How Does the Wilderness Evoke the Gothic Feel?

I love gothics. Give me an old mansion or castle and a heroine in peril, a cup of cocoa and I’m set for the night. I sometimes wish we had mansions or castles around here but they are in short supply. But there is plenty in this area that gives the same feel as gothics. There is the wilderness.

I live in the wilderness. Okay, it’s not as wild as a few years ago. I can even drive to a Walmart without using a tank of gas. Or even half a tank. When we first moved to this part of northern Minnesota, you could shoot a cannon filled with scatter shot down main street any winter day without worrying about hitting anyone. Now you’d end up in jail charged with murder.

But go just a short distance from town and you’ll still be in those same forested areas I learned about when we first arrived, completge with five kids and a dog.

You can get lost in those woods now just as easily as you could back then. Well, almost. One recent topic of heated discussion in town and county meetings concerns whether or not to position cell towers throughout the forest even though no one lives there. Why? So teenagers with little sense and tourists with even less who go recklessly into the forest without taking precautions against getting lost can call for help if something goes wrong. Those against littering the forest with cell towers say anyone stupid enough to expect cell service in a place where no one lives deserves whatever fate metes out.

Because the forest can be dangerous. Fatally so. It can also be beautiful. And adventurous. And willful. And ever-changing. And seductive.

Look back over those descriptions. Dangerous. Beautiful. Adventurous. Willful. Ever-changing. Seductive. All of these words also describe the castle or mansion in almost every gothic novel ever written. The only difference is that those places were built by man while the wilderness just is.

I have long believed that single fact amplifies the effect of each adjective when used to describe the forest. Because no one planned the dark reaches of the forest.  They just came into being. Somehow. 

They just are.   And they are my favorite setting for both short and long romance fiction, be they short stories, novellas or novels.  Add a touch of fantasy or magic as I sometimes do and the result is a story that fits nicely into the gothic genre even though no castles or mansions are involved.

How I Became a Wilderness Person

Before arriving in the wilds of northern Minnesota, I lived for a while as a child, on a small farm with no running water or indoor plumbing. Mostly, though, my life was that of any suburbanite. With the possible exception that I was a geek before the term existed. Not technically, just that I always liked to learn and, especially, to read and my parents encouraged this somewhat antisocial activity.
Then I got married, had five kids, and discovered that hubby disliked cities as much as I did, so we bought a resort about a hundred miles south of the Canadian border and thus began an education about wilderness living that continues to this day. Such as:
A cougar’s cry sounds just like a bird’s song. We discovered that as we strolled through a home and garden show and heard the song of a bird that we’d noted on walks through the forest but had never been able to identify. We thought someone had brought a bird in a cage to spruce up a display and went to see what kind of bird we’d been listening to all those times. Needless to say, it wasn’t a bird. It was a cougar and we were very glad our dogs (two of them, both large and protective) had gone on those walks with us.
And we learned how to spot a developing storm over the lake, something I was very glad for one day when our kids were fishing with their cousins who were visiting from Chicago. When a tiny cloud appeared in the west, our kids hauled up the anchors and made directly for shore instead of heading for the resort, which would have meant crossing a large area of open water. They did this over the protests of their cousins who couldn’t imagine why one tiny cloud concerned them. Before reaching shore, but close enough that the trees broke the wind, the storm hit. If they’d have waited even a minute, they mght not have lived. As it was, they had to go alongside the beach to reach the docks and even that short distance without the protection of the trees was perilous.
So we learned and continue to learn. Those were lessons that were important and somewhat scary. There were more of a completely different nature. Emotional. Funny. Peaceful.
Though we sold the resort long years ago, we still reside in the woods, though our present home is closer to town. We cannot imagine any place we’d rather be.

Baskets

I like to make stuff.  You know, something to do while dh is watching reruns of CSI or NCIS.  (What’s with the initials,  anyway?  I’d wonder if it was a guy thing except I just referred to my hubby as dh.)  Anyway, I spend almost as much time looking for something to do with my hands while ensconed in a comfortable chair with a cup of tea or can of pop as I do actually making whatever. 

