Posts Tagged ‘Victorian literature’

I think I’ve been hearing buzz about this novel since it was released last year. However, I only just got around to reading it recently (or more accurately, listening to it on audio book). I had somehow managed to stay spoiler-free despite the buzz, and knew nothing beyond the fact it was a Gothic novel set in 1950s Mexico. And knowing nothing, I was going in expecting something amazing.

Mexican Gothic follows Noemi Taboada, a young high-society woman living in Mexico City in 1950. That is, until a mysterious letter from her cousin Catalina arrives at the family home. Concerned, Noemi is sent out to check on her cousin, who has been living in the countryside since her marriage to a mysterious Englishman named Virgil Doyle at his family’s estate, High Place. When she arrives, she’s not surprised to find things are not what they appear. However, the biggest surprises are yet to come. And if Noemi’s not careful, she’ll find these surprises may keep her from leaving High Place. Forever.

I can see why this novel was nominated for a Bram Stoker award, it’s excellent!

For one thing, the language this book is written in is just beautiful, like a Victorian novel without being too stuffy or overly wordy and dramatic. From the opening chapters, I felt like I was listening to the sort of writing I aspire to write (maybe someday I will). And Moreno-Garcia uses this brilliant language to not only bring the novel to life in your mind, but to bring out this strong sense of atmosphere and dread. I could almost see High Place and feel the horror that Noemi felt.

Speaking of which, I loved Noemi. She’s a very spunky young woman who refuses to compromise or let anyone tell her what to do just because she’s a woman. I loved watching her go up against the stodgy, stuffy Doyles with their rigid ways and gloomy lives, as well as how she refused to submit.

In addition, Mexican Gothic‘s story has a unique twist on the concept of a haunted house. I won’t go into details, because it’s more fun for you to read it yourself. Let me just say, it’s different than anything I’ve read and you’ll probably find it pretty clever on a number of levels.

I can’t think of any real downsides to this story. If I did, it would be nitpicking on my part. I will warn some readers that there are some things in the novel that might be triggering to them. One of the characters turns out to be…skeevy, to put it mildly. Just warning you.

In any case, Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a wonderful addition to the Gothic horror genre. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a 4.7. Wonderfully written, ingenious and spooky. Pick up a copy and find out for yourself why people are raving about this book. Preferably before they decide the Bram Stoker winners in May.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Until next time, happy reading and pleasant nightmares!

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I think I’ve mentioned how busy I am lately. But things have kind of calmed down a bit, so unless I hear back from a beta reader, figure out how best to edit this story I’m working on, or am lucky enough to get a story accepted somewhere, I know what I’m working on next.

You may recall back in the spring, I started writing what I thought would be a novella, but ended up being a full blown novel. This novel, The Pure World Comes, follows a maid in the Victorian era who goes to work at the manor of a mysterious nobleman, only to find mysterious and terrifying events occurring there. I haven’t touched it since then, but I haven’t stopped thinking about it and how to improve it. And now feels like a good time to get to work on a second draft.

As such, I’ve been prepping to journey back to Queen Victoria’s reign. I’ve been listening to audio books and watching movies and TV shows in that era to get that flowery, polite way of speaking down. I’ve been learning new bits of information, such as etiquette and dating advice (yes, the Victorians had dating advice). And I’ve been reviewing what I already know. After all, this isn’t just Gothic horror (or is it Gothic horror/gaslamp fantasy?) I’m working on. This is historical fiction! And historical fiction requires a lot of work to make the reader feel they’re in that bygone era.

All that being said, I have a few goals with this draft. Obviously, I’ll be looking to clean it up, fix any plot holes I notice, and cut out anything extraneous. However, I have a few other goals. This includes:

Victorian fashion. It was a special kind of extravagant.
  • Improve the dialogue. I feel like when I wrote the first draft, I made my characters speak like modern-day Americans. This draft, I’m going to go through the whole book and make sure they sound like Victorians! Eloquence and flowery language, fewer contractions, a focus on politeness and how to address different classes. Not sure I’m going to mad on the expressiveness like characters in Dracula did (oh my God, even when people were dying, they had to be so wordy and full of praise for people they admire!), though. That might be too silly and melodramatic.
  • Explain the era better. One of the problems I have as a writer is that I forget that not every reader knows the same things as me. So, while I know a lot about Victorian England and can put an odd detail peculiar to the era in, knowing exactly what that means, the average reader won’t. It’s my job as the author to explain the minutiae to the reader, be it the ritual of mourning (click here for more on that), how much a pain in the ass cleaning was, or how ice cream was made back in the day (they used to use cucumbers!).
  • The little details need to be inserted. By this, I want to include more things special to the Victorian era. You write about the 1980s, you include Walkmans and big hair and the latest pop songs. You write about the 1950s, you include Cold War concerns, soda shops in pharmacies, televisions and record players, and early rockers. You write about the Victorian era, you mention steam engines, Mudie’s Lending Library, penny dreadfuls, and so much more. I want to include more of those details in the story, so that others familiar with the era can say, “Aha! That makes it feel authentic.” And trust me, there are a lot of details like that to include.

