What do you find inspires you most for writing horror? Do you find the real world has more inspiration to offer than your imagination?
I knew it; it would be the very first question which I would have difficulty answering. HA!
What inspires me? Hmm, more often than not it’s a single verse or the melody of a song which tends to manifest creative visions, but more so, ideas just sort of come to me all different times of the day whilst doing just about anything. On a few occasions I will dream it and wake, but I don’t keep a steno pad near my bed. I have always figured that if I can’t remember it come morning, then it simply wasn’t worth writing in the first place.
When it comes to real world I try to leave it be. True crime, real horrors and documentaries of such don’t interest me in the least. I find my imagination to be more frighteningly detailed and I am quite happy that those thoughts are not actually happening in the real world.
What are your favourite horror movies? Favourite director?
I will give you one of my all-time faves and I know your blog readers may hiss and boo, but The Blair Witch Project really got under my skin. It was fresh and original, and spooky-eerie as hell. Did you know that people who saw the movie actually got angry and felt ‘lied to’ when they found out it was just fiction. HA! Anyways, with that flick I just don’t know; there is something about it…
I also love the original Evil Dead.
One of my favourite directors is Guillermo del Toro; so visionary, great stories/writing as well.
Why do you think people like scaring themselves? Guillermo del Toro described horror movies as “roller coasters of the soul”. Would you agree with this when it comes down to scary stories (in whatever medium)?
I think people are generally suckers for it. We feed off the adrenaline rush it produces, just like the disgust we get from the morbidity of gawking at a nasty traffic accident. We are drawn to it, yanked to it to be more to the point. In both comparisons we get to witness horrors and terrors, but we ourselves don’t actually experience it. We do this when we cover our eyes at a really scary part in a movie, but don’t we always peek? Surely a haunted house during the Halloween season scares the crap out of us, and we shift our feet more often as we near the entrance in anticipation of what lies beyond (usually drawn by the screams of folks already inside blasting outward), but we still hand over our ticket and enter regardless, right?
When it comes to Guillermo del Toro’s quote I would say he’s pretty dead on balls with a sledgehammer (he’s one of my favourite faves by the way).
Do you aim to scare and otherwise provoke yourself with your own writing, or does your own writing not affect you like that? Should a horror author try and scare themselves first if they wish to scare their audience?
Oh I do try to scare myself, or at least freak myself out! If I can scare myself—there are very few things in this world I am fearful of—then I am doing something right. There has been many-O-times in the past which I freaked myself out enough that I start turning on lights, my writing is done for the evening and I go watch a comedy or a nature program (lights still on mind you).
What are your favourite ever books (of any genre)? Favourite author?
Some of my favourite ever books would be The Good Earth, by Pearl S. Buck; Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?; IT and Needful Things by Stephen King; the Hunt for Red October, by Tom Clancy and Jackdaws, by Ken Follett. Hmm, did I mention just about everything written by (Sir) Terry Pratchett? Love his works!
Do you have any favourite evocative words to use when writing horror fiction, that you keep using because of their effect/way they sound?
I like the word ‘caligionous’; I have used that one often. ‘Whisper’ is a good one too, quite flexible, oh, and ‘teeth!’ Yeah, no one likes the idea of ‘teeth’ in any horror context.
Do you think horror relies on as much as having a ‘good story’ as other genres, or can it rely more on having a certain ‘feel’ or atmosphere to it that other genres can’t?
In all aspects, the horror genre is not much different than any other (albeit the occasional monster in the cellar surely sets a rather disturbing and poignant definitive line in the sand). A story—a real story—has to be there, if not, it’s just pulp. Much akin to a real horror film and a gore-fest film (i.e. Saw, every Friday the 13th movie after part 3, etc.). The feel and the atmosphere—as with any genre—must be present as well. If you do it right, this should be established straight away—the ‘hook’— with an opening which clearly informs the reader that something really bad is about to happen.
In short? All of it.
Who is your favourite villain that another author/director/actor has created, and your favourite villain that you yourself have created?
My favourite made-for-me-villain? Hmm…In horror I would say George Stark in Stephen King’s book The Dark Half (he was just wicked-evil); non-horror, but dark noir/thriller nonetheless [I like conjunctive adverbs too btw per question #5], I would go with Harry Powell from the movie The Night of the Hunter played by Robert Mitchum (amazing lighting effects in that flick too).
There are many, never just one, sadly.
My favourite made-by-me-villain would be Staad (from a novel of the same name [unpublished; in the process of]); he’s a very bad man.
Do you prefer visceral gore horror or psychological horror? Which of these do you think better suits books as opposed to their translation in movies?
I prefer the psychological; that’s where true horror lies and can translate well into movies with limited special effects (i.e. The Exorcist). It’s easier to crawl under the skin and into the human soul of fears and phobias this way. When it comes to splatter-fests, albeit at times psychological might require the gore), it’s a visual necessity in the long run. Sure, one may write out the gore and have the reader squirm, but are they afraid, or simply grossed out?
Do you think horror can ever go ‘too far’? Whether in movies or books. Do you try and push against boundaries yourself? And have you ever held back?
