Monday, November 7, 2011

Five Scary-Gothic Things About Being a Writer

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:   
  1. 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.  
  2. 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. 
  3. 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.  
  4. 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.  
  5. 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.

Follow Cindy Jones:


  1. Dear Cindy,

    Your 5 Scary-Gothic Things about being a writer speak to the deepest depths of my soul. Today, I managed to go through all five stages. Thank goodness I didn't jump.

    You've inspired and given me HOPE.

    Thank you,

    Kathleen Rodgers

  2. This is too funny! I love it. (Especially about how to spell Pat. I can totally relate.) Thanks for the laugh.

  3. Hi Kathleen! An imagination can be a liability! So glad you didn't cave to Mrs. Danvers. She was out to get me yesterday, too!

    Thanks, Karin! People should wear name tags all the time, don't you think?

  4. This was spot-on! I have experienced all five at some point. Very clever writing. Love your book cover and will have to check out your book. Hello to always have the best book suggestions here....I've found some great authors and books because of you!

  5. Such a cute post, Cindy! I, too, laughed out loud at the P-A-T incident-- that sort of thing always happens to me, too!!

  6. Cindy, you are hysterical!! I read all those same books growing up and did not turn out nearly so funny:). Thanks for a great laugh this morning...

  7. Terri-Thank you! Glad you like the cover. I found a yellow raincoat with pink roses on it at a resale shop last week! (Just like the coat the model is wearing on the cover). $20. I own it now.

    Thanks Brenda and Maria! What would happen if we asked our best friends to remind us what their names are...Yikes.

    Lucy--Heathcliff's line still has the power to weaken my knees. OMG.

  8. Cindy! You are wicked funny! I laughed all the way through your post (and nodded my head). Oh, how I strongly concur that someone needs to keep Rochester's mad wife from posting reviews on the Internet! Yeesh. ;-)


  9. Cindy, love it! And oh those pesky one-stars. My favorite is the Evil Review Stalker. It's not enough that this person ha-ha-ha-hated your book. Oh no. This person must also pop up in the comments section anytime anyone anywhere on the Internet says something positive about your book, so that they can reiterate, yet again, "Oh, but I ha-ha-ha-hated this book."

  10. Susan--Thanks for the tag!!

    Lauren: I'd bet anything she's the Evil Review Stalker in her spare time.

  11. Hilarious! And so true. Number six fear may be mine. I have to follow you! Yikes!
    Sheila Curran

  12. Oh, so true! I've been through all of those, plus I can add forgetting the title of one of my books while giving a presentation. Gah!

  13. Oh boy does this post hit a nerve! Whenever I forget a name I ask, "Do you spell it the regular way?" and it usually works!

  14. Sheila--The fear is mutual!

    Abigail--So funny! I'm in good company!!

    Melissa--I'll remember that line! Thanks!!

  15. Truly funny and scarily true. I've experienced each of the horrors mentioned, and I'm so relieved to know I'm not alone in forgetting the names of my best friends at signings.

    At a recent book club meeting I attended as the author, I couldn't remember the name of one of the characters in my own novel.

    Thanks for sharing!

  16. I love this post!!! 1 and 2 had me laughing out loud.

    I have to talk to two back-to-back classes of college freshmen this Thursday; I do this every semester at my alma mater, since they read my book for class. One of the highlights is after the discussion, when they line up to have their books signed. I can't tell you how many of them have purchased "Used" copies that I previously inscribed to other students. File under #s 1 and 5. :)

  17. Every single one of these has happened to me. Sometimes daily!

  18. Christa--I got so mentally far away one time I had to pull out a hard copy and search for the protagonist's name. Gothic horror, senioritis, whatever!

    Jess--Another of my fears is that I'll find a copy at Half-Price Books with a really gushy inscription. I was very emotional when first signing.

  19. Hi April--Here I was thinking it was just me!! I'm in great company. Thanks for reading!

  20. So, so true, Cindy! Thanks for this post. Good to know other writers are as haunted as I am. :)

  21. And as we all know, this is only the tip of the iceberg!