Monday, November 10, 2008

From Castles to Chest Hair

Congrats to the winner of the First Line contest: Sue L. Here it is again in its glory:

It seemed funny, at the time, to see the world land in my yard, roll forward and squash Marin.

Sue, email me at and let me know where to send your DVD. A huge thanks to everyone for tossing the ideas out there. Never underestimate how huge that is. Since I was twiddling my thumbs wanting to comment on each, you’ll find my gush on each one in the previous post.


After a weekend of gorging myself of all four episodes on Heavy: The Story of Metal (OMG-Janey Lane) and two Victoria Holt classic gothic romances, is it any wonder I have gothic on the brain? Purely from a marketing standpoint for my own novel, I needed to wrap my brain around the definition and feel of a classic gothic romance to know if The Night Caller fits into a modern version several NY publishers purchased in the past month. Without benefit of seeing these on the shelves for at least twelve months, I’ll have to concoct my own theories about this resurgence.

Gothic romance novels (like Metal, actually) never really go away. At times, editors may laugh in the face of anyone trying to sell one, but in the past decade, Dorchester has taken a chance on them with their Candleglow line authors Christine Feehan, Evelyn Rogers and Colleen Shannon in 2001; and, more recently with debut author Leanna Renee Hilber’s The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker. With recent word St. Martin intends to repackage and rerelease Victoria Holt’s 1960’s classics, I smell a trend resurgence. That stale odor of the paranormal vampire and shapeshifter romance, masked by the yet-to-be-explored gothic sub-sub genre with a modern take.

To understand the modern prediction, I had to lay out the ingredients of the former. Against a backdrop of the true gothics-Rebecca, Jane Eyre, even Poe and Jane Austin’s mockery of the gothic, Northanger Abbey, I dove into the mid-twentieth century version. Here’s the recipie: Two parts angst to one part suspense/mystery. Add a castle-sized medieval stone, handfuls of eccentric secondary characters tied to the house, a smattering of charming, mysterious, brooding men, secrets and curses, and stir with spirits, real or imagined. The reader maintains an element of distrust toward the brooding hero—everyone, actually—which makes first person heroine narrative essential. The heroines are by no means waifs, but confined by their station in life, which naturally gravitates the setting to historical.

Therein lies a built in audience for readers of historical romance. But how to freshen and appeal to women who read contemporary paranormal? Here’s my theory:

Modern romance readers are sophisticated. They dabble in mainstream suspense, watch James Bond movies and can dissect LOST mythology far beyond how Sawyer’s chest hair (or lack thereof) plays into it. They crave the hero’s POV to draw them closer to his inner conflict and magnify the intimate relationship. They no longer want him storming home from “business”, leaving a frightening wake in the castle upon their arrival. The modern gothic romance hero is the darkest of all tortured heroes, but this time, the reader’s distrust of him comes from the horrors within. He is the supreme challenge to love, leaving the modern, strong heroine the only one to reach him. She must be as formidable in character and courage as he is dark in his, manifesting her strength through either occupation or insurmountable odds. She must have a damn good reason for investing herself in the chaos surrounding her; her motivation becomes the touch point to the entire plot.

The heat level, understandably, must go from a slow, simmering kettle to what modern romance readers expect. While a kiss to the hand has its charms, no NY romance publisher will take a chance on selling propriety.

The setting, while essential to a modern gothic romance, must be tight. Gone are the dense, undigestable passages of portraits and curtains and tableware. The writing must be fiercely economical to bring the classical heroine out of her musings and smack-across-the-face internalizations and into the action-meat of the story. Quirky secondary characters are still welcome.

So that’s my take. Does The Night Caller fit? That’s for me to know and an editor to find out. Let’s just say we're not contemplating Sawyer’s chest hair. Or are we?

What’s your take on gothic? Did I get it right?


Charles Gramlich said...

Congrats to Sue. I watched the Story of Metal too. I'm a big metal head, and not even a closet one. I wouldn't mind seeing the Gothic come back, with the focus more on atmosphere. I have read a fair number of victoria holt and enjoyed them.

Pam said...

I'm somewhat of a gothic virgin, but your description certainly pulls me in--will have to look for some during my bookstore visit tonight. Thanks!

Sue L said...

SQUEEeee! *ahem*

THANK YOU :) for a fun contest. I'm glad everyone enjoyed my entry. I'll email you privately.

You have tweaked my interest with your comments about the gothic genre. I like dark, brooding and dangerous. I like tortured heroes who never quite come clean. And heroines as well. I'm not sure the traditional romance market would embrace the darker elements (done the way I like dark), but I know there is a fringe element reading everything from mainstream to SF/Fantasy and everything in between that is *screaming* for stronger romantic elements - and as far as I can tell, the industry doesn't seemed to be responding so it's good to hear of these lines opening up.

Marilyn Brant said...

First, Sue's line was hysterical and I loved it (there were lots of great ones!!)--congrats :).

Having horrible DSL issues, so I need to make this quick--I'm happy to contemplate anything about Sawyer, chest hair or otherwise...

laughingwolf said...

way to go, sue!

[been too ill to even peek out much, but recovering]

Leah Braemel said...

I used to sneak Victoria Holt novels into the house and read them under the covers. At the time I remember loving them, but I haven't looked at one since I was about 12. From what I remember of them, you pretty much nailed the gothic genre. Eve Silver does Gothic Romance incredibly well, if you're looking for suggestions of who to study for modern day writers.

Miladysa said...

Congratulations Sue.

My mother used to read Victoria Holt.

My husband is from Bronte country and we live on the other side of the Moors. I *LOVE* Gothic.

There has to be wild landscape and darkness and like you say, secrets and things that go bump in the night.

To hit deep with me, there should be no happily ever after - it's all about the wanting :D

L.A. Mitchell said...

Charles...I miss atmosphere, too. I think readers today are too impatient. I've had to really tighten mine since I started writing.

Pam..glad to help :)

Sue..NY is looking for the next greatest GUARANTEE, which results in turtle response time to reader demands. It takes a very special editor to take a risk. I'm still looking for him/her :)

Marilyn...I was hoping Josh H. wouldn't distract from the serious thought that went into the post. I can see now, that's a big sorry you're sick. Feel better soon.

Leah...thanks for the suggestion. I've only read one Eve Silver and wouldn't have thought her gothic, but I need to look into her more. Thanks for stopping by :)

Miladysa...I almost forgot about the wild landscape. You're right, there must be a danger element to the setting, too, like perilous cliffs or neverending maze gardens. And the wanting is the best part, isn't it? *grin*