Tuesday, November 24, 2015


Stephanie Carroll has given us a truly amazing gift and I can't wait to see this one as a movie. A brilliant debut novel and I look forward to reading more of her writing. Thank you for a beautifully crafted tale. - Amazon UK Review

A White Room Made No. 1!!!

I totally loved this book. It's been described as being similar to Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper, ... Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden, and Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights. Though I concur that all that is true, I go further by being reminded of why the gothic writing work and home remind me of Nathaniel Hawthorne's House of the Seven Gables ... and some of the works of V.C. Andrews, such as Flowers in the Attic. She gives us a gothic feel reminiscent of Daphne de Maurier's works. - Amazon US Review

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In the end, I just really loved this story. I enjoyed watching Emeline's transformation, and seeing her challenged. I really liked the progression of her and her husband John's relationship. Supporting characters like Lottie and Ethel were well-developed, and the characters who conspire against Emeline are creepy and self-serving, yet possibly redeemable.Guys, if you want some realistic historical fiction that deals with difficult issues, that doesn't allow a love story to overcome the plot, and that has you really feeling for the characters involved, go and read this right now. - Goodreads Review

A White Room Won!

Shelf Unbound Magazine Notable Page Turners & Favorite Cover! Pg 36 & 40
“The best historical fiction makes you forget it’s fiction and forget it’s historical. Reminiscent of The Yellow Wallpaper, this book shows with alarming clarity what life was like for women before the modern age freed us of so many restraints … absolutely mesmerizing.”—Eileen Walsh, Ph.D. U.S. Women’s History, University of San Diego

USA Book News 2013 Best Book Award Cross Genre Category
A novel of grit, independence, and determination ... Despite the consequences, Emeline defies society’s expectations in her endeavor to help others, risking not only her marriage, but her reputation—and ultimately, her freedom. An intelligent story, well told.” 
—RenĂ©e Thompson, author of The Plume Hunter and The Bridge at Valentine

Q&A and Reading on Central Valley Talk

Fans of The Yellow Wallpaper will love this debut from Stephanie Carroll because it's about a woman feeling her house is alive and that other people are living in it. I, for one, couldn't put the book down but was also reading with the covers up to my chin and all of the lights on. It's not because the book is scary but because I could absolutely understand why Emeline was losing it. I could have sworn that my own walls were watching me ... - Barnes and Noble Review

Watch My Very First Book Reading!

Are Women Really Just Crazy?
Check out my talk on how Victorian Hysteria has Affected our Society's Perception of Women

Don't Forget to Check out the Fire Section!
In addition to being an author, I am also a fire dancer! Betcha didn't expect that, did you?

Writing Mentally Unstable Characters on Firsts in Fiction

Authors Aaron Gangsky and Alton Gangsky and Social Ninja Molly Jo were kind enough to have me back on Firsts in Fiction to talk about writing mentally unstable characters. Check out the podcast and for more, check out Five Techniques for Writing Crazy Characters' Inner Monologues.

5 Techniques for Writing Crazy Characters' Inner Monologue

Friday, November 20, 2015

Crazy by KT Lindsay via Flickr cc
            In my novel A White Room, my heroine goes insane and her primary symptom is that she believes the house and furniture are coming to life and plotting against her, but as you can see in the above excerpt that’s not the only thing that makes her seem off. I used five techniques to write her inner thoughts in a way that was crazy too. 

Make sure to scroll to the bottom to read an excerpt from A White Room.
1.      Distraction

In the above excerpt, I have my character Emeline struggling to pay attention, which makes her comprehension of the other characters feel scattered and confusing. This creates a sense of insanity. She can’t take in the world around her and normal human interaction becomes confusing and threatening to both her and the reader. Having distractions in the writing literally creates the effect of jerking the reader back and forth, which creates a chaotic mood overall.

2.      Synesthesia

The definition of synesthesia is experiencing a sense such as smell but from a stimulus that isn’t for that sense. So say if someone smelled a rose after touching a coffee cup. As a literary device, synesthesia is used a lot in poetry to create interesting descriptions by combining sensory words that complement each other like loud perfume. Perfume cannot be loud, but the mixed description brings a twist to it that grabs a reader’s attention. This can be done through metaphor or simile – saying something is or is like.

