You Can Help the World Learn About America’s First Female Presidential Candidate!

I was originally going to post about Women’s History Month, but then this contest came up and it is related, so I couldn’t resist.

My book Madame Presidentess is historical fiction based on the true story of Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for president of the United States in 1872 – 48 years before women got the right to vote. Last year it was optioned for TV/film but that didn’t work out so I have the rights back again. Taleflick and I are working hard to get more producers interested. And you can help!

Madame Presidentess is part of a special TaleFlick Discovery contest celebrating International Women’s Day. That means it gets an extra chance to be made into a film or TV show. But only if you vote!

 

 

To vote, once you click the button above, find my book and click the Vote button that looks like an up arrow on the right.

Ends: Fri. March 13 at 7 p.m. ET/6 p.m. CT/4 p.m. PT

Officially, you can only vote once. But you can always try again on a different device…Not that I’m advising you to or anything.

If you get a message that you’ve already voted, it means someone on the same IP address has already voted. This happens in workplaces a lot. You will need to vote from home if that occurs. If you’re still getting that message, please don’t give up! Contact Taleflick support ASAP.

Winning books need thousands of votes, so please share with all your friends. Here are some graphics you can use.

Thank you!

Vive La Bibliographie!

For years now, nay decades, historians and historical fiction authors have had a tenuous relationship. Well, from my perspective, it’s the historians who have their noses out of joint; most historical fiction authors, myself included, just want to write our books.

You see, some (not all, mind you) historians see us fiction writers as encroaching on their territory and doing it a disservice. I think with the word “fiction” in our genre and “a novel” written on most of our book covers, that is just silliness. I also think the reader has to take some responsibility for understanding the difference, but perhaps I am giving people too much credit. Tudor historian John Guy found that after Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall series was published many of his current and prospective students took what they read as fact. His complaint? “The writing was so good that some people think it is true.”*

Because we are writing a (hopefully entertaining) story in addition to providing historical facts, historical novelists sometimes have to or choose to bend those facts or go outside of the historical record. One thing many of us do to make up for this is include an Author’s Note at the end of our books. In this section, which for some is only a few paragraphs, but for others can be quite lengthy and detailed, *cough*me*cough,* we explain what is true and what is not and why we changed things when we did. Other authors provide additional historical information on their websites or in their blogs. Some even include a bibliography or a brief list of sources at the back.

Ironically, it is Hilary Mantel herself, a historical fiction author who is NOT a historian, who rails loudest against this practice. She’s fine with including an Author’s Note (which she does in her own books), but draws the line at a bibliography. At the Oxford Literary Festival in 2017 she accused historical novelists of “try[ing] to burnish their credentials by affixing a bibliography.”**

[cue eye roll]

No, Dame Mantel, that is not what we are trying to do. We are trying to show that we’ve done our due diligence in making our books as historically accurate as we can. We’re trying to raise the respectability of our genre, which, not that long ago was conflated with period costume bodice-rippers that were rightfully called mere escapism. (Remind me to write a post on the history of historical fiction sometime.) But since that time, the genre has come a long way in building credibility with readers and critics and today’s authors are much more concerned with portraying time periods and places correctly, as our source lists show.

In addition, we’re providing a list of sources for those who wish to learn more or want to fact-check the book. As a reader, I LOVE the Author’s Note and am sorely disappointed if there isn’t one or little effort was put into it. As a writer, I have looked at the bibliographies of other historical fiction writers in my time period to get a sense if I am going in the right direction in my own research. These pages at the end of books serve very important purposes that cannot and should not be dismissed out of hand.

We are in no way pretending to be what we are not. Most historical novelists will freely admit to not having a PhD if that is the case. And there are a few who do have one (such as Alison Weir and Anne Fortier), so does that give them the right to include a bibliography in their books while the rest of us can’t? If that is the case, that is elitism, pure and simple. Many of us are self-taught researchers or may have been trained through courses of study besides history (English or law, perhaps) but that doesn’t mean our research is automatically of lower quality and undeserving of being documented.

It would be far worse if historical novelists a) didn’t bother to do proper research and/or b) left readers to their own devices to figure out what is true. Then you really would have historical confusion.

I could be completely wrong, but it feels like opinions like this stem from two things: an old-world us vs. them snobbery in which we novelists are seen as on a far lower plane than professors of history, and a feeling of being threatened because the average reader is more likely to read a historical fiction novel than an academic work of history.

