What is Corporate Gothic?

As members of Joe’s Writers’ Club club threw the term “Corporate Gothic” around, again and again, I became mystified. I agreed with the consensus – that the literary genre projects something “corporate” in the setting or conflict – and gothic elements like suspense and mystery in the style; yet, at the repeated mention of “gothic”, I paused. I was excited about the project, but I felt dizzy. Pulled into a dream state, I couldn’t explain what I couldn’t explain.

It was a paradox at play, and grappling with a contradiction in terms, I couldn’t understand the meaning of “gothic” because the meaning of “gothic”, I now realize, cannot be fully understood. As I conducted google searches and followed Wiki links, I was trying to solve the unsolvable, explain the inexplicable, and locate a technical definition for a non-technical term. While my exploration resulted in less-than-substantial findings, I did come across some interesting tidbits along the way.

The countless meanings for the term “gothic” include a germanic people, a style of architecture, a typeface, a subculture, a music scene, a fashion statement, in addition to the literary genre! Like the “gothic” typeface, “corporate gothic” has its own font, I noticed, and the slight slant of its tail exhibits the old-world flourish of copperplate. (Download the Corporate Gothic Typeface here.)

The Gothic Secretary

Like the “goth” fashion and subculture, “corporate gothic” denotes a style of fashion that blends vampiric pointy-toed outfits with traditional business attire. While displaying varying degrees of sexuality, the corporate-gothic look challenges and temps the straitlaced dress code, typical of corporate culture. Television characters that feature playful versions of corporate gothic fashion include NCIS science-genius Abby Sciuto and The IT Crowd‘s befuddled employee, Richmond Avenel.

Just as the term “gothic” has numerous definitions, the literary genre goes by several names. What’s called gothic literature, gothic fiction, and gothic horror includes sub-genres like urban gothic, suburban gothic, southern gothic, and American gothic. Wiki lists the origination of gothic fiction as the Romantic Period (the late 1700s). Google defines the style of literature as having “elements of fear, horror, death, and gloom, as well as romantic elements, such as nature, individuality, and very high emotion.” Studies designate Edgar Allen Poe as the “father” of the genre; the constant mentions of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein likely establish her as the mother.

Interestingly, monsters in gothic fiction can be within, without, or both. The monsters that appear in Poe’s texts are often innate, self-destructive impulses. Edward Rochester’s inner torture in Jane Eyre contrasts the flesh-and-blood monster in Stoker’s Dracula. Frankenstein and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde feature both – the inner beast and the outer fiend, as the scientist proves to be more horrifying than his creation. The inner monster in Stevenson’s masterpiece resides in Jekyll, which gives way to the physical manifestation of Hyde.

The gothic monsters in Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park – coupled with the corporate backstory – provide a notable vision of the Corporate Gothic genre. In the movie, eerie mist rises – not around a castle on the hill, but around a corporate-owned island-park, reminiscent of King Kong’s lair. The obsession with perfection of entrepreneur John Hammond functions as the destructive monster within, which gives birth to snarling dinosaur monsters that haunt and torment workers and visitors alike.

In the corporate-gothic film, Alien, mystery and suspense appear – not around a castle or island, but around a ship in space. The corporate back story involves the corrupt “company”. The inner monster, corporate’s unstrained greed, invites the hissing beasts to feast upon those that cross its path. Jurassic Park and Alien both have outer monsters in the sequels, escaping into the larger world and threatening the evolution of humankind! Horrible!

What is your favorite example of Corporate Gothic?

Crazy Ralph

 

Today, I would like to talk about how certain elements in writing can contribute to enabling a reader to show emotion in reaction to what the author has put on the page.  Sometimes the author has the ability to make the reader laugh out loud due to a rather character’s sarcastic tone or simply a bit of slapstick .  Other times the reader can be trapped in a scene based on what’s happening to a particular character in the book. A reader will sense a feeling of fear as to what is happening in between pages, notably in the horror genre. That is the aspect I want to focus on today.