Combing complementary sensory descriptors creates a neat effect, but when you combine senses that don’t naturally work together, it comes out kind of weird, kind of crazy.

Sounds seeped through the walls like black blood.
He must not have heard my eyes.

3.      Random Bizarre Tangents
I had recently added the Ageratum alyssum. It was just a small white flower, but the name reminded me of the word asylum. I very much enjoyed the notion of a mad flower. At that moment, I wished I could crawl into the window-box jungle and build a little home there surrounded by insane flowers. – A White Room.

Be careful with random tangents though. Usually, going off on a tangent is a big writing no-no, but if used intentionally, it can suggest your character is losing it. Just focus on making bizarre and short tangents that are your character’s and not yours. What I mean by that is the tangent is your character’s thoughts and not your own narration or a sidebar to fill in plot holes. Those are the no-nos.

4.      Transference of Thoughts into Unintentional Behaviors

It’s not me, I told myself. It’s not me! I screamed it in my head. It’s not me! “It’s not me!”“What?”Oh my. I’d said that out loud.
– A White Room.

On multiple occasions I have Emeline thinking something and then accidently do or say whatever it was she was thinking without having deciding to do it. This creates a sense of being out of control and being taken over by the mind.

5.      Repeating

Repeating is something Fight Club and Choke author Chuck Palahniuk does brilliantly.

“I am Jack’s complete lack of surprise.” “I am Jack’s wasted life.” “I am Jack’s smirking revenge.” – Quotes from Fight Club’s schizophrenic main character Tyler Durden. The character repeats the “I am Jack’s …” throughout as a way to describe his own emotions.

Repeating can be done with a phrase or saying or it can be used in a string of thought, having your character repeat a word or multiple words in a sentence or paragraph, which will make it seem like he or she is going in circles.

Repeating kind of goes hand in hand with obsession. Obsession works really well to suggest insanity when it’s over something mundane or strange, but it can also suggest crazy when it’s somewhat normal too. In my novel, Emeline is obsessed with the furniture, but Tyler in Fight Club is obsessed with his friend, which is not too abnormal until it turns out to be himself.

Bonus: Repeating can also be a behavior, a tick, like scratching one’s face or cracking a certain knuckle over and over.
Insanity is more than just having two personalities or seeing the furniture move. It can also be shown through a character’s thoughts and emotions and behaviors and even more importantly the way that the author writes them. The writing style and syntax itself can be a bit crazy, nonlinear, and chaotic.

These five techniques can be very useful to create insane inner thoughts, but they aren’t the only devices. The cool thing about writing crazy people is that you can get creative and come up with your own insane tools. Now go forth and spread the madness!

An Excerpt from A White Room

Dr. Walter Bradbridge leaned over me. I stared into his powder blue
eyes and tried to speak volumes to him without saying a word.
“It was good of you to keep her in bed, John.”
He must not have heard my eyes.
John stood a few feet behind him, spying over his shoulder.
If he said I was mad, I didn’t know what I would do. Then
again, how could he not reach such a conclusion when I knew John
had misconstrued the facts? It was up to me to sway him, but I was
so distracted listening to them through the walls. The little girl was
giggling and humming to the left, and I could sense that wicked
being pacing behind the wall opposite the bed.
“Is she ill?” John paced behind Walter.
“I’m not ill,” I said.
“She doesn’t appear to be sick, but I’m afraid—well.” He
straightened and spoke to John in whispers.
John’s blank expression grew concerned as he brought his hand
under his chin.
He was telling him.
“What would bring this on?” John asked.
“She is still in mourning, which can take a toll, but there are a
number of—”
“What?” I yelled, surprising myself with my outburst.
Both Walter and John jumped and looked at me.
Walter touched my hand. “It’s nothing to fret yourself over.”
He continued talking to John as if I couldn’t hear. I wished they
would speak up.
John folded his arms. “Can I leave her in this condition?”
“You shouldn’t have to cancel. I know this is an important trip.”
He situated his instruments in a black leather satchel.
John sighed. “That’s a relief.”
“I want to go,” I said.
“Emeline, I don’t think that would be wise,” Walter said.
“What condition?”
He shook his head. “Don’t you worry yourself about that.” He
turned his back to me. “It might actually be best for her to be
alone. The less stimulation the better.”
John nodded, holding his chin with one hand and an elbow with
the other.
“You’ll need someone to check on her, though.”
Sounds seeped through the walls like black blood—how could
they not hear it? They were so loud they drowned out their words.
I watched their mouths move, but their voices no longer resonated
in my ears.
Walter set his bag on the table next to the bed, and abruptly my
senses returned. He spoke to me in a tone meant for a child. “I
believe we are all finished here.”
My lips shook as I waited to be condemned with the diagnosis,
but he said nothing more. He took hold of his bag and strode to
the door. John followed. Would he not tell me? Was he to judge me
to John and deny me my own sentencing? They left, and the door
clacked shut.
—Quoted from A White Room with the permission of the author.

