Micro-interview: Mary Choo

Candle in the Attic Window, an anthology of Gothic horror, is the latest release from Innsmouth Free Press. We are interviewing some of the book’s contributors. Today Mary Choo talks about her poem “The Malcontents”.

What makes your poem Gothic?

I think “The Malcontents” contains a number of attributes found in Gothic literature: fear, a sense of foreboding and darkness, secrecy, and more than a tinge of elemental madness. The poem certainly turns the idea of growing pleasant things in a garden on its head.

What is the source of inspiration for your poem?

I write a lot of Gothic poetry and fiction. Often, a story or poem has a specific source of inspiration, but sometimes, it’s just some strange idea out there in the aether, waiting to be realized. Both poetry and fiction always start somewhere in the back of my mind as an image. For some reason, with poetry, the actual work almost always stems from a random phrase or an incomplete sentence – in this case, as I recall, it was the opening two lines.

A number of unusual things influence my writing. For the first part of my life, we lived with my grandmother and the circumstances were pretty Gothic – big, dark house, eccentric elderly lady, etc., and an extensive garden that was a joy to behold by day but quite unsettling at night. All this was a source for a number of my stories, and my ‘garden’ poems – “The Malcontents” being one of them. I also worked for four years for the British Museum – the first and part of the second in the museum itself. The place was full of Gothic atmosphere – vast rooms and corridors with towering ceilings, endless dark panelling, and poorly lit library book stacks that rose and twisted and ran on forever. I carried this great key on a chain around my waist, that opened doors to private offices and rooms. Working in the reading room at night, which I did often, could be really intimidating. I understand there’ve been considerable changes since my time there.

What are your favourite Gothic movies and poems/books?

Certainly, there are many contemporary poets who write outstanding dark poetry, and there are a number of literary greats whose work is considered to have Gothic attributes. I think, historically, the poet who comes immediately to my mind as being Gothic is Edgar Allan Poe, and also the English poet Thomas Lovell Beddoes. Among my favourites of those I consider to show Gothic influence – and this is pretty scattered and eclectic – are Christina Rossetti, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Emily Dickinson, and Ontario poet Sandra Kasturi.

As for fiction, The Turn of the Screw by Henry James has to be the most chilling tale ever written, particularly as it concerns the coercion of children. I love Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho and the works of the Brontë sisters, as well as Jane Austen’s wonderful parody of the Gothic novel, Northanger Abbey. Then there are Mervyn Peake’s incomparably dark and Byzantine Gormenghast novels.

My favourite Gothic movie has to be Juan Antonio Bayona’s brilliant The Orphanage. I would urge any Gothic aficionados who haven’t seen it to seek out a copy. I’m also partial to the 1961 film version of The Turn of the Screw – I believe it was called “The Innocents” – as well as the 1974 television adaptation of the story, which starred Lynn Redgrave. And then there’s Nosferatu, Frankenstein, The Sixth Sense, and Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow….

There’s a lot to appreciate out there!

If you were the star of a Gothic TV show, what would your character be like? Would you be good or evil?

My character would be troubled and complex, in keeping with the best of Gothic tradition.

Bio: Mary E. Choo’s speculative poetry and fiction has been published in a wide variety of magazines, anthologies, online and electronic publications. She is a two-time Aurora finalist, and has received a number of honourable mentions in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror and The Best Horror of the Year (online lists). Her short story, “The Man Who Loved Lightning,” appears in the anthology of fusion fiction, Like Water for Quarks.