My participation in the A World of Gothic series was my proudest moment as an author last year. Talented, award-wining authors penning suspenseful stories with a definite Gothic vibe, each set in a different location around the world, all taking place in a remote, awe-inspiring mansion. As a number of amazing titles have been available since the series launched last April, I felt I should bring them to your attention again, from a different angle this time. So, each week, I’ll invite one of the series’ authors here, spotlight her book and focus on the heroine, the hero, and the backbone of any good Gothic story, the house/castle/mansion that tends to hold the key to solving the mysteries piling up.
This week, I’m pleased to welcome multi-published, multi-genre author, Janis Susan May, who will (figuratively speaking) break down The House in the Pines for us. The setting this time is a stormy East Texas and a mansion deep in the woods, hosting evil and deadly secrets. Chilling!
by Janis Susan May
Genres: Gothic, paranormal, romantic suspense
Publication date: August 4, 2016
Hired to write the biography of elderly tycoon Henry Wolfe, Dianne Grayson happily comes to Wolfe House, a Victorian mansion set deep in the piney woods of East Texas… a house she has always wanted to see. Henry Wolfe is just as autocratic and overbearing as she expected, but no matter how he acts she is determined to stay there until she gets the answers she wants. What she did not count on was his rugged grand-nephew and a startlingly handsome and attentive young cowboy, both of whom show great interest in her, nor how the mysteries of the past can affect and endanger the present day. Once she discovers the truth, is it too late for her to save her own life?
Q & A with Janis Susan May
Hello, Janis, and welcome to my blog!
Hello, Maria! It’s such a pleasure to be here and get to chat with you.
You’re a prolific author, having delved into many different genres. What does writing Gothic mean to you? What are the core elements such a story should incorporate?
I think a Gothic is sort of a grown-up way of sitting around the fire telling ghost stories. Not that every Gothic has to have a ghost, of course, but it’s a way of giving ourselves a safe ‘sense of fear’ while feeding our romantic inclinations. Plus, Gothics are very empowering. They feature women, usually youngish, who persevere and triumph over seemingly (or sometimes actual, or sometimes both) supernatural opposition.
In a good Gothic there is a love interest, usually a man tortured by something in the past or some situation that makes him unable to declare his love, and a mystery, usually bound up with the man’s problem and in the house itself. There always has to be a big, mysterious old house or castle. To me it’s impossible to set a good gothic in a nice modern home in a good suburban neighborhood or a luxurious condo – but perhaps some superb writer could do it. Anyway, what I find empowering about a Gothic is that the girl doesn’t just sit around and whimper and wait to be rescued. She is the one who solves the mystery, puts the past to rest and saves the hero – sometimes literally, sometimes psychologically. Yes, there are examples of the hero saving the heroine, but even so she is the one who has solved the mystery and made the hero able to rescue her.
So – I feel the necessary ingredients of a Gothic are : a strong (mentally) woman, usually alone in the world or definitely alone in this situation, who relies on her own ability. A tortured hero who is strong and desirable, but somehow so tangled in circumstances from the past he is kept from loving or giving of himself – he does fall in deep and true love with the heroine, but tries to protect her from the problem and thus cannot let himself show love. A house/castle/whatever that is generally both old and creepy which so influences the story that it is almost a character in itself. A villain who exploits the hero’s problem for his/her own gain, be it money, power, revenge or some other kind of personal desire. A secondary cast who may or may not be on the side of right.
Core elements? A strong and plucky heroine who can rely only on herself, a strong hero is both tortured and misguided, an unfriendly and mysterious house/castle/whatever, a mystery, usually rooted in the past, and a villain who exploits it.
Your main female character, Diane Grayson, visits Wolfe House, a spine-tingling mansion, to write the biography of its master. Can you give us more clues about her personality? Which are her strengths and weaknesses and what made her a good fit for your story?
Diane fits all the criteria given above. She’s plucky, strong-minded and alone in the world. She’s definitely alone and without allies at Wolfe House.
Diane is pretty much a self-made woman. She has survived the tragedy of losing both her parents in a fiery car crash; she has carved out a career as a writer, but there is no one in her family who has been in a similar business. She is empathetic, but also filled with anger for reasons that are made evident in the book. She is cunning – not in a bad way, but knowledgeable and courageous and able to think on her feet. She has withstood great grief and progressed beyond it, but it has also marked her forever. She is driven about some things. In other circumstances, I think she could be charming and amusing.
Her weakness is her arrogance – not that she parades herself as being above other people, but that she truly believes she can handle anything – and in the end she pretty much can, but not in the way she thought she could. Her strengths are courage, her strength of mind and her ability to accept change.
In this story romantic angle there are two potential love interests for Diane—Ryan, a true enigma, and Charley, the veritable cowboy charmer. What chemistry were you going for with these seemingly opposite personalities?
I don’t know that I was ‘going for’ any particular chemistry… my characters are their own individual people, and I have a hard if not impossible time changing them once they make up their mind to appear. Charley is the image of a romance novel type hero – incredibly handsome and attentive – while Ryan is less attractive and his own man, who may or may not have anyone’s best interests at heart other than his own. As always in my books, though, nothing is ever really as it seems… most of the time.
Which actors did you have in mind when writing those two characters or who would you like seeing portray your characters should the book ever became a film?
I don’t do the actor thing. I think I’m an eccentric among my writer friends because I don’t create my characters, giving them this ability and that face, etc. My characters simply walk in, state their name and get on with it. It is only with the greatest of difficulty – if at all – that I can change anything about them. For example – in my Janis Patterson mystery A KILLING AT EL KAB there is a character who comes on stage in the middle of the book; his original function was to deliver some information and then vanish from the scene… except that he wouldn’t leave! He came and went several times, and actually contributed a great deal to the resolution of the story, which is strange, since in the original concept of the story he didn’t exist at all!