About A White Room

At the close of the Victorian Era, society still expected middle-class women to be “the angels of the house,” even as a select few strived to become something more. In this time of change, Emeline Evans dreamed of becoming a nurse. But when her father dies unexpectedly, Emeline sacrifices her ambitions and rescues her family from destitution by marrying John Dorr, a reserved lawyer who can provide for her family. 
John moves Emeline to the remote Missouri town of Labellum and into an unusual house where her sorrow and uneasiness edge toward madness. Furniture twists and turns before her eyes, people stare out at her from empty rooms, and the house itself conspires against her. The doctor diagnoses hysteria, but the treatment merely reinforces the house’s grip on her mind.
Emeline only finds solace after pursuing an opportunity to serve the poor as an unlicensed nurse. Yet in order to bring comfort to the needy she must secretly defy her husband, whose employer viciously hunts down and prosecutes unlicensed practitioners. Although women are no longer burned at the stake in 1900, disobedience is a symptom of psychological defect, and hysterical women must be controlled.

A novel of madness and secrets, A White Room presents a fantastical glimpse into the forgotten cult of domesticity, where one’s own home could become a prison and a woman has to be willing to risk everything to be free. 

Gothic Horror Story or Victorian Woman's Reality?

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The following post was originally featured on Gothic-Victorian author Essie Fox's website and blog The Virtual Victorian

If you enjoy this post, you might also enjoy my novel A White Room, which was inspired by "The Yellow Wallpaper."

The Woman’s Experience through “The Yellow Wallpaper”
“The Yellow Wallpaper” was written from the vantage point of a woman writing in a journal. She’s been diagnosed with some kind of condition* by her husband who is also a doctor. Her husband has brought her to a country home to rest as a form of treatment, and he insists that she rests all the time, no stimulation. She’s not even supposed to be writing, but it’s the only thing that brings her solace, so she sneaks to write in her journal.

Her husband forces her to rest in this one room that she cannot stand. She hates the wallpaper in it, but without anything else to do other than stare at it, she becomes obsessed. Soon, she is seeing it move at night, and she sees someone inside of the design, a woman trapped behind the paper.

It’s clear that whatever her condition is, bed rest isn’t helping, but her husband insists, and she obeys, continuing to slip deeper into her obsession with the wallpaper until finally on the day they are to leave the country home, she snaps. They find her “creeping” and peeling the yellow paper from the walls. She has freed the woman trapped behind the design and has in fact become her. She no longer cares what her husband demands, and he faints at the sight of her.

*There are references to an infant child in the story that suggests the main character was actually suffering from postpartum depression although this is never fully addressed in the story itself and postpartum was not an understood condition at this time. Based on the described symptoms, treatment, and later author accounts, historians widely accept the character in the story was diagnosed with hysteria or a related condition referred to as a “condition of the nerves.”

A Horror Story or a Message?
Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s story “The Yellow Wallpaper” was published in a magazine in the early 1890s. At first glance, many readers, both past and present, see a scary story of either a haunted house or a situation of pure insanity, both of which are elements of Gothic fiction. “The Yellow Wallpaper” is considered a part of the Victorian Gothic and horror genre, but it is much more than that.

