The holidays may be behind us, but winter is still very much in full effect. Recently, I had the opportunity to swap stories by the fire with author Gregory Bastianelli and chat about his brand-new novel, SNOWBALL. Here’s what he had to say for himself.
Snowball contains several elements that readers of holiday horror might find familiar, but you brought an entirely new spin to the tale making it a new dark holiday favorite. One of the things I enjoyed most about Snowball was the way your characters developed, each of their unique storylines converging--and often in expected ways. How did you go about the process of mapping out such an integrated and multi-angle plotline?
When I first began planning this novel, which gestated for quite a long time, I really set out to capture the misery of winter, especially what I’ve experienced growing up in New England. So, as I gathered up my characters for the tale, I applied a different miserable and haunting experience for each of them. Originally, this book started out as two separate stories I planned to write, one a novella about people stranded on a highway in a blizzard and attacked by an unknown force in the storm, and the other a broader approach to winter hauntings involving the embodiment of death in the specter of a serial killer known as The Iceman. I ended up merging both ideas into one story where winter and everything that could go wrong with it played the major part. Once I brought my stranded travelers together in the storm, I needed a way to bring up their past haunts and settled on the idea of swapping stories while awaiting rescue. It’s a time-honored tradition of swapping ghastly tales in a horror story and felt right. The fact that all the travelers had a connection and weren’t where they thought they were was not part of the original plan but developed as I started writing the story. I don’t outline when I write, so a lot of what happens comes about as I’m going along. I take a lot of notes and jot things down, and then pick my starting point and forge ahead. Sometimes I’m amazed at what occurs without any real thought or planning. That’s the magic of writing, I guess.
The relationship between your toymaker and his business partner reminded me a bit of a twisted version of Scrooge and Marley from Dickens's classic Christmas Carol. You also brought in some other classic holiday folklore with Krampus, and who doesn't love a cold-blooded (pun!) murderer with your depiction of the Iceman (I keep thinking of Old Man Marley, the Shovel Slayer from Home Alone...just, you know, more murdery). Tell me more about you cast this group of Christmas horrors? Were the connections deliberate, and if so, how did that enhance your story?
Yes, the Scrooge connection was quite deliberate. I certainly enjoyed playing around with some of the holiday tropes. The Krampus figure is something I’d been fascinated with and knew there was no way I wasn’t going to find some way to fit it into my story but didn’t want to make the plot all about the creature. It’s just a great holiday legend that’s a lot of fun. Before beginning to write the tale, I still hadn’t found my ultimate villain for the story and eventually the twisted toymaker character emerged just from my deep thought process over who would be behind all the mayhem my travelers encounter. As far as The Iceman goes, he had always been planned to be a part of the original vision for this story, before it took on an entirely new concept. He still managed to seamlessly fit into the narrative as everyone loves a demented serial killer, right?
Redemption doesn't come easy in Snowball. If you could have saved one unfortunate victim from your ill-fated Christmas caravan, who would it be, and why?
This may seem an odd answer, but probably Lewis Felker, the Salvation Army guy. He’s probably one of the least likeable characters in the tale, yet one can feel kind of sorry for him and the miserable sad-sack life he has led corroded by alcoholism and psychological scarring. And he is the only one who senses the danger they are all in at the outset but is dismissed and looked down upon by most of the others. The most interesting and surprising character I found to be was the truck driver, Tucker Jenks, who started out as a very minor player, but as the story progressed, his role took on a much larger significance than even I had anticipated. That was a fun surprise.
I read in your bio that you spent two decades working at a small daily paper (and got to interview Bruce Campbell - I'm not jealous *at all*). How does your journalism background impact your fiction writing today?
It was probably one of the best educational experiences I’ve ever had. Working at a small-town paper, I learned a lot about the functioning of everyday life. I got an understanding of the inner workings of court trials, police and criminal investigations, city government, firefighting techniques, accident reconstruction, business development, political campaigns, education methods, spelling bees, farming, medical issues, weddings, divorces and obituaries. You name it and everyday life is sprawled across the pages of a daily newspaper. And of course, the strange stories and oddities one comes across is nothing but fodder to feed the active imagination of a developing horror/thriller writer. My second novel, “Loonies,” is a dark mystery that features a newspaper reporter as the main character and draws an incredible amount of inspiration from my time working in a newsroom.
