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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

In Defense of the Epistolary Novel - Vicy Cross and "Tuesday Apocalypse"

Hello and thank you for letting me guest post today. Storm Moon Press released my debut dystopian novel, Tuesday Apocalypse, in July and I couldn't be more excited about it. Before sitting down to write this book, I declared to the requesting editor on Twitter: "The first-person narrative will be told in epistolary format," and she and several other writers had replied with a bemused: "What?" Should've been my first clue I was writing an unconventional manuscript—it was rejected by at least one publisher for the narrative structure alone. So Tuesday Apocalypse is a first for me in many ways, but mainly because of a forgotten literary device and the overlooked "epistolary novel."

So, what is an epistolary novel?

Basically, it is a novel written exclusively through the medium of letters (or journals) by one or more characters. The epistolary novel rose to prominence in the 18th century and was the precursor to what we now call psychological fiction. I'm sure many sci-fi/fantasy/horror readers are familiar with Bram Stoker's Dracula, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and Le Fanu's Carmilla. All of these creepy classics use epistolary narratives, but more modern examples can be found in Stephen King's Carrie, Alice Walker's The Color Purple, and also Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones' Diary.

As a gothic fiction aficionado, I gravitated to the epistolary and what we nerds in horror fandom call "The (Infamous) Apocalyptic Log." H.P. Lovecraft made the trope a cult classic, and I'm certain most survival horror would not exist today without it. Psychological thriller/horror novels are better suited for punchy, urgent narration. Journals, letters, and newspaper clippings create that sense of documentary-style realism as the terrifying events happen in "real time." The narrator's deteriorating state of mind adds to the claustrophobic atmosphere while also provoking a sense of dread in the reader. It's an old school method, but quite effective, in my opinion. My favorite epistolary novels are ones when the narrator is slowly transforming into something or when the main character slowly unravels a gruesome mystery.

A first-person narrative better allows us to explore the main character's psyche. And in gothic and psychological fiction, warping our pre-conceived notions of the human condition is essential. Often, what frightens us the most about horror/dystopian fiction are the terrifying possibilities we imagine in the real world. That question of "what if?" can sometimes lead to the realization, "it can!", and whether you're reading Edgar Allan Poe or the Brontë Sisters, stressing that underlying fear is the same.

Sci-fi/fantasy/horror authors have used the epistolary novel since the Victorian Era, and in that time, we've been blessed with Oscar-winning movie adaptations, new and exciting subcultures, and of course, great books! Yet, I imagine most readers don't even know what "epistolary" means or which of their favorite books were written in that style.

However, it is my hope that the epistolary novel will make a comeback. Each narrative structure has its place and function, but nothing can beat the epistolary novel's level of atmosphere and fear. Yeah, it might not be as trendy as other literary devices, but for better or worse, I'm going to make sure the epistolary novel is here to stay.

With that said, I hope readers will enjoy the WWII dystopian fantasy I created. I wanted Tuesday Apocalypse to drip with all the cheese and melodrama of my favorite gothic books, haha! Also, there's tentacle sex and plenty of psychological head-games to spice things up, too. Thank you for reading. Blessed be and Namaste!

***

In the war-weary year of 1940, just one rundown hospital survives London's collapse. Sister Barbara, a nun and volunteer nurse, inspires hope in her patients, but that faith is shaken when an unidentified aircraft explodes near the hospital. The half-eaten corpse beneath the mangled wreckage appears to corroborate the pilot's story that some sort of "tentacle-monster" attacked his plane. However, Sister Barbara pushes these dangers aside and plunges beyond the rubble when the man she loves disappears in the wastelands.

She discovers a bloodstained beauty in his place—but the girl's outward innocence hides a voracious sexual appetite, and an even more disturbing secret. One by one, the terrified patients vanish from their beds. Titillating tentacles lick the hospital walls at night. And the dreams, always the dreams, drawing Sister Barbara deeper into a well of madness. She suspects she and the other women at the hospital are transforming into something... unholy. Sister Barbara knows she must figure out what before the evil in their midst consumes them all.


Tuesday Apocalypse by Vicy Cross – Now Available from Storm Moon Press for $4.99 (ebook) or $9.99 (paperback)!

***

London was ruined. Gone. At that time, I did not even know if the clinic was still standing. I was convinced the air raid had killed everyone I cared about.

Mourning the loss, I fell on my hands and knees. My body convulsed from the violent force of my loud sobs. Because I was weeping, the ash stuck to my cheeks. I sobbed until I could no longer see straight, but I forced myself to stand up and wobble back to the river. I knew I had to find Rob. He was the only hope that sustained me—otherwise, I might have broken down.

With the residual echo of the bombs still blasting in my ears, I screamed Robert's name until my throat gave out and I could no longer summon the strength to shout. (My voice is still hoarse.)

I ignored London's burning reflection and ran along the shoreline, wailing for Rob. I tripped and fell numerous times. I skinned my knees, but I kept running.

I don't know how long I followed the length of the river. Maybe another twenty minutes.

However, when I stopped to catch my breath, I realized I was standing in a wet meadow teeming with wild violets!

I stared down at the flowers in speechless bewilderment. To my knowledge, all of the vegetation beyond my garden was dead. I could not fathom the sight before me. However, I did not have much time to consider this, because it was then I saw her rise from the grass.

I had not expected to see a person sprawled across the violets, and so when she moved, I shrieked and fell backwards. I landed on my rump and watched in amazement as the nude, brown girl rolled onto her side and stared at me.

The withdrawn, dream-like vacancy behind her eyes gave her expression a surreal and haunted look. I have never seen a more breathtaking woman.

αωαωαωαωαωαωαω

Vicy Cross' favorite indulgences are horror, sci-fi/fantasy, and speculative fiction, however she'll dabble in any genre where there's hope for a good story. In addition to writing full-time, she is a veg*n political activist, hoodoo witch, and empath. Her first novel, Tuesday Apocalypse is now available through Storm Moon Press. You can find Vicy on Twitter @VicyCross and on her blog or on Facebook.

3 comments:

  1. I've never read an epistolary novel,but I'm interested!

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  2. You need only say "epistolary novel" for my eyes to perk up! In fact, I found out about this because I was scanning through tweets, and I did the twitter equivalent of the driving by double take and squealing brakes to scroll back up to the link for this. I'm absolutely intrigued by what I've read, Vicy, and can't wait to dive into this one. And I'm with you, I want this writing style to make a comeback, but I'm just happy whenever there's one more to add to my pile.

    Also, congratulations on your first novel!

    Carolyn

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  3. Thank you Dezmond and Carolyn for expressing interest! I hope you enjoy my strange little story. Always a pleasure to meet other like-minded fans of the genre. :D

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