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Originally published Wednesday, August 5, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Seattle author is a Goth ambassador

Jillian Venters, a Seattle expert on Goth fashion and culture, appears at a Goth convention in Bellevue Aug. 8.

Special to The Seattle Times

Author appearance

Jillian Venters

The author will speak at noon Saturday at the Westin Bellevue, 600 Bellevue Way N.E., as part of the InnoSera convention. Tickets for the convention, which runs from Friday afternoon through Sunday, are $15-$55 at the door. Information about the convention is at www.innocenteseraphim.com. For information about Venters and the book, go to www.gothic-charm-school.com.

Who's a goth?

"GOTH" IS an umbrella term used by varied people and groups who share an interest in all things dark, mysterious and scary. Although it traces its roots back to the original Gothic period in Europe, modern Goth developed in the 1970s and '80s in nightclubs; it was built around music such as Bauhaus' "Bela Lugosi's Dead," which combined horror and punk. A typical Goth "look" incorporates black clothing, dramatic cosmetics, hair of an unnatural shade and morbid jewelry, which makes Goths easy to spot. They also usually like horror novels and movies, Halloween and music in a minor key.

Jillian Venters counsels her readers that Goth is a lifestyle, not just a casual costume. And she practices what she preaches: rather than give up her dark Victorian wardrobe during the recent heat wave, the "Lady of the Manners" tucked ice packs into her corset.

Venters is a Seattle resident and the author of "Gothic Charm School," a new book based on the Web site where she's dished advice for years to both those in the shadowy subculture and those who would like to understand it.

The book — featuring whimsical illustrations by Venters' artist husband, Pete — is an explanation of the Goth culture, including its origins and its variants, of which there are many. Venters, for example, is a Victorian Goth. There are also cyber Goths, perky Goths and industrial Goths. She is speaking at a Gothic Lolita doll convention in Bellevue this weekend.

Venters was always interested in (to quote from the book) "the gloom-shrouded and spooky side of life," but, because Goths seemed so standoffish and unwelcoming when she was a teenager, she didn't really join the subculture until college, when she found more accepting Goth friends. That experience helped spark her interest in Goth etiquette.

Venters hopes to build a bridge over stereotypes that separate Goths and regular folks. "I just want to see people get out of their little boxes," she said in an interview.

Normally, Seattle is a good place for a lifestyle incorporating black clothing, light skin and a love for all things dark. That's not just because of the weather. The live-and-let-live city has a diverse music and club scene, plenty of bookstores and thrift shops, and industries without a strict dress code. That includes software, Venters' day job.

She knows many see Goths as a clique of snooty oddballs with an un-holier-than-thou demeanor. But that chilly shell is less a reflection of how Goths see themselves than a defense mechanism.

"They do tend to adopt a superior attitude, just because it's a good shield to defend yourself," Venters said. "So when someone yells, 'Hey, Morticia! It's not Halloween!' you can just act like you're above it all."

She encourages Goths and non-Goths to approach each other — politely. Goths shouldn't act unduly aloof, but their non-Gothic counterparts don't help relations when they stare, make rude comments or even grab a Goth's ruffled skirt, velvet jacket or tinted hair (this happens surprisingly often).

Venters advises parents of Goth-inclined kids to talk to them, as her parents did — and not to assume their kids are depressed if they adopt eyeliner and skull jewelry.

In reality, Venters says, Goths are not particularly sullen. Yes, they embrace life's darker side. "Part of Goth is about accepting the knowledge that the world is not always a happy place," she said.

But they also have a lot of fun. "Goths love bombast. We love spectacle and over-the-top things," she says. "We're all dressing up like we've just escaped from a Victorian horror novel or 'The Matrix.' "

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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