Exploring Our Deepest Fears Through Speculative Fiction

a guest post by Elizabeth Maria Naranjo

A novelist’s job is to imagine. We imagine worlds filled with magic and make-believe creatures, we imagine futures lived in faraway galaxies, we imagine how it feels to be pursued by a killer or born into slavery or trapped in a haunted house. Sometimes we imagine what it’s like to fall in love with someone we can’t have. Almost always our imaginings are rooted in fear. And for many of us, the greatest fear of all is losing a child.

It’s unthinkable. It’s unspeakable. And yet we write about it again and again.

Stephen King, in a famous example, explored this most visceral fear in his darkest novel, Pet Sematary. In real life, his family had moved to a temporary residence situated on a busy road. In real life, he was flying a kite with his two-year old son when his son suddenly raced toward the road. In real life, the panicked father managed to catch his son before it was too late.

Pet Sematary is King’s imagining what would have happened had he not caught his son in time. It is a heartbreaking, gruesome exploration of death and grief and how far we’ll go to hold onto the ones we love.

Why do we do this? Why unearth our deepest, most horrific nightmares and bring them to life in fiction? I think it’s because there’s a sense of power in imagining the worst yet having ultimate control over the story.

With speculative fiction especially we can pair our deepest fear, which is so very real, so very possible, with the comfort of the impossible, the knowledge that this couldn’t really happen.

In my latest novel, The House on Linden Way, I too explore the unimaginable—losing a child, not to death, but to disappearance. The closest I’ve come to this was when my daughter, at age three, ran off from me in a busy shopping mall. Those minutes when I couldn’t find her felt like forever, with every grim possibility blackening my thoughts. What if someone takes her? What if she runs out into the parking lot? What if I lose custody for being a careless mother?

While writing my novel many years later, these thoughts became, What if I lost her in a haunted house—for hours, for days, for weeks, forever? What if I lost her in time?

And then, even worse, What if I forgot about her? What if I chose to forget?

Impossible questions. Unthinkable. But it’s a novelist’s job to imagine.

Purchase your own copy on:  Amazon

While passing through her hometown a decade after she left, Amber Blake impulsively revisits her old house on Linden Way. She only means to stay a moment, to show her three-year-old daughter Bee the place where she grew up. But when the kindly new owners invite them inside, Amber cannot resist.
Soon Bee is missing, the owners have disappeared, and Amber finds herself in a houseful of ghosts. Time takes on new meaning as she loses herself in living memories and a past that does not wish to be forgotten. 
As Amber fights the powerful lure of a childhood she’d long left behind, her tenuous hold on the real world slips further from her grasp. Is it merely nostalgia she’s battling, or something far more menacing? Who haunts the house on Linden Way, and where are they hiding her child? 

About the Author

Elizabeth Maria Naranjo is the award-winning author of The Fourth Wall (WiDo Publishing, 2014). Her short fiction and creative nonfiction have been published in Brevity MagazineSuperstition Review, Fractured Lit, The Portland Review, Hunger Mountain, Hospital Drive, Reservoir Road, Literary Mama, Motherwell, and a few other places. Her stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize,Best American Essay, and Best of the Net. All links to Elizabeth’s work can be found on her website at elizabethmarianaranjo.com.
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2 thoughts on “Exploring Our Deepest Fears Through Speculative Fiction

  1. Excellent article, Elizabeth! You’re so right when you said that we write about our deepest fears so we can have control over them. The “What If” tool is so powerful in fiction, and I’ve heard that story about Stephen King. I think we can use that same type of fear for social and political issues, and I’m experimenting a bit with that right now. I know Ira Levin wrote Rosemary’s Baby to explore women’s reproductive rights, and The Stepford Wives to capture male fear of the women’s liberation movement. I think this is the most powerful kind of fiction because it explores these topics without being preachy, which is often more persuasive. Same thing with Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. I just started reading The House on Linden Way and it’s gorgeous writing and absolutely thrilling!

    1. Thanks for the reply, Angela! You raise a good point about how using fiction to explore difficult or controversial topics can help us avoid sounding preachy. I used to really admire this quality in Barbara Kingsolver’s fiction, and then she started to let that boundary erode and it felt like all of her main characters were versions of herself preaching to the reader. The examples you provided are good ones though!

      Yay, I’m so happy to hear you’re enjoying The House on Linden Way! 🙂

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