Welcome to September’s Author Interview! Every month I’ll be interviewing authors and creators about their newest works, their lives, and what influences them. This month I’ll be interviewing the spooktastic Michael Wehunt!
Hello Michael! I’d like to thank you for joining me here. Let’s start with an easy one: tell us a little bit about yourself. What made you want to be a writer? What do you do in your spare time when you’re not at a keyboard?
Thanks so much for having me. As you requested, I’m pretending not to see the shockingly large number of human bones in the corner or the strange symbols painted in blood on the floor…
I grew up in Georgia and seem unable to leave. I almost have to answer your first question as if it were, What kept you from being a writer? Because that speaks more clearly to how I became one. I think I wanted to be a writer from the age of eight or so, but it never took deep enough root in me for some reason. I was drawn to horror as a child, developed the usual Stephen King loyalty, watched whatever horror films I could. I didn’t have a lot of ways to explore the genre when I was very young, but there was enough to keep me hooked. Still, I let horror literature drift away from me in early adulthood. I still sought out darkness in most things I read – Southern Gothic is a good example, as is anything about sadness and regret, for there is great horror in the everyday – but it would take me a long time to come back to capital-H Horror. I also let thoughts of myself as a writer (or any sort of creator) drift away from me for too long, and looking back it seems I was both not experienced enough in life to try writing seriously and much too scared to fail at it. The latter haunted me for quite some time, until one day in 2011 – I was reading King’s Skeleton Crew for maybe the fourth time in my life – something just clicked, and I was furious with myself for never having tried my hand at this. I felt I had things to say and hadn’t been letting myself speak. Horror felt like a full circle for me, and I didn’t hesitate for a moment as I began, at last, a shaking in my hands, to write that first creepy story.
In my spare time, I enjoy not being in a hurry. I’m happiest with my partner and dog in the woods, in inconstant shadow and filtered light. If my dog will allow me to, I like to be still in the trees. Nothing is so calming. It is a sort of cathedral. And, of course, I read as much as I can, with varying success. I try to read twice as much as I write and spend twice as much time outside as I do with a Word file open on my computer. It’s all about balance and peace.
I read and was subsequently floored by your collection ‘Greener Pastures’ when I read it last year. The stories in here are terrifying, but they are also richly drawn and complicated. Can you talk a little bit about how ‘Greener Pastures’ came together? I’d be interested in knowing how the creepy sausage gets made.
Thank you so much! Two and a half years of people saying nice things about the book, and it still seems surreal every time. Greener Pastures started coming together simply because a publisher asked if I was interested, and I realized, with a bit of surprise, that I had more than enough material.
Then another publisher asked the same question, and I started to think it could be a Real Thing. A pretty mundane origin. But I wanted to make sure I wasn’t all in on a collection just to have a collection. I needed to be 100% behind every single story I chose, with as close to zero filler as I could possibly get, or else it would be much better to wait.
But when I began to think of putting stories together in a group, I saw fairly obvious thematic threads running through much of my work – loss, grief, the creepy inexplicable bleeding into personal darkness, and the attempts to cope with these different sorts of terrors at once – and the eleven stories I chose seemed to speak together really well, cross-pollinating each other, echoing and distorting those echoes, with a couple of curveballs thrown in. It felt like a collection of the lost. Yet nothing felt repetitive or redundant with anything else, and I began to get excited and proud in a way I hadn’t been before.
One of my favorite stories in the collection is ‘October Film Haunt: Under the House’. I also just read ‘The Pine Arch Collection’ in The Dark Magazine for this interview (Props on making e-mails scary). Both stories feature film in some way. Are you a big horror movie fan? What are some favorites that always draw you back in?
