Broth from the Cauldron [She Writes Press, May 12, 2020] offers a collection of good-for-the-soul stories told from one of today’s most inspirational spiritual leaders.
As deeply personal as it is powerful, Broth from the Cauldron is a memoir assembled of memories and moments shared by Shamanic teacher and Wiccan Priestess Cerridwen Fallingstar. Intended as a “journey through mystery and magic”, Fallingstar guides her reader through carefully curated moments of her own life as she uses her own trajectory through teachable moments of compassion and wisdom to inspire the same in others—and it works.
While Fallingstar grounds each story within her unique brand of spiritualism, her own journey is as unique as it is relatable, which is something magical in itself: it elevates the book from a collection of essays into something that feels so genuinely heartfelt and inviting that the experience of reading feels like having a warm conversation with a close friend. She writes of growing up in a less-than entirely pleasant childhood, to moments of personal enlightenment and empowerment, to experiences joy, sorrow, and everything in between. In all of these Fallingstar’s indelible spirit persists as she explores life’s ups and downs with an open mind, an open heart, and a rather enviable amount of optimism.
Though some readers might take issue with some of Fallingstar’s stances, what is indisputable is the wisdom and compassion embedded within the stories she shares and the lessons they are meant to offer. Broth from the Cauldron, like Fallingstar herself, is not only accessible but—regardless of a reader’s faith, aptitudes, or personal moralities—is something very special, making it a book that will beg to be returned to whenever one needs a spiritual boost, a compassionate shoulder, or even a simply a lighthearted moment with a friend. Blessed be.
Hi Cerridwen! Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I have been fortunate to lead a life doing what I love, which is guiding people more deeply into magic, mystery, and the sacred through my teaching and my writing, and also through private counseling where I get to help people wrestle through their obstacles to awareness. My husband Elie used to say I reminded him of Sacajawea, leading expeditions through the wilderness. I was also fortunate to be married to such a marvelous man, for almost 26 years before his untimely death. We still communicate. I am blessed with a splendid son, Zach, a wonderful daughter-in-love, Loryn, and two mischievous sprites, Ruby and Zoe, my grand-daughters who just turned three, as well as some dear friends, some of whom you will meet in my book.
You wrote in your introduction to Broth from the Cauldron, “Stories simmer in our minds, often for years.” With a lifetime of lessons and so many unique experiences to include, how did you go about selecting those that you wanted to include in this book?
Many of them are teaching stories that I have used over and over in my classes. I use these stories to demonstrate to my students that our spiritual growth is not found outside of our ordinary human lives, but within them. And I use them to show my students that I am fallible; I show my vulnerability—not in a way that makes them responsible for healing me, just in a way that makes me authentic and accessible. If you want to make money, you present yourself as an infallible guru and manipulate people. Our culture is so abusive and controlling, people will almost always fall for that. But if you actually want a healthier, more functional world, if you want to truly help heal people and guide them to their true power—then honesty, and humor, and heartfulness are required.
Many of the stories included in Broth are deeply personal—which elevates the book from a collection of essays into something that feels so genuinely heartfelt and inviting that the experience of reading felt more like having a very warm conversation with a close friend. How did you find that perfect balance sharing so much of yourself with your reader with writing about such intimate personal moments of your own life?
That’s so kind of you to call it a perfect balance. I worked hard to try to provide, or imply, a ‘moral to the story’ without being preachy. It is such a balance for all of us to strive for, this union between the head and the heart, the spirit and the will. Lots of rewrites and the occasional insight from a friend or editor, letting me know when I missed the mark and needed to try again.
I know you also write fiction, and other narrative nonfiction. How was this memoir experience similar? Different?
Memoir is a lot easier to write than fiction because the memories are mostly floating around like leaves on the top of a pool—easily scooped up. The issue with memoir, of course, it that there may be people described who are still living, whose feelings might be hurt. There were chapters that I agonized over keeping in the book for that reason. Of course, I can and do change people’s names if I think they might not like how they are portrayed. The thing is, I know from experience that there are readers out there whose lives may be changed—or saved—by some truth that I write. But only if it is the truth; a lie, however pretty, does not have that power. Our culture encourages us to bury unpleasant truths, to paper them over with addiction and denial. There is a popular meme that encourages us not to tell the truth unless it is kind. But I believe that ultimately, the truth is always kind. Denial is what is killing us. And the truth will set us free.
There are so many wonderful lessons in Broth, and so many clever bits of compassionate wisdom that stuck with me, personally, that I could list off a dozen things that I will stay in my heart from this book. However, if you had to give your readers one takeaway that you hope they keep from this book, what would it be?
