By Rosemary Poole-Carter
The publisher of my new novel, Only Charlotte, arranged for me to sign copies in the exhibition hall of the American Library Association conference, held this June in Washington, D.C. With seconds to go before the signing began, one of the wonderful volunteers at the booth asked me for a 3-word pitch he could use to guide passersby toward my book. Instantly, we settled on “Southern Gothic Thriller”—which proved effective for getting all the books into librarians’ hands within my allotted time.
But is that the only label we might have chosen? Only Charlotte is also historical fiction, set in 1880’s New Orleans. It explores emotional entanglements, including a love story. It involves murder, along with other foul deeds, and detection in an atmosphere heavy with racism and misogyny. And yes, true to Southern Gothic tradition, my novel enmeshes damaged characters with eccentric ones in situations that sometimes border on the grotesque.
Just before attending the ALA conference signing, I participated in the Historical Novel Society Conference in National Harbor, MD, and particularly relished the panel on cross-genre and hybrid writing. The topic reminded me of Marie Watts’s recent post here on Suspense Magazine Blog regarding expanding the mystery genre. In the panel meeting room, I was part of a standing-room-only crowd of misfits, literally concerned with how we would fit in the space without upsetting the fire marshal—while literarily concerned with how and where we fit in the publishing world, the marketplace and the bookstores.
Panelist and author Deanna Raybourn, always a pleasure to hear as well as read, compared writers selecting bits from various genres for their stories to magpies collecting what they find bright and interesting. Long a magpie reader, appreciating variety and inventive layering in novels, I also enjoy flocking with magpie writers.
In Only Charlotte, I share my interests in mystery and suspense, in love stories and tales of conflict, in the visual and performing arts, in history and what endures with my novel’s narrator Lenore. Indeed, Lenore’s interest in theater is so heightened by her seeing a production of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Talethat she is inspired to try her hand at play writing, herself, selecting bits of dramatic material from the narrative she unfolds. Thus, Lenore entwines a bizarre situation, peopled by some disturbed and disturbing characters, with a touch of the macabre, a dash of dark humor, and—only for some—salvation. Just deserts for others. Of all the things Only Charlotte might be called, my magpie narrator still finds Southern Gothic thriller is an apt, if not the only, description of her tale.
Rosemary Poole-Carter explores aspects of an uneasy past in her novels Only Charlotte, Women of Magdalene, What Remains, and Juliette Ascending, all set in the post-Civil War South. Her plays include The Familiar, a ghost story, and The Little Death, a Southern gothic drama. Fascinated by history, mystery, and the performing and visual arts, she is a member of the Historical Novel Society, Mystery Writers of America, and the Dramatists Guild of America. A graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, she was a long-time resident of Houston, where she practiced her devotion to reading and writing with students of the Lone Star College System. She now lives and writes by the Eno River in Durham, North Carolina.