Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Litha/Midsummer - Summer Solstice

Litha/Midsummer - Summer Solstice - June 21

I have to admit, I’m not a big fan of Summer. My husband often jokes that sunlight makes me burst into flames. Ha, ha. Though he isn’t far from the truth, besides burning easily, I was a heat casualty as a teenager, and my internal thermostat has never been the same. Tip: make sure you bring sufficient amounts of water if you ever decide backpack the Appalachian Trail in the heat of summer. 

But here we are, the earth is spinning and it is the summer solstice, also known as Litha or Midsummer. This is a holiday high on testosterone, a holiday about the virile god. The Goddess is pregnant and the god is at his zenith. Sun worshiping and fire dominates this holiday. And though it is the longest day of the year, as well as a celebration of light, there is still some darkness to be found.

I’m visiting The Wheel of the Year (as they occur in the Northern Hemisphere), the eight seasonal festivals or pagan holidays, also called Sabbats. A lot of rituals, symbols, and folklore revolve around these pagan holidays, and several of the elements, symbols, and themes can be used in Gothic storytelling. Hopefully, you’ll find some inspiration.

Here are some of the dark themes, symbols and story elements conjured by the Summer Solstice, aka Litha or Midsummer.

Famine and drought
Forest fires
Anything involving Fairies
Knights fighting Dragons
Greed over golden treasures
Dragons guarding treasures
Being burnt at the stake

Fire and Bonfires
            Trial by Fire
                        Tempering steel and iron
Swords and weapons
Protection [bon fires were kept burning through the night to ward off evil spirits and the ashes kept in the home for protection throughout the year]
            War – Cannons and firearms; “the heat of battle”
A spit over an open fire  [Grills]

Bells [people wear bells to ward off fairies and evil spirits]
Horse Shoes
Earth circles
Fairy circles


Extreme Heat

Mythology, Folklore, and Fairytales:
Apollo(sun god), Ra(sun god), Midas (king cursed with the golden touch), Aries(represents fire, god of war), Pan, Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream [fun fact: Shakespeare mentions the pagan holidays in three of his plays all of them are regarding the summer solstice]; The Oak King – God of light, hands over, or loses his battle to the Holly King –God of darkness; At summer solstice, the ancient Mesopotamians held a six day funeral for the god of plants, Tammuz. Their mourning ushered in the god of war and pestilence, Nergal, for what they called the “dead season”; the christian St. John’s Day also falls on this day.

How do you feel about Summer? Did these spark other related images or motifs? If so, share them in the comments and I’ll add them.

As always, stay beautifully haunted!

♥ Shadow

If you are interested in exploring this holiday further, check out the reading recommendation.

Reading Recommendation: Midsummer: Rituals, Recipes & Lore for Litha by Deborah Blake 

Friday, June 9, 2017

Gothic Journal

As a ravenous bookworm growing up, trips to the library were never often enough and I would often sneak books from my mother's collection. This was like entering the restricted section at the Hogwarts library, except I didn't have an invisibility cloak, and had to read many of them under my bed or in the closet to keep from being detected. I made many discoveries this way and among my favorite were the gothic romances by Victoria Holt and Daphne du Maurier, to name a few.

So, I'm tremendously excited and honored to have avid gothic romance supporter and Publisher of Gothic Journal, Kristi Lyn Glass, share her insights into the world of gothic romance, its history and what it has evolved into today.

Short Bio of Introduction. 

I am Kristi Lyn Glass, Publisher of the Gothic Journal. For more information about me, see this link.

What is the Gothic Journal? 

From 1991 through 1998, Gothic Journal was the only news and review magazine for readers, writers, and publishers of romantic suspense, romantic mystery, and gothic, supernatural, and woman-in-jeopardy romance novels. Volume 8, Number 3, October/November 1998, was its final issue published.
Although you may no longer subscribe to this magazine, you may download its extensive Author Profiles and purchase its valuable back issues while supplies last.
Gothic Journal continues to provide reviews and lists of recommended new titles in its genres via its website and its book store.

