Candle in the Attic Window, an anthology of Gothic horror, is an anthology from Innsmouth Free Press. We are interviewing some of the book’s contributors. Today writer Jesse Bullington talks about his modern Cambodian ghost story.
What makes your story Gothic?
For me, the appeal of the Gothic extends beyond the trappings (family secrets, ghostly apparitions, crumbling settings, etc), although those are, of course, fun and present in my story. I’ve always loved Gothic fiction’s blatant indulgence in the melodramatic and moralistic, as well as the supernatural, and I find the vein of self-referential wit that runs through the best examples of the genre pleasantly grounds the action. Being a self-aware supernatural melodrama featuring family secrets and ghostly apparitions in a crumbling setting, I’m pleased to count my story as a contemporary Gothic offering, even if I didn’t initially conceive of it as such.
What was the source of inspiration for your story?
My inspiration was two-part: Cambodian folklore and Cambodian history. I like playing with the idea of the monster, both as a literal and metaphorical figure, and so, the story grew very organically from my desire to write about the mythological Cambodian creature, the Ap (which is nearly identical to the Malaysian Penanggalan). As is often the case, in researching the Ap‘s folklore, I became as interested in the culture surrounding the myth as I did the beastie, itself, and so, setting the piece in early-nineties Cambodia seemed an interesting way of layering past with present, real monsters with imaginary ones.
What are your favourite Gothic movies and books?
Matthew Lewis’s The Monk and William Beckford’s Vathek are perhaps my two favourite Gothic novels. The former is a hilariously anti-Catholic masterpiece, which ties into clerical corruption, forbidden desires, and the Wandering Jew, and the latter is an overwrought bit of Orientalism that is, to the best of my knowledge, the first Western novel to deal with ghouls. Both are wildly inappropriate by modern sensibilities, but Vathek features a giant camel that huffs noxious gases and eats venomous moss, which I think more than makes up for its more problematic elements. Or not. I’ve sampled a lot of other Gothics and have uniformly preferred the more sensational “horrid” novels, such as the two above, to their more famous and restrained cousins – other favourite efforts include Carl Friedrich Kahlert’s The Necromancer; or, The Tale of the Black Forest, and Richard Marsh’s Victorian Gothic The Beetle, which debuted the same year as Dracula and initially sold far more copies than Stoker’s opus. I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve never tracked down a copy of Mrs. Carver’s The Horrors of Oakendale Abbey or Eliza Parsons’ The Castle of Wolfenbach, both of which have been high on my list for some time, nor have I made it all the way through some of the Gothics I’ve attempted.
If you were the star of a Gothic TV show, what would your character be like? Would you be good or evil?
Well, I’d have a cape and an enormous stovepipe hat, but you wouldn’t find out my true motivations until some improbable contrivance led to my being unmasked as a secret ______. It would be shocking to absolutely no one, save those who willfully allowed themselves to be duped.
Bio: Jesse Bullington is the author of the novels, The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart and The Enterprise of Death. His short fiction has appeared, or is forthcoming, in various magazines, including Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Chiaroscuro, Jabberwocky, and Brain Harvest, as well as in anthologies such as Running with the Pack, The Best of All Flesh, The New Hero II, Historical Lovecraft, and Candle in the Attic Window. He currently resides in Colorado and can be found online at www.jessebullington.com.