In which Lisa and I continue our discussion about why we write what we write.
I, too, find that Victoria Holt's work lacks in spooky atmosphere, but the story lines are interesting and even controversial at times. I do like that aspect of her work. I can also relate to what you say about archetypes and journeys in Gothic Romance, and perhaps the introverted and cerebral nature of the heroine's journey is what appeals to me as well. I was quiet, studious, and a bit melancholy in my pre-teen and teen years, and so were many of the heroines that Phyllis A. Whitney, Barbara Michaels, Victoria Holt, and other masters of the genre wrote about. The innocent heroines are definitely thrust into frightening situations at the point where they are coming of age or are at some great turning point in life. Their isolation only adds to the fear factor and stakes for them. The journeys they take are often ones where they survive by their intelligence and wits, rather than by their great beauty which also is quite attractive to many women, I'd wager.
And yes, I do like the Wicked Mother archetype, don't I? I didn't realize it until after I'd written each work, but it does show up in my books quite often. In some of my upcoming works, I've explored the Wicked Father a bit which was fun. Other types that show up often in gothic romance--at least when I write it now-- are the Satanic figure (perhaps also the Wicked Father), the Wise Old Man and the Seer (gypsies and such). I know that I've seen the Trickster in your work as well. I'm thinking of The Haunting at Blackwood Hall and Banoub Bahktu, the creepy charlatan character.
As far as your writing, Barrymore, where do you think it falls on the spectrum of Gothic Romance to Gothic to Gothic horror and why?
That’s a tough question and one that I struggled with as I pitched Night of the Pentagram to agents. But once I had Black Valentines and The Haunting at Blackwood Hall under my belt, I’ve come to a better understanding of what is emerging in my work. In one respect they are Gothic Romance, because of the template they follow. From a marketing standpoint, I don’t think readers who pursue Gothic Romances for the romantic element will be satisfied, because in my stories the romantic relationship is doomed from the start. That doesn’t eliminate the possibility of a satisfying romantic subplot in a future work, but my own world view is far too cynical. There are so many psycho-emotional nuances to real world relationships that happy endings in fiction just don’t work for me. Look at two of the greatest contributions to the pantheon of Gothic literature,
and Jane Eyre. What emotional turmoil! And what do we have when we’ve reached the end of these stories? In Wuthering Heights everybody dies, only to continue their co-dependant relationship beyond the grave, and our fair Jane may have gotten her man, but at what a terrible price for everyone involved. Wuthering Heights
So I lean toward viewing my books as Gothic Horror, in part because they are trussed up with so much supernatural window dressing, which makes them horror, but they are more about the psychological experience of the characters than the sort of Grand Guignol horror that we have come to expect from Stephen King and Clive Barker and their descendants. I’ve been fascinated for years with psychology in general, and personality types as they appear in Jungian thought and Tarot work in specific, all of which has been a major influence on the characters I create.
Doomed relationships have always been a major theme in Gothic fiction, but social taboos also play a large part in the early Gothics and even some of those today.
comes to mind in terms of these taboo themes. Heathcliff and Catherine as "siblings" who are in love and who have a romance as pre-teens and teens, even though he is adopted, is an interesting theme in its own right. All one has to do to see that such non-genetic sibling or familial relationships are considered incest or incest-lite and thrilling or forbidden is take a look at the bestsellers list for erotic romance. Of course, Poe's Fall of the House of Usher is an extreme example of the taboo of incest in the Gothic genre. Wuthering Heights
Another theme that comes into play in
and other novels is that of falling in love with "The Other." Heathcliff is a dirty gypsy, or The Other, a dangerous outsider who upsets polite society. Catherine's unraveling and Heathcliff's too is that they ever meet and fall in love. The whole course of things is changed for them and for many of the characters in the novel. Wuthering Heights
Finally, another taboo theme from that novel and many others since is that of necrophilia. It is hinted at when Heathcliff digs up Catherine's body and tells others of it. Though he does not embrace her, he is obsessed with how she looks the same even in death. An interesting aspect of the taboos in this novel is the lengths that many fans and critics will go to deny that they exist. This website, for example, put together by a fan of the novel, is adamant about how incest and necrophilia are not part of the work.
However, I would argue that Bronte meant to shock readers and raise these themes. There are too many of them to ignore.
What do you think, Barrymore? I know in your novels, incest plays a role. In my second Gothic Romance, Moonlight on the Palms, it does as well when the heroine's own mother sleeps with the hero. It is sordid and meant to make the audience squirm and question what lies beneath polite society and why we fear the things we do.
My strict Christian upbringing forbade so many things that it is no wonder my writing is filled with characters with unhealthy obsessions. Not only were many things taboo for me as a child and teenager, as an adult I learned that some of those things that were preached against were actually occurring under our own roof. I think one of the most shocking moments in television history was the revelation of relationships in the Palmer family in the cult hit
Twin Peaks. I think that was a major turning point in popular entertainment. Incest is a dirty subject, but it has happened to more families than we will ever really know.
In one of my books, a character that was abused by her father not only grows up to marry a man who reminds her of him, but winds up murdering them both! A tragic crime to be sure, but who can blame her. I think it is cathartic for people to read or watch stories where this type of deplorable crime is avenged. And there we have yet another theme in Gothic fiction, vengeance and revenge for crimes from the past.
To be continued...
Lisa Greer has four contemporary Gothic Romance novels under her belt including the just released Secrets of Summerspelle, available from Musa Publishing, as well as numerous short stories and novellas available for the Kindle through Amazon. My second novel, The Haunting at Blackwood Hall, will be released in June, 2012.