I doubt very seriously if THE HOUSE IN THE PINES will ever be contracted for film, but if it does I will fight for cast approval. I may not use actors to define who my character is, but I can definitely define those who are not my characters!
Well, if Hollywood knew what they were doing, you’d get a call. The story mostly takes place in Wolfe House. Could you give us a brief description of the manor as seen in the book?
From the book : “Surrounded by a wide green lawn fringed with encroaching trees, it [Wolfe House] was at least three stories tall and much larger than I had expected. A great apron of a porch ran around it as far as I could see. There was a round turret with a round, witch’s hat roof at one corner. Gingerbread dripped from every horizontal surface, and everything was sparkly white, as if it had just been washed. On the porch was white wicker furniture and flowers in large pots. Somehow the house should have looked more sinister, more unfriendly, not as wholesome or welcoming, but perhaps that was colored by my emotions. The place looked impossibly perfect, like something right off a travel brochure or cloying greeting card.”
The funny thing is, Wolfe House actually exists – not by that name, of course, and in a town, not out in the woods. At least I think it still exists; I haven’t seen it for years. It belonged to a remote relative of a dear friend and we spent a weekend there once when we were very young. I loved that house and wanted to live there desperately; perhaps it was the stained glass ceiling in the stairwell that caught my imagination. I recreated the house as exactly as my admittedly imperfect memory would allow for THE HOUSE IN THE PINES.
That is very interesting! Last but not least, the greater setting—the woods of East Texas. What are the Texan elements that played in the story?
Texan elements. Hmmm. As a seventh-generation Texan, I’m really not aware of any particular ‘Texas elements’ – it’s all just normal for me. I deliberately chose East Texas because it is different. We have five or six distinct geographic areas in Texas, but mention Texas and most people will think of deserts filled with towering Saguaro cacti (which don’t grow anywhere in Texas), vast spaces of rock and sand, men in boots who wear hats the size of patio umbrellas (we do have plenty of those all over the state) and people loping off to work on saddle horses (which are banned under most HOA rules). East Texas is deep, dark and not always friendly pine forests, a thriving logging industry and lots of beautiful and often hidden lakes. Yes, we do have the deserts and the wide open spaces, but there are also the pine forests.
Concerning the people, I wanted to show the courage, the tenacity, the decisiveness (or as some might put it, bone-deep stubbornness) of the Texas people. We stand up for what we believe and will do what is necessary to protect what is right.
And the weather. There’s a saying – ‘if you don’t like it, wait five minutes.’ I know that’s been said about almost every state, but it was first said about Texas. I personally have seen the temperature change almost 50F in a single hour. Or go from heavy sun to frost in less than two hours. Or go from a cloudless blue sky to a raging, destructive tornado in almost a heartbeat. In one twelve month period the temperature varied over 115F where I live.
You’ve certainly crumpled my stereotypic image of Texas. Now I really want to visit! Thanks for talking about The House in the Pines, Janis. What are you up to writing-wise these days?
As I bore easily, I never have fewer than three projects going at one time. Right now I’m working on a novella called LOVE IN THE WORLD OF MAKE BELIEVE for a boxed set called LUCK OF THE DRAW – each story is about someone who wins something and how it affects their lives. Mine is about a woman who wins a role on her very favorite TV show, which stars a handsome actor on whom she has a tremendous crush.
I’m also working on a book about a romance set in the majestic and vast Palo Duro canyon of the Texas panhandle – which just happens to be one of my favorite places on earth. The lovely and talented Carolyn Brown has allowed me to play in her Kindle World of the Palo Duro, and I am so very excited to be in such august company. It’s about half finished, but I don’t know the title yet. Both of these books are done under my Janis Susan May name.
Under my Janis Patterson name I’m doing two mysteries. A KILLING AT TARA TWO is the first book in my series about Dr. Rachel Petrie, a contract archaeologist who works all over the world on archaeological digs, where she always finds murder and mayhem. In TARA TWO she’s working in Alabama, digging up the remains of an ante-bellum plantation house. Of course, there are a couple of murders both modern and historic, so she’s kept busy.
I’m also doing the third book featuring my elderly (and how she would hate for me to call her that!) sleuth Flora Melkiot. The wealthy, proper and highly opinionated widow of a jewelry magnate, Flora sincerely believes that she can do anything she wants to – and usually does. She is often referred to as ‘the dark side of Miss Marple,’ and is more than capable of removing crime scene tape, badgering witnesses and cornering murderers. This offering is called MURDER AT FIVE TO ONE, in which Flora goes to Las Vegas about an inheritance, where not only her past comes back to affect her present but she gets mixed up in multiple murders.
Sounds like you have both your hands and your mind full! Good luck with all your future endeavors, Janis, and thank you for the insights!
It was my pleasure, Maria.
About the Author
Janis Susan May is a seventh-generation Texan and a third-generation wordsmith who writes mysteries as Janis Patterson, romances and other things as Janis Susan May, children’s books as Janis Susan Patterson and scholarly works as J.S.M. Patterson.
Formerly an actress and singer, a talent agent and Supervisor of Accessioning for a bio-genetic DNA testing lab, Janis has also been editor-in-chief of two multi-magazine publishing groups as well as many other things, including an enthusiastic amateur Egyptologist.
Janis married for the first time when most of her contemporaries were becoming grandmothers. Her husband, also an Egyptophile, even proposed in a moonlit garden near the Pyramids of Giza. Janis and her husband live in Texas with an assortment of rescued furbabies.
Connect with the Author
Facebook: Janis Susan May
Twitter: Janis Susan May