As an author who has written both and plans to eventually get her PhD in history, I will say there is no reason for historians to feel threatened. They do what they do and we do what we do. Each has our own audience and when there is crossover, it benefits us both. But we cannot shoulder the responsibility for how our readers interpret our work alone. If they want to believe it is true all we can do is warn them it’s not and direct them to books by historians to find out what really happened–that is exactly what the bibliographies found in our books do!

I think the idea that historians somehow sit on a loftier pedestal than historical authors is a function of the insular nature of academia and will hopefully (eventually) burn itself out. It is this misguided attitude that makes it somehow okay for someone who started out as a historian to later go into historical fiction, but not for a historical novelist who lacks a PhD to ask to be taken seriously. Unless historical novelists start claiming that their books are the truth– rather than influenced by the truth–(as best that historians can interpret it; it can be argued that all of history is fiction as it is written by the victors and is often revised by memory, time and author prejudice) there is no need for us vs. them. We are both working toward the same purpose: educating a public that increasingly doesn’t give a fig about history. We just go about it in different ways.

And as for me, you can pry my bibliography (fiction or non-fiction) out of my cold, dead hands.

*Quoted in McQuin, Kristen “The Truth Is Better Than Fiction: Accuracy In Historical Fiction.“ Bookriot. March 19l 2018. https://bookriot.com/2018/03/19/accuracy-in-historical-fiction/

**Furness, Hannah. “Hilary Mantel: Women writers must stop falsely empowering female characters in history” The Telegraph. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/05/31/hilary-mantel-women-writers-must-stop-falsely-empowering-female/

The (Literal) Cost of Publishing

Image purchased from Adobe Stock.

One thing writers are cautioned not to talk about is money. As religion and politics used to be (and likely still are by some), it has long been considered gouache to talk about salary or expenses. The traditional industry even has code phrases so they can talk about the size of deal without revealing actual numbers. This was a breakdown from 2016, so numbers may have changed a bit:

  • Nice deal = $1 to $49,000
  • Very nice deal = $50K to $99K
  • Good deal = $100K to $250
  • Significant deal = $250K to $499K
  • Major deal = $500K and up

But I think this reticence to talk about money should change. In a world where it is getting more and more expensive to publish and market a book (especially for self-publishers) and fewer authors are able to make a full-time living with their writing, we need to know what others are spending (and making) so that we know what is reasonable and what is not. Even traditionally published authors have to pay for all or at least some of their marketing, depending on what their house decides to do for them.

I’ll give you an example from my own life as to why not talking about money can be harmful. I TOTALLY overpaid for layout for my first four books. I used a company (that shall remain nameless) recommended by a friend. I paid $1,000/book for the layout, not knowing this wasn’t a normal price until another friend said she only paid $100/book for her layout with a different company. This is what happens when you don’t know what you don’t know. (And my friend who recommended the first layout company likely didn’t know she was overpaying, either.)

Real Numbers
So what is reasonable? Based on my research and experience (your mileage may vary):

  • Professional Editing – $500-$1,000+ (Depends on length of book, depth of editing and who you use)
  • Proofreading – $3-$4/page (per Writer’s Market)
  • Cover Design – $100-$500 (some people have the skills to do their own; I do not. You can reduce the cost with some designers if you provide the stock photography.)
  • Formatting – $200-$1,000+ (You can also learn to do this yourself; I don’t personally want to.)
  • IBSN – $125 for one or if you buy in bulk $295/10 (US only – in many other countries they are free)
  • Copyright/Library of Congress – $35, plus postage book to mail the book.
  • Proofs/author copies – Depends on length of book ($3-$6).
  • Marketing – You can totally control this and this is where I messed up. I spent WAY too much.

As of January 1, I’ve been a published author for four years. In that time I’ve sold tens of thousands of books (I stopped counting at some point because it’s all manual), hit the USA Today bestseller list and have won more than 40 awards. But you know what? I’m also massively in debt because of it – to the point of looking into debt consolidation. And unfortunately, I don’t think I’m alone. (Granted, I also know self-published authors who made seven-figures last year, so experiences can and do vary widely.)

