By Cindy Jones
|"Don't be afraid," Mrs. Danvers says, "I won't push you."|
My debut novel was published seven months ago and since then, certain aspects of my writing life have begun to imitate Gothic fiction, a genre that combines horror and Romantic themes for a pleasing sort of terror. Romantic themes include things like mystery, psychological terror, medieval architecture, death, madness, and secrets. I do not write Gothic fiction but I cut my teeth reading Nancy Drew, followed by The Secret Garden, to Wuthering Heights by 7th grade. I knew I’d found my niche when Heathcliff groaned in a paroxysm of ungovernable passion after learning of Catherine’s death:
"I know that ghosts have wandered the earth. Be with me always--take any form--drive me mad! Only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you!The notion that my writing life generates Gothic associations comes as no surprise—I must have spent a previous life as a fly on Emily Bronte’s wall—a simple walk to my car in the parking lot is fraught with Gothic imaginings. Here are five examples of Gothic elements in my daily writing life:
- The Person with No Name. Book signings trigger a precipitous descent into madness. I’m seated at a table with a pen in my hand and my best friend since kindergarten approaches me with a book to be personalized. We drove to the event in the same car, yet I cannot recall this person’s name. What madness this is! My mind races, seeking a clue to unlock the secret. Who are you? I ask the person to spell it for me. P-A-T. Thanks. Next.
- Ghosts of Books Past. A Gothic horror moment occurs when I am speaking about my only published book, standing at a podium before a room full of people, my mouth open, waiting for the explanation of the protagonist’s motivation, when I realize the characters, theme, and plot from my previous novel have vanished into another realm, a dark mysterious corner of my mind I cannot visit, the crypt-like other world where everything goes to get out of my way while I clear the deck to work. I have completely forgotten that book. Ask me about my new book.
- Reviews by Gothic Villains. One-star reviews seem suspiciously alike. They all use the same words and spring from a cesspool of envy and resentment common to imprisoned madwomen of Victorian attics. Theirs is a form of literary criticism not found in more balanced analysis and I’m fairly certain I know who writes all the one-star reviews. Someone needs to stop Rochester’s mad wife from posting flaming criticism online.
- Google Alert Horror. Google Alerts slip into my inbox, hiding silently among the names of my colleagues to surprise me without notice. A Google Alert may be a notice of my own blog posted the previous day or it could be a flaming one-star review (see above). I won’t know unless I look. If only I had the discipline of fellow authors who ignore potential disruptions like this. But, like the beating heart under Poe’s wooden floor, if I ignore it, the pulse will merge with my own, taunting me, until I break down and click on the subject line.
- Death by Self Doubt. Sometimes I can be completely alone in a room 450 miles from home, engaging in friction-free writing, and I will hear a little voice in my head that sounds like Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca. She starts with a critical remark about a particular passage and swiftly moves on to disparage entire pages of my manuscript. “Why don’t you quit writing?” she says. “You know it’s no good.” She pushes me away from the keyboard. Fog fills the open window, damp and clammy, it stings my eyes, it cling to my nostrils. “Don’t be afraid,” she says. “I won’t push you. Go of your own accord.” I hold onto the window sill with my hands until my better self tells me to quit fooling around and get back to work.
I write women's fiction that I love to spice with faint Gothic echoes. If you like this sort of thing, you might enjoy reading My Jane Austen Summer.
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