The story was inspired by Gilman’s own experiences after seeking help for her “nervousness” and “melancholia” from the famous neurologist S. Weir Mitchell, who was known for his “rest cure” treatment for hysteria. Read what Charlotte Perkins Gilman herself said about her story “The Yellow Wallpaper.”

Historians now look to Gilman’s short story as one of the most revealing inside looks at the experience of a woman diagnosed and treated as a hysteric during the late nineteenth century. Since Gilman was also a feminist with very public ideas regarding her views, this work is also seen as a look into how feminism may have developed during a time when hysteria was being diagnosed on epidemic levels.

What was Hysteria to the Victorians?
Hysteria evolved out of Ancient Greece with theories regarding a woman’s uterus having the ability to wonder the body and affect the brain, an idea that prevailed into the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In fact the smelling salts Victorian women used to prevent themselves from swooning were believed to frighten the uterus away from that area of the body.

Throughout the century, hysteria was commonly associated with nervous or anxious tendencies such as fainting. However, by the late Victorian Era, there were a massive amount of symptoms associated with the condition known as hysteria, and women were diagnosed no matter how unique their actual situation. In many cases, men and women used it as an explanation for any kind of unwanted or erratic female behavior, especially emotional behavior.

There were also a wide variety of cures, including the rest cure (used in “The Yellow Wallpaper”), the water cure, vigorous exercise, vaginal stimulation*, hypnosis (Jean-Martin Charcot), and the beginnings of talk therapy and psychoanalytic analysis (Sigmund Freud). Due to Freud’s work, much of the research on hysteria has had an impact on modern psychology. 

*A note on vaginal stimulation. Although many articles focus on the invention of the electric vibrator and the use to create a female orgasm as a treatment for hysteria, this was not the major impact of the hysterical movement on women or society. It did not contribute to any further understanding of female sexuality at the time. The idea of a woman being flawed if unable to climax through penetration prevailed even into the late twentieth century.

Hysteria and the Women’s Movement
In many ways the hysteria movement reflected and or embodied certain problems women wanted to be rid of through the women’s and feminist movements of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

At this time, men and women were expected to live in “separate spheres.” Women dominated the home, childbirth, childrearing, and religion while men dominated the public world of business, economics, and politics. It was believed that these separate spheres were determined by nature. Women were believed to be naturally pure, pious, domestic, and submissive, four traits called the Four Pillars of The Cult of Domesticity or True Womanhood. These ideas were not something decided by men but were deeply ingrained belief systems, traditions, and values.

The problem was that the beliefs regarding a woman’s nature put her in a situation of subjugation. Women were believed to be naturally fragile physically, emotionally, and mentally, which is why society considered the public domain as something from which women needed protection. This mentality also meant that women were seen as more susceptible to mental illness and lacked the competence to make decisions regarding their own wants and wellbeing—deeming them as naturally and inherently mentally unstable. This was accepted by society, both men and women.

However in the late 19th Century, the advent of the “New Woman” challenged these ideas.

What was Hysteria Really?
The results of this, however, were situations like that which was revealed through “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Women were placed into unbearable situations and not deemed mentally capable of determining whether or not it was good for them. Their faculties were also questioned if they desired to act outside of what was considered acceptable. If a woman decided to pursue a profession instead of finding a husband, it was reasonable to question her mental state as this desire would be considered unnatural for a woman. It was believed that a woman would never in her right mind want to choose anything other than a lifestyle that resulted in bearing children as was her natural purpose.

Modern analysis of documented cases of hysteria suggests many of the women were actually experiencing real mental illness including depression, anxiety, postpartum depression, or severe stress. Some historians believe these types of mental disorders were more common in women at the time as a result of the inequalities they experienced, which due to changes occurring in society, were no longer bearable.

Other cases, however, revealed rebellious women. Such cases included women whose behavior suggested lesbianism, promiscuity, views against marriage, feminist views, or the desire to pursue what were considered inappropriate female roles. Learn more at Science Museum History of Women and Psychology.

Why the Late Nineteenth Century?
For a long time these beliefs prevailed without causing problems for men or women. They were born out of centuries of survival, but the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were times of great change. Modern technology made it possible for much of women’s work to be handled in factories or in the home with new types of gadgets and machines. Women were becoming useless and without purpose in their accepted sphere.

