I’m excited to report that I have received my contributor copies for Flame Tree Press’s new anthology American Gothic Short Stories, which contains my story “Gothic American.” The anthology features fourteen original tales and a slew of classic reprints. These latter are what make this writing credit my proudest one to date. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would see my name listed on the same Table of Contents page with so many of my literary idols–preeminent American Gothic authors such as Charles Brockden Brown, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Washington Irving, Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Flannery O’Connor, and Shirley Jackson.
“Gothic American” is one of my favorite pieces that I have written, largely because it deals with my favorite work of art: Grant Wood’s American Gothic. The house that inspired Wood and formed the backdrop for the now-iconic couple in the 1930 painting still stands in Eldon, Iowa, and has become an offbeat sort of tourist attraction (with visitors inevitably recreating the scene from the painting as they pose for photos). My story casts a darker shadow over such lighthearted mimicry. It also speculates: what if the American Gothic House (as this historic landmark is now called) actually was an American Gothic house?
The story went through countless drafts (and accumulated its fair share of rejections) over the years before I felt I finally got it right. I wanted “Gothic American” to allow multiple interpretations by readers, and believe the version published in American Gothic Short Stories has achieved the correct level of ambiguity (apropos of Wood’s vaguely-unsettling painting, whose meaning is so hard to pin down). I also believe the story has found the perfect home in Flame Tree Press’s anthology, and am thrilled to see it published there.
Flame Tree Press is set to publish its latest anthology, American Gothic Short Stories, which includes a new tale by me titled “Gothic American.” In conjunction with the book’s release, Flame Tree has asked the contributors to discuss the genesis of their story idea. My response, along with 18 others, has been posted on Flame Tree’s Fantasy & Gothic blog. So head that way to find my verbal signpost pointing to one of the greatest landmarks of our Macabre Republic:
Recently, I was browsing on Amazon and stumbled across this 1988 anthology featuring a parody of American Gothic on its cover. I love the macabre makeover Grant Wood’s painting receives–in particular, the uncanny cameo the woman now wears and the witchy weather vane in lieu of a lightning rod. In choosing/adapting the iconic image for the cover of A Treasury of American Horror Stories, the bookmakers clearly recognize the dark undertones of Wood’s masterwork. Judging by the book cover art, Iowa is a field of nightmares and there is something unholy about the Bible Belt.
No less arresting than the grim image is the cover’s presentation of the anthology’s subtitle: 51 Spine-Chilling Tales from Every State in the Union plus Washington, D.C. (check out the table of contents here). The promise of comprehensive terror, a national archive of frightful narratives (which genre editor extraordinaire Martin H. Greenberg helped assemble), makes this belated discovery an instant addition to my must-read list.
The spoofs are innumerable (as any Google search quickly demonstrates), but here are ten of my personal-favorite reworkings of Grant Wood’s famous 1930 painting:
This wild darkening of the original seems strangely fitting, considering that a rural farmhouse served as the centerpiece of the film that gave birth to the modern zombie mythos. Here the notoriously tight-lipped pair bare their teeth in a display of carnivorous desire and grim decomposition. Perhaps the most gloriously mordant detail of all: the reflection of the pitchfork in the man’s overalls being further accented by a graphic skewering.
Further proof of the ubiquity of these goggling Twinkies. An apropos parody, too, given the Minions’ penchant for wearing overalls and also dressing in drag.
Parody of parodies: playing on traditional images of Presidential couples cut-and-pasted into the American Gothic scene. Palin and Trump’s kooky expressions are brilliantly glossed by the punning title of the piece.
The perennially sex-starved Amy forms a perfect substitute for Wood’s spinsterish female figure, while Sheldon’s nerdy turn as the male figure is deserving of a “Bazinga!”
Irony-rich, with Bob Ross as the least likely painter of such a joyless couple. Not even the “happy little trees” added to the background can brighten the mood of this piece.
A splendid transposition, capturing Miss Piggy’s dominance in this inter-species relationship. Kermit, with his trademark distressed expression, also forms a remarkable match with American Gothic’s female figure.
The Gothic theme of false appearances resounds here in this portrait of chem-teacher-cum-meth-kingpin Walter White. It’s a spurious memento, for sure: Skylar’s scowl, not to mention the fiery debris streaking down towards her husband, show that this family is about to go nuclear.
The induction of the prim-and-proper couple into the
Kiss Army makes for some hilarious incongruity. Gene Simmons’s Demon makeup proves particularly effective on the man’s long face. The thought of a monstrous, lascivious tongue lurking behind the man’s lips only enhances the wicked wit of this parody.
An extra-clever invocation of The X-Files: Scully and Mulder prove perfectly oblivious to the evidence of the extraterrestrial in their midst. The transformation of farmer into rooftop Martian, though, is the crowning detail here.
One of Wood’s upright figures is strikingly leveled in this black-humored portrait of murderous misogyny. We finally find out what it takes for Mr. Sourpuss to crack a smile!