The Grotesque is often linked with satire and tragicomedy, in which the author conveys grief and pain to the audience. The term was first used to denote a literary genre with Montaigne’s Essays. Many of the earliest written texts described grotesque happenings and monstrous creatures within mythology, which was of course a rich source of monsters. Examples, such as the one-eyed Cyclops from Hesiod’s Theogony or Polyphemus in Homer’s Odyssey and Ovid’s Metamorphoses, where we find grotesque transformations and hybrid creatures of myth.
This genre was a departure from the classical models of order, reason, harmony, balance and form, opening up an entry into grotesque worlds. British literature abounds with native grotesquerie, from the strange worlds of Spenser’s allegory in The Faerie Queene, to the tragi-comic modes of 16th-century drama.
Occasionally, literary works of mixed genre are termed grotesque, such as “low” or non-literary genres such as pantomime and farce. Gothic writings often have grotesque components such as character, style and location while other describe the environment as grotesque. Examples being urban (Charles Dickens), or American south literature, termed as “Southern Gothic”. Other grotesque uses have been social and cultural formations, such as the carnival(-esque) in François Rabelais and Mikhail Bakhtin. Or in satirical writings of the 18th century, such as Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels.
Thereby fictional characters are considered grotesque if they induce both empathy and disgust by way of physically deformity or mental deficiency, but also if the character has cringe-worthy social traits. In Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the figure of Caliban inspired more nuanced reactions than simple scorn and disgust. Also, in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, the character of Gollum may be considered to have both disgusting and empathetic qualities, which fit him into the grotesque template.
One of the most celebrated grotesques in literature is Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame and of course Dr. Frankenstein’s monster can also be considered a grotesque, although he is presented more sympathetically as the outsider who is the victim of society’s alienation as they describe him as ‘the creature.’
There are also examples of grotesque literature during the nineteenth-century, however the grotesque body was displaced by the notion of congenital deformity or medical anomaly.And more in terms of deformity and disability, especially after the First World War, 1914-18. The growth of prosthetic’s created themes of half-mechanical men and became an important theme in dadaist work.
You may be surprise to know that Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is deemed grotesque literature due to the many fantastic grotesque figures she meets. However, Carroll managed to make the figures seem less frightful and fit for children’s literature.
When I write it is effortless and energizes me so much, I can write for hours at a time. I have always thought out my plot for months before I write, so when I do, it just rushes to my fingers and onto the paper. I do not edit when I write, I get the story written as fast as I can, and then I go back once it is complete.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
I am not sure what you mean, but Kryptonite-weakened Superman. The only thing that could slow me down was trying to write something without hours of thought. I would have to think about something for hours, days, weeks or a month or so before I begin writing. Then once I get going, I am a force to be reckoned with, and little will stop me.
Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
I am writing all of my novels under my maiden name. VJ Gage for the Chicago Heat series and Vaunda Lynn Gage for the kid’s books. The adult books are explicit, and I did not want to confuse the reader by using the same name.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
I have not stepped out into the world to know many other authors, but this year will be different. I need the support of others and to find out what has or has not worked for them. I am just starting on marketing etc. and now is a great time to meet other authors.
Do you want each book to stand alone, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
Yes, I have a seven book series called Chicago Heat. I have published two with a third out this March. The children’s book is seven novella’s about seven cousins who have adventures with mythical creatures in the Okanagan Valley. I am working on a second series.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Linda at Dream Write Publishing, she has been great, and she has helped to make my children’s book educational as well as a fun read. Her art for the book has been exactly as I imagined and she was priced right, and we met our deadline.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
As a child, I never slept much, so I began to read early. By the time I was ten or twelve, I could write a book report “likity split,” and, I could write several in a very short time. So I began to sell extra book reports for those who did not read.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
Anything that was written by Janet Coldwell.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
My first thought is an Eagle, it sores high and has a great view of its landscape. But in thinking further, I am more like a busy beaver. When I get an Idea, I will go to work on it until I have completed my task, or I have figured out it is not worth my time. I can be deadly when I get an idea into my head.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
I have four in my “Chicago Heat” series. One romance, and two for my children’s series.
What does literary success look like to you?
It would be that many thousands of people have read and enjoyed my books. I would want them to say they could not put my books down and that my plots are unique and clever, and that I have a great imagination. Then I would like to make lots of money.
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
What would we do without the internet? When I am writing, I have my tablet close by, and I can look up any information I may need. When I need some information, it is close at hand.
How many hours a day/week do you write?
I may not be able to write for days or weeks at a time. I still have a full-time job, and I took care of my mother and dad full time for the past ten years. Both have passed and now my time is open to many more hours to write.
How do you select the names of your characters?