Fear can be displayed many ways, and affects the reader, the viewer, and can influence your muse when drawing inspiration from either a movie or a book.  Currently I am working on a second draft for our writing club of a type of horror-related drama involving a summer camp.  Putting the pieces together at first was pretty easy, but it was the second draft that really had an impact on my psyche.  The feedback I received regarding the first draft included the fact that there needed to be more of a fear element to make it look more daunting and ominous.

Originally, I had a really good scene involving a groundskeeper at the campsite warning the counselors, before the start of actual camp, that something was not right. He told them to beware of a certain something on campus. Does it sound somewhat familiar? If you are a horror movie buff then it should.  This circumstance is a template of a scene from the first two Friday the 13th movies.  Crazy Ralph is the old man who warns the counselors of Camp Crystal Lake not to work at the summer camp due to a murder spree that happened previously on or near the original camp site.

Romance blossoming at Camp Crystal Lake

My story falls into the genre of what my writing group likes to call “Corporate Gothic”, which is defined as a story that intertwines the concept of a workspace and an element of horror. The workspace in my story is the camp setting and the element of horror is the condition of the water on the campus. If someone doesn’t drink from the right source, they could die. That lets the reader know that the protagonist could be in trouble and leads to a sense of fear for both the characters in the story and quite possibly the readers themselves. 

Although the basis of my story might not sound too “horrific”, it can still teach us a lesson in basic fear and how to overcome the tragedy within the story.  Fear can also teach us a lesson in morality and how we handle relationships going forward. Usually, the end all to a story or a movie wraps up with some positive advice for both the reader or the viewer.  So, next time you’re out and about on a camping trip or want to explore that cabin in the woods, beware that silly old man telling tales and stay safe out there!

The Birth of “Corporate Gothic”

Life had been bleak for a while, and as always a way into light was provided. Gratitude for that way and for the stars to be so aligned, my creative obsession somehow turned to podcasting. To catch us up… 

I was all about making radio shows on tape as a boy, and for many years my heart wished for a career in radio. I listened avidly to the airwaves since the nineties, not just songs but to talk radio as well as spoken word, getting political while learning words and phrases. A dream of hosting my own talk show, or even just voice-over work, traveled with me during my surveying career. The years went by and podcasting waited just outside of my own personal awareness. 

My health took a downturn and so fieldwork days came to an end. Working from home granted more time for writing, or at least a schedule more accommodating to a creative writer’s life. My thoughts also branched out into other muses, other platforms, and finally podcasting. 

I was running a writer’s club, Joe’s Writers’ Club, and after a few months of observations and planning, the time came to record it and add its flavor to my experimental network. This was a magical time for me, finding regular attendees and friends while rocking the portable setup, making a studio of whatever space would allow us to record. It felt adventurous to me, but maybe I’m just a goose. One thing not to be silly about is the hardcore talent that can be discovered just hanging around somewhere. 

My friend Joe took a break to reinvent himself and the club chapter he gave me slowly transformed into a fantastic podcast, and as we met week after week our creative obsessions were laid out. Tom T had short stories for miles and a magnificent epic hovering in the stratosphere, just waiting to become a bolt of creative lightning out of Valhalla’s azure sky. Julie read from her inspirational works and aided in the batting around of several project ideas. The one that stuck out was a side step phrase she said. 

Something like: “My husband said gothic corporate, but I don’t know. What do you think?” 

I said, “How about Corporate Gothic? How does that sound?” 

Tom said, “That sounds great…” 

The whole thing was framed by the phrase “haunted workspaces,” and when Julie said something like, “Yeah… and a corporate haunting with some sort of karmic justice.” 

As soon as we workshopped that mythic brainstorm session, the inspiration started to flow. When next we met, Tom had stories ready to sling in the form of corporate gothic, enough where my own muse flashed bright. As to that, in another point of clarity, I had never written a short story that was any good, and resorted to the abandonment of short story writing and the childish destruction of those horrid works, committing them to the abyss for Chronos to gloss over in his lamenting boredom. 

My newly acquired inspiration came forth and a whole new muse burned in the winds of my creative obsession. From podcasting to short story writing, such bizarre trends are their own wonder, but what satisfied me most was how it all came together. 

