For 230 years The Old Farmer’s Almanac has provided long-range weather forcasts, planting charts, and even recipes in what is the longest-running, continuously published periodical in the U.S. But given how we’ve been living in the evil universe or the bad timeline or the upside down for the last couple of years, it’s probably no surprise that someone’s written an evil version called Turning Of The Seasons: A Dark Almanac (paperback, Kindle). In the following email interview, those someones — J.S. Breukelaar and Seb Doubinsky — discuss what inspired and influenced this collection of fantasy, horror, and sci-fi fairy tales.
J.S. Breukelaar, Seb Doubinsky
To start, what is Turning Of The Seasons: A Dark Almanac, how is it like a real almanac, and how is it different?
Seb: Well, it is an almanac because it is divided by seasons. And in old almanacs, you sometimes had little stories, songs, or sayings about the day. But it’s different because you don’t have precise days in it, and only terrible things happen. It’s like a cursed almanac you found in a thrift store. You get more than your money’s worth.
J.S: I love what Seb said about it being a cursed almanac found in a thrift store. It’s an almanac in that it marks the seasons and it’s a book of days, too, but also nights. Or forecasts that are warnings in disguise. And instead of local knowledge, notes from nowhere.
Who first had the idea of writing a fictional almanac?
Seb: I actually did.
J.S.: Seb had broached the idea of collaborating on something, sometime. And we’d been talking about it seriously enough for me to discuss illustrations with Jeff Ford one ReaderCon in the Before Time, and the possibility of Derek For doing them for us. I’d fallen in love with Derek’s work on the cover of his dad Jeffrey’s novel Ahab’s Return, and knew that I wanted to work with him. Deep in the pandemic, Seb called me and we talked about it and suddenly there was a candle in the dark.
Seb: The idea came to me during the Covid lockdown. I live in Denmark, and night falls early. So I was looking outside my window at five o’clock in the afternoon, and all I could see was my reflection, which looked like a ghost. And I thought: “Why not write some folk horror inspired stories?” I mostly write speculative fiction, but I always had this dream of writing horror since my teens. The Covid, the Danish night, and my scary pale white face in the window all inspired that. And after had written a couple, I thought, “Why not do a collection?” Simple as that.
So why did you decide you wanted to write Turning Of The Seasons with someone else, and what made you think that someone else should be J.S.?
Seb: There were two reasons. The first was that I imagined an almanac as a collective work, something where different people came with their own local knowledge and experience. The second was that I am a huge fan of J.S.’s fiction and short stories, and I thought she would be perfect. I’ve always dreamed of collaborating on a project with her and I was really happy that she accepted to hop on board this paper ghost ship.
And then J.S., what was it about this idea that not only made you think it would be cool, but also made you want help Seb write it?
J.S.: I’ve likewise been an admirer of Seb’s work since our shared agent introduced me to it, and eventually to him in person, in New York. We are both expats, hyphenated writers — he’s French-American and living in Denmark, and I’m American-Australian — and we talked for hours about writing from that dislocated vantage point. The idea of collaborating on an almanac with nods to speculative fiction, ancient and modern, grabbed me hard, especially as I knew we’d be able to throw an apothecary of influences and origins into the mix.
How was the work divided?
Seb: We decided from the start that we would both write our stories separately, because of the polyphonic effect it would give the collection. We also agreed that the pieces should be relatively short, like almanac entries. I did my thing, she did hers and then we confronted the results in the end. And I was truly blown away by J.S.’s stories.
J.S.: Exactly. We sent each other our entries as we completed them, and it was wild seeing the work grow, and the voices multiply. It was the closest I’ve come to recording an album with someone and I think it has that feel in the end.
Aside from being an almanac, is there an overarching story at work in Turning Of The Seasons? Like, if someone reads it straight through, like it’s a novel — as opposed to piecemeal, like they might a collection of short stories or poems — will a bigger, connected narrative appear?
Seb: No, they are all different disconnected pieces, like a broken mirror. However, if you put the pieces together, you would not get a straight reflection, but rather a demon grinning at you.
More seriously, I think the bigger narrative is actually the fear often attached to our traditions — either expressed, as in Halloween, or hidden, as in the solstice celebrations, which are actually more to conjure Death than celebrate Life.
