Recently, I mentioned that my new story, “Woman of the White Cottage” was accepted for the Anomalies & Curiosities anthology of gothic medical horror over at Quill & Crow Publishing House. This story is my first piece of “legit” gothic horror. It’s historical (to a degree!). It contains some standard horror tropes, plus some feminist extras. It was also inspired by Cardi B’s “WAP”. I have so much to dive into, so let’s go!
“Woman of the White Cottage” Premise
The story follows an isolated woman named Mary in an undetermined time period (sometime in the very late 1890’s). While tending to her garden in a cottage on the outskirts of a nearby town, she finds a man cutting down a tree on her property. Over the next days she befriends the man, who takes notice of the strange rash on her hands. The man becomes determined to help her, and well, that’s where things pick up.
A White Cottage in the Catskills
Years ago, I stumbled upon this woman’s tiny little cottage in the Catskills. Here’s another link with the photos if your free New York Times articles are used up. Basically, the woman decided to build her own cottage just to have a “womanly place of her own”. Upon reading it, I was like, “THIS IS EVERYTHING I NEED IN LIFE!”. I mean, I have dreams of having my own place that I’d decorate with lace and floral prints like an old British lady. That is my ideal.
Anyway, recent months got me thinking of that cottage. I don’t know why. Probably because the mess my husband and kids produce gets frustrating to clean and my mind goes wandering to fantasy versions of a different reality. An aesthetic reality. Where I’m single. And alone. And maybe a man comes over, but then he fucks things up by getting his dirty stuff all over my nice white cottage. So that’s where the story idea came from.
I honestly just wanted to write a short story about a woman’s place getting destroyed by a man. I started writing but the story had nowhere to go. It had no complexity and I didn’t want to just focus on it being a “sexy story”. I wanted some character and depth. So yeah, I shelved it, hoping for better inspiration in the future.
YouTube Urbex Inspiration
Now, this isn’t the first time that my YouTube viewing habits have inspired me. I’m a BIG fan of The Proper People. They’re a pair of urban explorers who visit some pretty great spots. They’re probably my fave channel out of the urbex genre because they’re really chill and never resort to stupid clickbait stuff. They just have a general interest in the places they visit. Anyway, I ended up watching this video of the now-demolished Allentown State Hospital in Allentown, Pennsylvania:
Now, lemme just admit that I went through a BIG phase of being obsessed with mental illness in my teens. Mostly because I was quite the angsty teen myself, but there’s something about insane asylums and their dark history that really kept me infatuated. Most of this stemmed from watching Session 9 when I was in the 9th grade (which was filmed at the famous and mostly-demolished Danvers State Mental Hospital), but my love of abandoned asylums and urbex in general really stemmed from that film in particular.
As I got older, my interest waned, but something about this particular asylum really got to me. I loved the architecture. I loved the marble floors. As the Proper People boys mention in the video, it’s those bright and open hallways that REALLY give this place a special spot in my asylum-loving heart.
One other thing I love about asylums is the confusing layouts. I recall reading that the confusing floor plans were intentional to keep patients from wandering off, but correct me if I’m wrong there, history buffs! Watching the Allentown exploration really gave me the idea of just how scary it would be to wander around one of these buildings with somebody in pursuit, which really gave me the inspiration I needed for my “white cottage story”.
I wasn’t sure how I’d make my white cottage lady a sudden mental patient, but hey, that was all I needed to dig up my original story again.
I like to think that my work is always grounded in feminism, so of course, I spent several hours researching “female hysteria”, which was basically the catch-all diagnosis for any and all issues surrounding women’s mental problems. And sexuality. Like any woman in the prudish days of the Victorian era pretty much was considered hysterical. And no, contrary to what this movie would have you believe, vibrators were NOT actually made to cure hysteria.
I probably spent more time diving into the subject of hysteria than I needed to, but I did discover this short article during my research that mentioned a Canadian doctor, Dr. R. Maurice Bucke, who basically did a bunch of hysterectomies, assuming that it was kind of cure-all for hysteria. I am, of course, being blunt, but reading the speech he gave on his practice really enraged me.
Inside, I was like FUCK THIS DUDE.
But then I got really obsessed with the concept of these dudes utilizing their patients as subjects to raise themselves into some kind of glorious status, and I figured it would make for some great villain fodder.
Good Body Horror
Honestly, I NEVER in my lifetime would have ever considered myself a writer of “body horror”. Then came my novel, The View From the Basement, which features a protagonist that’s recently had a C-section. Having had experience with this surgery twice now, I can say that my squeamishness has eased.
Prior to writing “Woman of the White Cottage”, I never would have dreamed of writing a surgery scene, and well, taking that horror of being wheeled into a surgery room and fleshing it out in fiction proved fun. And safe. And I love the whole idea of taking a real fear I once had and forcing a reader to endure it but in an even worse and more horrific way. At the end of the day, writing fiction is a bit about breaking reality.
The “Woman of the White Cottage” Playlist
A very special source of inspiration for “Woman of the White Cottage” was the song “R.R.E.A.M.” by Kitty.
A play on Wu-tang’s “C.R.E.A.M.”, Kitty’s version depicts her daily struggle with her stress rash, and I threw it on my “Woman of the White Cottage” story playlist without really thinking. At the time I was just trying to get some female-led hard beats, but then I spent a bit more time listening to the lyrics and got (without giving too many spoiler!) some further characterization for my protagonist, Mary.
Madonna’s “Human Nature” was the first song that entered the playlist. I then added some other salacious female-led staples like Nelly Furtado’s “Maneater” and Peaches’ “Fuck the Pain Away”. Also included is Cardi B’s “WAP”, of which you will find its most infamous line in the story as a bit of an Easter egg for you all.
Mood-wise, this playlist hardly fits the story at all. BUT, its empowering sex-positive jams tell the ultimate message of the story.
Anomalies & Curiosities Anthology of Gothic Medical Horror
I wrote this story specifically for Anomalies & Curiosities, an anthology of gothic medial horror from Quill & Crow Publishing House. Thankfully, the story fit right in with editor Cassandra L. Thompson’s vision and here I am now, telling you all about this new foray into gothic fiction.
I don’t know why I didn’t write it sooner. Historical fiction always intimidated me, but I’ve watched enough Downton Abbey to feel comfortable with the fashion and customs and language of turn of the century. Plus, YouTube is full of fun historical wormholes of knowledge. It’s hard to mess things up. But honestly, most of my fiction has dabbled with gothic themes and tropes. I also literally have an entire review series devoted to the QUEEN of mainstream trashy gothic horror, so I see this story as the beginning of something new for me.
Wanna Read “Woman of the White Cottage”?
Get your copy of Anomalies & Curiosities, support an AMAZING new small press, and be sure to let me know what you think!