When I was a kid, I thought there was a trapdoor under my bed that led to the goblin trains. Sometimes, at night, when I’d put my head down on the pillow, I’d hear the rhythmic sound of the trains speeding along the tracks deep underground. I’d picture the tunnels through dirt and stone and the terrible little men who drove the engines. Sometimes, one would come up and take a look around in my room. He was ugly and bearded and smelled like raw sewage. He was where nightmares came from.
I grew up in my grandmother’s house. She was a psychiatrist. When I told her my stories about the goblin trains she gave me a worried look. She insisted it was just my own heartbeat I was hearing in the pillow at night. A few times, I worked myself up into such a terrified state about it, she gave me sleeping pills. I was sent to the best child psychiatrist in Connecticut. Week after week I went, and the doc and I played checkers. The goblin trains kept running. I just stopped telling anyone about them.
I’ll tell you a secret: They’re running still. And over the years, I have made friends with that awful little man and I believe that that he’s where my stories come from. Each time I get onto the train I know he’s going to take me to a place I’ve never been and if I’m lucky enough, I’ll wake up in the morning and remember just enough of it to spark something; to pick up the spiral notebook beside my bed and start writing. I’ve gotten some of my best work this way.
As writers, we’ve got to make friends with that hairy thing that lurks under our beds, whatever it may be. We’ve got to get under there with it, have the guts to look it in the eye and call it by name. I think this is true whether we’re writing lovey-dovey romances, deep literary novels, or slice ‘em and dice ‘em thrillers.
Then again, I may just need some new and improved sleeping pills.