My main characters in my “Chicago Heat” series are based on the personalities of my own family. Dennis Kortovich is a profile of my husband. Veronica, his wacky wife, is a profile of me. Many other characters are based on the personalities of my family or friends. The children’s novels are based on real children and adults.
What was your hardest scene to write?
Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre? If you write more than one, how do you balance them?
I found out I am great at killing and that I have a unique ability to be in the mind of the killer. I like exploring both sides of the crime. I don’t like a soft “Who Done It” I think fast and hit hard.
17. How long have you been writing?
I started in earnest when I was fifty.
18. What inspires you?
Writers, like Dan Brown.
19. How do you find or make time to write?
I may not write every day or sometimes not for weeks. When I do sit down to write, I can go at it for several hours, and I have done up to twelve thousand words in one season.
20. What projects are you working on at present?
I just finished the final edit of The Bible Killings, and this novel should be out by March. I am trying to figure out how to market my books at this point, and I am putting most of my time and effort into this for the next while.
21. What do your plans for future projects include?
To edit and publish at least one more book next year. They are all written, but I need to edit the other four. I will also putter away at the children’s novel. I am writing a second on for Mysteries at the Lake.
Visiting family at the lake during the summer is a wonderful tradition for Canadian cousins: Wyatt, Kadence, Nyomi, Jack, Sophie, Cash, and Cruz. Join them as they share their vacation with you. Discover the secret of Lake Okanagan. Hike the trails and spend time in the amazing forests and cliffs as the seven cousins make friends and solve mysteries with mythical and magical neighbors.
Ride the waters and take in the sun—whatever story they share around the evening’s campfire with hot chocolate and roasted marshmallows, it’s sure to be a memorable one!
V.J. Gage has been writing for over three decades. “Celebrity Lunch,” her weekly column in the Sherwood Park News, featured mini biographies about members of her community. Her column “As I See It” commented on contemporary social issues. A successful businesswoman, with many diverse interests, Vaun is also a recording artist, an emcee, and a stand-up comic, all of which serves to fuel the fast-paced, action-packed, serpentine plots of the “Chicago Heat” series. Vaun has lived in Sherwood Park since 1956. My father was the first fire chief for the county and my mother was one of the first women real estate agents. I have owned a business in Sherwood Park for over forty years. I now have a home based salon and I work there with my daughter. At one point I owned five salons, a clothing store, restaurant, I recorded with R. Harlen Smith and did Stand-up-Comedy and was an emcee for hundreds of events. I was also the first in Alberta to have my own Karaoke show. I went home-based almost twenty years ago.
Vaun is currently working on a series of seven novellas, featuring seven cousins, who have adventures with some of the most fantastic, creatures to ever catch the imaginations of children and adults alike.
Thank you Vaun for an enlightening glimpse of your writing life and it’s inspiration.
Find Vaun at Words in the Park, Spark Gallery, Premier Way, Sherwood Park, Alberta on 29th September 2018.
Too hesitant to ask what the King meant by his remark, Alice nodded and smiled. Totoran took Alice’s hand and led her away, calling back to his parents that they would join them later for supper. Escorting Alice along another passageway he turned into a splendid chamber decorated with several battleaxes, a large cloth covering depicting a battle scene and a long low bench. Alice was amazed at the intricate details in the fabric although the scene was rather gory.
“What is this, Totoran?”
“This tapestry was made by my great, great, great grandmother. It is the final battle on our planet before we escaped. It is a reminder of our home and the courageous Griffian’s who tried to defend it. The weapons you see are the only remaining pieces from that battle. We fashion new weapons in their likeness although we use earthly materials, such as iron and steel.”
“So this room is a war room?”
Totoran smiled and shook his head.
“Not exactly – it is a place of reflection and a reminder of our history.”
“I’m not sure I could be peaceful and reflect with these images, Totoran. The scenes are violent and graphic.”
“Well, yes I can understand that. You are young in your transformation and the collective memoirs have not invaded your mind yet.”
Alice turned from inspecting the tapestry with wide-eyed shock.
“Collective memoirs? What are you saying, Totoran? Will I see this battle somehow?”
“Alice I did not mean to alarm you. I’m so sorry. The images will come gradually just like dreams. You will not be assaulted all at once with the history of our kind. It is a way of passing down our world and accomplishments, generation to generation.”
“Will the dreams be so graphic, horrid? I’m not sure I would call them dreams more like nightmares.”
Totoran rubbed at his chin, deep in thought. When he looked up again, he was smiling.
“I think I know a way of making this history less frightening for you, Alice. Come with me.”
Puzzled at his words but thankful she would have less horrific images to deal with; Alice followed the prince along a corridor which steeply dipped into the mountain. Totoran took her hand as they descended for what felt like a long time, guiding her and ensuring she did not slip on the wet rock surface. Alice guessed after some time that an archway encircled with torches ahead of them was their destination.
