Emily Ruth Verona
Zachary Rosenberg Interview
Zachary Rosenberg has not one but two Jewish horror novellas out this year and at Frightful, we love Jewish horror. The first novella comes out in May and it’s called Hungers as Old as This Land. Set in the aftermath of the American Civil War, the story follows Esther Foxman and Siobhan O'Clery of Grey’s Bluffs tasked with completing a regularly repeated pact that will bring prosperity to their community. But they aren’t alone in the mountains. A band of marauders has been hired to destroy Grey’s Bluffs, forcing Ester and Siobhan to fight for the home they’ve always known.
Read the full interview below.
Did you set out to write a bona fide western with Hungers as Old as This Land or did it just sort of happen that way based on the story you wanted to tell?
Funny you should mention! It absolutely started as specifically a western. From the get go, I don’t think it could’ve been something else, just based upon the inception.
The cover has a very old west vibe that’s a lot of fun. Who designed it?
The amazingly talented Kealan Patrick Burke. Guy wears so many hats with cover art designs as well as being a fantastic writer.
I tend to ask this a lot but I’m always curious, did Hungers as Old as This Land start as a novella? Or did it begin as a short story or novel that evolved into something else?
Well, that’s a nice story! It started as a short story, but the editor reached out to ask me to expand it. Some months later, here we are! I loved the idea of being able to add to this world and expand the characters and plots.
We’ve recently started to see more Jewish horror out there, but we don’t get a lot of horror westerns and we don’t get a lot of Jewish westerns. What was it like bringing all those elements to the table?
Really terrific. Hungers, unlike many of my other upcoming works this year, doesn’t deal directly with Jewish lore. However, the Jewish themes are fully on board. The idea of Jewish Western had its roots in an old Simpsons gag when Lisa’s substitute teacher makes an offhand remark about Jewish cowboys and that kind of led me down a few brainstorms that ended up here!
Overall, the Weird West brings so many interesting stories to the table and when researching it to discover that many Jews traveled west, it seemed like a real story to explore. The themes of identity, finding a home, doing right in the world…all very Jewish.
How does it feel to know that you are contributing to Jewish representation in genre fiction? Whenever I write Jewish characters or lore into my stories, it feels like I’m defying antisemitism in my own way. It’s immensely satisfying.
100 percent. It feels great, honestly. Unfortunately, I think there’s a lot of work to be done, because Jewish fiction and rep is still subject to being misunderstood but also appropriated. I see a lot of calls that include requests for marginalized groups, but rarely specifically mention Jewish people. Jewish stories are frequently not given their due. Unfortunately, there are those barriers that remain all over in publishing that we have to push against. And especially in a tide of rising, vehement antisemitism. But if I help increase that representation, and these stories make an impact, we are absolutely doing good. Fighting antisemitism, ensuring they never win. But also making sure the markets know our stories are wanted and to increase understanding of our stories and why we choose to tell them.
Is post-Civil War America a period of history you’re very familiar with or did you have to do a lot of research?
I’m a big history buff, so it was a setting I had a foundation in. I did end up doing a good bit of research on various aspects, and took a few liberties!
Did you watch some Westerns while you were working on it? If so, which ones?
Oh boy, yes. So, I’m a Spaghetti Western fan. I like plenty of American westerns, but there’s something beautiful to the Italian ones. A rawness, a gritty reality, the rightful hatred of the Confederacy and state-sanctioned murder in bounty hunters. Just a few I watched: The Great Silence, Recquiescant, Once Upon a Time in the West, Django, Johnny Guitar, Ravenous, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, and The Burrowers.
You also have The Long Shalom coming out from Off Limits Press, which is a pulp horror noir. Is it fun blending horror into iconic genres with strong stylistic markers like that? The Western. Pulp fiction. Did it make the stories more challenging to write?
It’s great. The best thing about horror is you can add it anywhere. The voices of Long Shalom and Hungers are extremely different, so switching between them can prove a challenge. But once you get in that ‘voice,’ I find it flows a bit. Long Shalom I’d describe as a blend of P. Djeli Clark’s Ring Shout, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and add some Laird Barron for good measure. But make it Jewish. Lot of influences and oh boy did I have a BLAST writing it.
Do you have any other work coming out this year you’d like to tell people about?
Yes! All goes well, I’ll have my Jewish Pirate horror “The Devils and the Deep Blue Sea” out with Darklit Press toward the end of this year. My work is in various anthologies and magazines out and forthcoming, but I really want to highlight my upcoming “Sitting Shiva” for The Deadlands magazine, which is dedicated to my late grandfather.
What’s your favorite recent read? Any genre or category. It doesn’t have to be horror.
Ai Jiang’s Linghun is a masterpiece. I’ve reading Richard Swan’s Tyranny of Faith now and loving it. Andrew F. Sullivan’s The Marigold is another favorite now. But there’s SO much always hitting!
Thank you so much for talking to Frightful!
Hungers as Old as This Land hits shelves on May 17, 2023.
Zach Rosenberg is a horror and SFF writing living in Florida. By night, he crafts horrifying and fantastic days. By day, he practices law, which is even scarier. A devotee of the Bard since he was young, his work has appeared or is forthcoming in Dark Matter Magazine, the Deadlands, and Seize the Press. His first book "Hungers As Old As This Land" will be released May 17 by Brigids Gate and his second, "The Long Shalom" will be released in June by Off Limits Press.