By: Jennifer Anne Gordon
If I look back on it now, with the clarity of adulthood, I know that I was doomed from the beginning…
Well, isn’t that a strange way to start a guest post, isn’t it?
You may be wondering what it is that’s happening, and who exactly I am, well I suppose I should introduce myself. My name is Jennifer Anne Gordon, I am a published gothic horror novelist, as well as a dancer and choreographer. But you see, I wasn’t always the person I am now, no, once I was much different than the person who is writing this.
Perhaps though I may not be so different than some of you.
You see I was a pale awkward child, that wonderful combination of allergies, asthma, and sun sensitivities kept me indoors for most of the summer (well and winter too, I’ve never been great with the outdoors with the bugs, the pollen, and the people).
I fell in love with reading and books at a young age and remember tearing through the entire collection of Nancy Drew while I was in first grade. I would go to our school library and check out as many books as they would let me.
At an early age, my parents told me that they would never say no if what I wanted was a book…though to be fair, they had no idea what they were getting into with me.
From Nancy Drew I quickly turned my attention to Christopher Pike, I loved that all of his books were basically just about a pack of upper class teenagers that did something wrong ,usually running over a homeless person while “joyriding” or accidentally killing a friend by switching out their insulin as a “joke”, and then having to pay the price sometime during the summer of senior year by being psychologically tortured.
I swear I read my copy of Chain Letter way too many times.
Reading these books made me feel edgy, and cool, so much cooler than the rest of the pale asthmatics at Catholic School.
Around the age 10 my uncle came to stay with us for a while, after he left New York. To me that sounded wildly cool. As I got older, I realized that it was in fact Buffalo, New York and that did take some of the allure away. But nevertheless, at age 10, my uncle came to live with us. He had a mustache and wore a jean jacket that had Native American embroidery on it. He smoked cigarettes and he and my mother would talk in French to each other when they were telling secrets.
I was enthralled.
I would sneak into his room and snoop through his stuff as much as I could. To be honest it was boring. He just had normal grown up stuff. Shaving cream, socks, a wallet with no money, the coolest thing was he had a driver’s license from TWO states. He was just a normal grown up, that is until I saw something precious.
Not just any book, but a book that was thick and heavy, it even had a cat on the cover. I didn’t know they wrote long books about cats for grownups. I snatched the book and headed upstairs to hide behind my giant Victorian Dollhouse to read.
I hoped with all I had, that this was not going to be another situation like the “Rabbit Book For Grownups” (Watership Down…frankly my parents should never have allowed me to read that when I was 8 I went to school with puffy eyes from too much crying for almost a week).
So, there I was, behind the dollhouse, it was almost like I was in the dollhouse. I was staring into the face of this angry cat, a rabid, angry, mangey, puff ball, and read the title Pet Sematary.
I remember thinking that the word was spelled wrong, and I got a snide little bit of only child “know it all” satisfaction about that. Nevertheless, I tucked into my hiding spot behind the dollhouse and opened the book. It was clear to me after a few pages that this was NOT a book that I should be reading…
This was when I got the taste for something a little darker, a little more tragic. Not only did King’s novel scare the hell out of 10-year-old me, it also broke my heart. I couldn’t go back to normal books or normal life, I wanted to be scared AND sad. I wanted to feel the emotional weight of fear clutch onto my heart and not let go.
Now, of course, I was too young to read these books, as far as my parents were concerned, so now I had to start being sneaky. A girl has to get her fix.
I would go to the bookstore with my mom and sneak into the horror section, and stare at the covers, I was too scared to even pick them up. My mother would eventually grow bored with the magazine section and find me. She would escort me promptly back where I belonged. To the young adult section, which if anyone my age remembers was not nearly as cool as it is now. It was mainly made up of one large bookcase, and of that case at least three rows were “Sweet Valley High” books.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I loved the adventures of those two beautiful blond twins, hell sometimes they even went to parties and in book #5 All Night Long One of the twins let a boy with a mustache go to second base. They were risqué for a sheltered 10-year-old, but still not what I wanted, what I needed.
Sadness, and Scares.
I had to play my cards right to sneak those books back into my life.
Luckily, as it was summer, I found the perfect way.
There was a ratty old ramshackle flea market a mile from my house, and my mom loved to go there on the weekends. You see, my mother collected clown figurines (yeah, scary and sad, but not in the way I wanted), our house filled with 100’s of them. She would scour all the tables at the flea market every weekend, snatching up each on she could find.
This is when my plan took form. I remember passing tables and tables of books every time we were there. If I could just get my mother to hand over a few bucks while she was in the midst of a clown buying delirium, I would be all set.
She played right into my hands. She handed over the $3 and told me I could buy books, but she just needed to see them first.
I walked in defeat towards the book table. The man who ran it wore a straw hat and had a parakeet perched on his shoulder. He smoked Pall Mall cigarettes like my dad. He asked me what I was looking for, and I said, “something scary”.
He walked me over to the corner of his table and that is when I saw them, all laid out. These didn’t look like scary books to me. They were too pretty, all the covers had women on them, and castles…but, the women, they looked scared, and some of them looked scared AND sad.
I thought to myself, this is it.
I picked up one of the books, it was called Conjure Wife. It looked magical. “How much is this?” I asked him. He said the words that still ring with beauty in my ears.
“All the gothic books are a quarter each.”
I knew I needed permission before I dove in and bought $3 worth of these classics. So, I went to my mom, showed her the cover of Conjure Wife, told her there were more like this, and she said “go ahead”.
She looked at the cover, probably liked that it had the word “wife” on it. Saw a castle, a floaty dress, and assumed that these books were fine. I went back to the table and bought 11 more. It didn’t matter which ones, and to this day, really only Conjure Wife stands out.
You always remember your first.
What I can tell you, about my long hot Gothic Summer, of the year I was ten, almost 11, was that I read a pile of books, and all were the same. Tragically, none of them ever featured a woman running from an old manor house in the middle of the night, clad only in a chiffon robe or an evening gown.
In fact, Conjure Wife, I remember was about the wives of Professors in a college town in the 1950’s, who practiced “magics” and had jealousy issues. There were no castles, no running. There were just games of bridge and women being upset over something called “tenure”.
I found that the idea of these books, these “Gothic” beauties, was usually more entertaining than the books themselves. Now, maybe that is because I was 10 (almost 11!!) and didn’t really understand them.
Maybe I didn’t want to. Why would I want to be a bored professor’s wife when I could somehow get my wits scared out of me causing me to run along a rocky shore in high heels with marabou feathers, almost teetering to my fictional death…
Still, I read on, waiting, and hoping for the next book that would make me hide behind my dollhouse in delight and terror.
It would take a couple years before I found that next “big book”, the next fictitious naughtiness that would in turn change who I was as a person. The next book that unbeknownst to myself at an early age, would eventually shape me as a writer.
It’s Flowers in the Attic, just ask any woman of my age range, it’s ALWAYS Flowers in the Attic.
I never really got over my love for gothic, it has refined over the years, turning from the “gothic romances” that I was sold on a hot afternoon at a flea market. To a deep love and appreciation for the slow-burning almost Victorian tales the edged somewhere on the brinks of madness and terror. The books that swam in the depths of memories that may be better off forgotten but cannot.
That is where I live now, as I writer…you see, I was right when I said I was doomed. My past is coming back to haunt me…it always does.
Quick, I should run from my house in my fanciest gown.
(Actual photo of Jennifer Anne Gordon)