Tom, Julie, and Ben were the originals, being the first of our club’s regular attendees. Corporate Gothic burst forth from its own coffin during a time when I was leaning into paranormal research, a thing that Tom and I had in common. He knew many angles of parapsychology and the supernatural, as well as a cross-section of ghost stories, cryptid tales, and zones of mythic haunting where almost anyone is supposed to be able to see a spirit at the right time of night. We would finish each other’s creepy sentences, and I considered trying to get him on my paranormal podcast. 

Once TC joined our ranks for regular meetings during the library days, we found ourselves with several stories and a whole lot of confidence in our project’s muse. What happened next changed the game, for me and for Joe’s Writers’ Club. 

My muse for “The Eminent Domain” came online… 

Known as a storm watcher, Xando went to the cliffside to brave a wash as he usually did. Lightning strikes in webbed networks traced the sky, never hitting the same spot twice. As Xando watched, a strange light burned away the storm clouds and made a cavern-like hole in the overcast. There was a loud boom and a flash as bright as daylight and startled by it all, Xando beheld an object crash into the chop on the shoreline. 

In the waves, a drama of steam and hissing of wind appeared. To his shock, Brother Xando beheld a person fighting to swim in the stormy water. Whoever it was, it must have been connected to the crash, and so, with great haste, Xando made his way through the overgrowth and to the waves moved by a fear that whoever it was may drown. 

The sight that greeted Xando was from another world, and with religious fear, his heart palpitated as he crossed himself. A being lay face down on the sand, it’s body limp and cold. It wore a shimmering silver robe. Lightning danced in the vestment like a biblical visitation, and as he grew closer, he saw that this person had no hair atop an enormous head. A heavy odor from sea or storm lay in that place, but still, Xando picked up the prone person and slung him up over his shoulder. 


Photo by Jon Flobrant on Unsplash

Soon after a stalled muse “Songs of Agharti” blazed forth likewise. 

Steve felt spellbound just as the night before. He made a connection between the Bogniki legend and the Sumerian goddess Lilitu, who was also featured in Jewish Midrash as Lilith, a spirit who slays babies in their cribs. Everyone seemingly noticed nightfall at the same time, and soon they sought to change the subject. Being well fed and needing questions answered, they turned to Steve, who through Elzbeita, gave them such information as he felt was appropriate. 

Details were kept to a minimum, but otherwise he explained what their goals were and why he wished to explore the mine. He told them of his authorship, and the book he intended to write once this trip was completed. They nodded knowingly to certain points, and having been required to sign NDAs, did not wonder very much beyond what they already knew. Most were satisfied by the answers he gave and admired his desire to honor great grandfather Ziggy’s legacy. Steve mentioned nothing about the treasure. The team retired early, and being well walked and fed, most of them slept deeply. 

In the middle of the night a shrill scream woke everybody up from out of dreaming slumber. Thinking someone had just been murdered, the men emerged from their tents to investigate. Everyone was out of their tents, everyone but Ivona. Her tent remained sealed. They unzipped the flap and found Ivona staring vacantly, scared into silence by something. When she finally spoke it was in a near whisper, with eyes wild and knuckles white from fear. Elzbeita’s intonations matched Ivona’s involuntarily because of her own rising concerns.  

“I had a horrific nightmare… A large fire at night with skulls in the coals… And human torches walking, screaming… all under an umbral moon.” 


 

Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash

I can’t tell you how satisfying it all has been, how grateful I am for all that I have learned from it, and just what a cool thing it is to have a club with talented, creatively obsessed dreamers who see the path ahead. I was poet, novelist, and now short story writer and blogger, and my club has helped me and each other breathtakingly along the way. 

Corporate Gothic is our first and will always be special for me, but I look forward to many years going forward and many more projects working with these fine people, and hopefully many others. Our goals will bring this podcast’s vibe to the world, with Corporate Gothic being it’s own loud bump in the night-black office of creative horror. The club’s moods are elevated and we can’t wait to bring this muse to a waiting audience.


I invite you to check out Joe’s Writers’ Club Corporate Gothic project. Enjoy! 

