KEARNEY — In her two-book series, “The Hotel,” Author Jennifer Anne Gordon explores some very contemporary issues through the lens of Gothic Victorian fiction — with a horror edge.
“They are really about how the mentally ill were treated in the Victorian era when things were a lot different than they are now,” Gordon said about the series in an interview from her home near Concord, New Hampshire. “My first book, ‘From Daylight to Madness (The Hotel book 1),’ centers around a woman named Isabel who gives birth to her son, Oscar, in 1873. He dies after just a few minutes. Her husband and her mother-in-law think she’s not grieving properly.”
They end up drugging Isabel and shipping her off to an asylum.
“That book has a lot of feminist overtones,” Gordon said. “It highlights the differences between how men and women were treated. The second book in the series focuses on a character named Francis who appears in the first book. He is a former Catholic priest and a survivor of childhood trauma. He doesn’t really know what his childhood trauma is.”
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Gordon’s latest novel, “Beautiful, Frightening and Silent,” won a Kindle Book Review award for 2020.
“The two books of the ‘Hotel’ series take place in the Victorian era, but my first novel did not,” she noted. “But when I envisioned Isabel giving birth to a child who dies, I instinctively knew it was the 1800s. I was drawn to the decade after the Civil War because I felt that our country was so emotionally scarred. Everybody at the same time had gone through something terrible.”
For Gordon, centering on the characters of her stories helps drive the narrative.
“I do a lot of character work that may or may not end up in the books,” she said. “I work more on the characters than the plot, if that makes sense. I blame that on going to school for theater because I approach writing the way I approach the characters I would play on the stage. I try to figure out as much as I can about the people and hopefully the characters will tell their story through me.”
On her webpage, Gordon describes herself, starting from her birth: “Jennifer was born a strange, pale, and quiet child; a ghost scared of ghosts.” Besides her writing, she lists her professions as actress, magician’s assistant, artist, dancer, comic book dealer, painter, burlesque performer and professional ballroom dancer — and muse.
“I feel that my characters have a life of their own,” Gordon said. “I feel like they surprise me, even though I’m writing them. There are times that I yell at my computer, like, ‘You’re making the wrong decisions, Adam! That’s the wrong choice.’ My now husband was in the other room and he asked, ‘Are you yelling at me?’ No, I’m yelling at Adam, the character. And my husband said, ‘You know, Adam is in your head, right?’”
Gordon likes to create characters and put them in a vague situation to see what happens.
“You can’t fake organic excitement,” she said. “If I’m excited and intrigued about writing it, it has to come through.”
While the undertones of Gordon’s work explore contemporary, universal issues, she also recognizes a deep-seated issue that drives much of her work.
“For a long time I was in a very abusive relationship,” she said. “I have been free of that relationship for almost 10 years. But surviving that abuse turned me into a different person. While in that relationship I took everything I knew about myself — my love of theater, my love of writing — and I buried all of it to become a different person.”
She survived that emotional toll which helps her to look at the world in a different way.
“That survival has lead to some of my feminist overtones in the books,” Gordon said. “What happens to us when we are at our most vulnerable, whether we are abused or whether we suffer any kind of emotional trauma, those things leave a mark — and those things can haunt you if you let them.”
Her work of creating Gothic horror novels helps Gordon come to terms with her abuse.
“I write horror novels, specifically Gothic horror novels, to mean that the past is still alive in the present,” she said. “I use the past as ‘memory.’ In certain cases its ghosts, but mostly my characters are haunted by their memories, their regrets, their missed-choices and mistakes. That is the inspiration for my characters.
Gordon feels most successful when readers make a connection with her work.
“That’s the most I can hope for as a writer, that someone will read my work and connect with it emotionally,” she said. “I have had people reach out to me with their memories and I feel honored because of that, especially when it’s not their good memories. But those memories need to be shared; we need to get them out, put them on paper, put them out to the universe and say goodbye to them.”