Three Ways to tell Gothic Fiction from Horror


Freddy may terrify, but he’ll never creep up on you like the Count.

What’s the difference between Count Dracula and Freddy Krueger? How about the Frankenstein monster and Jason Voorhees? Ever wondered why Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a timeless classic, while Return of the Living Dead just… isn’t?

The differences are more than fangs vs. finger-knives or neck-bolts vs. hockey masks. A Victorian doctor who transforms into a maniac has more to offer literature than a reanimated corpse, no matter how many brains it might eat. The differences between these classic novels and our beloved slasher flicks is a matter of genre.

It’s a matter of Gothic vs. Horror.


The Goth subculture may be the key to recognizing Gothic fiction.

For the centuries it’s been around, though, arguments have raged about what Gothic Fiction really is. It doesn’t help that we’ve labelled a whole subculture ‘Goth,’ which, like most subcultures, is filled with denizens who don’t understand their own origins. It’s helpful, though, to watch and listen to someone who identifies as ‘Goth.’ They’re almost always educated. They almost always come from a middle class that they resent. They almost always try to visually identify with a different class. They can be heard to tell us that our culture is eating itself alive, or that we’re the architects of our own destruction. And maybe that subtle hatred of our own origins is the key to understanding Gothic Literature.


It arose at a time that more of the English masses were being educated. Superstition was on the decline, but on the rise was awareness of England’s colonial atrocities against poorer classes and cultures. With education came time to reflect, and the Romantics used this time to long for a simpler life surrounded by Austen’s moors and Wordsworth’s daffodils… but some authors took this a step further. Some authors made victims and monsters out of the wealthy class. They held a dark mirror to all they held dear, and they asked one simple question:

“What if we deserve to be punished?”

Here, then, are three of the key features of Gothic Fiction to this day:

Gothic Checklist Number 1: The wealthy class are the monsters

Who could be more highly respected than a brilliant scientist or a Victorian doctor? Yet when one of them lets his true nature show and starts killing prostitutes or letting his monster loose on English villages, it’s a way for an author to reveal the horrors we all commit without thinking.

By contrast, Stephen King’s characters Dennis Guilder or Carrie White tend to be downtrodden and bullied before they rise up to command possessed Plymouths or drop pig’s blood on prom queens. That makes his books terrifying and hard to put down… but hardly Gothic.

Gothic Checklist Number 2: The wealthy class are the victims


Who knows what your Mom’s creepy boyfriend might be hiding?

It’s one thing for the rich folk to be hurting the poor underprivileged, but turning the tables on cashed-up victims is an essential element to Gothic fiction. Jonathan and Mina Harker were respectable and ethical nearly beyond reproach, but by making them victims of history’s hottest Count may have been Bram Stoker’s way of showing us that their wealth alone was enough reason to punish them.

Even the 1985 vamp film Fright Night got this right, with Jerry Dandridge a highly respected neighbor that teenager Charley Brewster was left to reveal as a neck-sucker. Twilight, though? Well, that’s a whole different argument.


Gothic Checklist Number 3: The buildings and furniture are scary


Screaming horror protags will never see a castle like this.

What’s a true monster story without a dark castle filled with organ music? Why didn’t Dracula ever buy a split-level near Monterey? The answer is simple association: settings that scare are a chance to connect us with wealthy things that make us uneasy. After all, not everyone can afford a stone mansion complete with gargoyles. Nobody frugal would ever allow cobwebs to cover their original French furniture.

On the other hand, the painfully middle-class teens in I Know What you Did Last Summer wouldn’t know a Louis-Philippe lounge from an A-Mart couch, so they’re safe from the creeping Gothic threats. They only have to deal with the horror.

What else distinguishes the shivers of Gothic fiction from the shock of horror? Add your own ideas in the comments!




YA Fiction Runner-up!

WOWAnother season has passed for the WOW: Women on Writing Flash Fiction contest, and it’s a privilege to announce that my story linked here, Weak as Tissue, was not so weak after all. In fact, it rated as a runner-up. It’s a light coming-of-age story, told from a teen girl’s perspective, which might give my dozen fans a taste for my more involved novel, Olivia Tames Olympus.  Click here to visit the stories of the well-deserved winners and my fellow runner-ups… runners-up… run-uppers (or however that’s pluralized). I like to read one every day.

The Magic of the Mundane

It’s not the magic that makes a story. It’s the ordinary guy who makes it magical.


The Power of Three needed a fourth…

I’ve been watching a lot of Charmed lately. No, not the stylish reboot, but the original white-girl series that helped make way for a better deal than girls had back then. My discovery of the series is thanks to a beloved student whom I’ll call TLT, who insisted that I watch at least the first three seasons. Since the show is older than she is, I thought I had better see what kept her coming back.

But here’s my shameful little secret: I’m now into Season Six.

The question, then, is what kept me coming back? I guess it was partly the much-needed replacement of hard-hearted Shannen Doherty with her surprisingly funny successor, Rose McGowan. Maybe it was partly the development of Leo, the witches’ own personal Great Gazoo who would appear inside sparkles to save their lives and sire their spawn. Maybe I just like watching those stained-glass windows shatter. What it wasn’t, though, was the magical powers or the nasally delivered rhyming couplets. It wasn’t the interminable series of failed dates with mannequin co-stars, nor the increasing density of Alyssa Milano’s makeup.

Mostly, what kept me coming back was a supporting character named Darryl. Continue reading

Don’t Tee, ‘Kay?


You have to know how to register your free domain from Tokelau

Where do you go when you want free stuff? The samples at Costco aren’t free; you have to pay an annual membership. Your free birthday meal at Denny’s costs you for anything you order to go with your Grand Slam, and the free entertainment on Cavill Avenue comes at the expense of dealing with three hundred drunks in Surfers Paradise. It’s getting so that a sign reading ‘Free’ is just shorthand for, Warning: you are about to be harangued over something unrelated.

So it is with a free website URL from Tokelau.

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“Fire in the Sea” targets ages 12-15: the “Right Age” for Mythology.

If you have not already, please visit my award-winning Flash Fiction here, here and here. While you are there, take a moment to browse around the community at WOW; enter a contest, take a course and read their informative blog. Without hyperbole, they are as supportive and encouraging a group as any that a new writer will ever find.


A Minotaur is fresh to some readers, but still recognizable.

When I first wrote Olivia of Olympus, I thought I was being original. After years of experiencing Dystopian YA fiction through the eyes of my students, I had begun to question why those familiar tropes should not instead be applied to existing legends. After all, it was the Norse and the Romans who first told tales of young heroes being pitted against impossible trials. It was the Greeks who proposed a society where women were freed, but at the cost of their lovers being killed and their sons enslaved. And when Zeus defied his wife, Hera, to express his overwhelming love for the human girl, Alcmene… well, a story like that has to give even Bella Swan a run for her mournful money.

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3 Electric Ways TV can Defibrillate your Writer’s Block

I need a break from my current series, The Right Age for Young Readers. Since I am having some writer’s block of my own, I thought I would fill the gap by reblogging this post, which was originally on Cow Pasture Chronicles. Hopefully, it will help someone else to deal with theirs!

When I was a kid, I was obsessed with television. I dreamed of the day that I could watch my choice of any TV show, at any time I wished. Now, that day has arrived, …

Source: 3 Electric Ways TV can Defibrillate your Writer’s Block