What specifically drew you to gothic romance? 

I fell in love with gothic romance novels in the late 1960s, particularly the works of Victoria Holt, Phyllis A. Whitney, Mary Stewart, and Dorothy Eden. At that time, it was difficult to find gothic romance novels by other authors, and I didn’t frequent used book stores. My exposure to my favored books was primarily limited to hardcovers offered by the Literary Guild book club, which offers its members access to upcoming books at reduced prices before they are available elsewhere.

I soon became frustrated by typically having to wait a full year to read the next books by my favorite authors. I decided there must be a shortage of people writing such novels. (Keep in mind that there was no internet at that time with which to research the book market or its history.) With a degree in English and journalism, I set out to write my own historical gothic romance. After researching and completing my novel, I sent it off to publishers and received 13 rejection slips. Confident that my manuscript was not the problem, I decided that publishers were just not interested in publishing gothic romance novels at that time. I attended some romance writer conventions and confirmed that was exactly what was happening.

I learned that, before my time, when the novels of my favorite authors became popular, numerous hack writers tried to emulate them, flooding bookstores with similar books. Unfortunately, most were not well written and thus were not as well received by readers. Publishers’ relationships with booksellers at that time allowed booksellers to tear off the covers of unsold paperback books, discard the books, and return the covers to the books’ respective publishers for refunds. When readers quit buying the gothic romance knock-offs, publishers were hit with floods of booksellers’ refund requests. As a result, book publishers quit publishing gothic romances and quit putting “Gothic” on the spine of their paperbacks, assuming that word would guarantee the book would not sell.

I remained convinced that there were other readers, like myself, who loved good gothic romances and were having the same problems I was having finding such books to read. This led me to launch the bi-monthly Gothic Journal magazine to connect such readers, writers, and publishers and champion the genre. Gothic Journal also sponsored a reader/publisher-donated 3,400+  volume Gothic Romance Lending Library some of which is now available via inter-library loan.

Publishers (rather secretly) were still publishing gothic romance novels at that time. However, for marketing purposes, they were disguising them as other genres, such as romance, historical romance, mystery, romantic mystery, supernatural romance, romantic suspense, paranormal romance, and woman-in-jeopardy romance. Gothic romance lovers were thus faced with searching for needles in a huge haystack, again with no internet to help them find their desired books or authors.

Gothic Journal met the needs of gothic romance lovers during this period. Using its own definition of a “gothic romance novel” as “a novel that contains romance, life-threatening suspense, and a puzzle or mystery,” Gothic Journal published book lists of upcoming and recently published novels that fit that definition. The book lists provide each book’s title, author, publisher, and publishing month, and designated each book’s setting as either historical or contemporary.

Publishers sent new titles to Gothic Journal who then sent them off for review by a staff of over 20 volunteer reviewers who submitted their typed reviews by mail in exchange for keeping the reviewed books. Authors and lovers of the genre submitted articles and columns. Publishers and authors paid to advertise their upcoming titles. Each issue featured an extensive author profile of a popular gothic romance author including a biography, a chronological list of published novels, and book covers and short synopses of representative works. The cover of each issue featured a pen-and-ink drawing of a “great gothic setting,” such as a castle or mansion, often perched on a sea cliff. I created much of the cover art myself.

In the late 1990s, the growth of personal computers and the internet gradually eclipsed the need for Gothic Journal’s efforts. Publishers and authors created their own websites. Book lovers and booksellers connected online. Gothic Journal therefore ceased publishing a physical magazine and created its own website and Amazon bookstore, as described above.

Discuss the differences of gothic romance versus the supernatural/dark fantasy romance (vampire, werewolf, etc.) and the evolution that has occurred. As well as, how you feel the gothic romances of 1960's and 1970's differ from the gothic romances being published today. 

