My Writing Inspiration: Charlotte Perkins Gilman
by Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi, author of Breathe. Breathe.

“It is not that women are really smaller-minded, weaker-minded, more timid and vacillating, but that whosoever, man or woman, lives always in a small, dark place, is always guarded, protected, directed and restrained, will become inevitably narrowed and weakened by it.” –Charlotte Perkins Gilman

When writing about women in the horror industry, it’s always very important to include those alive and working hard throughout the year. However, as one of those authors of today, I also love to harken back to classic women in history, our trailblazers, since they particularly inspire my work. Some women writers like Mary Shelley are often first spoken from the top of the head when asked to list a classic female writer in horror. She’s deserving of course (and hey – Frankenstein is 200 years this year!), but I chose to write on Charlotte Perkins Gilman, who blew me away first with her story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” and since, it has had a distinct imprint on my writing, and particularly my story, “Dandelion Yellow,” which has garnered positive reviewer and peer accolades with its quiet  shock and horror.

I don’t normally say I mirror with my writing any authors who are inspirations to me, or that I try to emulate a writing style or voice. Rather, I’m a continual reader of words because I feel the more you read, the better writer (or editor) you become. I connect to some more than others, and they help me with plot, structure, dialogue, or suspense. When my mind compels me to write, I find myself unconsciously channeling various authors’ character or foreboding techniques or I leave nuggets within my work as an ode to theirs. With Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” which I related to on a very personal level, I utilized her use of color, yellow by chance, and seasoned my work with all the subliminal and folklore meanings of the color. I’d like to think she was doing this too.

Stories I’ve read growing up by writers I’ve since more comprehensively studied, whether in obtaining my English degree or in continual learning I’ve done to better myself since, have made me think. Yes, THINK. I spend years thinking and discovering lost layers of these pieces of work. I’m not dissecting the writing per se (maybe sometimes if I’m looking into themes), but I’m just absorbing and applying them to circumstances in my life, in the lives of others, in our society then and now, and in the story ideas that the muses in my head plop down before me.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, like most women writers of the late 19th century to turn of the 20th century, was an activist and a voice for social issues and women’s rights. However, she also struggled with her issues of mental illness and treatment (which as we know has come a long way since then). Often, if not writing for newspapers, creating their own newspapers, and writing about social causes and the rights of women, they infused their beliefs into their fiction. When we read these stories today, we find often that, as women, we still feel the same! How can we be fighting some of the same barriers still? I’m thankful to these women for their ideals and their backbones.

Though we’ve had progression, we still can’t seem to get light years ahead of gender equality and make better strides in mental health. “The Yellow Wallpaper” has a special place in my heart due to my own battles with surviving domestic violence, isolation, and anxiety. In all areas, more work needs to be done. Reading the fiction of women such as Gilman, Edith Wharton, Mary Shelley, The Bronte Sisters, Emily Dickinson, and so many more, both in horror, and in other genres, shows us what these important trailblazers have done, and still how far we need to go.

As for Gilman, she underwent some very unusual mental health treatments and methods for what we now know as postpartum depression, much of what is said to have spurred her writing of “The Yellow Wallpaper” in 1892. These methods, and her marriage, restricted her to her home, room, and her physicians and husband advocated for her to stop writing and painting.

My own isolative issues culminated in my poem “Silent Screams,” which is also featured in my dark poetry and short story collection, BREATHE. BREATHE., as well as my short story aforementioned “Dandelion Yellow.” In “Silent Screams,” I write, “Instead you’re trapped, inside your mind, inside your room, inside your clicking clock of doom.”

In “the Yellow Wallpaper,” Gilman writes about the protagonist’s increasing obsession with the wallpaper in her bedroom, a fixation which sometimes comes from being stuck in an isolated situation. A person becomes alone in their own head or obsessed with their surroundings. It’s a defense or soothing mechanism. In my life, in a past situation of isolation, I had become fixated on a spider that had taken up residence in a high corner of my bedroom. In my own story, “Dandelion Yellow,” the little girl’s life, and happiness, revolves around her need for the Crayola crayon color Dandelion Yellow. When they discontinue it, her world unravels, and if you read it, you’ll see why in the end.