But the stigma behind not being an immediate financial success is why I’m talking about it. You are not a failure if this has happened to you – my friend Jordan, who taught a class on cash flow at the Novelist’s Inc. conference last year, taught me that. You just didn’t manage your money as well as you should have. And you can get yourself out of the hole.

Damage Control
My first step was to purposefully not publish anything last year. That might seem counter-intuitive because the more books you have out there, the greater the chances you will make money, but it also costs a fair amount if done professionally. This year will likely be the same. (Although I am trying to get a few traditional deals, so that is part of it too.)

Step two was to eliminate unnecessary expenses. It’s amazing how many services I had automatically charging my credit cards every month. I’m keeping my stock photos though. I think those are a valuable recurring expense, at least for me.

Step three was to slow down conference travel. (The only one I’m going to this year is comped.) It is great for networking, learning and sometimes for selling books, but it adds up REALLY fast.

Step four is to focus on writing, but not just books: articles that pay, ghostwriting, speaking, etc. There’s more than one way to pay off debt.

Other lessons I have learned the hard way:

  • It is not a good idea to finance your self-publishing on credit cards. I thought I had way more self-control than I did and now I’m up to my eyeballs. Plus, interest really sneaks up on you. (Granted, about half of that was personal debt I had before I started publishing.)
  • Don’t overspend on swag. When I was new, swag (postcards, bookmarks, pens, etc.) was the big thing. You were told you HAD to have it for conventions. It doesn’t hurt to have one thing, or even one thing per book, that people can take away with them, but you don’t need to load yourself down or purchase large quantities. Four years later and I still have boxes of swag I likely will never use.
  • Don’t bother paying to be featured in library or bookstore catalogs, in magazines, or at trade shows. There is one indie author group that pushes a lot of these and from my experience, the ROi is minimal.
  • Same goes for purchasing ads in magazines. I only did that once, and it was more out of vanity than anything, but it’s not worth it.
  • Be very careful about which contests you enter and how much you pay for them. I’ve been pretty lucky in this regard (I do my research), but I see author friends all the time talking about ones I’m pretty sure just took their money and called them a finalist/winner but gave them nothing in return other than bragging rights.
  • Budget your spending, especially on ads. I totally didn’t do this and look where I ended up. This will become more and more important in the future, as experts are predicting that Facebook ads will become a must. (If I can find the article I saw that in, I will link to it, but it is eluding me at the moment.)
  • Be careful when creating audio books. Yes, audio is hot, but audio books are about a $2,000-$3,000 investment, depending on what your narrator charges and how long your book is. Are you going to make that money back? I have on some of my books, but not on others. You just don’t know. (And PLEASE don’t narrate your own unless you are a trained actor or broadcaster. There really is an art to a good audio book and a bad/average narrator can ruin it.)
  • Excuses you don’t want to use on yourself – believe me, I’ve done all of these:
    • It’s tax-deductible (maybe, but the end value of that depends on how much you make and spend, plus tax code in any given year – it’s still an expense.)
    • Oh it’s only this once/this one thing (sure it is).
    • It will pay off in the end (will it really?).
    • I want to prove I can do it as an indie author (lamest excuse ever).

Now, I don’t want this to scare anyone or to keep you from trying new things. Publishing (especially self-publishing), is all about taking chances and taking advantage of opportunities that come your way. You just really need to look at what you are investing and what you are going to get back, as well as what the bills are in the other parts of your life and what your other income is. This may sound obvious, but it is REALLY easy to get caught up in the new, shiny and sexy when you publish, especially when you are new and trying really hard to stand out from the crowd.

The age-old advice of saving up for your anticipated expenses is very wise in this situation. Sometimes traditionally published authors are advised to invest a portion (or all) of their advances into their marketing. If you save first (which I did not do), you are kind of doing the same thing and avoiding hundreds of dollars a month in interest payments. Publish your heart out, just be smart about it.

I’d love to hear from a traditionally published author about what they’ve done and spent on their marketing because that is a side of things I am totally blind to. 

On Community, Drama and Humanity

So there’s a dumpster fire going on in the romance world right now and I’m not going to say much about it, other than the only thing that is keeping me from leaving the national organization is my local chapter, which I love. I’m in cautious wait and see mode to see what national’s next response/move is given that half the board resigned today.