The gothic romances of the 1960s and 1970s were typically sweet, with sex occurring behind closed doors at the book’s conclusion. The heroines relied on their heroes to save them from dire straits. The stories were typically character-driven, rather than plot-driven. The heroine’s challenge was typically deciding whom to trust, and there were often two men for her to choose between.

Later gothic romances tapped into the rising feminism of the age. Their heroines became smarter, less trusting, and more self-sufficient, but still longed for romance and a happy ending. Publishers’ marketing efforts spawned new categories of books and authors, such as romantic suspense (typically contemporary), paranormal (including much more than just ghosts), and woman-in-jeopardy romance (typically contemporary). Historical gothic romances became few and far between, hidden among historical romances on the book shelf.

Over time, gothic romance stories generally became less character-driven and more plot-driven. Romance in today’s “gothic novels” either takes a back seat to, or is overwhelmed by, the needs of the plot and its vampires, werewolves, shape shifters, and other paranormal entities. Publishers redefined “gothics” as novels that contained such elements and a dark tone. These new “dark gothics” became popular as perhaps-disillusioned feminists (fed up with reality and with trying to be super women) sought to escape into otherworldly reads. Bedroom doors have now not only swung open wide, they also typically include increasingly graphic details; the characters engage in sex whenever and wherever imaginable, reflecting current morality. Plots in today’s gothics are more sex- and shock-driven. Note that they are no longer referred to as “gothic romances.” They are often filled with angst, unreal characters/situations and head-spinning plotting. The gothic novels of today are a far cry from the sweet gothic romances of the 1960s and 1970s, and their audiences are greatly different.

Lately, I have noticed a slight reemergence of new sweet gothic romances, though they are, again, hard to find in a very bloated internet. Their primary audience of Baby Boomers, like me, is aging and often distracted by surfing Facebook in search of family and grand-baby news. I cannot imagine Millennials reading and enjoying gothic romance novels. They simply could not relate to them, so serious publishers are unlikely to publish many, if any, of these.

What gothic romance novel/author would you recommend a reader new to the genre start with?  

For readers interested in experiencing a true sweet gothic romance novel of the 1960s, I recommend starting with Mistress of Mellyn, by Victoria Holt. If that strikes a chord, continue with the rest of Holt’s works and those of Dorothy Eden. The settings in these books are especially interesting to the armchair traveler who wants to escape to the Victorian or mid-nineteenth-century past. Those interested in more edgy and (at that time) contemporary examples of the genre will enjoy the works of Mary Stewart and Phyllis A. Whitney. I find particularly refreshing the absence of cell phones and the internet in all of these books.

Are there any current gothic romance novels or authors you would recommend? 

I recommend Amanda DeWeesBlair BancroftJulie KlassenJanis Susan MayLinda Gillard, and Lisa Greer. Some of these authors also write in other genres, so check out the plots on each book. An search for “gothic romance novels” will bring up a plethora of gothic romance novel possibilities, many of which are available as e-books. Check out Gothic Journal’s book store for the latter search plus recommendations by Gothic Journal.   Searching Amazon for “gothic novels” will not guarantee you a happy ending, which is generally preferred by a gothic romance lover. Using that search, you will be shown more literary works and dark gothics instead of gothic romances.

Links to follow or subscribe to the Gothic Journal

You can no longer “subscribe” to the Gothic Journal magazine, as it no longer is published. I do publish an email newsletter at least annually that contains news and links of interest to gothic romance novel enthusiasts. Use the links below for more information.
·         Gothic Journal website
·         Gothic Journal book lists
·         Gothic Journal back issues
·         Gothic Journal author profiles (digital downloads)
·         Gothic Romance Lending Library
·         Gothic Journal newsletters
·         Other links recommended by Gothic Journal

Thank you so much for sharing!!

I discovered so many great books and stories from the Gothic Journal's book lists and book store, you should definitely check it out!

♥ Shadow.