Jon Bassoff — English teacher at Longmont High — has penned his ninth novel, and it’s every bit as darkly chilling as his previous offerings. To celebrate the release of “Beneath Cruel Waters,” he’s recruited fellow creatives for a night beyond a typical book reading at Left Hand Brewing on June 2.
“I love the idea of creating community through art, and here we’ll have local writers, musicians, artists — not to mention local beer,” Bassoff said.
“Beneath Cruel Waters” has already received a number of editorial reviews that praise the book for being “gripping” and “a haunting, lyrical tale of family madness…”
“Gabriel Garcia Marquez once wrote that everyone has three lives — a public life, a private life and a secret life,” Bassoff said. “This novel is about those lives and the chaos that ensues when those lives interact.”
Bassoff gleaned inspiration from an experience of a pal, although having a vivid imagination, he began to imagine hypothetical intrigue.
“A few years ago, my good friend’s father passed away, and he had to go to the house to clear away 50 years’ worth of stuff,” Bassoff said. “Being of unsound mind, I began wondering what if? What if my friend found something unexpected? What if he found something terrible that made him completely rethink who his father was?
Moved by a skeletons-in-the-closet scenario, Bassoff created a tale that horror-loving critics can’t get enough of.
“In ‘Beneath Cruel Waters,’ the main character, Holt Davidson, returns to his hometown after his mother has committed suicide, and in the house, he discovers a gun, a love letter and a photograph of a dead man,” Bassoff said . “Talk about secrets. Most of the novel focuses on Holt looking to uncover these family secrets, and that’s never, ever a good idea.”
The setting of the book reflects the terrain of Colorado.
“I spent a lot of time driving in eastern Colorado, stopping in some of the small towns that dot the landscape,” Bassoff said. “That landscape and those towns were the inspiration for the novel. The town I created for the novel is called Thompsonville, and in some ways it is a fictionalized version of Longmont, a place where I’ve lived for the last 20 years. But it’s Longmont of another generation and maybe a different location — out on the eastern plains. People who read the book might recognize some places — the old turkey plant, Golden Ponds, the grange on Highway 66.”
Photography of Colorado’s desolate and abandoned pockets — captured by Jay Halsey — will be up for sale at Thursday’s event.
“Jay Halsey and I both have a similar taste in aesthetics,” Bassoff said. “That sense of open spaces and forever skies and dilapidation and loneliness.”
Led Zeppelin’s “Ramble On” is inspired by Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings.” California punk band Pennywise, got its name from — and wrote a track about — the sadistic clown Stephen King dreamed up in his 1986 novel “It.”
One of Colorado’s own talented voices has used Bassoff’s latest page-turner as musical fodder.
Wendy Woo will perform at the event, and attendees can look forward to the debut of her song “Beneath Cruel Waters.” For the tune — possessing “slight rural Colorado twang and a slow and sad country vibe” — Woo pulled inspiration directly from the pages of Bassoff’s novel.
“I am often inspired by films and literature,” Woo said. “Sometimes it is easier to write about the emotions felt through our fictional characters. You’re not as vulnerable as you are when you are writing about one’s own experiences. Often, single lines that we highlight or pick out of a book can weave itself into a song itself, whether it becomes a passing idea in an already written song, or it becomes the title or topic of your song.”
Woo and Bassoff go way back. The two creatives are excited to collaborate for the upcoming event.
“Wendy (Woo) and my sister were friends back in elementary school, and we connected via social media,” Bassoff said. “I’ve always thought that she was a brilliant musician and so I got the nerve to ask if she would have any interest playing at my event.”
Woo has been steadily performing throughout the Front Range for 30 years. Now that pandemic restrictions have loosened, she is finding joy in playing various locales.
“Post-pandemic has kind of boosted local musicians in a way that we have become more high demand at your local pub or brewery,” Woo said. “The enthusiasm of the community has made me feel that people are coming out of this pandemic remembering how much they love community, homemade beer and live music. I find charm in doing this event at one of Colorado’s flagship breweries.”
Thursday’s event will be a full-circle moment for Woo, who used to serve Left Hand brews at the Fox Theatre, in Boulder, back in the ’90s. Her love of beer continues with her de ella own microbrew shandy called Wendy Woo Wit, made by Dratz Brewery in Loveland.
Bassoff’s friend Tammy Ornstein has also crafted art influenced by “Beneath Cruel Waters.”
“During a discussion about what inspires my art, I told Jon I would like to do a painting of my impression of his book,” Ornstein said. “We both think it’s important for creatives to support one another. He gave me an advance copy, and I went to work. I call this one ‘Ophelia’s Nightmare.’”
Ornstein’s watercolor—a mash-up of a landscape and a woman’s face reflected in a body of water—certainly captures the eeriness of Bassoff’s book.
“I think ‘Beneath Cruel Waters’ is his best book yet,” Ornstein said. “It’s really good.”
Bassoff takes pleasure in seeing the art that emerges from his latest release from Blackstone Publishing.
“My own level of artistic ability is at the preschool level, so I’m always blown away by people who are able to create visually,” Bassoff said. “Seeing the beautiful piece of art Tammy Ornstein created was a huge thrill.”
While Ornstein’s original piece has sold, there will be plenty of prints of “Ophelia’s Nightmare” up for sale for $17.50 a piece. All proceeds will go to the Food Bank of the Rockies.
Along with Ornstein’s interpretation and Halsey’s dystopian photography, Isaiah Jackson-Almaraz—a former student of Bassoff—has created a haunting digital piece that there will be prints available to buy.
The event is no charge, although copies of “Beneath Cruel Waters” will be available to purchase for $20 at Left Hand, ahead of its official June 21 release.
“It really will be a celebration of all the arts,” Bassoff said.