By Leslie Lindsay
A literary thriller based on actual small upstate NY towns flooded in effort to create drinking water for the residents of NYC, with a supernatural twist.
~WEDNESDAYS WITH WRITERS|ALWAYS WITH A BOOK~
Far upstate, in New York’s ancient forests, a drowned village lies beneath the deep, still waters of the (fictional) Chilewaukee Reservoir. THE CHILL (Atria/Emily Bestler Books, Feb 2020) is about that drowned town, Galesburg, once home to many. It wasn’t a booming metropolis, but people were happy. Early in the twentieth century (1910-1928), many towns like Galesburg were destroyed for greater good: bringing water to the millions in downstate NYC. The local folks settled there many years prior to America’s founding (some say the town dates back to 1682), and they didn’t leave without a fight…some didn’t leave at all.
Now, a century later, the repercussions of human arrogance are finally making themselves known. An inspector notes problems on the dam, a man decides to swim in in and uncovers a corpse…or does he? He suffers from addiction so maybe he’s just strung out? Others say there’s something ‘not right’ with the area. But then again, some of them were carted off to Bellevue’s psychiatric facility and deemed psychotic.
For me, I am so intrigued with abandoned towns, displacement, and where–and if–we can ever really start over. THE CHILL is another example of eco-fiction, bringing water to the surface, the state of our water systems, the collapsing infrastructure of our nation.
One could read THE CHILL as a supernatural story–because there are elements of that, ‘They just watched. Pale faces, but not translucent, just washed-out gray, bones pushing at their flesh, all of them gaunt, all of them tired.’
Still, others might see it more as a tale of police procedural as we follow the sheriff and his son’s story line; there’s also family history and secrets, working professional engineer problems, and even a historical theme. For me–as always–it was about houses and barns towed and relocated, but also the devastation brought to the people.
The writing is fabulous. Dialogue is snappy, the characters are sharply drawn. I found the research absolutely meticulous and felt I was definitely in the hands of a master.
THE CHILL is about disaster. It’s about people unraveling, about things we cannot control. It’s about environmental disasters, and the fact that there might be more in our future as global warming threatens our world. While THE CHILL is an eco-thriller/horror story, and despite the water references, it’s a bit of a slow-burn.
Please join me in welcoming the very talented Scott Carson to the author interview series:
Scott, welcome! What an eerie, surreal read. I am reading this during quarantine and the Covid-19 pandemic, and I started thinking, ‘is this the book I should be reading right now?’ There are some striking similarities between events in THE CHILL and real-world stuff: global warming, earthquakes, tornadoes, pandemics, rootedness…and then displacement; heeding the warnings of officials. Plus, our deteriorating infrastructure, water and other natural resources. Okay, so now we’re all feeling super-anxious. Really, my intent was to ask: why this book, why now? What was your ‘jumping off point?’
Thanks so much for having me, and for promoting the book. Most appreciated, particularly during this time when so many great indie bookstores are shut down. And, yes, talk about a book that I didn’t want to feel prescient. The jumping off point for me was an article in The New York Times back in April of 2016. The city had gone through a disaster prep meeting and there was a reference to the mayor leaving “shaken” by one particular scenario, in particular: the collapse or destruction of one of the water tunnels that fed the city, which would render areas of New York uninhabitable for months. There was a quote in that article identifying the tunnel loss as the only thing that could “literally shut down the city.” I guess we learned that was wrong.
I’m always, always interested in abandoned places, forgotten by time, or left because of something horrific. I was reminded of Times Beach, Missouri, a small-working class enclave on the banks of the Mississippi River just outside St. Louis. It began in the late 1920s as a resort town, then shuttered in (some regards) due to the Great Depression. In the 1950s and 1960s, a suburban-like community developed. By the early 1980s, it was destroyed completely because it was contaminated with dioxin. Those people had to be evacuated, displaced…can you tell us a little more about these towns in upper New York? The research you uncovered?
We share a fascination. I’m obsessed with the forgotten and the overlooked and the ways the past works on the present. These towns and villages in upstate New York had families and histories that went back centuries, in some cases. Some of them were settled well before the American Revolution. And they were literally wiped off the map. This is the way it has to go with reservoir construction, and there is something about that loss of community and history that is both deeply sad and deeply mysterious. I researched the Ashokan and Gilboa and – my favorite name for a drowned town – Nerversink. You can’t make that one up.
Also, water. I think there’s so much symbolism there. THE CHILL focuses on a reservoir, tunnels, dams, pipes, hydraulics, floods, and even just a rainy day. Were these motifs always present for you as you wrote? How about the juxtaposition of how water can heal and help, wash, cleanse, purify, bring peace and tranquility, but also destruction?
We have a substance here that both allows for life and can destroy life. It seems supernatural in so many ways, not the least being that it’s a finite resource that doesn’t feel that way to most people. We believe we control it, right? Turn on the faucet. Build a dam. Build a boat. There are so many ways in which humans believe they control the thing that gives them life. And then along comes a few days of downpour and our homes get washed away. Moisture in the sky meets moisture in the sea and hurricanes build; supercell storms spawn tornadoes; droughts threaten extinction. But we’re in control?
This was a central idea to me throughout the writing. What do we take for granted that imperils us? Both on the micro level, when a character keeps a secret, for example, and the macro, such as when a society ignores infrastructure maintenance. We live with risk quite happily until we’re dying from it.
And, you used the perfect word – there’s the tranquility of water. The peace of listening to waves or a creek or even a gentle rain. I love how beauty and threat are joined.
