Thursday, July 7, 2022

What Happened in the Toy Room



HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: My grandchildren are visiting, and they are perfect. They are 13 and 19, and, what can I say. They are perfect.

I, on the other hand, am a basket case. DON’T LIGHT THAT MATCH! I think but don’t say. DON’T RUN AROUND THE POOL! DO YOU HAVE SUNSCREEN? (Also : Don’t put your bare feet on the white canvas couch but really, my bad for having that couch.) And you can imagine the rest. EVERY moment is fraught. To me, not to them. Or anyone else. And I never say any of those things out loud.

The idea of protecting children, I guess, especially your relatives, is so profound. Once I jumped into our swimming pool fully clothed to save one of our grands—who’d ever do anything else?

But I have to say, in all the experiences I’ve had with my grands, I have NEVER encountered one like Elyssa Dickey’s. More I cannot say, but…read on.

WHAT HAPPENED IN THE TOY ROOM
        By Elissa Dickey


When the idea of IRIS IN THE DARK first came to me, it was in the form of a character—one who is anxious and a bit bossy, who over-steps and sticks her nose where it doesn’t belong.


No, I was not thinking of a villain—I was creating my main character.

Because aren’t we all Iris sometimes? Flawed but well-intentioned, clouded by our pasts and our protectiveness of those we love most—and desperately wanting to be believed.

As women, and especially as moms, too often we are not believed; too often, our fears and concerns are dismissed. We’re worrying too much. Being too overprotective, too loud, too much.

In Iris, I wanted to write a main character who, sometimes, was a little bit too much. She’s far from perfect and not always likeable, but in her quest to do her best for her son, my hope is that she is ultimately relatable.

These are the types of characters I relate to—the women, especially mothers, of movies and TV who fail sometimes, but are doing their best for those they love.

Most recently, a great example of this is Joyce Byers from one of my favorite TV shows, Stranger Things. Particularly in season one, when she’s desperate to find her son and realizes something is very wrong (he’s stuck in the Upside Down), even when people don’t believe her, she persists. She doesn’t give up, and that’s what ultimately saves him.

Characters like Joyce are the ones that resonate with me, and, in a way, formed the foundation of Iris.

Once I developed Iris as a character, it was time to focus on her journey, both past and present. I wanted to incorporate the chilling beauty of the stark prairie landscape that I’ve come to love. And I wanted to use it to bring Iris’s dark, troubled past into the present in a frightening way.

I wasn’t quite sure how to do that, until one day when my son and I were cleaning his toy room. Suddenly, a random voice came through the walkie talkie he was playing with. It was a creepy experience at the time, but I also quickly realized it would be perfect for Iris’s story!

In the end, I hope Iris’s story is one that readers can relate to. I hope it can raise awareness about intimate partner violence. I also hope that it can highlight that, like Iris, we are all are stronger than we know, and worthy of love, family, and the safety of home.

And I hope it makes readers question who they consider credible and why. Who do we deem believable, who do we dismiss as imperfect—and can we allow someone to be both?

HANK: So interesting! What experiences have you all had with kids? Anything…like the talking walkie talkie?

And Elissa—did you ever find an explanation?



IRIS IN THE DARK


A single mother faces her worst fear—the past—in a provocative novel of suspense by the author of The Speed of Light.

Iris Jenkins knows that bad things happen. She’s tried to escape these things for years. So when Iris is entrusted to house-sit at a lodge on the South Dakota prairie, she thinks she’s prepared for anything.

But one surprise is Sawyer Jones, the property’s neighbor and caretaker. He’s a caring, reassuring presence who’s making her feel safe and alive again. Then late one night, Iris hears a chilling cry for help coming from a walkie-talkie buried in a box of toys. As the calls get more desperate, personal, and menacing, Iris realizes the person on the other end isn’t reaching out for help. They’re reaching out to terrorize her.

Now the only way for Iris to move forward in life is to confront the past she’s been running from…a threat that has now followed her into the dark.




Elissa Grossell Dickey

Elissa Dickey is a former journalist who now works in higher education communications. Stories have always been a big part of Elissa’s life—from getting lost in a book as a child to now reading bedtime stories to her own kids. She has shared her journey of living with multiple sclerosis through blog posts for the National MS Society. Elissa grew up in northern Minnesota and now lives in South Dakota with her husband and children. She is the author of the novel The Speed of Light and Iris in the Dark. Learn more at elissaadickey.com.

65 comments:

  1. Oh, Elissa, what a frightening scene . . . Iris sounds so relatable; I’m looking forward to reading your story.

    Thankfully, I can say that I’ve never had a talking walkie talkie experience [or anything even close to it], but kids are always in the middle of some amazing experience, aren’t they? [Today is was a toss-up between being afraid of the click beetle sitting on the car door and wanting to grab ahold of it. Fortunately, the click beetle was smart enough to scoot away . . . .]

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    1. Thank you so much! It was pretty creepy...and to answer Hank's last question, I never did find out an explanation for it!

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    2. WOW! That is even creepier. ANd Joan, yes, nothing like a scary bug....:-0

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  2. I can definitely be that over protective person as well. I have to take a step back much of the time.

