In 1944, Etta Hayes is nineteen and over-the-moon in love with her recently returned soldier. She dreams of having babies, a little house and a white picket fence. But the doll her fiancé brought back from overseas casts an eerie shadow over their lives. As she digs into the doll’s past, Etta learns the horrible secrets it contains. Secrets she wished she’d never gone looking for.
When present-day artist, Isabel Joven, receives a mysterious vintage doll, she’s intrigued. But then sinister things begin to occur in her rambling farmhouse deep in rural Vermont. And Isabel begins to question every truth she’s ever believed.
J.P. Choquette writes novels that turn pages, not stomachs. Her full-length books include Epidemic, Dark Circle, Subversion, Restitution and Shadow in the Woods. She has also published a number of short stories and hundreds of articles for magazines, newspapers and trade publications during her writing career.
Since she was old enough to create “books” with staples and crayons, Choquette has been an avid writer and voracious reader. With a bachelor’s degree in psychology, Choquette is constantly fascinated by human behavior.
A lover of Gothic books and movies, Choquette enjoys reading, spending time in old cemeteries, making art, learning anything about haute couture from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, visiting junk shops and drinking hot beverages … just not all at the same time. Learn more by visiting www.jpchoquette.net.
When you think of “Gothic suspense novels,” what comes to mind first? Is it a particularly haunting book like Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, or maybe Patricia Clapp’s ghostly Jane-Emily? All of these are great examples of Gothic suspense. Maybe first it would help to clearly define what makes a Gothic suspense novel, well, Gothic-y.
This post at Kingdom Books offers a great description (by way of the very talented author, Kate Morton). She defines Gothic suspense in part as including elements such as atmosphere, family secrets, the entrapment of women (either physical or social), unreliability of one’s memory and more. A sense of place, notes Canadian author, Vicki Delany, in the same article, is of utmost importance as well. Whether it’s a creepy, old mansion, a deserted theater, or sinister graveyard, Gothic books tend to revolve around a certain location. Think of Dracula and the importance that the castle played. Atmosphere is something that comes to mind when I think Gothic suspense or mystery. Setting the scene is incredibly important, maybe more so for Gothic-inspired tales than others. Using the weather, a particular place, forests and fields, even the sky, all heighten one’s anticipation. It gives the message: something isn’t right here. Something sinister is at work.
While many Gothic tales (past and present) add in a supernatural element–ghosts being the most prevalent–it’s certainly not a requirement. In Rebecca for instance, it’s simply the memory of the dead wife that haunts the new bride, without a true apparition in sight.
Writing Gothic Suspense
So, how does one go about writing a Gothic suspense novel? I can only speak for myself, but one key element is saturating myself in the mood I want to evoke.
I do this via collected images on Pinterest and Instagram, reading interesting articles about macabre subjects like Victorian death jewelry, listening to thunderstorms while I write and celebrating my “old soul”. By nature I’m a melancholy type and rather than fight it and pretend to be someone else, I’ve learned to (mostly!) embrace it. “Gothic-ness” is a state of mind, too. Readers often comment that my books are very atmospheric, that they can easily imagine themselves right there in the story, in the scene. That I think comes from being somewhat observant and very sensitive.
When I walk into a room I notice things–sometimes too many things–all at once. What the air smells like and feels like, how bright or dull the light is, where noises are coming from, the mood of the people in the space, etc. I bet you do this too, maybe without even consciously thinking about it. While this sort of super-sensitivity can be overwhelming at times, it really helps me build a realistic setting while writing. I’m so grateful for that!
So, on a larger scale, all of the above help me write Gothic-inspired suspense novels. But what does it look like on a daily basis? Something like this:
- Sit at computer, bring up “thunderstorms” on YouTube and open my writing file.
- Sip tea between slumps.
- Browse Pinterest or Google Images when I need a little inspiration. Or visit my real-life Gothic shade garden-in-progress.
- Repeat x 5 days/week.
Researching Gothic Suspense
Research for my Gothic suspense novels takes a bit of time. In fact, one of the dangers is that I find the research so fascinating, I can easily spend hours and hours on it. Only I can’t, not really, or I’ll never get the next book written. So, as I write I highlight questions that I have. For example, in the first draft of the current manuscript I’m working on, I had something like this:
“Dr. Hughes emerged from the coroner’s office…”
Me: Hey, wait a minute. It’s the late 1800s. Did they even HAVE coroner’s then?”
So, I’d highlight “coroner,” and go back when I’m working on the second draft and research that more thoroughly. (BTW, my initial research shows that the first coroner was employed as early as 1637 in the United States in case you were wondering.)
Other research includes learning really interesting things about old funeral practices, mourning rituals, housing, transportation, dress and other day-to-day activities of people in earlier centuries. Of course, that’s when writing historical suspense novels. For my modern-day suspense novels, the Gothic-ness is more focused on atmosphere, but still dips back into events from the past which come back to haunt people in the present.
I hope this helps you get a better understanding of what goes into writing and researching a Gothic-inspired novel. I’m happy to answer any of your questions, so please leave one in the Comments if you’d like. Thanks so much to Annie for allowing me the opportunity to share on The Misstery today. It’s been a pleasure. 😊