I love this passage of Gillian going back to Galesburg to see her childhood home:
“She used Google Earth to look at the house, watching as the years went by and the forest moved in around the grounds, overwhelmed the vegetable garden, claimed the flower beds. She expected the house to collapse beneath years of neglect in all those brutal upstate New York winters. Somehow it remained upright, though, protruding just above the tree line like a raised middle finger […] The high roofline with its steep pitch to shed snow seemed to rise a bit higher now, as if it had grown over the years. The siding had been white when she lived there but not was faded to a filthy gray that matched the sky. The front porch railing was gone and looked as if the porch might have collapsed.”
What can you tell us about this description? Is this based on an actual place? Also, there’s an intersection between childhood innocence and adult nostalgia and nothing is ever really how we remember it.
I’m so glad that stretch stood out to you. It is not based on an actual place, and that’s probably why I’m most pleased that you noticed it. One of the great joys of writing is when you actually see a place or person that never existed. When it becomes alive for you, showing elements you didn’t know were there. That house was one for me.
In childhood, I think we embrace the idea of home in a different way than we do ever again. You have to grow up into a distrust or dislike of it, if it’s a bad home, and if it was a good home, you’ll never remember the flaws without the pleasant fog of nostalgia. In childhood, we are also able to buy into concepts that we spend the rest of our lives denying or laughing off – the ghost in the house, the monster under the bed, the idea that if you step on a crack, you’ll break your mother’s back. Everything is so big and so new for a child. You embrace the magical to explain things you don’t understand. I wanted Gillian to float between worlds – a detective’s skepticism and a child’s trust.
I feel like THE CHILL is rooted in fact, steeped in myth, but also thick with paranormal happenings. Maybe we’re just haunted by our own past? The future? Can you talk about that, please?
We’re not just haunted by our past; we’re guided by the past. Individually and as a society. Each choice we make that feels new is, in fact, a calculation shaped by what we’ve experienced before. We choose what to ride with and what to leave behind. Entire faith systems and languages flourish and vanish. We move on. But…what story did we leave behind that we shouldn’t have? That’s a fun question for me. Considering native culture and storytelling, for example. How did the first people to live beside a river explain the river? What might they have understood about it that we still don’t? What’s the secret your mother or father took to the grave that might’ve actually helped you out? Those questions are gasoline on the storytelling fire for me.
I’m particularly intrigued by efforts to protect future generations by altering the truth of the past or burying it. How often does that work out, long-term? And yet we do it every day. Sometimes maliciously, and sometimes with the purest of intentions. We pick and choose what to bring with us. Eventually, it seems the past is bound to pick and choose something to take back from the present, right?!
“Horror has a new name and it’s Scott Carson. The Chill is an eerie dive into the murky depths of the supernatural. A story that has you looking back over your shoulder on every page.”
—Michael Connelly, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Night Fire
Water, the dam, swimming…these are all obsessions to the characters in THE CHILL. What’s obsessing you now? It doesn’t have to be literary.
Beyond COVID-19 obsessions, I’m currently obsessed by hiking. I always hike, but now it is as if that’s my professional pursuit. I’m spending way too much time looking at maps of Montana and Maine and imagining trails that I’ve not yet been on. It seems a pretty logical obsession in a time of forced dormancy. And yet on the other side of the coin, I’ve been revisiting trails I knew well but haven’t seen in a long time – both literally and figuratively. I’ve been re-reading old books, for example. Not new fiction, but books that I loved and haven’t picked up in years.
Viewed through the prism of THE CHILL, it all makes a lot of sense. Past and present and future are all at war with me right now!
Scott, this has been so insightful and fascinating. Thank you for taking the time. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?
Certainly not anything you should have asked and forgotten, but I guess I’ll tell new readers that Scott Carson is a pseudonym for Michael Koryta! Ha. Thanks so much for this.
Artistic image of book cover designed and photographed by me, Leslie Lindsay. Join me on Instagram for more like this @leslielindsay1 #alwayswithabook.
For more information, connect with Scott Carson via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE CHILL, please visit:
I found some similarities with other books that might appeal–THE HUNGER (Alma Katsu) about the Donner Party during the Westward Expansion, in which many supernatural-type things happen, a group becomes unhinged, and also a similar writing style; NAAMAH (Sarah Blake) in terms of flooding, swimming in eerie waters; THE SUN DOWN MOTEL (Simone St. James) features a run-down motel in upstate NY, paranormal things, a murder/missing persons investigation; LITTLE DARLINGS (Melanie Golding) features, among other things, a drowned town in England. Of course, there are other books–possibly Dean Koontz and Stephen King that may resonate.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
SCOTT CARSON is the pen name for award-winning, New York Times bestselling author and screenwriter Michael Koryta, author of fourteen novels, including New York Times Notable Books and national bestsellers Rise the Dark, Last Words, Those Who Wish Me Dead, and So Cold the River. A former private investigator and newspaper reporter, he lives in New England—just above a dam.
ABOUT YOUR HOST:
Leslie Lindsay is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA (Woodbine House, 2012). Her work has been published in Pithead Chapel, Common Ground Review, Cleaver Magazine (craft and CNF), The Awakenings Review, The Nervous Breakdown, Ruminate’s The Waking, Brave Voices Literary Magazine, Manifest-Station, and others. Her cover art will be featured on Up the Staircase Quarterly in May 2020, other photography in Another Chicago Magazine (AJM), poetry in the Coffin Bell Journal, and CNF in Semicolon Literary Magazine; the 2nd edition of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA will be available this spring. Leslie has been awarded one of the top 1% reviewers on GoodReads and recognized by Jane Friedman as one of the most influential book reviewers. Since 2013, Leslie has interviewed over 700 bestselling and debut authors on her author interview series. Follow her bookstagram posts @leslielindsay1.
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[Cover and author image courtesy of ShreveWilliams and used with permission. Artistic image of book cover designed and photographed by me, Leslie Lindsay. Join me on Instagram for more like this @leslielindsay1]