    Very interesting and frightening premise. Congrats on the new book.

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  3. What an interesting and scary way to get a story idea! When our kids were little I had a similar experience with their baby monitor. It was scary! Your book sounds amazing!

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    1. That would be scary to experience it with a baby monitor as well!! (And thank you!!)

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    2. Yes,baby monitors are so weird--we did a big story about them, once--because they are so easily overheard. Al you have to do it have one on the same frequency--and you are in.

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  4. That walkie-talkie thing is freaky, but I've heard of that, also with baby monitors. This doesn't have to do with kids, but I was out on a long walk once and I heard a phone ringing. I looked down and it was in the leaves at the curb! It was from a road worker who had lost it earlier that day, but you can bet I made the experience a lot creepier and put it in a book. ;^)

    I am always terrified of something bad happening to my sons - and they are in their thirties! (Nothing majorly bad ever has, either.)

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    1. Edith, art mimics life! Terrific!

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    2. Oh my goodness, that would be a very strange experience to find a phone like that! (And a great idea for a story - I bet your book is wonderfully creepy!)

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    3. Oh, that's a great idea for a story--do you answer, or not?

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    4. Exactly - but how can you not answer?

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  6. Elissa, welcome to JRW and wow. That is a creepy premise. Walkie talkies work on radio waves and kids' sets must be simpler than a professional set. But I can see how that could happen.
    Ever since the beginning of the technological ability to converse over distances, people have inadvertently (or not) overheard other people's calls. Once in the early days of cell phones, I realized that someone was listening into a cell phone conversation I was having with a girlfriend. It totally freaked me out. How is that even possible? We got off that call and reconnected and the third party was gone. Creepy. Remember "party lines?"

    I look forward to reading about Iris and learning her backstory.

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    1. I do remember party lines, Judy. I remember once my parents saying they thought the other party was a bookie. Being little and from a family of avid readers, I thought a bookie must be someone with a lot of books!

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    2. Oh wow, that would be totally creepy!! My mom talked about having a "party line" growing up, and I can't imagine!

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    3. Yes, I remember party lines--barely, but certainly. SO much opportunity...

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  7. Welcome, Elissa! What a great premise, very chilling.

    My kids are now 22 and 20. I think I worried *less* about them when they were younger. LOL Something about them finally breaking into the adult world. I worry I haven't done enough to prepare them.

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    1. Thank you very much! And I can see how worries would increase when they're older - especially as my son with food allergies gains more independence. Our jobs as worrying mothers are never done, are they? :)

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    2. Nope, we are all about worrying! But then...our parents worried about US, and we turned out fine.

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  8. Perfectly creepy idea, Elissa! I am so like Iris--wanting to protect those I love even when they aren't littles any longer. A funny take on your walkie-talkie story. When my nephews were little boys, I was making my weekly 5-hour commute home from my job when I heard a muffled man's voice. I thought maybe it was coming through the radio, so I changed channels. Heard the same voice again. Turned the radio off. Heard the guy again. Now I'm getting creeped out. As soon as I could, I pulled into a gas station. Opened the rear hatch--nothing there, no one there. Slid open the backseat door. There, partially under my seat, was Buzz Lightyear. His switch was on. Every time the car hit a bump, he'd start talking. Made sure Buzz made it back to the toybox when I got home.

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    1. That's hilarious - and creepy, Flora!

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    2. Oh my gosh, your story had me riveted, Flora!!! Kids' toys can be soooo creepy!!! As a teen, I worked at a convenience store that sold random items, and one morning when I arrived to open the store (alone), I was walking down an aisle and suddenly heard a high-pitched voice say: "I love you." I jumped! It was a "Furby" toy that had a motion sensor and spoke when I walked by! I vowed I'd never own one of those! :)

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    3. That is SO funny! wow, that must have been terrifying. Very twilight zone!

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  9. I've had almost the same exact experience. I was home alone, or so I thought, working at my computer, when I heard an odd voice. No TV or radio was on. I went back to work and a few minutes later I heard it again. Now I could tell it seemed to be coming from the heat vent. OMG! I was scared silly. I couldn't make out what the voice was saying and then my eyes lit on the cabinet where the talking Bert and Ernie dolls were. Somehow Ermie's switch was on and I was so relieved.

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    1. Judi, funny but creepy! Now I'm wondering who turned Ernie's switch on!

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    2. Oh my gosh, another terrifying toy story!! There are so many of these, aren't there? (I just wrote about another one in my previous reply.) So glad you found the source!! :)

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    3. SO great. Wow, all these stroies!

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  10. Elissa, I don't usually get chills just from reading a book blurb, but we description of IRIS IN THE DARK made me shiver!

    There are few things in the world that trigger protectiveness as much as children; it doesn't even need to be our own children, as stories of people risking their lives to save random youngsters show. Of course, as a parent, there's also that level of wanting to protect our children from fear, from want, from unpleasant things. All of which are going to be impossible at one time or another.

