Exclusive Interview: “Hungers As Old As This Land” Author Zachary Rosenberg
It’s been a while since we’ve seen any Jewish people in The Old West. 1974’s Blazing Saddles, to be exact. And even then, it was the regular Old West, not the horror Old West. But the latter is what you get with Zachary Rosenberg’s new Weird West / historical horror / Jewish horror / LGBTQ+ horror novella Hungers As Old As This Land (Kindle). In the following email interview, Rosenberg discusses what inspired and influenced this multi-genre mash-up that even Mel Brooks wouldn’t have thought to mix together.
To begin, what is Hungers As Old As This Land about, and when and where is it set?
Hungers takes place in in the Old West, Montana, about twenty years after the Civil War. There’s a Jewish settlement on some important land that an unscrupulous banker wants, so he hires a mercenary group to deal with them. Two women from the settlement, Esther and Siobhan, get caught up in the conflict, but what the villains don’t know is the town has a pact with mysterious creatures in the nearby mountains called The Hungers.
Where did you get the idea for Hungers As Old As This Land, and how, if at all, did your initial idea evolve as you wrote this story?
Well, Hungers started as a short story. Originally, I had the idea of Jewish representation in the West, with a story about Manifest Destiny and how terrible it was. The short is like a snapshot of the broader world, and I had the idea of what if there were older, hungrier things than man hidden in the world? To evolve it, I really just had to write it. It started with new scenes and me trying to reason through them to develop the characters and world.
Is there a reason you set it after the Civil War as opposed to before it or during it?
I felt the aftermath was something I wanted to explore more. The aftermath is really going westward expansion hit its peak. It puts America in a unique and interesting era. The shadow of the war still hangs over everyone, and the country is nowhere near equal. Violence continues unabated in the West, but it also allowed for a backstory of Union veteran for Esther’s father.
It seems like Hungers As Old As This Land is a horror story, but an Old West horror story. Is that how you’d describe it?
Definitely a western horror story. Weird West would be the term I’d use. But also historical horror, Jewish horror, and LGBTQ+ horror as well.
Hungers As Old As This Land is your first published novella, though you’ve written other things, as we’ll get to in a moment. Are there any writers who had an influence on Hungers but not anything else you’ve written?
Absolutely Cormac McCarthy, who I hold as the horror western gold standard. Blood Meridian is really one of the best American novels ever written. But I’m not sure he’s influenced anything else I’ve ever touched. The same goes for Larry McMurtry.
What about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, or games? Do you think any of those things had a particularly big influence on Hungers As Old As This Land?
Some favorites? Definitely Deadwood, the films Ravenous, The Burrowers, and Bone Tomahawk. Also, such spaghetti westerns as The Dollars Trilogy, Once Upon A Time In The West, the Great Silence…
Game-wise, I’d say Red Dead Redemption 1 and 2 and Gun.
Now, it sounds like Hungers As Old As This Land could be the first of many adventures for Esther and Siobhan, or the first of many stories set in Grey’s Bluffs. Or both. Is it? Is Hungers the first book in a series or a stand-alone story?
I’d love to do more. Esther and Siobhan are characters I love writing about and developing. If I’m able to, I’d be honored to do another book or two about their adventures. If this is all I get, it still tells a complete story, but I wanted to leave the door open for more.
If you do get to write more, what are you thinking?
I have ideas for one or two more stand-alones. I think it could even out to be a solid trilogy.
Now, along with Hungers As Old As This Land, you have another novella out June 24th called The Long Shalom. What is Shalom about, and when and where does it take place?
The Long Shalom takes place during Prohibition, just before the Great Depression. New York City, with all its glitz and glamor. Enter Alan Aldenberg, a Jewish detective with nothing to lose, hired to find people the cops don’t care are missing. With old friends by his side, he uncovers a conspiracy that threatens to rip New York apart.
The Long Shalom sounds like a noir detective novel, but with a little horror in it, and some, well, Jewishness….
Absolutely. A Jewish detective horror with cosmic horror right there.
It also sounds like The Long Shalom might be a parody. Like what Mel Brooks would come up with if he made a spoof of old noir movies.
It’s got some humor, but it’s played very straight. Albeit with homages to old pulp.
Given that, why did you give it a bit of Jewishness?
Because we don’t have enough Jewish fiction and horror out there. This was a chance to reclaim these genres from its originators and their antisemitism, racism, and homophobia; a book for all the Jewish kids who wanted to see themselves as a hard-boiled hero.
Going back to Hungers As Old As This Land, earlier I asked if it had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But to flip things around, do you think Hungers could work as a movie, show, or game?
Hungers would rock as a movie there. I could see some directors making something special and cinematic out of that.
And if someone wanted to make that movie, who would you want them to cast as Esther, Siobhan, and the other main characters?
I’d love to see Amber Midthunder [Prey] as Esther and [Black Narcissus‘] Aisling Franciosi as Siobhan. Or an unknown Jewish-Indigenous and Jewish-Irish actress in either role. The former are amazing actresses who I’m a huge fan of.
As for Cyril, I think he’d need to be Richard Brake [Game Of Thrones] who embodies the casual ruthlessness and cruelty of Cyril, complete with his eloquence.
And if someone wanted to make it into a game instead…
Call me derivative, but Rockstar would kill it, especially after the job they did on Red Dead Redemption. That’s exactly the style of the game Hungers should be, but with a bit of supernatural flair.
So, is there anything else you think people need to know about Hungers As Old As This Land?
If you enjoy action in the old west, fun monsters, and horror? This is the book for you.
Finally, if someone enjoys Hungers As Old As This Land, what Old West horror novel or novella would you suggest they read next?
Merkabah Rider by Edward M. Erdelac. Another Jewish horror western, showing this has capacity to grow as a genre.