The book was originally released in late 2008, but this year it gets an auspicious re-release through Shadowfall Publications this month. To help celebrate and get the word out to readers, I managed to snag an interview with Lisa, as well as arrange Shadowfall Publications to provide one lucky winner with a copy of The Gentling Box.
First, the interview:
Q: I'll start with a similar question to the one you once asked Robert Dunbar about the reissue of his debut novel: What do you feel is significant about The Gentling Box being re-released?
A: Oh hell, Gef. You would bring that up. Dunbar is so witty. Okay, remind me what Rob said and I'll crib--I mean, borrow...er...paraphrase.... I'm totally kidding, of course. In Rob's case the reissue of The Pines was vastly different from the version that was originally published--and understandably, Rob was thrilled on that count because his novel is brilliant.
I was lucky enough that my initial publisher went with the book as I wrote it--and luckier still that it garnered a Stoker Award. What actually makes this edition of The Gentling Box signally different from the original are the lavish details Shadowfall Publications has spent time and attention and money to incorporate: there's stunning cover art by Glenn Chadbourne, and a new introduction by New York Times best-selling author, Heather Graham. This edition (print) also has unique touches like a text separator that is based on an actual historical carving from a gypsy caravan and a cool frontispiece--an extra illustration, something you rarely see in modern books. There's also an incredible trailer they created for my novel which I think really captures the true heart of the book:
I wrote the book and yet, I was literally floored by that video.
There's also a new Stephen-King-style afterward that I wrote and, most importantly, Shadowfall has also issued the book in all e formats--everything from Kindle, to Nook, to iPad--you name it. I'm really excited about that.
Q: Just in case anyone reading this is totally unfamiliar with the novel, would you care to give readers an idea of what the story is about?
A: The story opens in 1864 with the narrator, Imre--a half-gypsy horse trader on his death bed because he's been afflicted with a disfiguring, mortal disease by a choovahanee or Romany sorceress named Anyeta. As he's lying there in agony, contemplating how he can save his daughter--whom the sorceress has set her sights on to lure into claiming a vile charm called the hand of the dead--he tells us what happened during the previous year that brought him to this terrible place, this dread state.
Imre doesn't stint or spare any of the hideous details about what has happened to him, to his wife, Mimi, and to the small band of gypsies they travel with over the course of the year. And things have gone very badly. One by one he's lost his family....his courageous friends in the troupe, and those who've tried to help.
In the final conflict, the book returns in its last chapters to his present-day agony. Imre begins to speculate that his worst nightmare, the most horrific incident he's witnessed during his life--the dark secret that only the gypsy horse traders know about: the gentling box--may be the only way to find salvation for Lenore. But it's so devastating he's sworn never to use it.
His decision, then, is whether he can summon the courage to be healed of his disease by claiming the hand of the dead himself, knowing that once he does so, he must ultimately face the terror and the freedom of the gentling box.
Q: For me, The Gentling Box offered yet another reason why I should read more historical fiction--whether steeped in the horror genre or not. I'm not sure if you too would classify your novel as a period piece, but do you think historical settings are an untapped resource within today's horror genre?
A: It's certainly set in a very specific time and place in 19th century Hungary and Romania, but I never thought of the book as a 'period piece' because for me that term conjures up an image of tea being served in drawing rooms or some damn thing by Alexander Woollcott or worse--a Georgette Heyer novel. Not that I'm disparaging scenes in which tea is served--ceremoniously or otherwise, you understand. I don't necessarily think (say) Jane Austen or Henry James or Edith Wharton wrote “period pieces.” They just wrote fiction--and some--no, a lot of it is brilliant.
I think tons of things are neglected by a lot of horror writers: art, music, literature, film, history--you name it....many of the poorer writers (and not just those in the genre) churn out novels and stories that feel as if they have been created in a vacuum. Their works don't resonate. On the other end of the spectrum you have phenomenal writers like Peter Straub--his books emit genius. Ghost Story, Shadow Land, The Hell Fire Club, Koko, and A Dark Matter-- just to name a few--are all multi-layered and have texture and reach deep down inside the reader. That's something to strive for and it's one of my goals as a writer: to create work that reverberates--hopefully even long after the reader has finished the last page.