But this is only a part of what is going on in the author world I’m tired of all the drama. I’m not sure if it started in the sci-fi fantasy community with their racism/sexism/doxxing issues or the YA community when they began to eat their own authors alive on Twitter. Or maybe it’s been going on for much longer than that and I just noticed with those two. (We had a minor version in the historical fiction community a few years ago, but that  was pretty quiet and only resulted in a new organization forming.) Then there is the Hallmark ad fiasco (which has apparently resulted in a call on the national organization’s forums to boycott Hallmark Publishing, but that thread isn’t showing when you try to read it) and J.K. Rowling and her comments. I can’t. I just can’t.

Social media seems to be making it all the worse. I’m all for connecting authors, and yes, I know that racism/homophobia/etc. are wrong and should be called out, but sometimes it feels like a pile-on on both sides. The national organization’s forums are the same way, with all the name calling and accusations (again on both sides). Aren’t we all (or at least most of us) adults? Then why are we acting like children? And there is pressure to weigh in, lest your silence look like you agree. It’s a no-win situation.

I suppose this is just a reflection of how far our society at large has fallen in the last three or four years. Everyone seems angry and ready to lash out at the smallest thing (myself included, sometimes) and everything is insulted/offended by everything (sometimes warranted, sometimes not). Civil discourse is a thing of the past and even every day politeness is gone.

I remember long about 10 years ago when social media was great for the writing community, especially Twitter. I met all of the Spellbound Scribes (past and present) on there when we were affectionately known as #TeamAwesome. They are the reason why I am where I am today. Their support helped a fledgling, wanna-be author persevere through a LOT of trials and stay in the game long enough to be almost breaking even. But now that kind of online Twitter community is gone, replaced with vitriol and cattiness.

And it’s not just in the writing community. I was in several Facebook groups for the last year and a half or so for women discerning a certain vocation. But after being shut down every time I asked questions (that is what discernment is for, right?) and told I was not conservative enough for the vocation by the very people who are supposed to be advocates for it, I left. Thankfully, I have since found my purpose, but I will never forget the pain the people who are supposed to represent God and goodness inflicted on me just for trying to understand.

In both cases, the very people who are supposed to be helping new/existing members succeed are driving them away. It’s enough to make one want to become a hermit. Yet community is key to survival as humans. Multiple studies have shown that being around others makes you live longer. And if you’ve ever experienced the feeling of “finding your tribe” you know what a rush it is when you are with others who “get” you.

But nowadays it seems like flocking to those of like mind is considered a bad thing; you get told you only want to hear from others who agree with you. Well, yeah. If we can’t have a conversation anymore in which we agree to disagree, then being around people who agree with me is much better for my mental health than being yelled at and bullied.

So what are we supposed to do? I have no idea. I find myself retreating from people more with each passing day. Yes, I have friends whom I dearly love (and some of us can get into it on certain topics because we DON’T agree), but humanity (or at least Americans) in general are not fun to be around.

I guess the only answer is to try to be the best person you can (says the woman who can be really crabby and bitchy) and pray (literally) that things turn around. As they say, be the change you wish to see in the world.

If you have any solutions, please let me know. I don’t want things to continue this way.

I wish you all a happy, healthy and drama-free 2020.

On Curse Words and Book Covers

I read an article a few weeks ago–I think it was in Publisher’s Weekly, but of course now I can’t find it–bemoaning the use of curse words on book covers as a new trend. Here’s a similar one. That got me to thinking of the use of curse words in our society in general. Language, for all its shared value for its speakers, is a very personal and subjective thing. Fair warning: I will likely contradict myself a few times in this post because I have mixed feelings on the subject.

First of all – yes, I am a frequent user of curse words in real life. I have a mouth like a sailor. My good friend Lee finally helped me embrace the F word a few years ago. And thanks to Chuck Wendig (a damn fine writer, I must say – he has a book Called Damn Fine Book, so it’s a joke, see what I did there?) I am a much more creative cusser. (If you can handle profanity, check out his blog. He is awesome – and his books really are great.)

To me, at this point in my life, curse words are words like any other, not good or bad, right or wrong, just with a little more color and emphasis than others — like an adjective or other modifier. I don’t think it has anything to do with a lack of creativity or vocabulary; I have both in spades. For me, some of it is habit and some of it might be laziness, but other times it is spice. Like I want to add a little extra emphasis to what I am saying. But also I curse without really thinking. I can, however, hold myself back at work, in professional writer settings, and when there are kids present (if I realize they are there, of course).