“We are now as deep as it is possible to dig, Alice. Here we keep our most precious treasures.”
“Treasurers? How will treasurers help me learn your history with being scared?”
“You will soon see. Come this way.”
Totoran turned to one side and brushed away a heavy cloth from a hidden wooden door. It’s surface was framed and crisscrossed with heavy metal bars.
“Not much could get through this door!”
“That is why it was made, Alice.”
Totoran took a large key from his belt and turned it in the lock. The heavy mechanism’s clanking echoed along the corridor behind them. As Totoran pushed the door, Alice could see it was over a foot thick and the hinges creaked loudly. She had to blink several times for her eyes to get used to the bright light within the chamber ahead. As her eyes focused she saw several hunched figures sitting around a table lit with dozens of candles and there were even more torches hung on the rock face around them.
“May I introduce you to our most precious treasurers, Alice. These are the elders. They are writing their life stories in intricate detail for future generations.”
Alice was stunned into silence. The Griffians before her were hunched, pale and withered. She whispered.
“How old are they?”
“Well in human terms several hundred years but Griffian’s live a lot longer than humans. Why don’t you sit, Alice? We shall talk a while.”
Alice followed Totoran’s lead and bowed to the elders one after the other, then sat on a nearby bench beside him.
“We ask your help, great elders. Alice is fearful of the history transfer and its images. Can you relate the past for her?”
The elders turned as one to face the two young Griffians, nodding slowly. One Griffian with steel grey tufts along his back spoke in a low gruff voice. It sounded like pebbles rolling down a wall to Alice.
“Young ones, we have many, many stories of our planet before the destruction. Generations of Griffians enjoyed happy times and abundance on our home world. The battle was but a second in time and not to be dwelled upon for long. We must learn from our mistakes and ensure our kind continue far into the future. What did you wish to know?”
Totoran nodded his encouragement to Alice. Her mind froze. What should she ask first? Gripping her hand gently, Totoran spoke.
“Our young guest has recently transformed and is trying to make sense of her new form. Please forgive her.”
The elders smiled and nodded in unison. The grey tufted one, held his claw out towards Alice.
“We have many stories to tell, my young one. We only want to help. Do not be afraid we are old and harmless.”
“I didn’t mean you to think I was afraid of you, I just have no idea what questions to ask. The tapestry so horrified me and when the prince told me I would have dreams of the battle, I was scared.”
“It is understandable, Alice. Why not ask about something other than the battle?”
Alice’s shoulders dropped showing her relief at the elders offer. After a moment she began to talk. Three hours later, with their stomachs grumbling for food, Totoran and Alice left the elder’s chamber, happy and filled with momentous stories to recite at the supper table.
On Saturday, my daughter and I enjoyed the Harry Potter exhibition at a local venue. The props made for the movies are exquisitely detailed, in fact, a good deal of the hard work that went into producing them is totally missed when we view the movie. The costumes are elaborate and beautifully sewn, with textures and accessories unseen by audiences. Wands, books, jars and all manner of other props have been painstakingly created for visual effect but lost during the action of the characters. Unfortunately, photography was not allowed in the exhibition. However, this chess piece was displayed at the entry desk. An interactive ‘pulling up of a mandrake’ was a highlight of the exhibition. Hearing them squeal was fun. After exiting the exhibition it occurred to me that when we create characters and scenes in our narrative, we have to carefully balance the amount of detail we reveal. Too much or too little can lose the reader’s attention.
After the Harry Potter exhibit, we discovered another ‘bonus’ exhibition entitled ‘How to Make a Monster’. There were videos and partially formed figures detailing and showing, the process of creating a monster from drawing board to fully automated figure. The creators experimented with colors, textures and patterns to find the ‘right’ look for the creature they were building. This process is similar to our own character development. We pick their hair and eye color, their personality type and back story enabling us to write a complete character.
Monsters come in all shapes and sizes, human and beast. It takes skill and an understanding of how they think and react to situations that make them compelling. My vengeful witch in, The Rython Kingdom, was convinced she had the right to destroy for the imprisonment she had suffered. My Lord of the manor in, The Twesome Loop, thought his position entitled him to abuse those serving under him. Both characters are mean minded, evil and despicable, that is their attraction for our readers, who want to see them conquered.
A ‘monster’ in any guise has to be believable in the context of the narrative as well as have some sort of redeeming feature, no matter how small. A raging dinosaur might be protecting it’s eggs, any cornered animal will fight to survive, a serial killer has a compulsion or belief that their actions are permissible or they are driven to them. Take the TV show Dexter, he is a serial killer in disguise but still calmly kills people! His motive is to rid the world of murderers.
What is your most ‘evil’ character? What traits did you use to portray them?