How did this story come about?
Naturally, it’s based on a true story. The recipes are all standards baked by my Grandma Garrity, who was the daughter of Slovenian immigrants (Garrity is her married name) and knew a lot of the recipes that used to be common in the Eastern European community in Pittsburgh. She made enormous batches of cookies for parties and church events and usually had a couple of dozen nutrolls stored in her basement freezer. She was my dad’s mother, but my mom’s family loved her baking.
A few years back, my mom and several of her relatives went to Grandma Garrity’s house for a baking intensive so they could write down her recipes and pass them down the line. My grandma passed away a few years ago, but now my Aunt Kerry makes her cookies and my Aunt Karen makes the nut roll.
The story about Grandma breaking her arm and yanking the pins out is also true.
The recipes in this story are my grandma’s real recipes. One thing I noticed while transcribing them is that they’re probably Depression-era versions, because the fat is usually shortening or margarine (“oleo”) rather than lard or butter. If you want to make these, you can try substituting butter. What’s the worst that can happen?
I cannot provide details on making Grandma’s jelly.
Can you talk about the challenges of dropping hints of horror in between recipes? What felt like too much, too little.
I generally subscribe to a philosophy of “less is more,” so if anything I erred on the side of too little. I hope I set the right pace of normal-to-weird as the story progresses. I like stories in which the strangeness creeps up by degrees so you can’t pinpoint exactly when everything went off the rails to Bananas Valley.
I confess the story made me hungry, especially for Linzer tarts: Did you find yourself eating your way through the writing?
My dark confession: I don’t personally like these sweets! These crisp, dry Eastern European pastries, usually mildly sweetened with nuts or fruit, were ubiquitous at family gatherings growing up and I never warmed to them. I like disgustingly gooey over-sweetened chocolate things. When I’m done with this interview, I’m going to go eat spoonfuls of Hershey’s Syrup.
What else would you like readers to know about “Grandma Novak’s Famous Nut Roll”?
I wanted to be vague about what the spells do and what type of monster these women are, but all the details are based on folklore from Slovenia and neighboring regions. There really is a traditional creature that splits in two and hops around leaving a single footprint! “Novak” is a Slovenian name meaning “new,” which the family got because they used to move around a lot and were newcomers wherever they lived.
Whose horror writing do you admire?
Shirley Jackson above all. Her horror stories are dark and cynical about human nature, but often slyly funny, and everything she writes is crafted with exquisite care and intimidating intelligence. Just the best. I recently went on a tear through the short stories of Robert Aickman, a great oddball. He wrote creepy, impenetrably symbolic weird fiction, disturbing the way a David Lynch movie is disturbing. Supposedly whenever he read one of his own stories aloud he’d just laugh and laugh through it. Who else? Arthur Machen and Kelly Link.
Any news or projects you want to tell us about?
Anyone who enjoys horror is required to check out my sketchblog, Horror Every Day (horrormovie.today), in which I recommend the correct horror movie for each day of the year. I try to include all types of horror, though I lean a little hard on my favorite categories, witches and lesbian vampires. My daily online comic strip Skin Horse (skin-horse.com), co-written with Jeffrey C. Wells, is swinging into its climactic arcs. Oh! And my husband, Andrew Farago, and I have written a useful guidebook, The Zombie Gnome Defense Guide.
Spread the word!