By Alicia Dziak
Sci-fi! Horror! Conspiracy! And all set in Cattaraugus County! It’s all part of a new 306-page novel, The Hillbilly Moonshine Massacre, by Jonathan Raab.
It’s fall (actually, and also in the book). When the arrest of known moonshiner (and possible alien abductee) Larry “Bucky” Green goes south, several cops are left dead and Bucky goes on the run. His latest batch of moonshine is driving the locals mad—literally. Anyone who drinks it falls victim to some terrible form of mind control. They start tearing each other apart and building altars to forgotten gods.
Strange lights in the sky, mob violence, militarized police, creatures from beyond time and space, and sinister government agencies descend on the idyllic autumn countryside, sowing chaos and terror in their wake.
Only the paranoid Sheriff Cecil Kotto—who also happens to be the host of a popular conspiracy theory radio show—has any clue about the truth behind it all. He recruits a new deputy and joins forces with an ambitious public access television reporter to track down Bucky and stop the apocalypse from kicking off.
Intrigued? How about adding in that the plot is set locally?
“The story takes place in October, so the area’s signature hills and vivid colors are always in the background,” Raab said. “There are scenes set in and around Ellicottville, West Valley, Salamanca, Allegany State Park, Ashford Junction, Springville, and, yes—in a certain large and very popular ski resort I called Snow Pine.”
And while the tale is fictional, the settings were inspired by the real deal.
“There’s a bit of creative interpretation with a few of the locations, but for the most part, I wrote the settings as they stand,” Raab stated. “The biggest difference is that my fictional Cattaraugus County is just a touch bit … weirder … than the real thing. But not by much!”
He noted that, “It was important to me that I pay tribute to where I grew up. And by ‘pay tribute’ I mean fill it with monsters, chaos, and sinister government conspiracies.”
Raab, a 2003 graduate of West Valley Central, was born in Springville and raised between Ellicottville and West Valley. “I lived (in the area) until college, and spent plenty of time working in town or at Holiday Valley,” Raab said.
He explained that he attended Ellicottville Central during his middle school years, where he made some great friends with whom he still keeps in touch.
Raab left WNY after high school, but came back for school breaks. He served in the Army National Guard for a few years, and usually came back to stay with his parents for a few weeks when he was preparing or returning home from deployments.
After Raab’s second deployment ended in 2012, he decided to move to Colorado, where he currently resides. His parents still live in the area, and he comes back to visit every year.
Raab’s experience led him to write his first book, Flight of the Blue Falcon, about a chewed-up National Guard infantry platoon serving in Afghanistan. “It was released by the War Writers Campaign earlier this year,” Raab explained. “It’s based on my experiences (and those of my comrades) serving in the Long War. It’s tonally and thematically very, very different from this new novel, but there’s a few connections between the books if you read carefully.”
As far as the idea for his new book? “I’ve always been fascinated by Fortean (paranormal) phenomena and the like—UFOs, crytpids, conspiracy theories—and wanted to write a book about those topics in a fun, engaging way. I also wanted to write about how you couldn’t really return home, in this case, home being Cattaraugus County. Things change, people change, you change—and sometimes, not for the better.”
This book, best suited for ages 14 and up, encompasses various genres. “The book represents a lot of different threads, all tied together in a big, bizarre, paranoid-weird knot: rural anxiety, the militarization of our police, veterans returning home from war, redneck culture, economic disparity, and yes—aliens, demons, and secret societies. The heroes of the book are all outsiders, after a fashion. They’re weird, eccentric, alcoholic, broken, not fully accepted by the community—but they still rise to face the supernatural terrors that threaten their home. Sometimes we need heroes, and those heroes don’t always look like what we expect.”
The novel took about nine months to write and edit, but Raab said he’d been developing these characters and ideas for a few years. “Me and a few buddies used to make bizarre, DIY monster movies around town, and more than a few of those characters and ideas ended up in the book,” he said.
Raab also currently runs his own small press, and explained that “right now I’m focused on editing the work of other authors, but I’m also working on some short fiction and a novella which will follow Sheriff Kotto after the events of The Hillbilly Moonshine Massacre. It won’t be a direct sequel, so new readers won’t be lost. The tentative title is The Lesser Swamp Gods of Little Dixie, and it’ll be a bit of a tribute to the southern gothic horror-adventure tales of Robert E. Howard. It takes place in southern Oklahoma, which is the setting of horror author Mer Whinery, and he’s given me his blessing to send Kotto down there to take on the region’s evil occult forces. I expect it to be out this time next year.”
The Hillbilly Moonshine Massacre, released in September of this year, is published through Literati Press Comics & Novels. It retails for $14 ($4.99 Kindle version) and is available on Amazon, Literatipressok.com and muzzlelandpress.storenvy.com (where signed copies are available exclusively).