Q: With stories such as The Gentling Box comes research and you did your fair share pillaging libraries like a Viking with a Masters degree. But, how difficult is it for you balancing the time excavating all that information and putting pen to paper for your own works?
A: I really love to research--and I think it's either something you love or despise; and if you love finding arcane little facts then it doesn't seem one bit onerous.
I research my short stories as carefully as I can, too. Sometimes you have to purchase what you need--professional articles. (Which I did for my story, “Resurgam,” in Dead Set, A Zombie Anthology and discovered wonderful information about a plague house in Rhode Island and, interestingly the fact that it depended on your income level as to what was listed as the cause of death in the 19th century right here in sunny old America. You wouldn't think that your income could influence the cause of death recorded--but it did. When I was researching “1925: A Fall River Halloween, Shroud Magazine #10, I found there was something called Dennison's Bogie Books, so I downloaded and purchased them and they added tremendous interest to a piece which is about Lizzie Borden. The $30 or so I spent for all these books and articles was well worth it. And, it's deductible, but that's beside the point.)
For long term projects, like the Everest novel, I've bought and read at least 70 books. Some on ancillary topics like Annapurna because atmosphere is everything and since I'm not planning to climb the mountain, I want to be as authentic as possible without turning the book into an information dump.
Sometimes you need a fact and you have to research on the fly--something occurs to you as the plot simmers and that deadline is coming up, so you start hunting on the internet. It doesn't perturb me--because something other than what I was looking for may turn up and it could be one of those little details that skyrockets the story to the next level. Sometimes it may be mundane...exactly how far is it from French Street to the houses on the Hill in Fall River? Google can be awfully handy in those moments.
The main thing to know about research is that you are not recreating a replica--historic or otherwise. What you need--just like with dialogue--is verisimilitude. You don't want it to be precise to the point of the exactness created in a controlled experiment--or it will be dull. People could just read the encyclopedia. No. You want it to ping the reader and intrigue your audience at the same time that it all appears “real.” In other words, you're creating that sophomore bête noir that shows up on test questions, the willing suspension of disbelief.
I enjoy research a lot. But that's me. I also like odd fruits like prickly pear and guava. And luckily, these days on the Internet there plenty of how to's to eat them, cook with them and....
But none of that is true.
Had you going for a minute, though, didn't I?
Q: 51 Fiendish Ways to Leave Your Lover, your comedic collaboration with artist Glenn Chadbourne, offers a starkly different tone than The Gentling Box. Do you ever find yourself dispelling preconceptions readers might have about you as a writer? Or have you found the diversity in style and subject matter has broadened your appeal, as opposed to sticking strictly to either the dark or the droll?
A: Most people who meet me don't even suspect I'm a horror writer. One, I'm really short. Two, I dress like Marlo Thomas and also sport sunglasses on top of my head--although I do wear a lot of black and have great jewelry I inherited from my mother.
People who are at my signings tend to think someone taller must be the person signing the book--not the person sitting on the phone book to reach the table. (A joke.) So, honestly I have no idea (publishers tend to keep this kind of information close to the vest for reasons unknown to lowly writers) if it's broadened my appeal or not.
A few people outside my family read all my books. My new publisher, Shadowfall, read both those books and a lot of my other stuff before signing me. They are also much more forthcoming, so maybe if you ask this question next year, I'll have an answer.
Anyhow, in my family you got points for being witty and making everyone laugh. And, my mother was a public health director (an operating room nurse when I was born) and not only did she discuss gross cases right during dinner entre nous, but she had plenty of those surgical textbooks replete with photos that are so dear to my heart. At the same time, I've laughed till I cried watching a really crappy horror movie with my older brother when we've cut off the sound, put the whole thing on fast forward and made stupid jokes and, more to the point--often our own plot devisings.