It’s natural for people to find purpose in their lives, so of course the desire grew within women to venture out into the world and look for more. Unfortunately, the values and beliefs about women did not change with the modernization of the western world. This led to a flood of discontent that appeared in the form of actual mental distress or rebellion that was interpreted as mental distress. Unfortunately, the mass diagnoses of hysteria and subsequent treatments further subjugated many.

These desires of women ultimately broke through the restrictions of society resulting in the women’s and feminist movements and forming the “New Woman” of the early twentieth century. However, until common conventions gave way, these women were either deemed insane, or they stood outside of society as black sheep or spinsters. Some women like Gilman managed to publish their views and contribute to the beginning of the women’s movement while receiving the disdain of society, but others endured brutal responses and punishments to such behavior.

The Revelation of “The Yellow Wallpaper”

The amazing thing about the short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” is that it manages to encompass this in the span of ten or so pages, and it reveals it through experience not through direct explanation. In a time period when it was unacceptable to have these views, taking readers through the experience of a woman had an impact that others could not achieve through stating the problem directly.

Gilman’s message did have an impact, not only to modern readers, but on contemporary readers, including the doctor Gilman said she wrote the story in response to. In her own words: But the best result is this. Many years later I was told that the great specialist had admitted to friends of his that he had altered his treatment of neurasthenia since reading The Yellow Wallpaper.

Further Reading

What Makes Victorian Houses Seem So Haunted?

This post was originally featuredon The Country House Reader. If you love neat houses, it's a must read!

How is it that some Victorian houses are the cutest darn things you’ve ever seen and some are right out of a Gothic horror story? It’s not as simple as adding dark colors. There are particular styles, cultural symbols, and history that makes some Victorian houses scarier than others.

By Jen Wen Luoh via Flickr cc
There are several different types of Victorian architecture. Some like Queen Anne houses, Greek-Revivals, and Italianates are really cute, usually painted in pastel colors, and representative of prominence and achievement. There are probably some houses in these styles that one could say look creepy, but it’s usually due to deterioration as opposed to the original appearance. The two types of Victorian houses that naturally represent a haunted house are designed in either the Gothic Revival or Second Empire styles.

Gothic Revivals are literally a throwback to the Gothic castles and churches of medieval times, and include steep or peeked rooftops, arches, pinnacles, and decorative ornamentation especially over and around windows. Arches were also popular for entryways, doorways, porches, windows, etc. Sometimes these types of houses will have a lot of height to them or may include a large tower.

The original Gothic horror stories were all set in or around decaying Gothic churches or castles from medieval times and the architectural style became a worldwide symbol of the horror genre. The look of Gothic architecture is culturally embedded in to our minds as symbols of fear. Gothic horror and Gothic literature developed further in the Victorian Era. Gothic Revival houses and mansions not only look reminiscent of the horror story castles, they became the setting for Victorian Gothic literature. Recognizable symbols of Gothic literature still commonly populate modern day horror genres.

Second Empire architecture w,as inspired by the reconstruction of Paris, France under the direction of Napoleon III who had much of the city torn down and rebuilt with wider roads and large elaborate buildings.

By Ashley Rehnblom via Flickr cc
Victorian Second Empire houses are usually very large and ornate, with lots of floors and windows. They are styled in a box shape with flat roofs and often times include a tall tower. Some people have said the squared levels and roofs make these houses resemble stacked boxes or a tiered cake. Second Empire houses have been used in twentieth century Halloween and horror movies including Psycho, The Adams Family, and Beetlejuice.

Interior Design
Victorian floor plans were designed so that each room came off of a central hallway and were closed off from other rooms by doors and walls. The small enclosed space was easier to heat. Unlike modern living rooms, dining rooms, and family rooms that are bright and open, Victorian common rooms were small, closed off, and often times dark because heat could escape easily through large windows. If a room did have windows, they would be covered with heavy velvet curtains that kept heat in during the winter. Although parlors and ballrooms needed to be larger to serve their purposes, most spaces in nineteenth century middle-class homes were smaller than modern day rooms.  