Lastly, what's next? Any new projects upcoming that readers should be keeping their eye out for?
I always have something that I’m working on, though I never like to talk about works in progress. Though I certainly will be thrilled to have something new for readers to hopefully enjoy and I’m very excited at the opportunity to continue working with Flame Tree Press.
I know it's already midway through January, but the New Year has started off with a bang and I have been BUSY (I did, in fact, begin this blog post three days ago but am just getting around to finishing it). I am so excited for all the things to come this year, and want to make sure you, my lovely reader, are in the loop as well!
Most of my exciting 2020 news is still under heavily guarded lock and key, but while I can't tell you exactly what's coming down the pipe, I wanted to give you a few hints as to what you can expect from me this year. (If you're super stealthy, you've likely already noticed some changes to the website...hint hint.)
Of course, there will be books. Currently I am contracted for two release dates this fall for titles that will be announced very soon. There's also two other projects that may be making their way to shelves in 2020/21, with some more in the works. Some of these are already attached to or under consideration for film adaptation. <squeal>
In addition, I am very excited to continue to be a part of the expanding Havenwood Falls Universe with Sun & Moon Academy Volume II, which will release later this year. And then there are already two books planned for 2021, including the sequel to The Isle of Gold and next in the Daughters Jones trilogy as well as collab project with my very wonderful friend, author Cassondra Windwalker.
Lastly, my reading and reviewing schedule has picked up and my TBR pile is talllll. I've already submitted three reviews on upcoming titles to The Nerd Daily this month, with many (many) more coming, as well as some author interviews and interviews with film directors as well. Something specific you'd like me to read? Let me know!
So, busy, yeah?
With so much going on, I will continue to focus on my blog as my primary method of communication to readers, so please be sure to subscribe! There are new blog series planned to share more info and behind the scenes details on all these upcoming projects. I am also active on social media @sevenjanewrites, so don't forget to like, follow, and chat with me on Facebook, Twitter, and--most actively--Instagram.
In Snowball, an upcoming holiday horror/thriller from author Gregory Bastianelli, the ghosts of winters past come out to play when a group of weary travelers find themselves snowbound on Christmas Eve. The only problem is: the road they thought they were traveling has just taken them somewhere very different than they expected, and there are no gifts waiting on the other side of the blizzard for this unlucky caravan.
Bastianelli has assembled an ensemble cast of holiday commuters for his trip to holiday hell—including the quintessential executive, the freshly-engaged college couple, a single mom towing her kids, a trucker, an elderly couple in an RV, and more. Giving unique voices and winter torments to each traveler is something of a specialty for Bastianelli, who manages to create holiday torments that ring true for each passenger—and each reader.
The story’s shtick is in its title, Snowball, a process that starts from something small and builds upon itself, becoming graver through the inertia of its own momentum as it becomes disastrous. It’s a clever pun for the tale’s delicate if unrelenting tension-building arc, which not only connects all the seemingly unrelated travelers, but dooms them to share the same unfortunate fate as the weight of their past indiscretions bears down in an avalanche upon them all. Each of our travelers is on their way to the same frozen end, with some particularly chilling surprises in store for the naughtier on Bastianelli’s list. A word of warning to the reader: don’t get too cozy with any characters you meet on this journey home for the holidays—some don’t last, and most are not what they seem.
At times seeming to borrow heavily from recent holiday horror film Krampus, Snowball brings together contemporary interpretations of some of the darker folktales of the Yuletide, along with modern-day horrors and a sprinkling of Jack the Ripper-esque brutality to tie the festivities together. Whether it's the Scrooge and Marley-like strained (or, I could say, more precisely, chained) business relationship between a twisted toymaker and his former business partner, carnivorous snowmen, a certain birch switch-swishing, children-snatching beasty of legend, or the Iceman, a murderous, ice tong wielding madman, Bastianelli serves up the perfect holiday monster for every reader. (Frankly, there’s a couple travelers that this reader found a mite creepy, too.)
It’s all in good spirit, though, because what would Christmas be without a little bit of fun to brighten revelers’ appreciation of the season? For a holiday that comes only once a year, there’s no time to waste; the game is already afoot.
