house than the couple could have known, or believed.

There were many things about this house that didn’t seem quite right, and the further the story progressed, the more acquainted the couple got with these oddities. At two or three points in this story, my sister and I audibly screamed when the action, as well as the volume, reached a crescendo. I felt like I was in the house with this couple and felt equally vulnerable to the dangers they were facing. My heart was racing, and I was terrified, but I couldn’t get enough.

Elementary Reading

Not long after these new personal discoveries on this road trip, seeking further thrills, I introduced myself to the Goosebumps series, by R.L. Stine. If you found yourself coming of age in the ‘90s, I’m 98% sure you’ve heard of this author, but if you are unfamiliar, just know that he was the PG-rated Stephen King for kids who found themselves in search of more sinister children’s stories.

I couldn’t tell you how many of these books I ended up reading, but I know I flew through a good handful of them. I would sit for hours, often reading through from start to finish. Even to this day, I’m not somebody who can read for 30 minutes and then put a book down. Once I embark on a journey, I can’t resist seeing what’s around the next bend, and before I know it, I’m a hundred pages in.

Nightmares of the Summer

After knocking down a chunk of Stine’s books, it was a long while before I picked up another book to read on my own time. I was making the jump from elementary to middle school, where friends, sports, and girls were beginning to take over my daylight hours, and homework was creeping into my evening time. With the graduation to middle school, I was also introduced to the bane of my existence: Summer readings. This had a devastating effect on my opinion of reading.

We were often tasked with reading two books over the summer, and from 6th to 12th grade, there were very few that I remember. I didn’t read anything from 6th to 8th grade that wasn’t required. Reading had transformed into something I was being forced to do. I had no interest in these stories, and the feelings they gave me were not welcome or wanted. I couldn’t bear the thought of choosing to read a book if I had the option to do something else.

While reading these summer books, I felt like a zombie scanning back and forth across pages. I couldn’t keep my attention on the page, and I wasn’t retaining any information from the words I was reading. More often than not, I found myself daydreaming about sci-fi worlds and epic situations before I would have to call myself back to Earth and reread the entire page I was just scanning.

The Second Coming

It wasn’t until my freshmen year of high school that we started to get some interesting required readings. Below are some of those memorable required readings:

  • 1984, by George Orwell. This book blew my mind as it was the first dystopian-style science fiction I had ever been exposed to.
  • Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck. This was the first book to bring me to tears, a feat I previously would have thought impossible.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. Boo Radley absolutely fascinated me.
  • The Giver, by Lois Lowry. My second experience with dystopian-style science fiction that further solidified my love for the genre.

These books reignited my desire to read and I found myself craving horror. I picked up the Resident Evil books, by S.D. Perry. I loved the way Perry described his gruesome scenes, the terrifying monsters, and the way he used suspense to keep you turning pages. This brief period of horror reading would later lead me to the works of the master of horror himself, Stephen King.

This second stint of reading came and went rather quickly. I finished the first two Resident Evil books before skateboarding, girls, and the rigors of high school took over my life. Reading was once again reduced to zombie-brained monotony and it wouldn’t be until I was in my mid-twenties that I would start and continue to read in my free time.

Third Time’s a Charm

My mom, the person who introduced me to my love for all things fiction, was the reason my flame for reading was re-lit, and stayed lit, for the third and final time.

This time, I was the one making the road trip to see her, and I hadn’t read a book from cover to cover since dropping out of college (for the second time). I figured she assumed I needed something to do in all of my free time, so she recommended I read some of the crime thrillers she had been reading. I had no experience with crime thrillers, and the thought of reading something of this sort intrigued me. She let me borrow The Devil’s Punch Bowl, by Greg Iles.

At just over 700 pages, this was easily the longest book I ever attempted to read. I finished it in less than a week, reading for hours at a time. I was completely captivated by the story, the characters, and the racially driven plot lines that Iles had crafted. The Penn Cage series (what The Devil’s Punch Bowl is a part of) by Iles is my favorite book series I’ve ever read. There isn’t an emotion I didn’t feel while reading through this series, and my tears hit the page just as often as I white-knuckled the book in my hands out of anger. Iles is the Stephen King of crime-thrillers, and I believe King would tell you the same, without the slightest hint of narcissism.

Once I had the confidence to finish a book of this length, I had my sights set on the longer works of King’s. The first one I put down was The Stand, still one of my favorites by King, followed closely by IT. Finishing these books assured me that the length of a book no longer mattered. I was capable of reading any length of book, as long as the author kept me turning the pages.

I have since cycled between sci-fi, horror, fantasy, crime thriller, and the occasional non-fiction. The Dark Tower series is up next for me, and I can’t wait to see where Roland takes me.

Conclusion

Reading has always been my go-to when my thoughts, or the world around me, get too loud to handle. I meditate when I can, but sometimes my mind is too strong a wanderer, and it won’t be calmed by a soothing voice and breathing exercises. I will never give up on meditation, but at the same time, I don’t think I will ever be any good at it.

Reading calms me down, just as meditation does when I’m able to properly do it. The difference with reading, as opposed to meditation, is that I don’t have to tell my mind what to do. Instead of trying to silence the world, my brain begins creating worlds and developing characters as my eyes process the blueprints the author has left for me.

Takeaway

Sometimes all I need is an escape, and when my mind won’t let me go through meditation, I open a book, and it isn’t long before a door to another world presents itself, and I step away.

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