Funny thing is, I try not to curse online. (Except for the occasional FFS, which I don’t spell out. If you know what it means, that’s fine. If you don’t, you wouldn’t even know I was cussing.) It’s just not part of my brand. (It is for Chuck and he incorporates it well.) I don’t want to alienate people or look unprofessional, either. I guess my brand might be a little more straight-laced than I really am outside of book world.

But yet, there is cussing in my one contemporary book, and sometimes historical curse words in my historicals. Go figure. Why? It feels more authentic to me, to my experience of life. Obviously if I was writing a Christian or clean book/romance I wouldn’t use it because it’s not what the reader expects to see. But outside of those markets, I think people are pretty immune to it in daily conversation, especially since you see it on TV now. (I will admit that even I had to get used to the number of F bombs when I was watching Entourage. About those contradictions?)

Do I think it belongs on book covers? In rare instances, yes. I mean Go the F*** to Sleep is a perfect title. I’m not even a parent and I know that–because it’s how you feel. But I don’t suddenly want to start seeing it all over the place. For one, it’s mostly done for shock value and to get people talking, which is disingenuous. It’s like being a Shock Jock was in the 80s and 90s. Do it to get attention and seem cool.

For another, you don’t know who is seeing that title and as I mentioned, some people get offended by cussing and/or don’t want their little ones exposed to it. Sometimes it seems like being yelled at, and God knows we have enough of that in our world already.

And there are levels to swearing, too. In general, a D or S word is less offensive than an F word, which is still better than calling a woman the C word. But that is my system. What if yours isn’t the same? Who says what is acceptable and what isn’t? How far is too far?

But I also think society in general isn’t ready for it. A lot of people still have a Victorian mindset to cussing and would find it rude at best and downright vulgar at worst. I bought a book on feminism in the 90s a while back called 90s Bitch and I was a little uncomfortable with the title, even though I know it is a nod to third wave feminism, which took place in the 90s/early 2000s and partially focused on reclaiming words like “bitch” and “slut.” So the title had meaning, but it still wasn’t necessary to me.

Maybe that’s my point. When the word is necessary–like in Go the F*** to Sleep, somehow Go the Hell/Heck to Sleep just doesn’t have the same punch–then I think it is fine. But when it is just there because they can (like many examples in the article I linked to above), it still feels crass.

I know, I know, why is it okay for me to cuss with impunity, but yet I get offended by it in a book title? I told you I would contradict myself.

I think some of it is also a matter of choice. I have made the choice to cuss. But I will try not to do it around you if I know you don’t like it. However, when it is in a book title, I have no choice in the matter; it is just there. And often THERE because the publisher/author is trying to make a point, even if it is only “look how subversive I am.” And that is just stupid.

Quite frankly, most cussing isn’t used in a very nice way either. Here I am differentiating between when you cuss out of emphasis–like when you stub your toe or  say “s***, man” to something bad someone just revealed–and when you cuss to call someone a name or really to be mean. Our world has so much negativity already (which is behind a lot of the aforementioned yelling) why would you needlessly put more out there, much less broadcast it on the cover of a book?

I know, you could say I contribute to the negativity in the world by choosing to cuss in my daily life, and maybe I do. I never said I was f***ing perfect or that I have all the answers.

Gothic Novels in the Modern Age

Image purchased from Adobe Stock

I’m excited to have the Halloween post for the first time in my Spellbound Scribes career! I’m not as into it as Shauna is, but for me it ushers in three very holy days: Samhain (Oct. 31), All Saints (Nov. 1) and All Souls (Nov. 2) I thought about talking about that but decided to go in a more literary direction instead.

Earlier this year I was on a panel about neo-gothic fiction at the Historical Novel Society Conference. I thought this was the perfect day to share some of my observations. I am planning a gothic novel, but it keeps getting pushed farther and farther down the priority list. But you will see it eventually.

Introduction
(Full disclosure: My friend, fellow panelist and fellow author Kris Waldherr wrote this introduction, but I like it so much I’m stealing it. The rest of the post is all me.)

The birth of the Gothic novel occurred alongside and in reaction to the industrial and scientific revolutions of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries: Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, the book considered to be the first Gothic novel, was published in 1764; in 1818 Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein terrorized readers with its nightmare vision of science run amok. Over two hundred years later, the Gothic novel is enjoying a renewed popularity in historical fiction, aided in part by television shows and films such as “Penny Dreadful” and “Crimson Peak.”

