My college roommate was in town this weekend. We’ve stayed in touch for all the intervening years and often compare the differences in how our lives have turned out. She’s an urban planner and handles some dicey zoning issues for the local government in one of the wealthiest counties in the country. She always has great stories about land use controversies and, like any New Yorker, I love to talk real estate. We even saw “Clybourne Park” on Broadway. It’s the Tony-award winning play about race and real estate.
There’s a connection between monsters and real estate? Yes, absolutely.
The ruins of a castle, a haunted theater, a lonely beach house, an old graveyard, an abandoned hospital, an isolated house in the country — settings are critical in monster stories, horror tales and mysteries. The off-season hotel is one of the lead characters in Stephen King’s “The Shinning.” P.D. James set one of her best mystery novels in the shadow of a nuclear power plant, “Devices and Desires.”
Monsters need some space to lurk. Dark corners, back stairways, secret passages and hidden doors are very good for monsters. Attics in old houses, basements, storm cellars — even wine cellars — are good. Although my cat manages to find hiding places in my studio apartment, there simply isn’t room for a conventional monster’s lair in tiny apartments.
Of course monsters with human faces hide in plain sight in cities and even in the suburbs. “The Mary Shelley Game” is a variation on the classic country house murder mystery and the setting of “Bram Stoker’s Summer Sublet” — a row house with two apartments per floor in the Village — is really a variation on the rooming house or small village settings of many classics, where people know — or think they know — their neighbors. Number three, still a work-in-progress, uses the haunted institution setting.
So far, I’ve yet to figure out how to tell a suburban monster story. Maybe one of the “McMansions” my friend described or the rambling new estates with square footage that dwarfs every home but Versailles, would be good for one of my next MONSTERS? Cathedral ceilings might have an appeal for a Gargoyle?
I’d much rather write about McMansion than live in one — my cat would simply have too many places to hide!