I love hearing feedback about “October Film Haunt: Under the House,” and if readers have a cumulative favorite in the collection, it’s probably that one. It really sparked my interest in a dialogue between horror films and horror literature, which usually flows in one direction – a book is adapted as a movie. I wanted to write a love letter to found-footage horror and modern (or digital) folklore of the sort that you find in internet creepypasta. Last year I decided to expand upon the October Film Haunt world a little bit with another love letter to found footage, “The Pine Arch Collection.” It’s really interesting to try to comment on what horror fiction (both film and prose) truly is and how it connects with those experiencing it. A sort of meta horror, if you will. I find it fascinating to explore, and my novel interacts with it to some degree as well.
And yes, I love horror movies. They have been my one constant connection with horror since childhood, even when, as noted earlier, I foolishly (but perhaps, all things considered, fortunately as well) stopped reading the genre before I was able to drown in it. The Blair Witch Project remains my favorite horror film of all time. I have defended it many times and am prepared to do so many more times (not forgetting to hug all those folks who love it like I do). Nature as horror, the abstract occult, the periphery providing far more chills than the foreground ever could – the movie excels in so many ways, and I find it always rewatchable. It’s been a big influence, and I’ve enjoyed wearing that influence on my sleeve a bit. Kairo, Ringu, Paranormal Activity 3, A Tale of Two Sisters, Don’t Look Now, Let the Right One In, The Witch, Kill List, Picnic at Hanging Rock (if you want to stretch the definition of horror a bit), and Audition are some of my other very favorites. Hereditary is very recent, but I am certain I will be drawn back to it again and again. It’s vicious and unapologetic like few other movies.
A lot of young writers I talk to get discouraged with the grind (sending stories out on submission, etc.) and the constant struggle that is the publishing world. Do you have any advice for any writers looking to get published?
Yes, writing can be deeply discouraging as well as deeply rewarding. In 2016 I wrote a blog post about turning five years old as an author. I tried to give several pieces of advice there as I looked back over what I had learned and how I had learned it. I also wrote a blog post (for Kendall Reviews) after I finished my first novel, which I think could be helpful to beginning writers. The single most important piece of advice I would offer a beginning writer would be to do the best you can with what time you have. Everyone’s life is unique, with different responsibilities, different circumstances, different rejections and different reasons for those rejections, not all of which have anything to do with the author. Try not to be jealous of those who are able to write far more than you do, or those who are finding success more quickly or easily than you are. You have your own variables, your own toolbox, and all those other writers are not your competition. Be happy for them, and they’ll be happy for you. We’re all in this together, just telling stories.
What’s next for you? Any new books or stories on the horizon?
I am, unfortunately, taking 2018 off as an author. It was a sad but necessary decision. But I have my first novel’s first draft waiting for edits, and my second collection of stories (tentative title: The Pine Arch Collection) is ready to go and will be a bit heftier than Greener Pastures. Before long I’ll be getting those two books into shape and sending them out on submission, so they are very much on the horizon, delayed as they are. Then I will turn to writing something shiny and new. Well, maybe extremely dark rather than shiny, but new all the same.
Let’s talk about books for a moment. What’s in your To Be Read pile right now? Any books you’re looking forward to in the future?
I am painfully behind on my TBR pile. The books I’m looking forward to have already been out for a while. Julian Barnes’ novel The Noise of Time. Lucia Berlin’s posthumous collection, A Manual for Cleaning Women. Kristi DeMeester’s first novel, Beneath. (Her story collection, Everything That’s Underneath, is really good.) Gwendolyn Kiste’s debut collection, And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe. But there’s some exciting stuff out recently. Gemma Files (one of my favorite authors) has a new collection out. Jeffrey Ford’s new novel Ahab’s Return was just published. Simon Strantzas has a new collection in October. In the literary world, it will be a matter of doing some research to learn what 2018 releases I’ve painfully overlooked since being out of the loop. For now, though, I’m trying to focus on the mountain of books that already exists in my house.
Last question: where can people find your works?
I have a bibliography page that lists everything I’ve published with relevant links. I try to post regularly on my blog’s home page when something comes out or semi-regularly about miscellaneous topics such as thoughts on writing or the horror genre. Feel free to follow my blog and stay connected!