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    1. Thank you so much! And I completely agree. My husband likes to joke that he thinks I would put our kids in a protective bubble if I could...and I can't totally deny that, ha ha! :)

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    2. We just have to give them the tools--but then, the world is so unpredictable..And we write fiction, so we can think of every possibility!

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  11. What a creepy premise, Elissa, and so intriguing. Your book sounds compelling. Congratulations on its publication!

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  12. Welcome to JRW Elissa! That voice sounds absolutely terrifying and you were so smart to turn it into material. I'm always curious when an author writes a scary book--do you frighten yourself while writing, or does knowing the story alleviate the creepy factor?

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    1. Thank you! For the most part knowing the story helps alleviate any fear, and yet if I'm working on a creepy story at night when everyone else in the house is asleep, it might make me a little extra jumpy! :)

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  13. Elissa, welcome to JRW and what a creepy premise! Sounds like a ghost story or a voice from the past! Though I never had the experience of "hearing" a voice on the walkie talkie, I had a very strange experience, I got a random email from "shankar" ? weeks before September 11 attacks and it sounded like veiled threats. I never opened the email but the subject line sounded strange and I deleted it.

    Hank, we all try to protect our children. I remember when a relative's two year old was running out of the restaurant or shop and I was worried that she would run into traffic! I grabbed her and hugged her. Now she is an adult and a successful singer with her own band. Yes, we all have to give them the tools because the world is so unpredictable.

    Diana

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    1. Thank you! Wow, good thing you grabbed her into that hug! You're right, the world is so unpredictable.

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    2. Elissa, thank you. I hope that I did not scare her. Diana

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    3. Hank Phillippi RyanJuly 7, 2022 at 4:10 PM

      You absolutely saved her !

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  14. In my younger years when I would actually go to a public swimming pool I found it impossible to relax. I was constantly watching everyone's kids, making sure they were safe. I don't have any spooky baby monitor or walkie talkie tales but my husband and I did pull a fast one on our son. We put a motion sensor chicken on the stairs. When Adrian got home from his night out and started up the stairs it started dancing and singing that Polish chicken dance.

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    1. Hank Phillippi RyanJuly 7, 2022 at 4:09 PM

      Oh my goodness, I would absolutely have fainted!

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  15. Hello, Elissa. Nice to meet you on JRW and be introduced to both your novels. Iris sounds like a very intriguing character, and I'll check out The Speed of Light, too. As being (over) protective of our children, Peter and I have one son, a 29-year-old. We are deeply grateful that he isn't a mountain climber, hang-glider, paraglider, rock climber, off-piste skier--I could go on and on, because we have friends whose kids do all these and other dangerous sports. But he does skateboard all over Z├╝rich on his long-board, usually in the street or on bike paths (since he goes too fast for the sidewalk). I learned years ago never to say to him, "Please don't do that. It scares the hell out of me." Like you, Hank, I only say these things in my mind!

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    1. Hank Phillippi RyanJuly 7, 2022 at 4:10 PM

      Very wise!

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    2. Oh my goodness, I'm going to have to learn to keep those phrases in my head as my sons get older if they are that adventurous!! (And thank you - it's so nice to meet you as well!)

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  16. I love a relatable flawed character. As a mom, I understand Iris completely. I have to bite my tongue and try to come up with different ways to get my warnings across. The premise of your book sounds like a perfect suspense novel -- can't wait to read it!

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  17. This is so chilling! I can't wait to read it.

    My experience had nothing to do with kids. It has to do with a Code-A-Phone. Remember those antique answering machines? My habit was to come home from work, glance at the readout, and hit play. This particular night, the readout said no messages had been recorded. I hit play anyway. A voice I didn't recognize said, "I'm dead, bye." I got that swirly feeling in my stomach, called a friend, and played the message. She suggested I call a friend of hers who was a psychic. I did, and when I tried to play the message for him, it was gone.

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    1. Ooh, Kait, that is so weird. What a jumping off point for a story!

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    2. Hank Phillippi RyanJuly 7, 2022 at 4:11 PM

      No. Way.

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    3. Oh my gosh, I just got chills reading that!!! That sounds like the opening of a suspense novel!!! Did the psychic have any recommendations for you?

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    4. Nope, he said spirits like to play with recorders. He suggested i leave a tape recorder running in my house. I did for a while, but never heard another word. It did freak me out.

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    5. Sprits like to play with recorders??? I did not know that...

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    6. Wow, I didn't know that either! I would've been freaked out too!!

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  18. Welcome, Elissa! What a great premise for a book. Just reading it gave me goosebumps. Iris sounds like a great character and so relatable. We all so protective or our kids. I still worry about my daughter (who turned out just fine!) and now I worry about my granddaughter, too. Human survival mechanism, I suspect!

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  19. Ooooh! This book sounds positively frightening! I got cold chills just reading the synopsis. Looking forward to reading it!

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    1. Hank Phillippi RyanJuly 7, 2022 at 4:12 PM

      I did too! Exactly! Isn’t it just so… Cinematic?

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  20. I am definitely an overly protective mom and grandma, always. Elissa, your book sounds scary and intriguing-will add it to my TBR.

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