What Makes a Novel “Gothic”
To me, Gothic always has—and always will—have its basis in death, as that is ultimate human fear. It is all about the “in-between:” life and death i.e. ghosts, automatons, even vampires and zombies; cursed and blessed: angels, demons, old churches and graveyards; fears, real and imagined: anxiety, hallucination and dreams.

But what sets it apart from similar genres like horror is a dark, haunted atmosphere. Gothic always takes place in the shadows. Whether it is a castle, a mansion or even a dark alleyway, it is a place where one’s sight is not clear and one’s mind is played with and preyed upon. If and author can’t build that kind of atmosphere, the rest of the novel will not succeed.

The author also must have the main character wrestle with a psychological torment of some kind, whether it comes in the form of an apparition or haunting or a question of sanity or something in between. That issue is usually related to the character’s life and/or political situation in some way. Class and politics were very big in classic Gothic novels, whereas neo-gothic tend to be more psychological and sometimes even spiritual.

What Makes Neo-gothic Novels Different from Traditional Gothic Novels
I touched on this a little above, but the biggest shift in my mind is the power of the heroine. She used to be a victim and passive, but in most neo-gothic books she is anything but. She may begin the story as subjugated, but finds her power through the course of the novel, which is very inspiring. I think feminism and a reaction to the current political climate has a lot to do with that.

I also think gothic novels have become subtler as their audience has grown more sophisticated. The Castle of Oronto was just bonkers in your face, to the point of seeming absurd to a modern reader. Now, gothic fiction preys so much more on our minds and subtle fears because we have been conditioned, both through the horrors we see on the news and the gore in horror films, not to react to the obvious as we once would have.

I also see neo-gothic as less overtly political, i.e. not so much about nobility and common man so much anymore as about the fears about and fighting against societal issues that go beyond class structure. I just read about a new sub-genre of Gothic literature called environmental Gothic or ecoGothic. Dates to about 2013 book called Ecogothic by William Hughes and Andrew Smith. It engages with the dark side of nature and our anxieties around climate change. Nature is an entity and a presence in and of itself, rather than just being a backdrop.

How Gothic Gives Women Writers and Their Female Protagonists a Voice
Spiritualism was one of the founding forces of gothic novels – more on that in the next section. It gave women a public voice for the first time, because it wasn’t them speaking; it was the “spirits” speaking through them.

Today we have much more freedom, but using the supernatural still gives us a chance to voice opinions and viewpoints we otherwise might not. For example, in the 60s and 70s, we had figures like Shirley Jackson and Angela Carter using their work to explore women’s issues for the first time. In the Haunting of Hill House, Elinor has always been a dutiful daughter and sister, but when she disobeys societal expectations to go to Hill House, she slowly loses her sanity and eventually, her life. Theo, on the other hand, who is the more subversive character, in that she never followed the rules – she is clearly a lesbian or bisexual – pays a bit through her pain of seeing what happens to Elinor, but emerges largely untouched. Because she never played by society’s rules, for her the price wasn’t as high.

How the Growth of Spiritualism in the Mid-nineteenth Century Ties into the Rise of the Gothic Novel
Gothic certainly existed before the rise of Spiritualism in the late 1860s and 1870s with Hawthorne, Poe and others, but I think Spiritualism took it out of the realm of fantasy for the average person and brought it much closer to home.

The timing of the rise of Spiritualism was two-pronged issue:

  • The Civil War had left so many dead and the living were desperate to be in touch with them.
  • New inventions like telegraphs and unseen electric waves made people wonder if we could communicate invisibly on this plane, why not on another?

Between the emphasis on mourning and death from the war and this tantalizing new technology came a new religious movement where gifted individuals could communicate with the dead. It is very interesting to me that scientists were among the most fervent Spiritualists, whereas today we tend to think of science and faith as needing to be divorced from one another. James Prescott Joule, Michael Faraday, and William Thomson, whose research created scientific advancements such as the Laws of Thermodynamics, the creation of “electric current from a magnetic field,” and the “foundations of modern physics” respectively. What used to be considered superstition was now possibly scientific fact.

