Tell us about THE CURSED EARTH.
THE CURSED EARTH is a cosmic folk horror comedy thriller novel set in the forests of Pennsylvania. It centers around the fictional town of Lynchburg, which is heavily involved in mushroom farming. That’s a big business in Pennsylvania, and I thought it was a rich source of inspiration. There’s basically this group of gang members in hiding in a gated community—they’re on the run from the authorities in Pittsburgh—and they’re in need of money, so they come up with a plan to extort the local Nightcap Mushroom Farm, a successful business near Lynchburg. This takes place close to the Fungus Festival, a big mid-September event for the town, which draws a lot of outsiders to the community. There are a number of characters and subplots to this story, but that’s the dark heart of it. Things get pretty crazy once the outsiders cross paths with the locals of Lynchburg.
I didn’t plan on it being comedic, and it’s definitely NOT a parody of folk horror—but I have a dark sense of humor, and I think a lot of that bled into the pages of this novel (pun intended). I’m a fan of writers like Ira Levin, Joseph Heller, and others, and found the horror and the humor flowed together in this book. Terrible things happen to unfortunate people, but there’s also an aura of absurdity and insanity in it that I just ran with. Anybody living in America these days can relate to the braiding of laughter and horror, honestly, and I think I captured it in this book. Readers should find plenty to be terrified and horrified by this one, but also plenty of things that should make them laugh, too.
What do you like about folk horror?
I find the countryside fascinating and haunting. America is such a massive country, with so much land, I feel like there’s abundant terrain to explore. Having spent most of my life in the big city (Chicago), but having grown up in the Rust Belt (Youngstown, Ohio) I’m very accustomed to the pace of urban life.
Folk horror thrives in those rural settings, and it draws me because it’s a very alien place. I try to push the subgenre of folk horror into different areas—hence my delving into mushroom farming, which seemed naturally chthonic and both vibrant and full of life and also bound up to death and decay. Pennsylvania has a really great landscape, and I ran with that. The atmospheric nature of folk horror entices me as well. There are motifs with it, symbols and imagery that are intrinsically creepy. I dig that.
I ran with mushroom farming for this novel because I thought it might bring a nice angle to the fairly standard fields-n-farms perspective of folk horror. It helps that Pennsylvania has a major mushroom farming industry, so it made it the natural locale for the story, and since I have a lot of history with Pennsylvania (including family in the region), I played with that as the setting, did a ton of research on mushroom farming and on mushroom species, etc. That all flowed into the book.
What are you working on next?
“This book is amazing…Neal is fantastic with visualizing in words the atmosphere, the scenery, and the characters emotions and actions. Fans of Ronald Malfi will enjoy this book…I found this book immersive, engaging, and fun.
I would definitely put this book as one of the best books I have read in 2022.”
—Tasha S., NetGalley review
Small towns always guard their secrets, and the quaint Pennsylvania tourist town of Lynchburg is no exception. When members of a Pittsburgh gang retreat to the outskirts of the town in an ill-fated bid to hide from the authorities, they—along with a trio of industrial spies, a would-be celebrity chef, and a happy-go-lucky band of unwary festivalgoers—find themselves set upon by the dark forces behind the town’s 50th annual Fungus Festival.
Part folk horror-comedy, part cosmic horror thriller set deep in the forests and hills of Pennsylvania, THE CURSED EARTH hurls readers headlong into the heart of a cosmic folk horror nightmare in a town ruled by the enigmatic La Signora Grigia—the psychedelic Grey Lady—where gangsters, partygoers, investigators, and sinister cultists clash in the midst of the wild festival atmosphere. Who is the Grey Lady, and can outsiders ever hope to survive for long in Lynchburg?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
D. T. Neal is a fiction writer and editor living in Chicago. He won second place in the 2008 Aeon Award for his short story, “Aegis,” and has been published in Albedo One, Ireland’s premier magazine of science fiction, horror, and fantasy.
He is the author of Saamaanthaa, The Happening, and Norm—The Wolfshadow Trilogy. He’s also written the vampire novel, Suckage, as well as the Lovecraftian cosmic horror-thriller, Chosen. He has written three creature feature/eco-horror novellas, Relict, Summerville, and The Day of the Nightfish. He continues to work on several science fiction, fantasy, horror, and thriller stories.
• 2008 Aeon Award, Second Place for “Aegis”
• 2009 Honorable Mention, “Best Horror of the Year,” edited by Ellen Datlow for “Aegis” and “Rotgut.”
• Runner-up, 2013 Best New Novel by a Chicagoan, Chicago Reader, for “Suckage”
• Shortlisted for the 2012 Aeon Award for “Day of the
“The Cursed Earth by D.T. Neal both embraces and deconstructs the genre of folk horror. Here, at its core, is a self-aware commentary on a genre with deep roots. It’s also a fantastic ride.
Through four distinct story strands, Neal takes the reader to Lynchburg, PA and its annual mushroom festival. This small town functions around the festival, which boasts 100,000 visitors a year. The people of Lynchburg unashamedly embrace their dependence on mushrooms (with restaurants like The Shroom Room) and their dependence on the divine figure of La Signora Grigia (The Grey Lady). Paganism and dark deeds are afoot, but the crop and the cult are on display for visitors to enjoy, experience, and purchase. Even The Grey Lady is commodified with statuettes of the goddess sold in the hotel gift shop.