So, that’s what I’m up to lately. Or what I’m about to get up to, most likely starting this week. With any luck, I can make a damn good draft and get this story one step closer to publication. And believe me, I aim to get this story published, one way or the other. After all, this story includes both my love of the Victorian era and my theory of who Jack the Ripper is! You know I gotta get that out there!

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m off to dream dark dreams. Possibly taking place at balls with huge dresses and polite conversation. Still dark dreams, though. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

Audible’s audio edition of Dracula by Bram Stoker. Turns out, it was just what the Count ordered.

Everyone has heard of Dracula. Most likely, you’ve seen some version of him in a movie or a TV series .* But how many of you have ever read the original novel? Not many, surprisingly. Besides the fact that Dracula’s melted so thoroughly into pop culture, the source material is a Victorian novel written in the form of diary entries and letters. Even veteran bookworms have to steel themselves for those!

I tired once or twice in my younger years to read Dracula, but found it harder to get through than some Lovecraft stories and had to stop reading. Last month, however, Audible offered its own audio version for free as part of my subscription. I was like, “Maybe I’ll enjoy it more in audio form” and downloaded it.

Turns out, while Audible may have a dumbass exchange policy (and yes, fixing Audible and Amazon’s issues are still works in progress), the audio book was just what I needed. Great cast that brought the story to life and allowed me to get into it while driving or working out or cooking.

And let me tell you, Dracula the novel is good! It’s a slow burn Gothic story that takes its time building up an atmosphere as well as a conflict. By the time the action really gets rolling, the suspense and dread is so well-constructed that you actually feel a bit of worry with every encounter or setback the characters endure.

I also liked how a lot of my expectations were subverted while listening to the novel. Yes, his name’s on the cover, but Dracula himself doesn’t show up that much in the story past the first act. He’s mostly on the edge, only showing himself every now and then. While this may upset some readers who expect the Count to be front and center, it’s actually pretty effective. Whenever Dracula shows up, you know shit is likely to get real, and you’re waiting for that shit to happen.

Contrary to what the movies portray, Dracula is more on the edges and backgrounds than front and center.

Another surprise: while I expected Dr. Van Helsing to be an important character, Mina Harker (nee Murray) really stole the show. She’s easily smarter than most of the other characters, including the doctor, and could almost be seen as a proto-Buffy. The only reason she doesn’t do any slaying is because Victorian mores made it impossible for anyone, including Mina herself, to see her taking on a more active role against Dracula (much to their regret later). Kind of makes you wonder if Stoker was making some sort of feminist statement there. I’d love to see an adaptation where Mina’s the one kicking ass. You know, instead of falling for the Count and/or being totally helpless.

And there were some details in the story that I found fascinating, simply because they never make it into any adaptation. For example, Van Helsing hints that Dracula, for all his power and evil, has a very childlike brain when it comes to planning or deep thinking, and that hinders him when he comes to England. It’s amazing what never gets translated to the adaptations.

All that said, the novel isn’t without flaws. The character of Renfield, Dracula’s faithful madman, is pretty extraneous to the plot. He’s really just a vampire radar, and other than that, he doesn’t do much beyond be crazy and help develop Dr. Seward’s character. Then there’s Quincy Morris, a character from Texas who feels more like a parody of Texans from Western novels than a real Texan. And yeah, I would have liked to see a bit more of Dracula, as well as him being a big bad. That might just be my pop-culture image not lining up with the novel, but can you blame me?

All in all, though, I think Dracula is deserving of a 4.8 out of 5. It’s moody, well-written and worth the read if you find a format that works for you. Hell, I think I might go on a binge of Dracula-related media: some essays on the story’s deeper meaning, some adaptations, that novel co-written by Stoker’s descendant (yes, that’s a real thing). I might also write a story involving Dracula and characters in the novel. Who knows?

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. If you need me, I’m celebrating the first night of Hanukkah with vampires and jelly donuts (weird combination, I know). Until next time, happy holidays and pleasant nightmares!

*Speaking of which, I’m still sad that the 2014 NBC TV show was cancelled after one season. All because they didn’t give it the advertising it deserved. The fact that this might be the first you’ve ever heard of it unfortunately proves my point.