I'm honored to introduce KL Pereira's new occasional column: Literary Gothic. Ms. Pereira has become quite an accomplished fiction writer and teacher. She chose the "Literary Gothic" name because "it's evocative, recalling the Grant Wood painting, Poe, and hinting at the underlying darkness found in so much of literature." The column comes in two parts: the first, which appeared yesterday, is a close reading of a work of "gothic" literature. Part Two, which appears below, will detail how to bring the book into the classroom: she'll share her creative ideas for teaching it in an engaging way with emerging writers.
Pretty great, right? By the way, hear more from KL Pereira and being a teaching artist in the Isak interview. We talked about "reading comprehension as an art form, The Bell Jar, the uneasy notion that critical reading 'ruins' good books, and the fiction anthology that is making Pereira swoon."
But let me back out of the room now. She's got the floor now.
By KL Pereira
Whenever I read a story or novel, I’m always considering the craft elements and this collection had me excited for all of the ways in which I could incorporate its triumphs as lessons into the creative writing courses I teach.
“Jaguar Woman” in particular strikes me a great example of an exploration of conflict. Shape-shifting stories are often wonderful ways to play with both inner and outer conflict—yearning to inhabit either another physical form (or return to one’s original form), feeling trapped by outside circumstances, such as a trap, or both. “Jaguar Woman” inhabits both of these planes of conflict (in a very concentrated space—974 words—so can be read and discussed comfortably in a class period). Some important discussion points I’ve noted in my classes concern power and powerlessness, gender roles, humanity, and imprisonment; and all of course are rife with inner and outer conflict!
Once you’ve got the conflict discussion rolling, it’s time to start writing. Ask your students to choose an animal (I like to write down several challenging and fun creatures, real or imaginary, on the board for folks who tend to draw a blank when asked to come up with something on the spot) and freewrite for a few minutes on what it would feel like to inhabit the body of the creature, down to the smallest details.
For example, does the deep blue depths of the ocean blanket and caress the smooth hide of the narwhal? Or does the mountain air tickle the feathery mop of the brownie? Encourage your students to really feel what it is like to be in the space of the creature, no matter how foreign that space might feel to them personally (if time allows, ask your students to share their freewrites! It’s always fun to hear the different perspectives from around the table).
Then comes the fun part: ask your students to write a story from the point of view of a character who has been physically transformed into another kind of living being and is struggling with their new body, environment, or situation. The character could be an animal, a plant, an insect, or even a well-known imaginary creature. Ask them to try writing about what it is like for the character to be two creatures in one body, possessing perhaps both human and nonhuman qualities and how these qualities can either complement one another, or cause inner (and outer) conflicts for the character.
I guarantee the drafts you get back will generate some hearty discussion on the human condition, inner and outer conflict, and fantastic stories!
KL Pereira likes to traipse around dark, woody crevices where most would rather not wander. Her fiction, poetry and nonfiction are published or forthcoming in Innsmouth Free Press, Mythic Delirium, Jabberwocky, The Medulla Review, The Pitkin Review, and other publications. Pereira writes a column for the Grub Daily (grubdaily.org) called "Slaying Genre: A Monthly Column on Horror, Noir, Fantasy & the Other Red-Headed Step-Children of the Literary World," and is working on two collections of short fiction and a novel. Her website is: darknesslovescompany.com and you can chat with her on Twitter (@kl_pereira).