The Big Idea: K.B. Jensen
With a story collection title like Love and Other Monsters in the Dark, you might think that author K.B. Jensen has a skewed view on, well, love. But as she explains in this big idea, it may be not all that skewed, when you dig into what love really means for each of us.
Love is the most frightening monster of all, because love and loss go hand in hand. In Love and Other Monsters in the Dark, you’ll find monsters of all kinds, as well as the horrors of everyday love.
What scares you most? For many people, it’s losing loved ones, especially the love of your life. Love can inflict pain far worse than any other monster. Love is absolutely wonderful, but it can also gut you.
My stories feature alien monsters smashing office windows, multiple murderers, strange creatures, painfully internalized thunder storms, and skeletons in the wall. But the stories where my characters confront love are the most challenging. The final story about a couple facing terrible complications, “Arnav and the Apocalypse,” begs the question, what choices would you make to protect a loved one during a zombie apocalypse?
Another story, “Remembering the Future,” makes you wonder: If you could travel back in time to save someone you loved from a serious injury, would you? What if your significant other was talking incoherently about the future, what would you do then?
There’s also tenderness, confusion, loyalty and types of disloyalty to contend with. Pairing the two themes of love and other monsters can be playful and humorous at times. Tragic at others.
I’ve always been afraid of the dark, but I don’t shy away from it. Sometimes, when I open a blank document and start typing a story, I find my writer’s mind wandering into oddly imaginative and strange worst-case scenarios. When I was a kid, I used to sit on the floor of my room with a notebook, and stare into the darkness in the hallway, sitting at the very edge of the light. I’d write stories there, my heart racing, afraid of monsters in the dark. The writing comes from dark and light places for me. Both nightmares and dreams. I like to examine the ways we protect, love and hurt.
Some of my stories were written in the before times, but many were my way of clinging to love in hard times. The pandemic is another monster that appears as a character, sometimes subtly and metaphorically, sometimes outright. It brought out that love and fear in a whole new way. I don’t cry easily, but I wept when I wrote “Arnav and the Apocalypse.”
My short stories are not true. They are fiction. But here’s the thing many writers won’t admit—the feelings are usually real on some level. We feel what our characters feel.
The thought of something happening to one of my loved ones, especially my husband, has always been much more frightening to me than if something happened to me personally.
At the beginning of the pandemic, he was top of mind when I donned by first mask at the grocery store, and a pair of rubber gloves you use to wash dishes. Like many people, I hid in the basement away from my family when I caught sniffles. Everything became a risk calculation. I was never afraid of dying from Covid-19. I was afraid of infecting the people I love, especially those at higher risk. While things continue to get better, we’ve all been through so much personally and collectively.
I don’t understand why so much art dances away from our pandemic trauma. My writing comes from the subconscious, like dreaming on paper, and those experiences are a part of my dreams—part of the dance.
In one of my shortest stories, “The Day Time Melted,” a character is stuck making chai in the kitchen. The government couldn’t stop the bombs from coming, but they could stop time. The only thing the woman wants is to tell her husband that she loves him, but he’s in the other room.
I felt like time had simply stopped for my husband and I, when I was writing that during a lockdown. I’ve always loved him, but as the pandemic raged on with its sense of impending doom and our world got smaller and smaller, it made us closer. I’m thankful we avoided the absolute worst-case scenarios I imagined in my immediate family, but also deeply saddened for others who weren’t so lucky or privileged.
There are plenty of horrifying and literal monsters in my story collection. Creepy dolls. Dark angels. Serial killers. But if you ask me, what the most frightening thing is in my new book, what’s the big idea, it’s this: The fear of losing someone you love is worse than any other monster in the dark.