Gothic Obsessed, a guest post by Dianne K. Salerni
At the age of four, I became obsessed with all things gothic. I didn’t know the word gothic, of course. (Or obsessed.) I only knew that every afternoon when my mother put me down for a nap in my bedroom, she would turn on a fascinating television show in the living room. This show featured a spooky old house, a mysterious family with secrets, and, oh yes, ghosts, vampires, witches, and time travel. So, every day, while my mother enjoyed the supernatural soap opera Dark Shadows, I would sneak out of bed and secretly watch from behind the sofa.
Thanks to this early fixation, when I learned to read, I eschewed light-hearted books by Beverly Cleary for mystery series like Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, and The Three Investigators. After polishing those off by third grade, I discovered a treasure trove in the basement: my mother’s adolescent collection of paperback mysteries, many of which I still possess and re-read today.
There were stacks of Mary Roberts Rinehart, including The Door, which is credited as the original “the butler did it” mystery. There was the haunting classic Moura by Virginia Coffman and Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle (which must be read with the cover where Mary Katherine Blackwood peers at you through a burnt-out a fence, or else you’re not doing the goth right.) When I had devoured all those books, my mother took me to the local library where I ignored librarians’ attempts to herd me into the children’s section. I wanted the books with covers depicting a girl fleeing a sinister-looking house carrying a candelabra. I read so many gothic mysteries—and watched Dark Shadows re-runs whenever I could—that I had recurring dreams about a secret passage connecting my grandmother’s basement to a neighboring building.
In retrospect, it seems strange that it’s taken me this long to write a book that serves as homage to the mysteries I loved as a child. The Carrefour Curse is a love letter to all things gothic. The first thing I did, when planning the story, was look for a house to serve as a model for Crossroad House, the semi-sentient mansion at the center of my tale. The setting of a gothic novel is truly its heart, whether that be Collinwood Manor, the Blackwood mansion, Chateau Moura, or the many stately but menacing homes that all those gothic heroines were running from. When I stumbled upon Summerwind Mansion during my deep-Google dive, I knew I’d found the perfect house.
Summerwind Mansion (also known as the Lamont Mansion) was an abandoned home on the shore of a Wisconsin lake. There are several unconfirmed and contradictory stories about a haunting on the premises, but I was less interested in the history of the house than the look of it. Originally built as a wealthy family’s “fishing lodge,” it was an impressive sight in its early years, but I fell in love with the abandoned version. You can see photos of the abandoned mansion at this website.
During my research, I spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to find blueprints for the interior of Summerwind Mansion, which burned to the ground in 1988. I even joined a Facebook group dedicated to the house. I finally gave up when a stranger contacted me saying he had blueprints and would show them to me if I met him in person. Not a chance. Who did he think I was? A gothic heroine with a candelabra? That’s why the exterior of Crossroad House is modeled after Summerwind, but the interior is my own invention.
With the setting of my story established, I was free to wade deeper into my childhood obsession. There’s no doubt that I was influenced by my mother’s battered collection of gothic mysteries, but Dark Shadows remained my original inspiration. Just like in the soap opera, events center on the family mansion, but sometimes feature the ruins of an older family home, referred to by my characters as Old House. Family members have secrets, but they also have magical powers. In my case, the Carrefours perform magic with earth elements like stones and fire, rather than the witchcraft practiced by Angelique Bouchard in Dark Shadows. The family patriarch is not a vampire like Barnabas Collins, but he does have his own means for stealing life from others. There are mysterious disappearances and unexplained illnesses and time travel. Some might think including time travel in a supernatural mystery bends the genre a bit, but Dark Shadows did it first.
Speaking of Old House, its role in my story draws upon inspiration from an entirely different source—the American short story writer, journalist, and Civil War veteran, Ambrose Bierce. Best known for An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, Bierce is probably not anyone’s idea of a gothic mystery writer, but I challenge people to read his 1889 vignette The Spook House and tell me he’s not! That story ends with a hysterical person fleeing an evil house— although, in a refreshing twist, it’s not a girl. It’s a male Army colonel.
Sprawling spooky house and family tragedy? Check. Dark secrets and magical powers? Check. Time travel and disappearances? You bet. (Did I mention that Ambrose Bierce mysteriously disappeared, his fate unknown? How fitting.) In The Carrefour Curse, I have revisited my gothic obsessed childhood and had a great deal of fun doing so.
Meet the author
DIANNE K. SALERNI is the author of eight YA and middle grade novels, including Junior Library Guild Selections Eleanor, Alice, & the Roosevelt Ghosts, Jadie in Five Dimensions, and The Carrefour Curse, as well as the state award nominated Eighth Day series. Dianne was a Pennsylvania public school teacher for 25 years before leaving the profession to spend time hanging around creepy cemeteries, attending ghost hunting classes, and climbing 2000 year-old pyramids in the name of book research. In her spare time, she volunteers at her local animal rescue shelter, walking dogs and serving the needs of the feline overlords.
About The Carrefour Curse
The Addams Family meets The Westing Game in this exhilarating mystery about a modern magical dynasty trapped in the ruins of their once-grand, now-crumbling ancestral home.
Twelve-year-old Garnet regrets that she doesn’t know her family. Her mother has done her best to keep it that way, living far from the rest of the magical Carrefour clan and their dark, dangerous mansion known as Crossroad House.
But when Garnet finally gets summoned to the estate, it isn’t quite what she hoped for. Her relatives are strange and quarrelsome, each room in Crossroad House is more dilapidated than the last, and she can’t keep straight which dusty hallways and cobwebbed corners are forbidden.
Then Garnet learns the family secret: their dying patriarch fights to retain his life by stealing power from others. Every accident that isn’t an accident, every unexpected illness and unexplained disappearance grants Jasper Carrefour a little more time. While the Carrefours squabbles over who will inherit his role when (if) he dies, Garnet encounters evidence of an even deeper curse. Was she brought to Crossroad House as part of the curse . . . or is she meant to break it?
Written with loads of creepy atmosphere and an edge-of-your-seat magical mystery, this thrilling story reads like The Haunting of Hill House for preteens. Perfect for late-night reading under the covers.
A Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 01/31/2023
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years
Filed under: Guest Post
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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