Our own Sadie Hartmann (you may know her as Mother Horror) spoke to Danielle Trussoni on the release day of her new Gothic novel, The Ancestor, genetic inheritance, and horror in horrifying times.
Sadie Hartmann (SH): Hello Danielle!
Danielle Trussoni (DT): Hi there!
SH: This is so exciting because today is the actual release day of your book!
DT: Yes it is! I almost can’t believe it, but here we are.
SH: Can you tell me about how this feels? Book birthday day?
DT: It feels very strange, as we are (as you know) in lockdown here in New York. All of my events have been canceled and I’m trying to meet readers and give readings online, which is, well, strange! But I feel very good about the book…
I think that it is one of those novels that came out at the perfect moment, which seems contradictory, I suppose, but for me, the darker moments are the ones in which my life opens up.
SH: I love that you said that about darker moments – I bet it feels surreal to celebrate a book release during these uncertain times.
DF: Totally surreal. But then again, I spend my days alone in a room making up characters and stories, and so that part of my life hasn’t changed much. What has changed is that there is this huge among of uncertainty and fear out there, and so many people suffering. We are all scared, which makes it an odd moment to be reading horror. And publishing a horror novel!
SH: Well, you know that for me, horror is my happy place, so sinking my teeth into a horror novel is how I’m sustaining.
DT: Me too! We are our own species, I think, as I find the outside world is beginning to mirror my interior one…
SH: Can you tell readers what The Ancestor about?
DT: The Ancestor is (in a nutshell) about a woman who discovers that she is related to an aristocratic family in the Italian Alps. It seems like an amazing stroke of luck or magic, but then she goes to the family castle and… well, this is a horror novel, so it doesn’t go well.
SH: I love that premise so much! It sounds like there’s some mystery to solve for the reader as well?
DT: There IS a mystery to solve, and there is a disturbing revelation at the end, so brace yourself. Some people (but not us, of course) are easily freaked out, and my book might not be for them!!
SH: I think a warning like that sells the book for most people! Or I would assume, anyways…
DT: For sure! There are certain kinds of readers who see that a book has dark and imaginative qualities, and they are excited about that possibility. Others might shy away, but in the case of The Ancestor, I think that the revelation is extremely apt at this moment, and speaks to us about our larger relationship with nature, humanity in general and what constitutes our place in the world.
SH: Speaking of our place in the world, how wonderful to escape the confines of quarantine and visit the mountains of Italy in this story! I saw on your Instagram you visited Italy for research?
DT: I did, but three years ago! I did research before I wrote the book. I spent a week in the Aosta Valley, just below Mont Blanc. It was amazing and very spooky.
SH: Oh, let’s talk about that – you visited historical castles? And of course, now you have to tell us what was spooky about it.
DT: I visited a few old castles, and even slept in a smallish one. The Alps are incredibly unique for me, in that they are almost like the moon. There are few people, and the mountains are so majestic, that you feel a kind of Lovecraftian gloom and awe about everything. I particularly love the ancient structures that are nestled in the crevices of the mountains – old stone houses and little huts. My imagination went wild when I walked through the forests and tried to envision who or what might live there.
SH: What inspired you to write this story?
DT: The short answer is that I took a home genetics test and discovered that I was only 1.7% Italian. I grew up in an Italian American family, and so that really threw me! I decided to try to write a story that would play with the idea of genetics, identity, culture and the history of mankind. The Ancestor was the result!
SH: That is so relatable! My husband’s family recently discovered that they weren’t as German as they all once believed and are actually more of Jewish descent! It changes everything.
DT: It does! But should it? I really wanted to understand why it mattered. And so I wanted to look at what it means to be genetically human but… not.
SH: Oooooh… that right there is selling it, Danielle! Having this conversation with you right now makes me sad that we won’t be hanging out together next month at Librarian’s Day.
DT: I know. I’m so sad. There were so many amazing events that have been canceled. But Librarian’s Day has been rescheduled. We’re doing it in November!
SH: Yes! A long wait until November. I think it’s noteworthy to point out that not only are you a bestselling novelist, but you’re a horror columnist for the New York Times! And that we were going to be on a panel talking about reviewing horror at Librarian’s Day.
DT: Yes, we were going to be talking about horror novels, and our approaches to reviewing them. It will be a great panel when it happens. I hope people will come or watch us (we should definitely take a video).
SH: I think we should video it for sure, and since November is so far away, how about a teaser: Why do you review horror? Why is it important to you?
DT: Ahh, that is such a tough question! I have always loved dark storytelling, and I am a true fan of gothic horror. All of my favorite novels are part of the history of the horror genre, and so when the Times asked if I’d like to review horror for them, I jumped at it.
Also, I think my first novel Angelology has horror elements, although it was not classified as such, but more of a supernatural thriller. Frankly, genres sometimes don’t do certain books justice. There are many (MANY) horror writers who are writing novels that so complex and rich, so literary, and I think we are often pushed into a category and dismissed. I know we both love Paul Tremblay’s work, and there are many others who are pushing genre boundaries in very cool ways.
SH: That opens Pandora’s box for me because I feel like a lot of publishers market horror books written by women as thrillers instead of horror, but… probably another topic for another day.
DT: It’s true! Horror deserves more respect.
SH: Danielle, you mentioned that all your book promotion events have been canceled.
DT: Yes indeed. They are no more.
SH: Are there alternative ways authors and publishers are promoting right now, and how can we help?
DT: Honestly, my publisher has not found a solution. It has been up to me to go out and find ways to interact with readers, and so I have been reaching out to podcasts and to friends (like you!) who are willing to give writers a hand. It is a hard time to be publishing a book. For example, there were a ton of orders for The Ancestor from librarians, but libraries are closed. Those books have nowhere to go. Same with bookstores. So everything is just frozen.
I am keeping the faith. I’m writing another book. I’m reaching out and supporting other writers. But it is hard because we don’t know what will happen next.
SH: Yeah, I’m hearing this from the horror community loud and clear. I think right now, the most important thing is just to do what we can on social media to generate awareness. And reading and reviewing is always super helpful to keep the wheel turning, right? Word of mouth?
DT: Yes! It is a huge help. Definitely, word of mouth, especially because a lot of people are home and are trying to get away from the world a little through books.
SH: Lastly, can you give us a little teaser on what your new work in progress is about? I think we love to imagine our favorite authors whiling away the time in the writing caves. Maybe there will be a slew of new books that come out of this horrific season of our lives.
DT: I hope so!! I am writing a historical gothic adventure series, one filled with magic. I can’t wait to tell you more, but I need to get it all down on the page before I talk about it specifically. I will say that I am so excited about it and I can’t wait to send you a copy.
SH: I just squeaked and clapped my hands! And let me just tell readers that just a few chapters into The Ancestor and I’m hooked!
DT: Yay! that makes me so happy – now I’m squeaking!
SH: Ha! What a perfect note to end on. Thank you so much for chatting with me today!
DT: Thanks for this, Sadie. You are really a champion for writers. You do so much good in the world. Thank you.
SH: I hope you have champagne to celebrate your book release tonight! You deserve it!