Being involved with this is fitting, because phrases about holding on to the light have been my exact inscription on most of the books I’ve signed for readers, or variations therein. Holding onto light, both figurative and literal, is the crux of my entire STRANGELY BEAUTIFUL series.
So I’ve had a dark side all my life. That in and of itself is nothing to fear, I revel in a Halloween-Town sort of life, I'm one of those "Perky Goths". However, dressing all in black since my teen years aside, I have had intense periods where I’ve struggled with specific kinds of depression.
The course of my life’s work has been to find ways to dive into tumultuous, deep, treacherous psychological waters and navigate them in a way that is useful, helpful, healthy and societally constructive. My books are the result of that journey. I myself struggle to find words. But my characters are my mediums, and they channel what I want and need to say in a (hopefully) entertaining and engaging way.
Here’s a brief section illustrating why I’ve found a haven in Goth and Gothic culture and literature, and why I will always be an artist lifting up these themes, a premise that has been life-saving for me. I find my characters say it better than I can, so if you'll indulge them...
This is a scene between Nathaniel Veil, a performer of Gothic drama and my steeled-mettle heroine Natalie Stewart in The Twisted Tragedy of Miss Natalie Stewart:
"Well hello there," Mister Veil said appreciatively. "You're not one of my Association. That must make you the lovely Miss Stewart, Jonathon's girl. I was warned you'd be coming," he grinned, showcasing the fangs from a vampiric bit that he'd retained for the rest of his show.
“I am indeed Miss Stewart. The lovely part is up to you.”
Nathaniel laughed, putting fingers to his mouth. With one snap, the fangs were gone. Part of me was sad to see the illusion fade.
“You play a vampire, but do you believe in them?” I asked. "In all the characters and creatures you portray?"
Nathaniel considered this as he placed his teeth into a jar of faux incisors. "Vampires surely exist, in one way or another. Something that preys on human life? I’ve seen that well enough. Fantasy is the only way we can understand reality.” There was a darkness to his tone. A familiar one. “The world is full of devils and thieves, Miss Stewart. To make the darkness playful is the only way to survive it. We must externalize that which might kill us otherwise.”
I nodded. “Jonathon described you as unapologetically melancholy. I find it refreshing. I’ve terrible nightmares. They don't make for pleasant conversation. But life isn’t always pleasant, is it?”
Nathaniel shook his head, gauging me with an intensity that surpassed custom. It was thrilling and off-putting all at once. “Funny. Jonathon didn’t say I couldn't stand close to you. I’d have thought he knew me better.” He took a step closer. I could feel heat coming off his powerful form. Perhaps Jonathon only kept company with men who were, as he was: distinct, bold, and impossible to ignore…
“Is this what you say to all those young women there in the gallery, swaying in black-”
I raised an eyebrow. He explained:
“We are united in melancholy, nothing more. We revel in it, turning our black hearts outward to find joy. We cannot remain in shadow's ecstasy always, so we must make a game of it. Would you like to join us? I'm not usually forthcoming with strangers. But, alas, you've disarmed me.”
Beaming, he produced a card. In bold, elegant script the card declared membership to:
“Her Majesty’s Association for Melancholy Bastards.”
I couldn't help but chuckle. Turning over the card, it read:
Vice President: Edgar A. Poe
Social Chair: Mary Shelley
Treasurer: Manfred, Lord of Otranto
Grinning, I looked up from the card to see Nathaniel looking rather pleased with himself. “Brilliant,” I agreed.
“Would you like to join?”
I gave him a wary look. “Is there a membership ritual?”
“I’ll forgo the bloodletting for you,” he said and laughed when I looked wary, gesturing that I keep the card. “Show this at the theatre door whenever I play, and they’ll let you into the pit. We’re self-selecting. We don’t want anyone making fun or starting trouble. It’s why there’s a dress code- grand dark aesthetic aside- it shows you want to play in the spirit of community and camaraderie.”
The way his art defined yet didn’t overwhelm him was wonderful. He didn’t take himself too seriously, which made me take him utterly so.
“Some are born with darkness," Nathaniel stated. "Some have darkness thrust upon them." He turned to his mirrors to wipe a bit of kohl from his eyes. “I hear you and Jonathon were put through quite the trial. He wasn't born with darkness, so it was thrust upon him. You?”
“Thrust upon me and always pressing in. You?”
“Born with it,” he stated airily. "And when you're born with melancholy you learn how to live with it or else you die of it. Simple as that."
I knew it wasn't as simple as that. My disability proved that rising above challenges, no matter what kind, took discipline and ritual. Veil had figured out his ritual, and once learned, the discipline seemed simple. It was the work of a lifetime.
(end of excerpt)
In a much broader swath of thoughts and experiences, my ETERNA FILES series, the latest of which just released, ETERNA AND OMEGA, is a Gaslamp Fantasy series of Supernatural Suspense set in 1800s New York City and London. These books are made up of a wide spectrum of quirky characters from numerous diverse backgrounds. These characters deal with all kinds of issues and struggles, private and public, and for them, battling the paranormal helps them with battling their own internal demons.
I take the exact tack my character Mister Veil takes, in making difficult, trying and extreme themes, one’s own pit and pendulum, something to play with, understand and utilize, rather than letting it be the defining tone, trying never letting abject despair win without a good-natured fight.
My character of Clara Templeton is extremely close to my heart, as her struggles to find balance, internally and externally are carefully calibrated. She is sensitive on many levels, and her sense of purpose is a driving force in her character, as it is in my own. For her there are a lot of grey areas, and she navigates them only by finding a loving and supportive community of friends and chosen family, a “beloved community” that help to protect her even from a distance, as there are things some of us all must walk through and fight autonomously.
My work is dark, rich and complex, as no genre dealing with the kinds of psychological extremes that the Gothic posits should ever be less than complicated and fully realized, allowing for the full breadth of humanity’s capability. That’s how I deal with every struggle, I let it become part of my artistic understanding, trying never to allow ups and downs to rule me, trying to let a forward momentum of productive hope to power me and the atmospheric stories I tell.
I, like every one of my characters in all of my books, seek balance and autonomy, supportive, non-toxic systems and communities, and try to live in strength and hope, trying to enjoy life’s challenges rather than being scared of them or beholden to them.
Art is how I deal with the world and greet the world, it is my core identity entwined with a rock-solid faith in a loving, accepting deity. I try to actively avoid bitterness and negativity and keep my characters sensitive to and aware of those jagged rocks as well.
During this month of mental health awareness, I hope everyone finds positive and enjoyable ways to express their best selves, in safe spaces, filled with good humor, delight, and beauty. May you keep a lit candle of hope burning bright and kindle pride at fighting the good fight for peace.Cheeers and as I always say... Happy Haunting!
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From the Hold On To the Light campaign: If you want to get even more hands-on, please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Home for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), Beyond Blue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
Visit the public FB group for other participating authors and information!