I love gothic horror. Southern gothic scares the snot out of me. Give me a cornfield and some creepy scarecrows any day. The trouble with loving something like this as a writer is that I want to take it and roll around in it. This is a problem for me because gothic horror is often uniquely tied with anglophone countries. Seanan McGuire explains it brilliantly with her article, The Allure of Gothic Horror.
Gothic horror will almost always include some form of journey by night, whether it be our eponymous heroine fleeing in her impractical footwear, or a wild dash down narrow roads to escape some act of villainy, the darker and bleaker things get, the better. (This is potentially one of the reasons that modern gothic horror can be so difficult to pull off. The more modern you go, the harder it can be to find a way to kill the lights when the time comes.)Seanan McGuire
I write either far future or things set in Finland or happening to Finnish people, even if it is a secondary-world Finland. I’ve been given that bit of advice enough times that I’ve taken it to heart. There are not a lot of mansions or castles in Finland, and the few there are tend to be open to the public. That leaves very little room for ghosts or creepy relatives.
I read Cherie Priest’s The Toll a while ago. It’s a very good book, but beyond that, it helped me see how I could approach this problem of making gothic horror work for me. Here, in modern-day Finland. The Toll starts with a couple arguing in their car, heading to their honeymoon at a swamp. It’s thoroughly set in the modern world, but also outside it. The action happens in an aging small town, a place where there’s basically one teenager and no one making any more. These places exist here as well when people have increasingly moved to cities and small family farms have been sold to larger concerns. And usually, the home goes unfilled and in place. A colleague of mine just recently inherited one of those places.
Those houses, left to fend for themselves? They’re fertile ground for ghosts of people and things. There’s a long tradition of taking the ghosts of your ancestors to sauna on All Hallows Eve. Of hospitality given to the dead lest they think ill of you. The dead expecting things from the living. Tired people staring at you on a country road until you’re out of sight. Woods that both conceal and shelter. Doors shut in the faces of strangers even when they’re thrown wide open for anyone with even a tenuous connection to the inhabitants. People who take their religion very seriously, but gleefully share the things they know will make you feel terrible. And people who stay the same, even after death.
Perhaps it’s not Southern Gothic I’m writing, but Savonian Gothic.