Friday, June 1, 2007

Spooky is "In": The Return of the Gothic Novel

An inherited house with a seeming life of its own . . .a young woman with a troubled past. . .a dark family secret that will not stay buried . . .

These are the classic makings of the traditional gothic story, a type of story that continues to thrill readers to this day. Dating back to the 1700s, gothic novels are suspense novels that frequently contain a romance element and a tinge of the supernatural. Readers love the combination of romantic intrigue with bumps in the night.

There is a clear distinction between gothic novels and horror novels: gothic novels have more to do with psychological horrors, horrors of the mind, or of family secrets, not so much the full-fledged creatures or serial killers of horror novels. They also deal with societal issues such as the rise of cities and how humans cope with modernity and science. Also, these novels get really popular during eras where there is considerable upheaval in the world, such as now, where people tend to reach for stories set in the past. Look at the box office success of recent films such as “The Others,” “The Illusionist” and “The Prestige,” all with elements of the supernatural.

I am a longtime fan of these stories, and my novel, Dark River, is part of this “resurrected” trend. Gothic novels never quite go away, but industry trends spotlight some fiction sub-genres over others. The past decade saw the rise of the crime procedurals, and all books with movie tie-ins. Romances were popular, as well, and still are. But gothics are always there, too, just lurking in the shadows.

While my new novel fits within the gothic tradition, Dark River is a modern gothic, even though it takes place in the past. Compared with early gothics in which young heroines were at the mercy of unseen forces and met destructive fates, Dark River’s heroine, Isabelle Fontaine, is reminiscent of the heroines in more recent novels of beloved authors of my youth. These two authors, Barbara Michaels and Phyllis A. Whitney made their heroines of the 1970s and 1980s spunky. My heroine, Isabelle, is concerned with getting to the truth of her family’s legacy, despite the great danger to herself. She refuses to leave the house until she solves the mystery.

Gothics will always be with us. We all have deeply hidden fears and desires, and gothics allow us to walk through the darkened halls of the characters’ psyches, thereby walking through our own. And it’s just plain fun to see how they [the characters] get out of their predicaments.

Heather Buchanan has always loved gothic stories. Inspired by a series of local articles about the little-known truth of an unknown dead woman buried at Ste. Anne Catholic Church of Detroit, Heather embarked on a ten-year odyssey to bring Dark River to life. An award-winning author, Heather is currently on the faculty of Lansing Community College, Schoolcraft College, The College for Creative Studies and Wayne State University, respectively.

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