I think Spiritualism, in putting the otherworld within reach—all one needed was a medium or someone at least willing to hold a séance or work with a planchette—opened minds to Gothic fiction.  It also came at a time when organized religion, especially the Roman Catholic Church, was beginning to really feel a lost from the Enlightenment and the emergence of agnostics and atheists on a larger scale than ever before. Even these people could embrace Spiritualism if they so desired.

The Relationship Between Psychology and Gothic Novels
I think Gothic novels are highly psychological, especially from WWI on.

I actually HATE Freud, but I could talk about his theory of the Uncanny for hours. The Uncanny is anything that gives you that creepy feeling that something isn’t quite right, a type of anxiety and uncertainty. It arises when the boundary between fantasy and reality is blurred, when we are faced with the reality of something that we have until now considered imaginary.

Freud believes that the feeling of the “Uncanny” has its origin in something that was once familiar and well-known that has long been forgotten. He basis it in primitive man’s feelings on God and death, feelings we have repressed in modern society.

There are two main ways the Uncanny manifests:

  1. The double or doppelganger. Freud believes this comes from when primitive man believed in an animistic form of religion in which everything had a spirit. He made images of himself (think Egyptian sarcophagi) as an attempt and immortality; but then those images became reminders of his of mortality, and thus engendered fear. Examples:
    • In Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, the main character is often seen playing the piano under a portrait of St. Cecilia who also plays the piano, and was a martyr, which seems to be the death the main character is heading toward.
    • Twins in every horror movie. Ever.
    • Mirror images, shadows, ghosts and guardian spirits—even our own conscience.
    • Things that are not quite living, but not quite inanimate either, such as dolls, automations, and wax figures.
  1. Repetition. Freud believes this comes from an infantile compulsion to repeat, which dominates the unconscious mind. We are helpless to stop it and therefore it creates anxiety. One example is seeing the same number everywhere and taking it as an omen. This is also why The Raven’s “tap, tap, tapping” and “rap, rap, rapping” gives us the chills.

Freud also mentions severed limbs (which he says come from a castration complex, especially the eyes), wish-fulfillment, the evil eye, and madness as forms of the Uncanny.

Freud says the uncanny can’t happen in fairy tales or other forms of fantasy because we already know anything can happen in them. He believes that the uncanny happens the most often in stories where reality is interrupted by some form of fantasy and where the reader highly identifies with the place and point of view character. In that way, the reader can feel the uncanny event as though it is happening to them.

Why All Things Gothic Endure
I think humans will always have an attachment to the Gothic because we are always going to need a safe space in which to work out our fears, especially the deepest and darkest of them. It is part of human nature to want to question and explore the “unexplainable.” It’s also human nature to like to be scared; it’s a way to have a brush with danger and death without the consequences.

The Best Gothic Authors Today

  • Carol Goodman (aka Juliet Dark)
  • Ruth Ware
  • Diane Setterfield
  • Kate Morton
  • Libbra Bray

Happy Halloween, everyone! And Blessed Samhain, All Saints and All Souls, if you celebrate any of those holy days.

Season of the (Feminist) Witch

Image purchased from Adobe Stock

I’m going out to left field today. This post relates to a book I’d love to write, but really isn’t about books or writing. Every so often I need to write about something else.

This morning I felt the first cool kiss of autumn in the air. My favorite season is here. This is the time of year I am happier, more energetic and more productive than any other.

Plus, we’re entering the season of the witch. I’m not a skull and bones kind of Halloween girl. I’m a witches and black cats and spells, kind of girl.

But that’s not the only reason I’ve had witches on the brain lately. A few days ago I saw an ad on Facebook asking “Are you struggling with witchcraft?” *cue eye roll* It was trying to get you to sign up for some kind of online coven. (I have a whole other rant about opportunists and religion but that’s for another day.)  That made me realize something else: witchcraft is back in vogue!

And there’s a reason for that–it’s linked to feminism. Go with me on this.

I came of age in the mid-to-late 90s when all things witchy were cool:

  • Pop Culture– Goth fashion, long black or velvet dresses. People began wearing pentacles in public (I am not a fan of that symbol, but no worries if you are. I prefer the triquetra.) New Age stores were everywhere.
  • TVCharmed, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Buffy the Vampire Slayer 
  • MoviesThe Craft, Hocus Pocus, The Crucible (with Winona Ryder), Practical Magic
  • Books – This was heaven. Borders had a whole section on Wicca. Hundreds of books. It was amazing. I probably owned at least 50 myself during this time.