J.S.: What Seb says. I love the idea of a demon conjured from a broken mirror. That’s it exactly. Each entry is a sharp fragment, jagged enough to draw blood, but together they’re more than the sum of their parts: demonic and angelic too. Poison and potion.
It sounds like Turning Of The Seasons is a book of fantasy tales and poems…
Seb: I think that this is a fairly good description. I think the poems could also be seen as fragments of old songs. There are also bits of science fiction thrown in.
J.S.: It is a collection of tales from across genres. There is horror, fairy-tale, science fiction, crime. There are vampires and ghosts and four-legged beasts that defy categorization. There are tales drawn from European, American, and Australian folklore. These are our love-songs to that pale reflection in the dark mirror.
Both of you have published novels and other books before. Are there any writers who you feel had a big influence on Turning Of The Seasons, either as a whole or the individual entries?
Seb: Definitely Liz Hand’s Wylding Hall for me, which is a ghost story inspired by the golden era of British folk-rock, with bands like Fairport Convention or Pentangle.
Being French, I was also very influenced by Jean Ray, a Belgian writer of the ’30s and ’40s, and Claude Seignolles, a more contemporary writer who penned down tales and legends from the central regions of France.
J.S.: I wasn’t overly conscious of my influences in this instance, but think Priya Sharma in her gracious introduction, identified the effect brilliantly: Faust, Flaubert, Angela Carter, and Grimm, of course. Shirley Jackson, Ray Bradbury, and Joe Landsdale are also always chattering away in the background of my writers brain.
What about non-literary influences; are there any movies, TV shows, or games that had a big influence on Turning Of The Seasons?
J.S.: I found myself free-falling in this project, leaving consciousness of influence behind, which was a great feeling. Not that influences weren’t there, and non-literary is always part of that. Too many movies and shows to name. But the pulp horror of the ’80s and ’90s, everything from Joe Dante to De Palma and such Aus / NZ classic movies as Lake Mungo and The Locals. Also Wyldermyth and D&D.
For me, two major sources of influence and inspiration are illustration and music. I love that this almanac is a kind of dark medley. Illustrators like Tenniel, Phiz, Dali, Crumb — pretty sure that was what hooked me on fairy tales in the first place. Charles Folkard, Wanda Gág and others. So I wanted to have our almanac illustrated, and thankfully, Gerry Huntman, our publisher supported that. Derek totally got what we were doing, as I knew he would.
Seb: I would say that there is one movie that definitely influenced the writing of this book, and it’s Jacques Tourneur’s 1957 Night Of The Demon, which links the occult and folk tales. As for games, I would say The Witcher 3, of course, for the Eastern European lore and grim ethics, and Wyldermyth, an interesting tactical role-playing game set in a myth-rich universe.
The Old Farmer’s Almanac has been published every year since 1792, and the Farmer’s Almanac has done the same since 1818. Are you thinking you’ll put out another Dark Almanac next year, and the year after, and every year until 2252…and beyond? Or did I just give you the idea of doing a sci-fi version called Turning Of The Stars: The 2252 Dark Almanac?
Seb: Well… No, I don’t think so. Unless our Dark Almanac becomes an instant bestseller, of course. But I like the science-fiction idea.
J.S.: I love the idea of taking the Dark Almanac to infinity and beyond.
Please make the check out to SemCo. Industries LLC. Anyway, is there anything else you think people should know about Turning Of The Seasons?
Seb: I think readers who are used to classical horror stories will be surprised. This is really a patchwork of very different types of stories, ranging from old traditions to more contemporary settings and even sci-fi. Every page, a surprise.
J.S.: Reader, beware!
Finally, if someone enjoys Turning Of The Seasons, Seb, what book of J.S.’s would you recommend they read, and J.S., same question for you about Seb’s oeuvre.
Seb: I would definitely say Aletheia, if you enjoy intelligent and complex ghost stories and her latest novella, The Bridge, if you’re more into gory myths and feminist horror. In any case, I would say just grab any of J.S.’s books, they’re all terrific.
J.S.: Seb’s City-States cycle is one of the great achievements of dystopian fiction and I recommend the entire series, as well as the Synth and Vita cycles. They’re funny and savage and true. The Invisible and Missing Signal are two of my favorites, along with the outlier, Suang Ming. Seb also has a forthcoming horror novella with IFWG Publishing called The Horror, which I’ve had the privilege to preview, and am excited for it to be in the world.