None of us want hard things, none of us want grief, failure, loss. The children’s stories in our culture almost all end at marriage; the ‘happy ending’. But in reality, there are no ‘happy endings’. There are happy beginnings, and happy middles. But endings suck. There is a Shultz cartoon of Charlie Brown and Lucy that I love, where Charlie Brown says, “Well, life is full of ups and downs,” to which Lucy shouts, “I don’t want ups and downs! I want ups, and upper ups!” The American dream is just that; ups and upper ups. But the downs, what I ruefully call ‘the unguided tour of the underworld’ --the downs are where the depth is. As Emily Dickinson wrote, ‘To comprehend a nectar, requires a sorest need.’ Spirituality reaches for the heavens, but soulfulness grows in the dark. Again, we don’t have to like loss, or court it. But we can believe that, as Rumi said, ‘There is a secret medicine, given only to those who hurt too hard to hope,’ and watch for the medicine inherent in every loss to emerge.
I think you might agree that everyone—regardless, perhaps, of faith or upbringing—can learn from not only the “teaching stories” you’ve written about, but those that you teach about, which makes the book not only accessible but something very special. With your many years of experience as a Shamanic teacher and Wiccan Priestess, how have you translated your lessons to those who walk a different spiritual path?
Rumi said, “Beyond all ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” Take any spiritual tradition deep enough into the mystical and they will start to sound alike. Because, deep within us, we know what is universal, we know love, we know truth. The Dalai Lama says, “My religion is kindness.” Well, what do you know—the Dalai Lama and I share the same religion. Rumi and I share a religion too. Beyond the label for my spiritual path, and the label for yours, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
Lastly, I always like to ask ‘what’s next’? Can you share anything about what you’re currently working on, or other ways your readers might keep up with your next books and/or ventures?
I am currently working on a ‘humor memoir’, similar to what author David Sedaris produces, where the stories are both poignant and hilarious. This memoir is titled ‘Rocket in my Pocket’ and is due out in 2022. You no doubt noticed my sense of humor in ‘Broth from the Cauldron’. It will be more pronounced in ‘Rocket’. My website at www.cerridwenfallingstar.co--that is co, not com—will have further news. Although I am semi-retired, I will still show up to give talks at festivals and events, and I do individual readings by phone or—post covid—in person.
Broth from the Cauldron is a collection of “teaching stories,” a literary Wiccan soup for the soul. It is a distillation of the wisdom Cerridwen Fallingstar has gathered from her journey through life, and from her forty years as a Shamanic teacher and Wiccan Priestess. At turns poignant and humorous, it chronicles her trajectory from a Republican cold war upbringing to Pagan Priestess, offering a portrait of a culture growing from denial to awareness. Accessible to any audience interested in personal growth, Broth from the Cauldron is for anyone who’s ever stood at the crossroads wishing a faery godmother would come along and show them the path.
In The Boy in the Box [Flame Tree Press, April 2020] a group of childhood friends with a dark secret set out to make amends for the sins of their past only to discover that some dark deeds don’t stay buried.
Ten years ago, lifelong friends Jonathan, Gene, and the Braddick brothers—Michael and Conner—took a hunting trip deep in the Adirondack Mountains to a remote piece of land known as Coombs’ Gulch. What was meant as a weekend getaway to celebrate the last days of singledom for soon-to-be-wed Jonathan culminated in a night of drunken machismo wherein Gene accidentally shot and killed a young boy. Despite the men’s questions—What was the boy doing wandering alone in the woods at night? How did he get so deep into the forest? Did they all see the same thing?—they buried the boy’s body in a makeshift tomb and swore to take their secret to the grave.
In the end, that termination point is exactly where the four men in the woods that night will find themselves—but not until the strange force that inhabits Coombs’ Gulch is ready to bring them home. After Gene’s untimely suicide, the Braddick brothers and Jonathan decide to return to the woods and relocate the boy’s body, otherwise they risk their secret being brought to light in upcoming construction. The three remaining members of the ordeal are already haunted men; they don’t want their darkness exposed to the people they love most—their families.
Once back out in the woods, the sleeping terror of that long-ago night stirs again, but the accident that seemed so straightforward before doesn’t seem to make sense now and the guilt-ridden trio finds themselves ensnared in a supernatural trap that transcends time and place. Like all ancient gods, the being in Coombs’ Gulch requires a sacrifice, and Jonathan and his friends are just the beginning.