That was during the third wave of feminism, when Girl Power and Lilith Fair was all the rage. Women were fighting for reproductive rights, LGBT rights (there was no QIA at that point), intersectional recognition in feminism, against gender violence and more.

Then things quieted down in the 2000s as both witchcraft and feminism began to be viewed as passe. Women began saying feminism was no longer needed and maybe even dead.

But suddenly a few years ago (long about 2015 or 2016) witchcraft began to creep back into pop culture, right along with a fourth wave of feminism that I would argue began with the 2016 presidential election (I really, really want to write a book about that!)

Suddenly you have a repeat of the 90s (sometimes way too literally):

  • Pop Culture– “Basic Witch,” a really commercial version of witchcraft that uses its trappings (crystals, sage, “spells”- all packaged in book or a monthly subscription box!) to appeal to the yoga moms and millennials. (This is so NOT real witchcraft.) And most New Age stores have moved online.
  • TV/StreamingReboots of Charmed and Sabrina the Teenage Witch (as Chilling Adventures of Sabrina), American Horror Story: Coven
  • Books – The oldies but goodies written by Starhawk, Doreen Valentine, Silver RavenWolf, Raven Grimassi and others are still around. But now you also have Basic Witch, 5-Minute Magic for Modern Wiccans and other books looking to “modernize” the craft.

It’s interesting that now most of this is darker, especially the reboots. But so is our culture, with its hatred and bigotry (exactly the opposite of what most witchcraft is about, at least the kinds that call themselves white or green). And frankly, women have a lot more to fight for this time around: our reproductive rights are being threatened more than ever and we’re taken even less seriously on issues of sexual violence – just look at the appointment of Judge Cavanaugh to the Supreme Court, the high profile rape cases like Brock Turner, and the police who got probation a few days ago for raping a woman they had drugged and detained. Women’s rights are sliding backwards again and the patriarchy is trying to reassert itself. And at the same time we find a rise in the popularity of witchcraft.

All of this makes sense, if you think about it. Witches, or at least the women accused of witchcraft in the US and Europe, have always been the resistance. They often lived alone, which in itself was bucking the system because it kept them out of the control of men. They had power in their independence and in the healing arts (herbs, midwifery, etc.) that they provided the community. People feared their magic and spells, regardless of whether or not any were ever cast. They were the original “nasty” women.

One could argue that the Spiritualism trend of the 1800s and early 1900s, which gave women to the ability to speak in public for the first time and tangentially led to the suffrage movement, was the witchcraft of the first wave of feminism. (God I want to write a book about this!)

After centuries of being “forced” underground, modern Wicca (one of the most well-known forms of witchcraft in the US) was founded in 1954 by Gerald Gardner, who claimed it was an unbroken continuation of the ancient forbidden practices. (Believe what you will about that. I think it is BS.) It grew in popularity over the next twenty years and had it’s first public heyday in the late 70s and 80s. (Think Stevie Nicks in the music world, The Mists of Avalon for a literary example and Teen Witch for a movie example.)

Not coincidentally, this was during the second wave of feminism, when women were beginning to enter the workforce for the first time and demand their rights (abortion legalization, equal pay, an end to sexual harassment, etc.) equal to their male counterparts.

We saw this pattern repeat in the 90s and its happening again now. So it seems that in times of resistance, we as women naturally seek to copy our fore-mothers and seek solace and power in witchcraft, which grants us equality with (and in some forms of Wicca, dominance over) men.

Now, of course, not all women are witches, by far. Christianity is still far more popular. (Everyone has a right to their own beliefs, whatever they may be.) And there is still a great fear and hatred of anything pagan by many people. I just think the correlation is interesting.

And since this is a blog about books and writing, here’s a list of my favorite fictional witchy books:

  • A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
  • The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe
  • The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs by Kathrine Howe
  • Kim Harrison’s whole Hallows series.

And our own Spellbound Scribe Shauna Granger has her Elemental series and Melinda Kavanaugh series. Happy witchy reading!

Please don’t ask about my personal beliefs. Those are my business and honestly a very, very long and complex answer. I’ve studied witchcraft for years from a scholarly perspective, so my true beliefs may not be what you expect. But then again they may. 😉