I’m dissecting these connections now, of course, but when writing them, my pencil scribbled words straight from feeling, or as propelled by a muse, but I see all the commonalities that were infused due to my prior immersion in reading and studying of these women in the past. It’s a joyous connection for me. I had tried to give Gilman an ode to her work by using yellow décor in the bedroom in “Dandelion Yellow,” much as I used an attic space as an ode to early V.C. Andrews, one of my more contemporary inspirations due to her book Flowers in the Attic, but I’m glad that my work subliminally still challenges issues of society and humanity today much like the work of Gilman’s and others did in the past.

Unfortunately, after moving on from her first marriage and recovering from her depression—and going on to write and publicly speak on such important topics—things ended sadly for Gilman. She was diagnosed with inoperable breast cancer in 1935 and committed suicide. Her brief suicide note is reported as saying, “Human life consists in mutual service.” I hope the work that I, and other current writers do, continues her legacy.

Though everyone’s author voice is, and should be, original, many writers take pieces from those that they admire. What authors inspire your own work? Do you find similar weaving of threads in the tapestries of your work? Are there themes you both worked toward in your writing?

Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi, Biography

Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi has Bachelor of Arts degrees in English, Journalism, and History. She is an author and has twenty years of experience in her field in jobs as a writer, a journalist, an editor, and marketing and public relations professional/publicist among many other things.

Breathe. Breathe., published by Unnerving in 2017, was her debut collection and a mix of dark poetry and short stories. Launching at Amazon’s #2 bestselling paid title in Women’s Poetry behind Rupi Kaur’s NYT bestselling collection, in its past year, it has hit the Top 5 Amazon paid best-selling lists in women’s poetry and horror short stories multiple times. Her work has been called raw, honest, evocative, beautiful as well as clever, brutal, and chilling by industry professionals, reviewers, and readers alike. She has stories and poems featured in several other anthologies (Hardened Hearts, PEN’s My Favorite Story, and Dark Voices) and magazines and was the co-editor of the Gothic poetry and short story anthology Haunted are These Houses.

She is currently an editor at Sinister Grin Press and assists with PR at Raw Dog Screaming Press as well as continuing to own her own business, Hook of a Book Media, in which she does editing and publicity and consulting for many authors. Formerly, her voice was heard on the Project Entertainment Network’s podcast The Mando Method giving her #marketingmorsels, or tips, for writers. She’s looking for a new podcast home to lend her voice and expertise.

In addition, she serves as president of the board of her local mental health center and rape crisis domestic violence safe haven. She’s been honored to have received a woman of achievement award in her community and to have represented the Business and Professional Women as Ohio’s Young Careerist.

Erin continues to write multiple stories, novels, and poems from the forests of rural Ohio where she frets over her three children, partner, and a cat. She is currently in the editing stages of her new dark poetry-only collection which delves into the theme of water.

You can e-mail her at hookofabook (at) hotmail (dot) com and find her easily at www.hookofabook.wordpress.com. You’ll also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

 

About BREATHE. BREATHE.

Breathe. Breathe. is a collection of dark poetry and short fiction exploring the surreal depths of humanity. It’s a representation of how life breaks us apart and words put us back together. Purged onto the pages, dark emotions flow, urging readers into murky seas and grim forests, to the fine line between breathing and death.

In Act One, readers are presented with a serial killer in Victorian London, a lighthouse keeper with an eerie legacy, a murderous spouse that seems to have walked right out of a mystery novel, and a treacherous Japanese lady who wants to stay immortal. The heightened fears in the twilight of your minds will seep into the blackest of your nights, where you have to breathe in rhythm to stay alive.

In Act Two, the poetry turns more internal and pierces through the wall of denial and pain, bringing visceral emotions to the surface unleashing traumas such as domestic abuse, violence, and illness.

In the short stories, you’ll meet residents of Valhalla Lane whose lives are on a violent parallel track to collision, a man who is driven mad by the sound of a woodpecker, a teenage girl who wakes up on the beach and can’t find another soul in sight, a woman caught in a time shift pitting her against the Egyptian goddess Anuket, and a little girl whose whole world changes when her favorite dandelion yellow crayon is discontinued.

Amid these pages the haunting themes of oppression, isolation, revenge, and madness unfold through folklore, nightmares, and often times, raw, impulsive passion crafted to sear from the inside out.

With a touching foreword by the Bram Stoker nominated author Brian Kirk, Breathe. Breathe. will at times unsettle you, and at times embrace you. Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi, a veteran writer and editor of the written word, offers up a mixed set of pieces, identifying her as a strong, new voice in dark fiction that will tear the heart from your chest, all the while reminding you to breathe.

