- Phyllis H. Moore
Southern Gothic with a Texas Twist
What is Southern Gothic with a Texas twist? Maybe I should call it Texas Gothic. These stories have a Texas twist because they are set in Texas. They become gothic when the setting is derelict, isolated, sinister, maybe haunted. The alienation can be due to poverty, mental illness, eccentricity,
Distrust and fear of institutions such as marriage, education, religion and the government is a theme in Gothic literature. The characters struggle with confusion about good and evil and in the process the story reveals the dark, hidden side of society, looking beyond accepted beliefs and customs, exposing the hypocrisy and breaking down censorship. In other words, the gothic story reveals a reaction to conventional common sense, suggesting it doesn't really exist; the world is disorderly and nonsensical. The gentile woman is crafty and evil. Gentlemen, preachers, community leaders are perverse, manipulative and vile. The stories that make salacious headlines do happen because those qualities society shuns do exist in people and maybe in people of high standing.
Texas is an appropriate setting for such tales, isolated ranch houses, several miles and a few cattle guards back from a rarely traveled road. This scene is the alienation required by a few deeply disturbed characters. There could be hauntings there, but it is not necessary. The suggestions of paranoia in a confused mind may be enough to reveal the world as a corrupt place. There are ample opportunities with snake handlers, religious cults, corrupt politicians and misguided charities to expose those perverse characters who feed off the good will and positive intention of others, exploiting their vulnerable character to take advantage. Inheritance plays a role. The gift to the progeny could be wealth, but it could also be a history of mental illness or alcoholism.
The gothic story provokes a fear which we seem to enjoy. It scares us a little, but then there is that possibility that it could happen. As one of my characters reveals when she worries that people may talk about her mentally ill mother, "They can talk. They can even make up stories about Josephine, but there is no way they can make up gossip that approaches the reality of what Josephine has done." I will say that in my stories, I strive to work everything out so it will not result in tragedy. I will also say that I do not consider death tragedy. We are all going to die. For some of these characters, death may be the ultimate release. They can move to the next life, learn and regenerate their spirits in a new beginning. Those outcomes depend on what you believe about the afterlife, which is a consideration in the gothic genre. What are the lessons we can learn from these flawed characters? What are the lessons they learn through the telling of their stories?
My gothic stories, set in Texas break down the censorship, exposing hypocrisy, questioning organized religion (just to make us think), and look at the institutions established to meet the needs of society at a time when we watch the news and question them daily. I like the image of the Stetson in the Gulf fog. These stories move from the coastal beaches to the west Texas plains, from a crossroads in the Panhandle to the piney woods of east Texas and the isolated stretch of road heading to the Mexican border. They are not always dark. My stories are sprinkled with humor and characters who are as quirky as they are flawed. Some of my favorite authors and the most fun for me to read are: Fannie Flagg, Fried Green Tomatoes At t he Whistle Stop Cafe, Rebecca Wells, Secrets of the YaYa Sisterhood, and Kathryn Stockett, The Help. That's what I want to write.
These Texas gothic tales begin with a trilogy, Sabine, Josephine's Journals, and Secrets of Dunn House. Tangled, A Yarn, is a similar tale, told in one novel with new characters and different arcs. Opal's Story is set in west Texas, a story of a family tragedy in 1946 and the present day, terminally ill woman who tells the tale, seeking forgiveness. I hope readers will enjoy these tales and the others soon to come. I will post release dates.