Reminiscent of Neville’s The Ritual (2011), Fitch’s journey into the dark unknowns of ancient forests builds at a measured pace, pushing you forward in slow-building horror that exhibits all the stamina of a hike out into the woods. For all its narrative pontifications and redundancies, Boy in the Box is nevertheless still surprisingly creepy—one of those books that might not be too intimidating in the daytime but will have you leaving a light on at night, just in case.
Ten years ago a mysterious and tragic hunting accident deep in the Adirondack Mountains left a boy buried in a storied piece of land known as Coombs' Gulch and four friends with a terrible secret. Now, Jonathan Hollis and brothers Michael and Conner Braddick must return to the place that changed their lives forever in order to keep their secret buried. What they don't realize is that they are walking into a trap -- one set decades earlier by a supernatural being who is not confined by time or place: a demon that demands a sacrifice.
The Secret Brokers [Vesuvian Books, April 7, 2020] is classic noir meets modern thriller, with just enough twist to keep readers waiting for the next installment.
Fresh off a failed romance and thrust in charge of his former boss’ elite spies-for-hire business, secrets broker Dallas August has a job to do. The only problem is, something doesn’t add up—from the mafia kingpin who’s hired him, the questionable involvement of the FBI, or the enigmatic woman he’s been hired to de-secret. He can’t put his finger on it, but the knowledge Dallas was hired to retrieve from reclusive target Gwen Marsh may be just the start of things hidden. He’s just got to keep Gwen, and himself, alive long enough to figure it out.
While Weis’s take on a spy thriller carries the classic elements of a crime drama—intrigue, romance, corruption—the story is as much noir as it is a love letter to the author’s home of New Orleans. There are mafia bosses, shoot outs, and the requisite amount of alcohol-swilling, but there are also references to New Orleans’ unique French Quarter architecture and the south’s deep love of their animals, both of which draw from the author’s background and give authenticity to the story that doesn’t rely on flashy settings and over-the-top sophisticated technologies to enjoy.
It’s more cozy than suspense, but what The Secret Brokers might lack in glitz it makes up for in curb appeal to readers who might otherwise shy away from crime drama—which is a good thing.
Part of this “curb appeal” is Weis’s ability to develop characters that are relatable and complex without being weighted down. Dallas August is a hesitant spy thrust in charge of his organization, a leader navigating the minefields of human resource issues just trying to keep his sanity above water. He’s also a man coming to terms with his new life and how he can survive his day job while trying to heal a broken heart. More interesting than Dallas, though—and what makes The Secret Brokers not-just-another-male-led-spy-novel—is Gwen Marsh, who’s very clearly not your usual damsel-in-distress and (mercifully) not simply an erotic fixture. She’s capable, dynamic, and she has more secrets than Dallas August has a chance of uncovering, which ultimately makes the Secret Brokers Series—a spinoff to Weis’s Nicci Beauvoir Series—something to get behind.
Dallas August runs a dangerous business—an organization of elite spies for hire.
The secrets trade.
Nothing is off limits, and no price is too high.
When asked to uncover what recluse Gwen Marsh knows about a Mafia kingpin’s death, Dallas poses as a bodyguard to get close to his target, but the stubborn Asian beauty wants nothing to do with him. As the FBI and the Mafia close in, danger drives them together, but can he protect Gwen, or will Dallas be the one risking everything to discover what she is really hiding?
Dallas August is about to find out how dangerous life can be as one of the Secret Brokers.
Once you are in, there is no turning back.
“Let me tell you something…there is nothing nice about Southern ladies.”
Pitched as “Steel Magnolias” meets Dracula, The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires is everything a reader like me—who grew up simultaneously reading The Babysitter’s Club and Goosebumps—has been waiting for. Thank you, Grady Hendrix, thank you.
Set in the 1990s, former-nurse-turned-disaffected-housewife Patricia Campbell is bored. Life as a stay-at-home mother to two children and a husband that works too much is unfulfilling, to say the least. If it weren’t for her book club and her troupe of mismatched girlfriends, Patricia might simply fade into the wallpaper of her well-cared-for home. Luckily—or, more aptly, unluckily—things are about to get a lot more interesting (and bloody) in Charleston’s quaint, and usually very safe, Old Village District.
Even though Patricia and the other ladies of her book club—wacky Kitty, uptight Grace, religious Slick, and somewhat ambiguous Maryellen—can’t get enough of the very-murdery true crime they read about, none are prepared when a handsome young stranger moves in with an elderly neighbor. Nor are they ready for the series of spiraling, odd events that begin when the seemingly mad old woman attacks Patricia—chomping off one of her earlobes in the process.
