A few months ago, I stumbled onto Fantasy Works Publishing’s website. They were brand new and had not yet published any books, but I liked the site and kept checking back. I eventually followed them on twitter and continued to check in, waiting to see what they would produce. I waited months, constantly curious. My diligence paid off a few weeks ago when they released The Mark of the Shadow Grove. I bought it immediately and destroyed it on a plane ride. The language is heightened and the story is creepy. Here is the blurb:
Daughters of the gathering dusk and students of blackest spellcraft, the women of the Schermerhorn clan are enigmas made flesh. Seers for time immemorial, they are keepers of primeval knowledge.
They are wise in the ways of the Old Religion. And they are destroyers of men.
Do the women of the Schermerhorn clan drive the men they encounter to their destruction? Or are their actions governed by specters on the periphery of human consciousness?
The Schermerhorn women will soon learn what dwells in the oldest books and what lurks in the flickering shadows beyond the candlelight.
Trust me, what was lurking in the shadows is pretty intense. Once I finished the book, I decided to contact Ross and see if he’d be down for an interview. He was! Dear Readers, meet Ross through ten questions!
1. When did you first decide you wanted to be a writer?
I never did. I started writing very tentatively about four years ago, producing short fiction of dubious originality and even more dubious quality. My wife and a few other readers encouraged me, however, and provided me with useful feedback as I slowly became surer of myself and more proficient at my craft. I’d say I became a writer in a halting, clumsy fashion. If it wasn’t for the encouragement of the right people at the right time, I might never have stuck with it.
2) How does being a social studies teacher influence your writing?
I’m sensitive to the persistence of the past and the way historical incidents and phenomena—even ones we’d like to bury in our gestalt consciousness–can intrude messily on the present. I think this kind of historicism permeates my writing, and probably accounts for my love of classic gothic fiction. I share the gothicists’ fixation on crumbling castles, impenetrable forests, and dank crypts. I can’t seem to get rid of that sort of unfashionable antiquarianism.
3) Do you have a white whale story, the kind of thing you have always wanted to write, but have never been able to put together exactly how you want it?
I’d love to write a horror story set in colonial New England, using the ruinous violence of King Phillip’s War—a bloodthirsty conflict that can reasonably claim to be the single greatest calamity to occur in seventeenth century Puritan New England—as a backdrop. I’d want the story to be about the fragmentation of a tight-knit community and the fragility of “civilization.” I haven’t figured out a way of doing all that in 5,000 words, however.
I now realize the aspirational project just described makes me sound slightly mad. Perhaps there’s a good reason I haven’t gotten around to writing it.
4) Which writers and books have influenced you the most?
When I was an adolescent I wolfed down Lovecraft’s canon much too greedily. His stylistic tics (I instinctively sneak the word “eldritch” into everything I write) and perspective have seeped into my writing and proven rather difficult to expunge. I’d also cite Margaret Atwood as a major formal influence on my own writing. Atwood’s pungent, earthy lyricism is beguiling in the extreme and it’s something I strive to equal in my own writing. That I’ll never achieve it doesn’t mean I can’t keep trying.
5) You have a unique style to your writing that incorporates a sort of Old English with modern language. Have you always had an appreciation for language, and do you like to tinker with it in your stories?
I’m obsessive about the language in my stories. I revise and tweak my sentences far more than is beneficial. I don’t think my focus on language necessarily improves my storytelling, however. And I certainly don’t do it by choice. It’s more a monomaniacal compulsion than a part of some artistic agenda.
6) If your book became a movie, who would you cast to play the main characters?
I wouldn’t know where to begin if I had to cast three separate novellas for film, but I do have ideas for a select few characters from my stories. I think Rooney Mara would make a formidable Katrina; Christopher Walken would make for an interesting Ebenezer Carver; Elisabeth Moss would be an excellent Alice, I think, neatly combining vulnerability with toughness; Paul Giamatti would be perfect for the role of Professor Hildersham; and I like the idea of Jessica Chastain playing the femme fatale of the collection, Virginia Schiaparelli.
7) What music do you listen to while you write? Are there any songs that you think would fit into a “The Mark of Shadow Grove” soundtrack?
I listen to lots of electronic music when I write. If any one album could be called the soundtrack to my collection it would probably be the debut solo album by Fever Ray.
That said, I did listen to Black Goat of the Woods by Black Mountain Transmitter far more times than is advisable during the writing of my collection. It really set the mood.
8) What are some of your pop culture favorites, such as movies, television shows, sports teams?
My favorite film is The Man Who Would be King and my favorite television show is “Seinfeld.” I reference Seinfeld episodes with alarming frequency. It’s another one of my many—and ever-increasing—stable of compulsive tics.
9) Do you have any unique talents or hobbies?
I enjoy cooking and can make a tolerably acceptable curry.
10) What can we expect from you in the future?
Probably more stories involving witches, mushrooms, and demonical entities with lots of tentacles. I’d like to predict some kind of intellectual or artistic maturation on my part. But I’m not counting on it.