Yes, it can clearly go way too far. Take the banned movie Siberia [Set: I think Michael means A Serbian Film, on which specific example I happen to disagree with him on!]; supposedly horrific, but it was just sick, sick, sick. Personally I do try to push socially acceptable boundaries and ‘Political Correctness’ is a lame-ass farce which people should stop using in daily speak and attitudes. When it comes to holding back I only did this when I started writing horror in my latter teen years, only because my mother read a lot of my works so I suppose I would feel ashamed at what came from my noggin. In time, well, the gloves came off.
Do you see your characters as your playthings, and you can exact whatever horrible acts you like upon them, or are you more sympathetic to their (fictional!) desires for life and freedom and try to write them as though you want them to succeed and pull through?
*Shrugs* If my characters wish for sympathy they can look in the Webster’s Collegiate dictionary between the words Shit and Syphilis and they’ll find it. Now, before I call myself Master of Fictional Puppets, I will say that like most of my writing, the characters come through in the end when I originally planned on bumping them off and vice versa. In my world of authoring, stories whisper to me what happens; my job is to simply write them down accordingly. This is why I never use outlines (quite against them actually), for a real story needs space to stretch and grow; to develop on its own. It doesn’t need me hindering it by predetermining the Five W’s and the acceptable: How.
The ‘creator’s curse’ is the idea that one learns and improves while developing a project (in this case, writing a book), and so always finishes a step ahead from when they started, thus are always disappointed with the strength of their previous project, now and always believing themselves of doing better than before. Are you familiar with this curse with your own writing? Are you always pursuing producing something better than your last?
Familiar, yes, but nothing I practice.
I have spent a good long time developing my writing style, my voice, and with this voice/style I write one story to the next with only the current idea before me. Whether it is better or worse, or in a horror-writer’s case, scarier or milder than the last is not a notion I am ever preoccupied with. In truth, I look at a story once I have completed, reread and edited on whether or not it is marketable or not. If so, it is submitted, if not, it is kept personal, or shared on my blog or one of the writing sites I belong to.
My advice to any writer so to avoid the ‘curse’ is to never judge your own work. I have written things I thought was amazing and received a moderate acceptance, where on the other things I have stories out there I HATED and were well welcomed. In the end, to fall victim to the ‘curse’ is much akin to a heroine or crack user chasing the dragon. You are going to get your highest high the first time out, and by chasing it to get that original high again is futile because One, it will never happen and Two, you will eventually OD.
Do you believe that contentment is the enemy of invention?
I feel that it is one of Inventions many enemies out there lurking, but I feel the true enemy, the very worse one of all, is self-doubt. Forget doubt! Screw that! Write that book/novella/story/poem and be done with it. When you finally type the words, ‘THE END’, you can breathe with a sigh of relief, pat yourself on the back and grow a smile. Who cares if it doesn’t satisfy the masses? Hell, most people out there can never say they have ever written a book, so you are surely a leap ahead of the average bear.
How long have you been writing for? Did you always want to be an author?
I have been writing now for nearly 31 years, so since age 11; 25 years as a horror writer. Originally I wrote fantasy (I was a big D&D and Tolkien fan; long before they became popular in the theatres), but then the Darkness found me.
Yes, from the age of twelve, being an author was all I ever wanted to be. I packed away the visions of being an astronaut and banged away at the keys on the big Royal manual typewriter my dad got me from a resale shop. Loved that beast (rest in peace).
When did your obsession with horror start, and what were (and are) your biggest influences for your own writing (whether other authors, films, music, art etc.)?
To answer this would be rather long, and a bit personal, but the skinny of it was when I was 17 years old. Nothing or no one directly influenced it; to be quite honest I hated horror of all kinds until one day the Horror Michael simply woke up and started whispering to me. Besides developing other personas over the years, each with their own genre, I have never looked back in terms of my passion for horror. I suppose one day I will tell the whole story of Why, How, When, Where…very few people know this, only two people know every detail of such. I am content with that for now.
What do you think the worst thing is about modern horror fiction?
Ooh, this is a toughie and can potentially be a long answer, so let me state flatly: Originality.
Sure, the common dialogue is: “There’s no originality left in the world…it’s all been done before!”
That’s bullshit. IF all of it has already been done before, then there’s no reason at all to read or write the latest greatest of anything by anyone! Let’s face it, there are some stories that will be revisited (Dracula, Frankenstein and his monster, and so on), but they are done differently, yes? If they were not, outside of friends, family, or self-publishing, no one would read it because no one (publishers) would buy it.
Oh! A close runner up would be the Twilight series…I think just mentioning it speaks for itself (effing sparkling vampires…PFFFFT!)
Do you ever find real world people creeping into your novels in the guise of fictional characters?
All the time, but they never ‘creep’; I intentionally use people I know or have met in my stories. Depending on how well I like you will equate to how I will kill you in my writings. I mean, I may let you live (rarely), but yeah; often I do this.
Which of your stories would you most like to be made into a movie? Any thoughts as to who would play the main characters?