Regarding the story, Neal masterfully weaves the strands (recently out of college friends, the undercover agents of a big-pharma baron, organized crime members of The Red Deaths, and a ‘semi-celebrity’ chef out of Philly) into an immersive, bingeable, and rewarding tale. The reader is heavily invested in the cast before the book’s 10% mark. The horror of the tale, which is unsettling, creepy, and satisfying, stems from The Grey Lady and Her cult followers, but I’ll leave that pleasure of discovery for your own reading experience.
Neal deconstructs the tropes of folk horror with The Cursed Earth. The town of Lynchburg embraces and embellishes the idea of its rural and insular nature. This is the countryside viewed through the lens of a neon Shroom Room sign, self-aware and commercialized, and there’s a message there that landed with me (I won’t force feed it, but I hope the message sticks with other fans of the genre, as well).
The Cursed Earth is an everyday epic and brilliant storytelling.” —Coy, Goodreads review
“This book is amazing. A folk horror with a cult, an evil clown, black magic, and lots of mushrooms!
D. T. Neal does know quite a bit about mushrooms and it shows in this story. Neal is fantastic with visualizing in words the atmosphere, the scenery, and the characters emotions and actions. Fans of Ronald Malfi will enjoy this book.
In a little town called Lynchburg in Pennsylvania, there is a huge mushroom business. This family-owned business shares their success by hosting a yearly Fungus Festival. This year is the 50th anniversary of the festival; and it falls on Friday the 13th. This story follows the story of a chef, a group of college friends, a gang, industrial spies and lots of festival goers.
While it may seem that following so many views of the festival can be difficult to follow, Neal has the skills to make this easy to keep up. I never got confused as to who is who and what their role is in the story.
The narration between all the characters flowed easily and smoothly. I enjoyed the banter and learning about the different types of mushrooms.
The action scenes were also easy to follow. I found myself so engrossed and speed reading because I was so involved in what happens to each character. I came to care about what happens to all of the people in this story.
Overall, I found this book immersive, engaging, and fun. I would definitely put this book as one of the best books I have read in 2022.” — Tasha S., NetGalley Review
“This book was silly in the best way, fulfilling every promise made by its charming psychedelic cover.
Four groups converge on Lynchburg, Pennsylvania for the town’s annual fungus fest; a quartet of slasher-film ready obnoxious college kids eager to sample exotic hallucinogens, an opportunistic restauranteur, a group of Pittsburgh gangsters with a truly half-baked scheme to shake down the town’s industrial-scale mushroom farm, and a trio of corporate spies from a California pharmaceutical company.
The prose strikes a balance between breeziness and rich description – and the imagery on display once the hyphae start fruiting is striking and eerily beautiful. The town’s touristy details and festival pageantry is so convincing and specific, that it sent me digging around the internet, sure there must be a real Lynchburg, Black Cap, and Mushy…more an adventure-comedy with horror themes than a horror book, like a less raunchy Christopher Moore.” —Cassandra, NetGalley review
“This was a really fantastic horror novel, I have an allergy to mushrooms so the thought of a mushroom horror novel is terrifying. D.T. Neal has a great writing style and I was invested in what was going on. The plot was what I was hoping for and enjoyed getting to know the characters. The characters felt like real people and it was a great way they handled the situation. I look forward to reading more from D.T. Neal.” —Kathryn, NetGalley review
“This was such a fun, strange, weird novel. I really enjoyed the multiple POV here, as it helped the story quite a bit. The characters were fun and well-developed. It’s a bit of a slow burn, but I actually prefer that in this particular genre. The writing style was great and easy to follow. I’ll certainly be getting this as a physical book for my personal library.” — Shasta M., Bookseller, NetGalley review
“The story was fast-paced and exciting…magic mushrooms, goddesses— this whole book feels like a trippy ride on its own!” —Ghadah, NetGalley review
“…The book is modern, and yet because of the folk and cult elements, there were times when it felt a bit 70s, a hippy kind of vibe that was bound to happen at a ‘shroom’ festival…I enjoyed that aspect very much. The festival brought the town to life in a multi-sensory way, partly because of the culinary aspects that gave me flashbacks to the TV series, Hannibal.
There are lots of characters to get to know, and several POVs, so you get to see things from more than one perspective which adds depth. My favourite scenes were those that included La Signora Grigia, the goddess who underpins everything that happens in this town. The imagery here felt original and terrifying…” —Catherine, NetGalley review
“There were a lot of characters but they weren’t hard to keep track of and it was easy to care about their well-being. I was invested and wanted to find out all of their secrets and the secrets of the weird, cultish founding family, The Templetons.
This book had everything; small-town horror, cults, drugs, gangs, Magic mushrooms, witchcraft, freaky clown, human sacrifice, and lots of blood and gore.” —Steph L., NetGalley review
- Paperback: 480 Pages
- Language: English
- ISBN-13: 978-1-944286-70-5
Also available as an ebook.