Over time, I’ve made decorative gourds.  And jewlery.  And wood plaques.  And a few other things I can’t even remember what they were, just that they were fun.

The thing is, I have specific requirements for said hobby.  No mess beyond what takes a minute to clean up, and that was a big problem with the wood plaques because anything requiring paint necessitates a mess.  Jewelry came close but I soon discovered that anyone who makes jewelry should also wear it in order to know what kind of jewelry to make.

Did I mention that the fundamental, can’t-be-changed, iron-clad requirement for whatever I do is that it can be sold at the venues, both indoor and outdoor, where we sell my husband’s wood-turned art?  And that is has to complement whatever he makes? 

Gourds were great.  For a while.  I cleaned them and that was a mess at the sink but it was acceptable because, once they were clean, then the mess was done with.  Since I love woodburning, the gourds came out great with woodburned designs and I sometimes color-washed them later.  Also a mess but not too bad.  Then one day as I was demonstrating the technique of woodburning on gourds at an art show, a woman asked me why I wasn’t wearing a respirator.  I didn’t know what she was talking about but when I got home I went online and learned that gourds are a health hazard until they are finished and all those pathogens are locked up beneath a heavy coat of varnish.  Needless to say, that was the end of gourds.

Then we joined a local farmers’ market group because… surprise, surprise… since Dick only and always uses indigenous wood, his art is considered a value added local agricultural crop.  So then I decided that I’d come up with something to make  while watching TV that was also agricultural in nature. 

I’m not a gardener so that let out growing something that people would actually want to eat.  But I’ve become something of an expert on the wild grasses in our area because they look good in Dick’s weed pots.  A marketing ploy, but in the process of picking and arranging all those wild grasses, I came to enjoy the process.  So I wondered what I could do that would use the excessive crop of weeds… uh, I mean wild grasses… that grow in the field beyond our yard.

So I’m making baskets and it’s fun!  I tried several varieties of weeds… I mean grasses… before finding one that is flexible enough to wind into the tight circles that coiled baskets require while also being thick enough to make a decent basket.  When I found just the right grass, I took it to our local extension agent to find out what it was, but she didn’t recognize it because the sample was dried and, therefore, unrecognizable immediately.  I should mention here that anyone making grass baskets should harvest the grass after the growing season, just like any other crop, because green grass will shrink as it dries, thus making a loose basket.  Anyway, the extension agent will get back to me when she figures out what kind of weeds… I mean grasses… I’m using and then I’ll get back to you. 

In the meantime, with the help of dh, I’m making another kind of basket also.  I’m using wood bottoms Dick made for me and that I woodburned designs on.  They look great.  Then I use dowel rods for staves around the sides of the basket that I weave natural rope through that I found at our local farm store.  Together we made a dozen or so such baskets for a local company to  put on the counters of local stores to hold handmade goodies that they make.

It’s been a kind of Eureka moment.  I finally found something that’s  fun and should be profitable if the cost of similar baskets on Etsy is any indication of what we can charge.  Okay, maybe they don’t actually sell for that amount, maybe the prices are more an indication of what the artist thinks they are worth rather than what they will actually bring on the open market, but at least someone thinks they have enough value to make the whole idea of baskets worth pursuing.

Wilderness Gothic

What I enjoy writing most could be called wilderness gothic. 

I love the slightly scary feel of Gothics and the way they seriously get into the heroine’s head as she works her way through all kinds of problems to a happily-ever-after ending.  But I’ve never been in a castle. Wouldn’t know what one is like. 

I have, however,  lived in the North Woods for many years so I definitely know a bit about the wilderness and I know that being surrounded by thousands of trees that all look alike can be beautiful, restful, pleasant, fun … and sometimes scary.  So when I found myself writing romance fiction more than any other type, I placed those stories in the most enchanting, delicious, scary and dangerous setting I could envision.  The North Woods.

Come journey with my heroines as they struggle through all sorts of gothic-style perils that have been tweaked to fit the wilderness locale that is their every-day world.