Originally I was going to skip my own Wrapped in Black: Thirteen Tales of Witches and the Occult interview. I mean, it would be a little egocentric, right? At best it would be all navel-gazing-y and at worst it would just be me sitting around stroking my own thigh under the table. But Sekhmet Press knows how happy I would be with either and insisted. So buckle up, kiddos, because I am about to interview myself.
By way of introduction, I’m an award-winning novelist with a number of short story credits to my name. I’ve shared the table of contents with myself in, well, everything I’ve ever been in, but most relevant to this my story of a girl and a vampire in Depression-era Appalachia “Daddy Used to Drink Too Much” appeared in Wrapped in Red and my story “His Shrine to Santa Muerte” was one of the thirteen ghostly tales in Wrapped in White. “Stories I Tell to Girls” in Wrapped in Black completes a trilogy of supernatural stories across all three anthologies.
Michael: Wrapped in Black is an anthology of stories about witches and the occult so let’s get right down to the meat: do you believe in magic and the powers of those who claim to practice it? There’s no wrong answer, of course, but if you say yes and then don’t tell at least a little of the story I am going to be serving some serious side-eye.
Michael: Yes, I believe in magic and in those who practice it. I myself am a flavor of pagan practitioner. When I get asked about my pentacle in public I happily accept the umbrella term “Wiccan” and I freely describe myself to others as a witch but I think of myself as a semi-agnostic technopagan. In short, I think magic is another kind of technology. It’s a way for us to access and make use of science we don’t yet understand. I’m not sure I actually believe in gods but I am more than happy to call on them if they’re the tool that works, just as I don’t have a philosophical position on flat- versus Phillips-head screwdrivers.
In my highly-detailed fantasy life, I have time to work on a project for which I’ve scribbled the occasional note over the last few years: The Open-Source Grimoire. I want to write a pagan handbook for people who want to build their own tradition from the ground up.
That said, I don’t want to make my attitude seem falsely clinical. I’ve had deeply moving ritual experiences, made emotional connections and discovered things about myself impossible outside the setting of a circle. I’ve experienced the supernatural firsthand as a terrifying force. It’s real, and sometimes it’s scary, and my trying to boil it down to something more like a chemistry lab is itself a kind of coping mechanism for handling the intensity of such experiences.
So, there you go: I’ve officially outed myself as even weirder than anyone assumed.
Michael: I’m addicted to extreme experiences (run 11 miles through the woods and ford a river twice when it’s 50 F in October? sign me up!) and absolutely nothing makes me feel more alive than a brush with death. When I look back on the many near-misses I’ve observed in my own experience I realize those times frightened me, yes, but they also energized me. I think of the time I was nearly hit head-on driving a back-country road in Georgia, or the times I made highly questionable choices (about which I’m saying no more), or the time I was jumped in the dark and robbed by three guys any one of whom could have kicked my ass, or countless other examples, and I recall how terrified I was, how traumatic it was, and the indescribable, all-consuming relief I felt at having survived.
This is why we like thrillers, it’s why we like James Bond movies, and it’s why we like horror. As a genre, horror offers us more opportunities than any other – as writers and as readers – to find ourselves balanced on the precipice. The abyss on the other side of the line may be psychological, it may be existential, it may be violent, it may be cold, it may be alien, it may be darkly humorous, and it may be any or all of them in combination. From every perspective, at every turn, in every scene, horror has the chance to reach deep into our guts, find our adrenal glands and squeeze. I love that feeling.
Also, my day job is in a variety of risk management and there is no perversity more delightful than telling a story about someone who chooses to take risks rather than to avoid them.
And can I add, that shirt is looking fabulous on you?
Of course you can!
I thought as much.
Michael: As writers, we’re supposed to be tired of being asked where we get our ideas. (Personally, I love hearing myself talk.) Thus, I’m not asking that: I’m not asking from where in your brain your ideas come (unless you want to tell me). Instead, I’m curious as to whether there’s a physical location or activity you find particularly helpful. For my part, I go running when I need ideas. There are specific trails and dark wooded places where I can put my body to work on that repetitive task and my brain will eventually start coughing up inspiration.
Michael: Actually, I think this is where it gets awkward since I answered my own question in the posing of it. So, I’m going to fill in some of the details, maybe? Anyway, in this question I said “specific trails and dark wooded places.” One of those is a bike and pedestrian trail in my town. It covers 22 miles, some through the middle of suburbia, some downtown and some headed dead into what feels – after all that downtown and suburbia – like the deepest of woods. A suburban stretch of it was where I got jumped and robbed, as mentioned above, and that was the first night I ever ran on that trail. Later, I started choosing to run, looking to increase my speed, to decrease the likelihood of anyone seeing me as a target and to lose some weight. One afternoon I was running on that trail, a mile and a half from where I got robbed, and I realized I was running into the perfect man trap: ravines on either side, a chain link fence creating a corridor down the middle and easily blocked ingress/egress at either end of that chain link tunnel. I thought, Were I the sort of bad person who mugged people on the trail, I would do it here. Then I thought, Were I the sort of bad person who killed muggers and disposed of their bodies in a ravine full of kudzu, I would also do that here. Then the main character of my series of novels, The Withrow Chronicles, did exactly that in my next book.
There is something about keeping my body busy for a long time and letting my mind wander that leads to the right kind of Brownian motion of ideas. I also listen to podcasts while I run, almost entirely about paranormal “research,” science news and historical trivia. Joss Whedon once said in an interview his secret to productivity was to “fill the tanks, fill the tanks, fill the tanks.” I find that true of myself also. I have to load my brain with random factoids and crazy ideas and see what gets shaken out stuck to each other.
Last, there is a specific place I go to think, all by myself, usually without any media other than a notebook and a pen, and it’s a secret place and I don’t tell anyone when I go there. It’s my place. I don’t want others showing up there to harsh my vibe. I hope to the gods I never get murdered there because absolutely no one will know how to find me.
Michael: What work (horror or otherwise) do you most wish you had written, and why?
Michael: In all seriousness, I wish I’d written Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, if only because then I would know I could write huge casts of sprawling characters across a world with both its own nonsense rules and a rock-solid internal consistency and adherence to those rules. The skill and care and love put into crafting those novels, the changes in tone, the different characters and characterizations, the wicker basket of narrative arcs woven together, the humor, the joy, the horror, the anguish – look, real talk, George R.R. Martin can kill all the characters he wants and it will never touch me the way some of Terry Pratchett’s work has touched me.
I also wish I’d written anything by Asimov because then I would be like five hundred times smarter than I am.
I’d also happily take anything by Anne Rice because her writing has such a strong sense of what it’s like to live on the fringe of society and to want what one can’t have. There are novels and films about being queer in the modern age, plenty of them, and not a one of them does it as well as her novels about vampires in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Michael: You and your favorite writer are stuck in an elevator while repair crews try to rescue you. What do you ask them? Do you have a grand time together or do they eagerly anticipate their escape?
Michael: This is going one of two ways: either the place is going to smell terrible because Bram Stoker has been dead a bit of a while or Anne Rice is going to tape my mouth shut and call 911 to report a stalker.
Michael: What’s next for you? How can we keep up with your goings on?
Michael: Right here, of course! I’m currently working on the fourth book of The Withrow Chronicles, titled Attempted Immortality. I also have a short story called “The Pride” coming out in an anthology called Write to Rescue, which will benefit two animal rescue organizations in the southeastern United States. I can be found here or on Facebook or on Twitter. Heck, I’ve got two Twitters.