My eighth grade gothic romance (or why I give props to novelists)
While cleaning my garage, I stumbled upon an old notebook containing my youthful attempt at a novel. And since I happen to be reading the hilarious memoirs of Jenny Lawson, potentially embarrassing oversharing seems strangely appealing ...
In middle school I was enamored with the gothic romances of Victoria Holt (Shivering Sands, I still love you!) and decided to write one myself. It was good fun—I especially enjoyed checking out baby-name books from the library to name the characters—but I lost interest after about 4000 words. I polished the heck out of those words, though, at least to the best of my ability at the time.
Other than a short story for my creative writing class in college, which I actually finished, this was my one foray into writing fiction. I'm not kidding when I say I'm a not a frustrated novelist. Reading books, writing about books, copyediting books ... yes please. Writing books ... not so much. Though If I were bubbling over with story ideas (which I'm not) and had enough motivation to write an entire novel (which I clearly don't), maybe I'd be okay at it. This isn't half bad for a thirteen-year-old😉.*
I ran the comb through my thick, and very straight, chestnut hair, wincing at the tangles that had accumulated in the past ten minutes since I had last labored away at the mirror. Finally, disgusted, I tossed down the comb and turned to Eloise lounging on my bed, apparently in deep thought about something distressing, for her forehead was wreathed into [huh?] wrinkles and she didn't look up when I turned to face her.
"Really Eloise, what could you be possibly concentrating on so fervently, when nothing the least bit exciting has happened in ages around this god-forsaken place. You are as untalkative as the bed you are lying on."
Eloise sat up and focused her attention on me with my hands on hips and a spurious look of annoyance on my face.
"Calm down, Nola, and quit glaring at me as if I just pulled each hair from your head. Speaking of which, I'll help you comb it, you look as if you could use a little assistance."
She lifted her almost too thin body and lithely walked over to the dresser and picked up the abandoned comb. I grabbed it playfully, but then became serious as I told her, "Don't try to change the subject, Eloise. Something is on your mind and I'm going to hear you out. So talk." I folded my arms matter-of-factly and nodded my head with finality.
"Okay, just listen." As she talked her eyes lit up and it became clear to me that she was just yearning for a chance to tell me anyway.
"You see, there is to be a costume ball at Langston Manor, it's open to everyone! [clearly I did no historical research] If we could go, we would have the night of our lives! Just think, no one would know who we were, of course we'd leave before the unmasking, just like two Cinderellas." Then she added regretfully, "If we could just get out of the house, and find some costumes. Both are probably impossible, so forget I ever said it."
My eyes sparkled [how can she see her own eyes?] and my voice lilted with enthusiasm at the prospective venture.
"Of course we can go! Aunt Josephine goes to bed early. And we could make our own costumes, or each other's. Oh, I'm glad you voiced this idea, it would be most wonderful, cousin. I just have to go now. What do you say?"
Since Eloise wanted to go in the first place, it didn't take long for me to convince her of its importance to our social life.
The next two weeks were devoted to planning and making each other's costumes in our spare time. With the help of Jeanne, the French dressmaker who boarded, this was not difficult to achieve without Aunt Josephine's sharp eyes finding out our well-guarded secret.
After much thought on both parts [where to part ones hair being of utmost importance] Eloise decided to dress as Cleopatra. It was perfect with her olive complexion and straight black hair that seemed to shine purple under the lights [did they have overhead lighting in the late 1800s?]. Still, she was more zealous about dressing me.
"Something to enhance your good features. Your large, brown eyes with their thick fringe of lashes and generous lips [her eyes have lips?]," she said. However, she couldn't think of anything to suit me, and my own ideas didn't seem to satisfy her standards.
Finally, prior [after?] much pacing, a fanatical gleam came to her blue eyes, and she turned to me, laughing, and barely containing her excitement.
"I've got it, Nola! It's flawless!"
My veneer of indifference couldn't hide my impatience [this girl has an uncanny ability to observe herself without a mirror] to see what she had in store for me.
"What is it, Eloise? Don't keep me waiting. Tell!"
"Do you think I would tell you and ruin the surprise? Of course I'm going to keep you waiting. You will remain uninformed until it's done. The day of the ball. I don't dare give you the chance to say it's not you, because it is, and you are going to wear it!"
Now I was truly becoming impatient with Eloise. Keeping me in the dark on something that concerned me so much. But I might as well let her have her way.
"Very well, cousin. I'll wait. But if I burst with curiosity of the unknown [as opposed to curiosity of the known], I'll have you know that you will be to blame."
We laughed joyfully, as only vivacious seventeen-year-olds could [if you're not seventeen or vivacious, sorry, no joy for you]. Then Eloise clasped my hands and stated earnestly, "You won't be sorry for this, Nola."
Ooh ... foreshadowing!
And so ends the first scene of the first chapter. Later, Nola goes to the ball dressed as the goddess of beauty, in a gown "tailored to cling to her every curve," and dances with a young man who forces a kiss on her. (The phrase "slimy tongue" might have made an appearance.) She then gets rescued by the hero, who, you guessed it, ends up forcing a kiss on her (but only after she beats his chest and calls him a "vile, egotistical, French bastard"), but this time she secretly enjoys it. Consent, anyone? Oh, 1983. (Insert sigh and head shake here).
I never wrote past the ball, but if I remember correctly, years pass and grown up Nola Trevelyan has to work as a governess. And who's her new employer? Why, none other than the egotistical French bastard. (Who'd have guessed.) He must have married and had children and been widowed in the intervening years, and I suspect there were rumors that he killed his wife ... after all, what's a gothic romance without an air of menace and a misunderstood, brooding, potentially dangerous hero? Much is hazy, but I do remember his name. Xavier Montgomery. (Doesn't sound very French, but I think he might be the bastard son of a French woman and an English lord ...)
Well that was fun. At least for me😊. I hope you enjoyed this peek into my thirteen-year-old, romance-obsessed** mind!
*I admit to adding or subtracting a comma or two. I just couldn't help myself. I was able to resist adding more contractions to the dialogue, but just barely.
**I spared you from the turgid bits, like "I was amazed that one man could radiate so much masculinity" or "His fingers drummed lazily against the fabric stretched tautly over a well-muscled thigh." (The other eighth grade girls ate it up, though.)
And just in case anyone thinks I sound like a particularly mature thirteen-year-old, check out the cover to the aforementioned notebook.