After an ominous warning about “the man in the ice cream suit” from her mother-in-law, Miss Mary, who suffers from dementia, and a series of odd occurrences that start to slip from strange to surreal, Patricia (slowly) begins to realize that her new neighbor isn’t at all what he seems. And, there’s danger afoot: children are missing, being preyed upon by some Big Bad that inhabits the woods outside Six Mile. Unfortunately, not only is no one listening to Patricia’s warnings as she begins to connect the pieces to something not only sinister but otherworldly; they think she’s caught up in her gory book club reads and maybe a bit loose in the head to boot, making the horror of this story not just atmospheric but personal. Which is worse: the monster Patricia sees in James Harris or the suspicions that lurk in her own head, eating her away from within? The only trouble, Patricia’s already invited the darkness in, and there’s no getting it out—not without a fuss and a good bit of scrubbing, anyway.
From cryptic warnings to the lurid romanticism associated with blood drinkers, plus ghosts, rats (dear gods, the rats!), and the special kind of nightmarish terror that waits for mothers in the dark when their children and families are threatened, The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires does not disappoint, offering an entirely unique approach to established vampire lore in a tale as warm as it is chilling. A master of nostalgia, Hendrix slays in his latest—and so does a very unlikely group of heroines.
Fried Green Tomatoes and "Steel Magnolias" meet Dracula in this Southern-flavored supernatural thriller set in the '90s about a women's book club that must protect its suburban community from a mysterious and handsome stranger who turns out to be a blood-sucking fiend.
Patricia Campbell had always planned for a big life, but after giving up her career as a nurse to marry an ambitious doctor and become a mother, Patricia's life has never felt smaller. The days are long, her kids are ungrateful, her husband is distant, and her to-do list is never really done. The one thing she has to look forward to is her book club, a group of Charleston mothers united only by their love for true-crime and suspenseful fiction. In these meetings, they're more likely to discuss the FBI's recent siege of Waco as much as the ups and downs of marriage and motherhood.
But when an artistic and sensitive stranger moves into the neighborhood, the book club's meetings turn into speculation about the newcomer. Patricia is initially attracted to him, but when some local children go missing, she starts to suspect the newcomer is involved. She begins her own investigation, assuming that he's a Jeffrey Dahmer or Ted Bundy. What she uncovers is far more terrifying, and soon she--and her book club--are the only people standing between the monster they've invited into their homes and their unsuspecting community.
Terror has a healthy appetite in Bram Stoker Award winner Tim Waggoner’s The Forever House [March 2020, Flame Tree Press].
Move over Collins, Munsters, and Addams, there’s a new breed of nightmarish neighbor coming to town. In The Forever House, a sleepy cul-de-sac with a dark past gets a new lesson in residential horror when the Eldreds move in. The Eldreds aren’t the sort of folks that anybody would race to send the welcome wagon out to, either. It’s not simply because the family of five has just moved into the Raines’ old home, the house at the bottom of the cul-de-sac where a mother went insane and murdered her entire family a few years prior, it’s that everything about the Eldreds—from their car (which makes Vantablack pale by comparison) to their names, to the strange inability to actually get a good look at any one of them (especially the one with the robotic movements and glowing green eyes)—are so frightfully unusual.
Unfortunately, “unusual” would be a rather massive understatement in the Eldreds case, because not only are the five new neighbors decidedly odd, but they are also categorically other. The Eldreds are an ageless, inhuman species that feed on the negative emotions of humans, replenishing themselves on the delicacies of human terror, prejudices, and resentments. Now, the residents of the seemingly quiet cul-de-sac promise a feast of the sort of buffet of dysfunction only suburbia can offer. With heapings of narcissism, bigotry, abuse, and marital discord, the residents of Rockridge have enough skeletons in their closets to fill the metaphorical bellies of the Eldreds for years.
Which, of course, is exactly why the Eldreds chose them. When the residents find themselves lured—and trapped—inside the House of Blood, they’ll have to survive their worst fears and deepest, darkest secrets if they are to have any hope of getting out alive. Even then, it’s probably not going to happen.
Fast-paced, hair-raising, and with a twist ending with enough spin to make you rethink who the real monsters are, The Forever House is the sort of phantasmagorical terror that keeps you reading through gore, grit, and grime until the very end.