Pass It On: Are You A Witch? Or ‘How a Single Line In a Story Can Change an Entire World.’

I have been writing off and on about an Anomalist named John Pentgram since 1978. He has changed a lot over the years. At first, he seemed to be a Scottish knock-off of Sherlock Holmes in modern times. He even had his own Dr. Watson, in the form of Amos McConnell.

In 2016, I decided to move his home and entire history to South Central New Jersey. This involved a complete re-write of every story and novel, plus the backgrounds of every major character. This would be a major challenge, and I jumped at the chance to create a more real and accurate world for John Pentgram. He still solved mysteries beyond the Borderland, but now he’s closer to where I live.

What’s Out There In The Dark?

I put Pentgram on the shelf for a few years, as I concentrated on other works. I hadn’t written a new story for him in years. Then, on a drive to Florida, a new story hit out of the blue. On the first page of One Room Unfurnished, John’s Mother and vineyard are mentioned. John in turn asks Amos about his girlfriend Allyson Haywood.

The Pentgram Vineyard

Wait, what? A Mother? A vineyard? A girlfriend? It turned out that the Pentgram Family owns a large vineyard at the northern edge of the Pine Barrens. John’s mother, Hayley is the owner and CEO of the Pentgram Vineyard. The girlfriend’s name is Allyson Haywood, daughter of John’s mentor and good friend Nicholas Haywood. All of these ideas hit me as they hit the page. They all made sense, but the biggest revelation came later.
A later story, The Dead Refuse To Lie Down, introduced us to Allyson in the flesh. At one point, John asks her if she were a licensed witch. She said no, not yet.

Witchcraft: A Real Profession

Whoa! A witch? A licensed witch? Here is where John Pentgram’s world veered from ours in a big way. In the America of John Pentgram, witches were not killed in Salem Village in 1692. by that year, they had become an important part of American culture and defense.
Background
From the moment the first colonists landed in North America, the forces of Darkness attacked them. Hordes of Trolls, Goblins, Wild Men, Elves, Kobolds, and other paranormal beings assaulted these first citizens, from Plymouth to St. Augustine, Florida.
The witches, living in every colony, fled Europe where they were being slaughtered for mere existence. Here, with their new country under assault, they stepped forward. The Colonies survived only by the quick and skillful enchantments of the Witches of America.
At first, the Church resisted these actions, urging the citizens to step forward to kill each and every witch on the grounds that they practiced Magic. An uproar by those same citizens convinced the colonial governors to place all witches under the protection of the colonial governments. As long as they did not practice Dark Magic, they would be protected from any harm.
The true test of the American Witches came in 1692 at Salem Village, Massachusetts. Nineteen witches engaged in battle with Derylth, the King of the Elves, and his Para-Human minions. By the time the horde had been defeated, the witches had become heroes of the American People.
Songs, books and plays by the hundred were written and performed in the century after the Salem Witch Travails. The National Witchcraft Headquarters is located at Salem Village. All witches are required to become licensed by age 18. They are a part of the FBI’s Domestic Service. Article VI, Section 6 of the U. S. Constitution specifically details the licensing and protection of any natural-born witches, and that of any immigrants who have gone through the Citizenship process.

National Witchcraft Headquarters

In The Dead Refuse To Lie Down, I threw out a line about Allyson Haywood having her license. That one line created a firestorm of ideas in my mind.

I immediately knew that Pentgram had several friends who are witches, and a half dozen acquaintances. Several of them turn up in The Deadly Mile, which means I have to go back and re-write that one to add in the new histories.
The Pentgram Vineyard employs three witches, one each to protect the property, the personnel, and the products. Witchcraft in the Pentgram family goes back many generations. In fact, one of the witches in Macbeth is a Pentgram.
One small change in one story can cause ripples and seismic shifts in an entire Story Universe. I’m still debating with Hayley Pentgram, John’s Mother, as to whether or not she’s a witch. We’ll just have to see how her story unfolds in the future.
One Room Unfurnished” will soon be published in the Corporate Gothic Anthology from JWC Books coming in Spring 2021.