The Horror Tree Presents: Author Interview – Cassondra Windwalker
The Horror Tree Presents: Author Interview – Cassondra Windwalker
By Lionel Ray Green
Author and poet Cassondra Windwalker begins 2024 with the publication of What Hides in the Cupboards, a powerfully evocative modern gothic novel about regret and grief.
The book is set for release Jan. 30 by horror and crime publisher Unnerving and is available for pre-order on Amazon.
What Hides in the Cupboards is about a ceramic artist named Hesper Dunn who’s moved from Chicago to New Mexico with her husband Richard following an accident. Their new house is cursed with a tragic history, leading Hesper down a dark path where she encounters ghosts of the past.
Windwalker, whose previous works include Idle Hands and Hold My Place, is also an accomplished poet. Her collection The Bench, available through Evening Street Press, won the 2020 Helen Kay Chapbook Poetry Prize for its “documentary-like precision.”
Windwalker agreed to an exclusive email interview with Lionel Ray Green for The Horror Tree about her new release and her award-winning poetry collection The Bench.
LIONEL: What did winning the Helen Kay Chapbook Poetry Prize for The Bench mean to you as an artist?
CASSONDRA: Winning the Helen Kay Chapbook Award and securing publication for The Bench meant the world to me. It was like finally being able to draw a breath after being held underwater. The Bench addressed many issues, from bigotry centered on racism or sexual identity to homelessness and loneliness and the solitary nature of being a social animal, all through the lens of what the pandemic did to us. It’s my most narrative and cohesive work of poetry – each poem centers around the perspective of a single person who intersects in some way with the subject of the next poem at a city bench.
LIONEL: Do you prefer writing poetry over prose? Are your creative and storytelling goals different when writing poetry?
CASSONDRA: Poetry is my first, last, and constant medium, but of course, being poetry, it’s the least read. A lot of readers assume poetry will be oblique and confusing, but if they gave it a chance, they might find it’s the most approachable literary form of all. My goals are different in approaching poetry, for sure. In a poem, I try to take something small: a pair of bloody shoes in a gutter, a torn page from a schoolbook blowing across a bomb-shattered street, a crayoned drawing found on a basement wall – and bring the reader to a perspective that opens up the whole universe. In prose, we have time to explore the entire scene, the entire story, where it’s been and where it’s going. Prose is about immersion; poetry is about propulsion. In poetry, eternity really has to hang on a single word.
LIONEL: Do any gothic authors or gothic fiction inspire What Hides in the Cupboards?
CASSONDRA: Perhaps I’m just afflicted with a gothic outlook, although Daphne du Maurier and Edgar Allan Poe have been powerful influences on me since I was a child. In this case, I was fascinated by the story of the medieval tapestries The Lady and the Unicorn and what hidden messages might still be relevant to a woman similarly trapped.
LIONEL: I don’t know if I’ve ever read a gothic novel set in the sunny New Mexico desert, but it worked beautifully. Out of all the dark, dreary places on the planet, why did you choose New Mexico as your setting?
CASSONDRA: I have spent a fair bit of time in New Mexico, and my youngest daughter lived there for a time as well. I doubt that any one place on earth is truly more magical than another, but somehow I am more sensitive and aware of the magic that breathes in that place. New Mexico and the Four Corners are beautiful and desolate, at once teeming with life and suffocating it without compunction. It is a place for listening, and as an artist, Hesper is a very good listener. Perhaps too good.
LIONEL: What Hides in the Cupboards is mostly set in a possibly haunted or cursed dwelling because of what had happened in the house in the past. Do you believe places of past tragedy can be haunted, or do you think the grief-stricken human mind creates a self-fulfilling prophecy?
CASSONDRA: That’s a question I don’t know if I can answer in an absolute. I agree with Hesper that all the earth is a graveyard – there is no place we step where the dead do not feel our tread. But I do believe that our emotions and energy leave a mark, and places of great dread and grief and brutality often echo that sorrow.
LIONEL: Hesper is a classic unreliable narrator. Do you prefer that style over more straightforward storytelling?
CASSONDRA: I am a complete sucker for an unreliable narrator, perhaps because at bottom I believe we are all unreliable narrators. Getting in the habit of questioning our storytellers is necessary to our growth as a species. We cannot unquestioningly believe one another and all of one another’s perceptions, and we must be equally skeptical of our own. Things are rarely what they seem.
LIONEL: Art is an important theme in the book, and you broach the idea of artists being more susceptible to damaging emotional behavior than perhaps other people. Do you think that’s the case?
CASSONDRA: As I alluded to earlier, one of the key functions of an artist is to listen. In order to practice, an artist must make themselves vulnerable in ways that could fairly be perceived as dangerous or reckless. An artist must be willing to cannibalize themselves and every experience. It is a gutting way to live, eviscerated so that every breath of the real can be felt on the innards. So sometimes, I imagine artists may be more prone to damaging behaviors – more prone to fall victim, and sometimes more prone to make victims. That’s not an excuse and certainly not a romanticization: there’s nothing acceptable about hurting other people. But it is sometimes a reality.
LIONEL: What Hides in the Cupboards is a serious piece of fiction about the manifestation of regret, grief, and self-loathing. I felt like the main message of the book was to forgive yourself. Did you want your novel to relay that message?
CASSONDRA: Yes. I hope every person who reads this book takes that message with them. Guilt is the most inescapable and most damaging aspect of grief. Choosing to acknowledge that guilt is a lie and laying it aside is the key to survival too many bereaved persons cannot find. Love aborted by death must not be reduced to only an accounting of every mistake, every thoughtless word, every regret we ever made.
LIONEL: Why do you think people have such a difficult time forgiving themselves for past mistakes or heartbreaks?
CASSONDRA: Death stops us in our tracks. Sometimes, when that happens, a person stops love in its tracks, too, but allows guilt and regret and self-loathing to keep thundering on down the tracks with no brakes. We don’t have that other person around to say they forgive us, to say they love us, but we have our own inner voice to tell us how wretched and loathsome and unworthy we are. It’s the ultimate survivor’s guilt, and a complete waste of our own lives and of the love that other person carried for us. It is an awful poverty to reduce someone’s memory to a condemnation of ourselves rather than as a light that continues to warm and brighten all that it touches.
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Lionel Ray Green is a horror and fantasy writer, an award-winning newspaper journalist, and a U.S. Army gulf war veteran living in Alabama. His short stories have appeared in more than two dozen anthologies, magazines, and ezines, including The Best of Iron Faerie Publishing 2019; America’s Emerging Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers: Deep South; and Alabama’s Emerging Writers. Drop by https://lionelraygreen.com/ and say hello.