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Available in e-book and print and Kindle Unlimited

Also available via Barnes and Noble in print and at other fine online retailers.

PRAISE for BREATHE. BREATHE.

Al-Mehairi creates engaging characters and often has twists to her plots that make for a unique reading experience. The highlight of this section would be the story “Dandelion Yellow,” a magical realist tale about a young girl and her box of crayons. It’s a rich, colorful tale with a suspenseful build up and haunting ending. Overall, the fiction section of the book is very well done.” – Cemetery Dance Online

“Precise writing, compelling plots….” – Gene O’Neill, Bram Stoker Award Winner

“Erin paints scenes and evokes emotions with precision and skill. These are the kinds of stories and poems that tighten your chest and leave you holding your breath.” – The Scary Reviews

“I am certain many readers {and not only female} will find themselves breathing shallower, or holding their breath, as the vividness of these scenes awakens memories. Other readers who may not have these particular types of painful memories, will nonetheless wince in empathy. I am equally certain very few will walk away untouched, and very few will forget.” -The Haunted Reading Room

“Breathe. Breathe. is as honest and raw as writing gets.” -The Grim Reader

“Breathe. Breathe. is a great collection of poetry and short fiction. The poems are dark and vivid. They touch at the core of the human condition. The characters are troubled, and the author gives them just enough depth.” – Cedar Hollow Reviews

“This collection beautifully showcases the beauty in the worlds we create (either physically or in our own heads) and also reminds us of the sickening cruelty inflicted onto others. A great collection for anyone who enjoys reading work on the darker/haunting side, and who may want to feel a little vengeance a little once in awhile!” – Down in a Book

“Raw, risky, and brave.” – Selcouth Station

“Overall, Breathe. Breathe. is a must-read for any poetry lover. It is rich in themes and ideas, from heartbreak and heartache to women fighting back their abusers, to Japanese mythology to an ancient Egyptian goddess taking a human life for a greater purpose. I highly recommend it.” – Nadaness in Motion

“Wow. This collection really leaves bruises on the soul. I’m not a huge fan of poetry, yet, I found myself glued to the words and emotions pouring out of this author. To fans of dark literary fiction and poetry, I recommend giving Breathe. Breathe. a try.”
– Tim Meyer, author of Sharkwater Beach

“I loved Dandelion Yellow.  I was hyperventilating at the end, but it was such a beautiful, painful and artful tale. I’ll be saying that last line to myself for weeks at least. Just beautiful.  I’m re-reading the rest.  One read just isn’t enough because DAYUM.  Beautiful.”
–  Somer Canon, author of Vicki Beautiful and The Killer Chronicles

“At times sinister, definitely dark, atmospheric and heavy with foreboding, this collection of poetry and short stories from Erin Al Mehairi touches our deepest fears. Murder, domestic violence and even an ancient Egyptian goddess all move within these pages where nothing is ever simple or straightforward.” – Catherine Cavendish, author of Wrath of the Ancients

It’s full of the unexpected – bits of lace cut through with the odd and the horrible and the beautiful. Through it all I sense the power of a survivor!! And I love that!”
—Sue Harrison, internationally bestselling author of Mother Earth Father Sky (Ivory Carver Trilogy)

“Breathe. Breathe. is at times haunting, visceral, bittersweet, and tender. Erin Al Mehairi bares her soul and invites readers to devour it whole.”
—Hunter Shea, author of We Are Always Watching

“Erin Al-Mehairi weaves a web of narrative and poetry both beautiful and nightmare-inducing in Breathe. Breathe., invoking heartache and the need to see through the shining masks life presents us to confront the darkness it truly holds.”
—Michelle Garza, co-author of Bram Stoker nominated Mayan Blue

“Whether in poetry or prose, dark kernels nestled within horror tropes indicate that Al-Mehairi writes from the gut and from the heart but with the fierceness of a survivor, the soul of a fearless champion. This mixed collection is a fine introduction to a strong, intriguing new voice in dark fiction.” –W.D. Gagliani, Bram Stoker nominated author of Wolf’s Trap (Nick Lupo Series)

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About Stuart Conover

Stuart Conover is a father, husband, published author, blogger, geek, entrepreneur, horror fanatic, and runs a few websites including Horror Tree!

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