If you’re looking for something to keep you cozy on cold winter nights, then find something else to read because there are no warm holiday tidings to be found here. But, if you’d prefer to spend the darkest nights of the year shivering as you await the temps to rise and the sun to return, then this is the holiday horror you’ve been waiting for.
Written with the young reader in mind, meticulously researched and brilliantly crafted is Flowers in the Gutter, upcoming from K. R. Gaddy (Dutton Books for Young Readers, Penguin Random House), a story of heroism and resistance that will inspire readers to stand up and fight for what’s right.
Flowers in the Gutter tells the real-life story of Gertrude, Fritz, and Jean, three young people involved in a youth resistance group known as the Edelweiss Pirates, young people who not only resisted, but fought passionately against nationalism and prejudices in time of fascist violence in Nazi Germany. Told from alternating viewpoints, Gaddy takes us from the pre-school years through the war of each of the three persons named, illustrating both in words and in meaningfully curated historical photographs the tense and often horrific accounts of each of the pirates. (Tip: read the footnotes.)
For such heavy subject matter, Flowers in the Gutter (a title which pays homage to the edelweiss flower itself—the namesake of the pirates and a symbol of deep love and devotion due to the flower’s mountaintop location which required daring and potentially fatal climbs to attain, thus a fitting moniker for the young resisters) is a remarkably light read, engaging and eloquently penned. Gaddy displays an adept knowledge of German-language primary sources, including memoirs of the three main characters, as well as an inexpressibly vivid tongue for bringing the included photographs and other historical materials to life.
There is, likewise, an artfully crafted balance to this book; Gaddy deftly juxtaposes accounts of fights with the Hitler Youth, beatings at the hands of the Gestapo, and the horrors of bombed-out Cologne with mountainside merry-making, passion and loyalty, and the steadfast determination of the pirates to carry the torch for justice. Such excellent storytelling elevates Flowers in the Gutter from a narrative recount of the pirates’ history to a tale of their redemption—these young people remained branded as criminals decades after the war ended--and a beacon of inspiration to today’s youth. Flowers in the Gutter is not just a history lesson, but perhaps more aptly it is a mirror collapsed into paper—a powerful tool through which we see once again the import of resisting oppression, of holding tightly to our ideals, and of always, always, fighting for what is right.
It's January 5th and I am just getting around to thinking back on the year that has passed as I set my sights on the future and the year ahead.
2019 was a huge year for me, personally and professionally, and I'm grateful for every wonderful, inspirational, totally stressful moment.
On the personal side, my family made its biggest move to date as we charted our next adventure: from the suburbs of New York City to Juneau, Alaska. We made a two month holiday of the move as we said goodbye to the Lower 48. My son and I took an impromptu trip down to Orlando to catch Villains Night at DisneyWorld. Then, we said goodbye to our favorite east coast vacation spots--my former hometown Bar Harbor, Maine and Sunset Beach, North Carolina--before hiking our way west. An unexpected ferry workers strike kept us from the three-day ferry trip we'd hoped to take from Seattle to Juneau, so we flew instead. Since then we've been getting settled in our new home.
On the professional side, things have been booming! I was welcomed into the Havenwood Falls collective in late 2018, and 2019 saw the publication of three contributions to the universe from yours truly: Of Salt & Stars, the #1 Amazon LGBT Fantasy (May 2019), The Drowning Bride (December 2019), and a short in the 2019 Havenwood Falls Holiday Anthology (December 2019). I also contributed to the Black Spot Books anthology A Midnight Clear, which reached #1 Bestseller status on Amazon in both Fantasy and Horror Anthologies as well as became a Barnes & Noble Bestseller. I've been doing a steady stream of reviews on incredible upcoming fiction at The Nerd Daily, as well as participating on judging panels for both the Women's Fiction Writers Association's Rising Star Award and the Speculative Literature Foundation's Diverse Writers/Worlds Grant. All of these experiences have been absolutely phenomenal, and I am so grateful to the publishers, editors, and writers who gave me the opportunity to contribute. Most of all, I am grateful for the readers, bloggers, and other bibliophiles who made all of those moments possible. I write because it's what is in my heart, but I'm an author because of you.
