• Agora

Going Gothic: A Writer's Journey Through the Genre.

by S. Escobar

Lanterns lit in the gloaming; rain slithering down the fogged pane of a London window; a torn-velvet chair set in the parlor of an abandoned home – such details as these are the kind I have sought (and continue to seek) since I was a child, and I’m certain many writers can claim a similar trait.

I have always had a heart for the Gothic, but perhaps I did not know what to call it back then. Without any external influence, my very spirit has longed for dark days, gnarled wilderness, and lavish, but tarnished-old, details. When watching Disney movies, it was the Gothic scenes I clung to the most which few others could ever love or even notice: like the cathedral halls of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, with their innumerable lit candles and bluish gloom, or the winding tower-stairwell Princess Aurora ascends in her accursed daze – and don’t get me started on Beauty and the Beast! Of course, my longing for these details only grew as I did. And to only seal my fate more, I became obsessed with the supernatural…and romance.

Gothic literature is a surprisingly broad genre, where a contemporary and realistic story like Flowers in the Attic can sit beside Frankenstein on a shelf. It can be horrific – it can be romantic…or even both at once! It can be historical or contemporary. It can contain the supernatural or be perfectly realistic. I suppose what truly defines it are those darker details, along with a hefty dose of emotion, expressed in a highly sensual or melodramatic manner, so that it is poignant, or despairing, eerie, or mysterious – and so on. Bonus points if there is a lamenting victim and an oppressive villain. The formula is really quite simple, and almost always guarantees a delicious feast-of-a-tale.

Naturally, I’ve ended up writing several Gothic stories, one of them being the romantic ghost story A Song Beyond Walls, my first published book. These many tales of mine have ranged from macabre horrors to dark fantasies and fairytale retellings, to heart-warming Victorian love stories – all told through that same Gothic lens.

One might think that, in order to write Gothic fiction, you must fit the role physically. Well, that simply is not true. While I do fantasize of the day when I can lock myself away in a ghostly mansion, and plot novels by pacing back and forth in a luxurious dark gown, my reality is a stark contrast. Most of my writing is done in the sunshine of my living room, surrounded by Legos and half-naked Barbies, with Elsa singing “Let It Go” in the background, and me dressed in the classic mom-does-yoga ensemble. Of course, I express my Gothic self when I can, by dressing the part and with how I decorate the home, but it is seldom Poe-perfect, and that’s okay! I am a Gothic writer no matter what, even when I wear floral sundresses (which is most of the time!).

So, while I may not actively live a ‘Gothic’ lifestyle, it is important to my writing that I enrich myself in Gothy glory whenever possible: mostly through the media I ingest (music, books, art, films, and television) – and spending time outside. Nature is a treasure hoard of inspiration: I find it most in forests and gardens, and gloomy days, but it can be found even in the most mundane of places, such as the sidewalk in your neighborhood that’s cracked and upturned from all the magnificent tree roots.

Though the classic Gothic brand – with its sinister silhouettes of castle towers before a full moon, and a horrified damsel-in-distress running from the castle’s gates – is always an enchanting one, there is no one image of Gothic. It’s a dingy subway train; a too-clean chapel; a rusted-old trailer home at the edge of the woods – it’s the widowed forest ranger, the anguished mother, the desperate ballerina. It’s Halloween but also Christmas, and Easter; it’s a tangled, dark wood but also a sunlit rose garden. It is everywhere and anywhere, around us at all times – and even within us – if we care to look.

So I say to writers who may be tempted: be not afraid of the Gothic genre. Come on over to the dark side, if you are not here already.

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