In Rockridge, Ohio, a sinister family moves into a sleepy cul de sac. The Eldreds feed on the negative emotions of humans, creating nightmarish realms within their house to entrap their prey. Neighbors are lured into the Eldreds' home and faced with challenges designed to heighten their darkest emotions so their inhuman captors can feed and feed well. If the humans are to have any hope of survival, they'll have to learn to overcome their prejudices and resentments toward one another and work together. But which will prove more deadly in the end, the Eldred . . . or each other?
There is good reason that The Mountains Sing [Algonquin Books, March 17, 2020], the first novel in English by award-winning poet Nguyen Phan Que Mai, has been ranked among “the most exciting writers to emerge in post-war Vietnam”--it is, in a word, breathtaking.
The Mountains Sing is an epic, multi-generational narrative that traces the arc of Vietnam’s turbulent and painful twentieth-century history as Que Mai gracefully weaves together the timeline of four generations of the Tran family—beginning during the Communist Land Reform of the 1950s and extending through the aftermath of the American bombing of Ha Noi in the early 1970s. Steeped in the storytelling traditions of Vietnam, The Mountains Sing is decadent and heart wrenching, equal parts lush and vibrant in its unfamiliar setting, and just as persistently unrelenting in its depiction of decades worth of war and conflict.
This story, although captivating and stunningly crafted, is nonetheless brutal, making its narration ring true in the heart of the reader--“The more I read, the more I became afraid of wars. Wars have the power to turn graceful and cultured people into monsters.”
Written as Que Mai’s response to single-sided, Western-written depictions of Vietnam as a place of war, simplicity, and cruelty, The Mountains Sing presents a story of history, of resiliency, and of hope as told through the indelible voices of the Tran family, alternating between the family’s matriarch, Tran Dieu Lan, and extending to her granddaughter, Huong. It is every bit a tale as much of painful desperation and the horrors of famine, war, and class struggle, as it is a moving lesson in hope, renewal, and the bond of family. “…I realized that war was monstrous. If it didn’t kill those it touched, it took away a piece of their souls, so they could never be whole again.”
On a personal note, The Mountains Sing may not have been a title the likes of which normally make its way into my library, but it has nonetheless found a place as one of the most moving, and fundamentally eye-opening, novels I feel I will read in my lifetime.
As usual, I'm a little late to the party (I will eventually manage to be late to my own funeral) but as February is Women in Horror Month, I want to share my list of some of my favorite women in horror writers today, and their incredible books. These ladies are the snake's hips, if you will, and some of the strongest--and most unusual--writers in the genre today.
(Be sure to check out this incredible list of women horror writers, hosted by the Ladies of Horror Fiction organization, t00!)
Horrors both of our own imaginings and of the supernatural come home to roost in Catherine Cavendish’s The Garden of Bewitchment [February 2020, Flame Tree Press].
When the Wainwright sisters move to the country to escape the judgmental eyes of their neighbors—after all, what could be more scandalous than two spinster sisters living alone, unwed, and wealthy in the end of the 19th-century England?—what is meant to be a quiet respite quickly becomes a tale of deadly horror. And it seems to all start with the appearance of a mysterious, eerily sentient toy called the Garden of Bewitchment.
Atmospheric and rich in detail, Cavendish masterfully draws the reader into the slow-burning horror that makes well-crafted Gothic literature so delightfully addictive. It all starts with tension between sisters. Identical twins Evelyn and Claire might share the same physical characteristics, but they exist in almost two completely different worlds. Evelyn is pragmatic and responsible, Claire unkempt and somewhat unhinged, infatuated with Branwell Brontë, who although deceased is very real in Claire’s mind—and her heart. The one thing the sisters do share: Calladocia.
Like the Brontë sisters, the Wainwrights are writing a novel about Calladocia, a universe of their own creation. Their existence at opposite ends of this imaginary world provides an unsettling allegory for the widening gap between the sisters as Cavendish’s story unfolds, pulling the sisters apart with it. When a strange toy featuring a miniature mansion surrounded by a beautiful garden, the Garden of Bewitchment, appears in their cottage, the boundary between the real and the imaged begins to crumble. As the separation between reality and the nightmare the sisters have found themselves trapped in becomes ever-frightening, Evelyn and Claire are forced to try to sort out which of the horrors are consequences of the toy’s unnerving influence, and which might be of their own making. No one—and nothing—is as it seems in The Garden of Bewitchment.
Though at time the pacing seems a little uneven, The Garden of Bewitchment delivers as a gothic tale of unexpected horror, unraveling insanity, and what happens when the realities we’ve constructed for ourselves turn against us.
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.
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.