All of those wonderful things aside, perhaps the best part of 2019, is all the work that went into unannounced projects that will be coming your way in 2020 and beyond. New books, new projects, and some exciting new developments are all on the horizon, and I CAN'T WAIT to tell you all about them. But I promise you, they're going to be fun ;)
As we all step forward into the New Year, I wish you all love, light, and happiness. May you be successful in your ventures. May your creativity flourish. May your hearts be ever full, and your minds ever open. And may 2020 bring you nothing but blessings, cheer, and fulfillment. I look forward to sharing the next year with you.
Dream-like and lyrical, Creatures by debut author Crissy Van Meter is a story that ebbs and flows like the tide--delicate, inevitable, and mesmerizing.
On the eve of Evie’s wedding, a storm has washed a dead whale into the harbor of Winter Island, a fictional and feral island off the Southern Californian coast. While her fiancé may be lost at sea, the storm has brought home Evie’s long-wandering mother. This pivotal moment serves as the starting point for a story that weaves through past, present, and future, pulling the reader along effortlessly as we traverse Evie’s lifeline. We learn that she was raised a child of the island, a creature perhaps of circumstance rather than upbringing while her father peddled drugs to tourists on the island, and we watch as Evie struggles at every turn to reconcile the lush wildness of the island that is her home—and in all its glorious complexities—the lush wildness that is herself. In the end, the journey of the tale is as wholly beautiful and provocative as any single moment, making Van Meter’s debut a powerful exploration of the complexities of human emotion and the lengths a heart will go to in order to love.
Written to mimic the tidal charts she studies, Evie’s story is told through alternating timelines that some readers may find confusing, but is not without merit; this disorientation is a requisite component of the story and skillfully and intentionally written. Reading Creatures is sort of like floating underwater, where we lose sense of what is now and real and find ourselves immersed in a world that is boundless and fluid, but no less deadly. This intersection of fact and fiction is rather like life itself, where boundaries blur and we must craft our own version of the truth from cobbled together information and experience.
A debut that is anything but ordinary, Creatures is subtle yet intentional in its symbolic connection to elements of the natural world. Still, it’s just as deliberately a story of the uniquely human condition. The cyclical nature of Evie’s journey—from child to adult, and in various degrees of wholeness between—is profound. At times heart wrenching and still darkly funny, there is poignancy even in Evie’s exposure to childhood traumas, from a neglectful mother to a toxic if well-meaning father, a best friend that is equal loyal and betraying. Like Evie, we are given the opportunity to explore concepts of grief and forgiveness, as much as for the self as for those who have wronged us.
And that’s what this reader thinks sets Creatures apart: it’s a reminder that, like Evie, we are all lush and wild creatures, beholden as much to the world around us and all its lovely juxtapositions as we are doomed to the same inevitability as the whale that washed up in the harbor of Winter Island on the eve of her wedding.
We have all known a woman like Evie’s mother. We have all known a man like Evie’s father. We’ve all had a friend like Rook. We’ve all loved someone like Liam. They are all water, moving in and out of our lives, sometimes coming, sometimes going, but always leaving their mark on our hearts.
In the end, though we may not yet realize it, we’ve all been Evie and her whale. We have all been ravaged by the water. We tumble, we float, we drown, and we resurface.
On the eve of Evangeline’s wedding, a dead whale is trapped in the harbor of Winter Island, the groom may be lost at sea, and Evie’s mostly absent mother has shown up out of the blue. From there, in this mesmerizing, provocative debut, Evie remembers and reckons with her complicated upbringing in this lush, wild land off the coast of Southern California.
Evie grew up with her well-meaning but negligent father, surviving on the money he made dealing the island’s world-famous strain of marijuana, Winter Wonderland. Although he raised her with a deep respect for the elements, the sea, and the creatures living within it, he also left her to parent herself. With wit, love, and bracing ashes of anger, Creatures probes the complexities of love and abandonment, guilt and forgiveness, betrayal and grief—and the ways in which our ability to love can be threatened if we are not brave enough to conquer the past.
Lyrical, darkly funny, and ultimately cathartic, Creatures exerts a pull as strong as the tides.