By Basil Sands
Welcome to 2014. And as a flash bang of a New Year start let me recommend the latest release by Cynthia Tottleben, a dark psychological horror novel that will have your mind in its clutches from page one: THE EYE UNSEEN.
Cynthia, tell us about THE EYE UNSEEN.
In THE EYE UNSEEN, my characters are festering.
Lucy Tew’s life is a box her mother slowly nails shut. When we join her story it is the autumn of 1999 and she is imprisoned in the rural Iowa farmhouse she shares with her mother. Lucy has little to occupy her time but her dog, Tippy, and the view of the cornfield that stretches out her bedroom window. She suffers through long bouts of solitude and starvation while her mother heehaws with the notion of killing her.
Joan, Lucy’s mother, has a clock ticking in her head that grows raucous as the new millennium approaches. She has long been the hostage of a family curse that is on the verge of fruition, a nightmare that has darkened her entire life and leaves her standing on the precipice of sanity with a daughter she despises locked in the other room and a shiny new ax waiting for her in the corner of the kitchen.
Trapped in the house together, these two women explore the warped boundaries of their noxious relationship while playing hopscotch with reality and trying to bury the demons that have plagued their family for generations.
While my book crosses the genres of thriller and horror, it is quite unsettling and will stick to your ribs for days after you navigate the dark world of Lucy and her mother. I’m proud to announce that it took first place in JournalStone Publishing’s 2013 horror writing contest.
The characters in your book are chillingly vibrant as we watch their various experiences, both the physical and mental, unfold. How did you come to paint such vividly frightening psychological portraits?
I collect lunatics. Put them in clear glass jars with just one or two holes for air, and stash them in a dark closet while they turn rancid. My ramblings are simply the scientific observation of my assorted specimen.
As a writer I do not plot. Or scheme. I just type. My characters reveal themselves to me as we troll around in their skin. Joan was delicious to narrate. I could fling her hostility all day and never get tired of it. Lucy, however, was much more difficult to understand. Even I had problems deciphering her delusions. The day the chickens joined us I became so flustered I stopped writing for nearly a month! To crawl around in Lucy’s mind I had to forego my own sense of reality and accept everything she experiences as the real and honest truth. Because who is to say it isn’t?
Have you always been interested in the horror genre?
A therapist once told me to close my eyes and describe my “safe place.” She choked when I did so. My pulse calms when I picture myself in the dark confines of a dungeon, the dank walls closing in—metal, flesh, and stone all decaying around me. I find it quite homey. I love the dark. I nest there. Horror has always called my name.
What authors have influenced you the most?
For years Stephen King was my fantasy lover. He didn’t know it, but we had quite the torrid relationship. I lived and breathed his work. Growing up I devoured Piers Anthony, Madeline L’Engle, the DragonLance books. Anne Rice let me know it was cool to be a girl and embrace the sinister. Janet Fitch finds the top of my list with her brilliant wordsmithing. She floors me with her brilliance.
Finally, the deep philosophical question that is on everyone’s mind. If an evil wizard cursed you and turned you into a board game, but mercifully allowed you to choose which one, what would you choose to be and why?
Twisted Twister. It would allow me to be both an evil board game and a loving one. Think of the torturous poses my players would have to survive and how I could alter the playing surface—for instance, all the green circles could be full of acid. The red ones, boiling hot. On those rare days I tired of being vicious, my players could enjoy a very sensual match on my mat. The best of both worlds.
Cynthia has long been good friends with the macabre. She likes to wallow in the dark, to delve into the recesses of the cold and terror that plague us all. Here she meets the characters that take residence in her soul and don’t stop kicking until their stories are out, no matter how uncomfortable they make people. Cynthia is a workaholic retail manager and is known as The Crazy Recycler for her environmental efforts. She is governed by a small clowder of cats that rule her home in rural Illinois. Her horror novel, THE EYE UNSEEN, won the JournalStone Publishing’s horror writing contest in 2013.