A few of them actually. Happy Springs, When Madness Calls, Sowing Seeds, several others. When it comes to actors/actresses, the only story I actually visualized someone would be Happy Springs. The female County Sheriff I pictured Cherry Jones who played Officer Paski in the movie, Signs. Yeah, she’s tough!
I nearly always write a story while visualising it as a movie. While writing, do you visualise the scenes played out as if you were watching a movie?
No, never as a movie, per se, but when I have crossed the eliminator line between writing the story and breathing the story, I no longer see the screen before me. No more blinking cursor, or margins or the words appearing magically before me; none of it. When I am completely engrossed in it, I often close my eyes and let my fingers work, allowing the words to become crystal visions as if it was happening. Sadly on more than one occasion, I gave myself the heebie-jeebies many-a-night doing this. The writing screeches to a halt for the evening, on comes the lights in my home office, as well as any room I venture; erasing every shadow.
Are you disciplined with your writing? Do you make yourself write every day? Or are you a brilliant procrastinator?
Hmm, disciplined? HAHAHAHA! Well, in all honesty the more you become proficient in something, the more corners you learn to cut, or at least, play hooky. I do tend to write something daily, or at least edit, but once I am into something new or returning to something old I have let simmer, then it’s on and that’s number one to me until it’s done.
What is your personal most effective remedy for writer’s block?
I use several methods, but the most effective is that I take walks. Since I tend to only write at night, walks at two or so in the morning seems to help. The city is quiet, the air seems cleaner and depending on the seasons only the night-bugs and/or an occasional raccoon or rabbit is about. Sometimes I envision they are plotting to mug me and leave me for dead; this at least sparks the creative juices.
A bit of an ambiguous question: ebooks or print books? Would you always prefer something that you can hold in your hand?
Printed books; hands down, bar none. Just the feel of a book in your hands is like a fountain of magic, a whole world in your palms! You don’t need to charge them, you can drop them, get them wet and dry them off, use them as step stools if you stack them and they still work! Try that with a hundred-dollar Kindle. HA!
My favourite comment ever made to me about one once was, “Well I can keep a whole library on here!”
Yeah? Well I have a library at home and you only can read one at a time (monkeys!).
What is a passion of yours that has absolutely nothing to do with horror?
Cooking, classical music, travelling, photography, and making my own wine.
If you had to be one of the classic Universal monsters for the rest of your life – The Mummy, Dracula, Frankenstein, Wolf-Man etc. – which would you be?
The Blob. I mean, they dropped that puppy off in the arctic so it’s in stasis and well, with Global Warming, I’d come back! Those other creature-creepers? They were all vanquished. HA!
Most overrated monster stereotype and most cliche horror trope?
Romantic vampires and zombies, albeit The Walking Dead kicks major ass! I love it!
What did you get up to this last Hallowe’en?
Scaring both children and adults alike and then gave them candy as they cried on the porch. I really think one child peed. Good times, yeah, good times. <Insert wicked smile here>
My dear old mother just can’t understand how people can be attracted to all these dark, bloody and morbid stories, whether it is books, movies, videogames or art. Would you have an answer for her? Why are you drawn to such things?
Sounds like my mother in the past at times (rest in peace). For her I would shrug and simply tell her: ‘One can’t have light without the dark, and if you could, it would certainly be a rather boring place, wouldn’t it.’ In the case of my mother, she would just look at me silently, shake her head and then sigh. She wanted me to write mysteries; she was a big-time avid Agatha Christie reader and fan.
For me, I really don’t have an answer to this. This question stumped me for a couple days and I even asked myself, ‘Self? Why do we write this shit?’ Self simply shrugged and said: ‘Because we can.’
HAHAHA! I know that’s not really a suitable answer, but in all fairness and truth, it’s the best one I can ever give. I didn’t seek out horror as I stated earlier, it did me, and to this day I don’t know why. Most people don’t believe me when I tell them I tend to not read any horror, and watch very few horror films these days (save the classics). To give an example, the last ‘new’ Stephen King book I read was Nightmares & Dreamscapes a few years after it came out in 1993! Now, it’s not because I don’t want to read King or any other horror writer therein, but instead it’s ANYTHING; any author, any genre, just anything. The way my odd brain works, it is so easy to start picking up and adapting another’s writing style as easy as picking up a southern accent if you stay there long enough. It simply happens, so when I am in the process of writing something new, all books and stories are forbidden.
Zombie survival situation. You get a ranged weapon and a melee weapon – what do you choose?
Ranged: .30-06 (I am a surgeon with one of those [but of course in the TWD Universe they would hear the report, so a nice compound bow)
You’re suddenly inside your own stories. Fight or flight?
I’m a fighter.
Heroes or villains?
Werewolves or vampires?
I guess I will have to say Vampires here. (Do Werepires exist!?!?).
Finally, are you working on something new, and what can you tell us about it?
Yes, I am. I started something new a few weeks ago which I figured would just be a short story, but it has left that realm and is now a working novelette, quickly becoming a novella with a whispering hint of a novel length. Basically there’s no end in sight. Currently untitled…I just call it, ‘The Story’.
It’s about every horror writers past time: Death.
Thanks for the interview Michael!