I had (and have) a big thing for satire and horror. They're both skewed versions of reality and, after getting an M.A. in 18th and 19th century lit from Fordham studying people like Lawrence Sterne and Jonathan Swift, the twinning of horror and satire is permanently welded in my psyche.
Love em both--to pieces.
Q: You're working with Glenn again on a Brothers Grimm themed deck of tarot cards--not to mention Robert Dunbar as a co-author. Have you considered adding one more "fiendish way" to your existing 51 to create a themed deck of playing cards? Might make a great Valentine's Day gift. :)
A: No, I hadn't thought of that and neither did Rob or Glenn, both of whom are as busy as Alaskan salmon swimming upstream using those crazy ladders to mate or die or whatever wild fish do. It's a great idea. Rob has mentioned bringing out the Grimm tarot deck next year or the year after with his new imprint, Uninvited Books, which you should check out, pardon the shameless promotion.
On the other hand, Glenn and I have an expanded version of 51 Fiendish Ways that we're working on with an agent--but it's a bigger book, not a deck of cards.
Q: Aside from The Gentling Box and 51 Fiendish Ways, what other works can readers expect to see from you in the near future? Personally, I'm patiently anticipating The Everest Hauntings--any updates on that novel's status?
A: As to the delay (and thank you for your patience) regarding The Everest Hauntings, as you may or may not know, for the past 2 years I had some serious kidney stone problems which resulted in something like five lithotripsies (don't you love that word) and one ureteroscopy. Not only can no one pronounce the latter, but seriously, I almost died from it last December when I developed pyelonephritis--a kidney infection--and wound up in the ER with a temperature of 104 and spent five days in the hospital and after I was discharged, I spent the next two weeks--including Christmas and New Year's--going every day for IV heavy duty antibiotics at a center or the hospital.
Technically I was okay, but I sure as hell felt like something in a paper bag one overlooks even while dumpster diving.
That said, I had to put the book aside because you need focus and consistency to work on a long term project and between doctor visits and being so ill, I didn't have the wherewithal to work on the book--not if it's going to be the book I envision.
Instead I focused on what I could do. And, I'm very pleased to say I have four stories written and out for 2010:
“Resurgam,” in Dead Set: A Zombie Anthology (edited by Joe McKinney and Michelle McCrary.) And, there's no profit here--all the money goes to Make a Wish Foundation and I was honored to be asked to write for them. So, hopefully, with the great line up in the rest of the antho, some of your readers will get this one.
“Condemned,” in Legends of the Mountain State 4, edited by the amazing Michael Knost. Again, an honor to be included.
“1925: A Fall River Hallowe'en,” in Shroud Magazine, Autumn 2010. I had a blast writing this story and working with Kevin Lucia and the gang at Shroud and the story has already received a few Stoker recommendations--a long way from the next level, but it made me really happy. Every one should read Shroud Magazine.
“Spy Glass Hill,” in Fear of the Dark Anthology from Horror Bound. This is also one of my favorite stories--about a paranormal experience around dolls.
I have two more stories to finish for two different editors plus whatever else Shadowfall needs me to do for the launch of the second edition of The Gentling Box in print, then it's back to work on The Everest Hauntings--hopefully before Thanksgiving with the book completed by next May.
A huge thanks right back at you, Lisa.
And now it's contest time:
The Prize: One copy of Lisa Mannetti's The Gentling Box courtesy of Shadowfall Publications (winner's choice of either a trade paperback or electronic format).
Eligibility: This giveaway is open worldwide. If you live on planet Earth, consider yourself eligible.
Deadline: The giveaway closes on November 10th, 2010 at 12:00 PM EST. After that time, I will tally up all of the entries and randomly select a winner. The announcement will be made later that same week, if not that very day.
How to Enter: There is a form below. Simply provide the requested information and you're entered.
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