Recently, I received a request to write a piece for an upcoming gothic horror anthology from Quill & Crow Publishing House. I mentioned this request in my recent R&R rejection debacle. I was beyond excited to produce another piece of gothic fiction so soon after writing “Woman of the White Cottage”. My new story will soon be appearing in Ravens & Roses, an anthology of gothic horror penned exclusively by women. The story is “The Fruits of Wartime”.
“The Fruits of Wartime” Premise
After World War 1 cripples the Porter estate, young Jacqueline finds herself the final house servant of Cecelia Porter, an aging widowed mother of 2 who mourns the loss of her dearest son Peter to the war. Night after night, Jacqueline stalks the halls of the home in search of the late Philip Porter’s old gambling earnings with the hope of moving to the city and starting life anew as an independent woman. Then Cecelia’s estranged son Matthew returns, bringing with him some of the obscenities of the city, which Jacqueline finds herself unable to resist.
An Abandoned House
It was my first ever request and I was beyond excited to produce another piece of gothic fiction so soon after writing “Woman of the White Cottage”. Of course, a part of me was wary that I’d be able to enter that world again. I did manage to gain a lot of inspiration for “Woman of the White Cottage” from an urbex video, so again I dove into YouTube searching for a setting.
It took me a bit of watching, but I finally settled on one of my favourite videos the Uplands Mansion in Baltimore, Maryland:
This video, filmed in 2017 by the great Dan Bell showcases a lot of the original beauty of the mansion. One of my favourite parts of the mansion is that narrow spiral stairwell in the servant’s wing, which featured the then-locked Room 66.
It was that little corridor, as well as the library, the main hall, and the parlor-type area with the piano that really inspired me. I watched several other videos of the mansion to get an idea of the house’s layout. I found myself disheartened to see the house succumb to further vandalization through the years. But alas, I had a story to write!
Period Drama Research
I felt a bit wary about attaching my story, “Woman of the White Cottage” to a specific point in history. With “The Fruits of Wartime”, I vowed to choose a more specific time period and settled on the early 1920s, a time period that I have a reasonable amount of knowledge with, pretty much just from my watching of Downton Abbey and Boardwalk Empire.
There’s something about the turn of the century that always grips me. It’s old enough to feel really regal and glamorous, but still modern enough to not feel entirely detached from modernity. The first world war forced society to change in so many ways, specifically for women. Shows like Downton Abbey and Mr. Selfridge convey much of this reality on the working class.
During the war, the men went off to fight. Many women found themselves filling in for the roles that the men had left behind. However, when the war ended, life had been forever altered. Many of the great manor estates, both in the UK and the USA also started to fade out, leaving servants like Jacqueline to consider new roles.
I’m sure many of you know me as a bit of a fashion fiend, and I must tell you that the Edwardian era, as well as the 1920s are two of some of my absolute FAVOURITE decades of fashion. I did quite a bit of fashion research on corsets and petticoats and other such old-timey garments. Corsets were never as uncomfortable or dangerous as some articles might have you think. They were essentially supportive garments, which are slowly coming back into favour in more modern forms today. I also learned about the “combination garment” of the Edwardian era, which is essentially a camisole and bloomers mixed into one.
I watched a lot of “getting dressed” videos from CrowsEye Productions. These videos provide a lot of insight of the daily rituals of women in earlier times. Getting dressed was a bit of a process back then. It is interesting comparing earlier garments (corsets) to the ones we now wear today (bras and Spanx, essentially).
Here’s the video that inspired Jacqueline’s daily attire. “The Fruits of Wartime” takes place in the early 1920s but I see her still donning attire that would seem more dated by 1920s standards. This video also inspired me to make Jacqueline a Suffragette (in America), so her character does strive for some form of modernity and the new age.
The 1920s, however, brought extreme change for women’s fashion, as women rejected corsets entirely in favour of loose and comfortable garments both for work and recreation.
Some Smutty Influences
A part of me has always had a thing for Victorian-era smut. Much of it is pretty ridiculous. It doesn’t read “sexy”, though some of it weirdly is? So much of it was very tongue-in-cheek. I love that the Victorians were seen as such prudes when they probably were just as dirty as we are in the 21st century.
One of the most popular Victorian-era works is a book called The Way of a Man with a Maid, by Anonymous. The book is basically about this guy named Jack who kidnaps a woman and essentially, uh, rapes her to the point of Stockholm Syndrome. She falls in love with Jack and finds more women for Jack to turn into some kind of harem. The novel sounds horrifically awful in premise, but the novel itself is a pretty ridiculous read.
It’s hard not to read it and wonder what people thought at the time. Erotic publications were difficult to find and often it was only the wealthy who managed to get their hands on copies, but while I was reading The Way of a Man with a Maid, I was like, “Well, obviously this is something Matthew would enjoy!”
“The Fruits of Wartime” contains a reference to vaudeville theatre and Eddie Cantor and The Way of a Man with a Maid, not so much to paint the character of Matthew as a particular deviant, but as a different kind of misunderstood man entirely.
“The Fruits of Wartime” Playlist
I enjoyed putting this playlist together, although it proved difficult meshing several genres of music together. “The Fruits of Wartime” focuses a lot on the dichotomy of music, specifically “classical” piano (which Peter often played for Cecelia) and vaudeville show tunes (which Matthew favours).
Obviously, I put in a lot of Chilly Gonzales tunes in there, as his style and creative use of keys definitely mimics the sort of music that Matthew would play. I was also heavily inspired by the Boardwalk Empire soundtrack, specifically songs by Eddie Cantor, who was a popular stage performer at the time. He sang a lot of comedic songs, and a lot of them were pretty misogynist, which is why Matthew would see Eddie as a hero of sorts.
Sadly, the first volume of the Boardwalk Empire soundtrack isn’t currently available on Spotify, so if you don’t have it in your library (and you really should, because it’s amazing), then you won’t be able to listen to the soundtrack in its entirety.
Here are the links to the missing songs:
Ravens & Roses Anthology of Gothic Women’s Horror
Cassandra L. Thompson of Quill & Crow Publishing House requested a story for Ravens & Roses, an anthology of women’sgothic horror. Honestly, the gothic genre is still new to me, but it meant a lot to get this request. My first gothic story, “Woman of the White Cottage” appeared in their first anthology, Anomalies & Curiosities.
While writing “The Fruits of Wartime”, I didn’t really feel like I was writing horror. Deep down, this tale is yet another one of my sexy frolics with a dangerous man. Yet, what I loved about this story was the impact of the time period.
Jacqueline is just another vaguely slutty protagonist enjoying the thrill ride of casually romancing a dangerous man. The true horror in “The Fruits of Wartime” is that, despite the many changes that WW1 brought to the world, true change for women was still a long fucking way away.
Want to read “The Fruits of Wartime”?
The Ravens & Roses anthology releases on June 25th, 2021, but pre-orders are available now!