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, which I reviewed earlier this month! Here’s what he had to say for himself and be sure to follow Gregory on Twitter and Instagram, along with at his website.
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.
Interviewer’s Note: I’d have saved Felker, too. FWIW.
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.
Originally posted on The Nerd Daily.
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 travellers find themselves snowbound on Christmas Eve. The only problem is: the road they thought they were travelling 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 mother towing her kids, a trucker, an elderly couple in an RV, and more. Giving unique voices and winter torments to each traveller is something of a speciality 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 travellers 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 cosy 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 travellers 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 revellers’ 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 cosy 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 K.R. Gaddy’s Flowers in the Gutter. It is 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 redemption--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.
Dream-like and lyrical, Creatures by debut author Crissy Van Meter is a story that ebbs and flows like the tide--delicate, inevitable, and mesmerising.
On the eve of Evie’s wedding, a storm has washed a dead whale into the harbour 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 skilfully 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 harbour 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 realise 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.
Lindy Miller Ryan is an author, editor, and spooky things enthusiast who occasionally makes crafty things and bakes.