It’s an almost universal fear to be trapped in a dark, cramped space, so Victorian rooms can easily be used to create a sense of unease, especially if the objects filling the space has the ability to send chills down a person’s spine.

Interior decoration during the Victorian Era was very ornamental, busy, and overbearing. It was also known for a mixture of old world, new world, and multi-cultural styles that created rooms designed like frantic and chaotic representations of the world and beasts that coexisted within it.

The most popular styles at the time included the Arts and Crafts Movement, the Anglo-Japanese Style, and the Aesthetic Movement. Although each of these styles contributed key characteristics to the creepy Victorian interior design, including the busyness, ornamental influences, and dark colors, none of these were as disturbing as the Art Nouveau Style.

The Art Nouveau style incorporated a lot of animal and human faces or body parts into the designs, such as in the “claw-footed” tub or a bedsteads with cherub faces carved into the wood. The style was also characterized by “whiplash” curves and twirling designs. The designers incorporated a life form or some kind of movement into nearly every piece. Art Nouveau furniture, jewelry, and decorations like statues, knick-knacks, mirrors, lamps, etc., were inspired by the world of nature.

New York Parlor, 1850, Public Domain
There are also a lot of monsters and fantasy creatures like fairies, dragons, and gargoyles in Art Nouveau decoration. This is due to the fact that the movement was a type of rejection of the modernization, industrialization, and technological revolution of the late nineteenth and turn of the centuries. Some artists wanted to revert to the old world  or a world without science where fairy tales and magical creatures ruled the world of fantasy not scientific discovery.

This type of furniture and decoration was used in the famous 1959 Gothic novel The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, which was turned into the 1999 film The Haunting.

Art Nouveau is also a form of architecture but it wasn’t generally used to create houses. It was used to embellish parts of houses, such as stairwells, doors, archways, etc. Most Art Nouveau architecture came in the form of larger non-domestic buildings.

Of course, the history of Victorian homes is what makes them seem quite scary. It's common to feel like those who used to live in the house are present when surrounded by the historical objects that remind us how people lived and suffered in the home during this period in history.
Death was common during the Victorian Era. A large percentage of babies and children died as well as adults. It was an even more frightening thing than in the past as new discoveries about death spurred more questions than answers. It wasn’t clear if death occurred due the heart stopping or the brain dying and why these things occurred at all. This uncertainty led to societal fear that people could be misdiagnosed as dead and then buried or dissected alive.

Unlike modern times, death most commonly occurred within the home in result of an illness. Lack of medicine and the use of family members to care for the ill meant that all the messy and difficult parts of an illness were witnessed by the direct relatives. Further, the byproducts of the human body ceasing to function were experienced and cleaned by family members or by servants in an upper class home.

The Victorians were surrounded by so much death that they created an elaborate set of traditions called Mourning Etiquette in order to respond to it. These traditions involved elaborate funerals and burials as well as keeping memorabilia including post mortem photos, known as Memento Mori, and hair jewelry made with locks of hair from the deceased. 

The home was prepared after a death to be a quiet, dark solitude of grief. Victorians would cover the mirrors with black sheaths because women were not supposed to partake in any kind of vanity during this time as they should look dreadful from weeping. Someone would drape a piece of black velvet over the portrait of the patriarch if he had passed. They would drape the family carriage with black velvet too. They also locked the piano because no one was to play any music, and there would be no dinner parties or festivities in the house for some time.

There were a variety of traditions to signal outsiders that the house was in mourning. Some people hung black wreaths on the door, or the family covered the doorknobs in white crepe for a child’s death or black crepe for an adult’s death. Markers like these signaled to visitors that they should prepare to speak quietly and quickly so they would not overtax or burden the bereaved. The family might also muffle the doorbell to prevent any loud noises, which would startle the already anxious nerves of those inside.

Many Victorian houses are quite cheery, but the ones that often times stand out in movies or literature are the ones that are less so. It's not just the age or decay that makes them so disturbing. Certain architectural styles are the symbols of our cultural fears, the interior layout and decoration can be quite fantastical, and the history of death in the home makes some Victorian houses just more haunting than others.

If you liked these creepy houses then you may also enjoy the creepy house in my novel A White Room.