Monday, January 20, 2014

Interview: Michael Rowe

I'd like to thank you for talking to me today. Wild Fell is one of the strongest modern ghost stories, and manages to blend traditional elements with fresh ideas, which seems difficult to pull off with the amount of ghost fiction that's been published over the years. What do you think makes a good ghost story, and what elements/tropes do you feel are overused and that you yourself 

Michael: I think there has to be an element of suspension of disbelief in a ghost story in order to make it work, but that’s entry-level stuff. I think what’s essential in a ghost story, as in any story, really, is that you care for the imperiled characters. It’s funny, as the author of a novel that’s set in an old haunted house on an island in the middle of a lake, I’m probably the last person to speak about “overused tropes.” What I tried to do in Wild Fell is to imagine exactly, from the ground up, what it would feel like to enter into a situation where everything you knew, or thought you knew, about life and death, and everything in between, was suddenly upended. The novel is really about betrayal on several different levels—betrayal within families, betrayal in relationships, betrayal of friendships, and, literally betrayal of the laws governing life and death, even reality.

In my review I mentioned that both your novels were interesting in structure, with Wild Fell's narrator Jamie not actually visiting the house on Wild Fell until late in the book, and with Enter, Night having a 70 page "coda" following the main narrative. When you set out to write these novels, did you plan on structuring them so, or did that come later?

Michael: In Wild Fell, Jamie’s haunting begins years before he sets foot in the house, so in that sense, the house is a secondary, even tertiary part of his haunting. He carries the house within him long before he enters it. And in Enter, Night it was a bit of the same sort of thing. The vampire in Enter, Night makes a subliminal appearance in the prologue, and by the time he shows up in the novel, there are enough monsters running around, human and otherwise, to populate a Hammer horror marathon! In short, no—the way the novels are structured is the way they seemed to want to be structured when I was writing them, the way the story seemed to make the most sense.

What attracts you to working in the horror/dark fantasy genre? What scares you?

Michael:: I’ve always loved the permeability of the borders between good and evil, life and death, and reality and fantasy, in horror novels. I find the dark very beautiful, and being able to look into the dark, and see it for what it is, is probably very healthy. The human condition is a vast library of emotional and physical contradictions, and speculative fiction is a wonderful way to explore that without necessarily having to adhere to the rigid borders of realism.

When you set out to write your two novels, what was the biggest inspiration behind them?

Michael: The inspiration behind Enter, Night—aside from the fact that I’m basically a horror nerd who had been jonesing to write a vampire novel for four decades, but who always subsumed it to journalism and creative nonfiction—was the fact that I’d seen vampirism my whole adult life in the form of exploitation. Exploitation of the environment, exploitation of animals, exploitation of people and cultures that has been going on for centuries. Vampires are the ultimate opportunists in the sense that their raison d’ĂȘtre is to parasitically steal from their victims while giving nothing in return. I didn’t set out to write social commentary, but I think it occurred nonetheless. Also, just before writing the novel, I’d been very sick, and I’d had a glimpse of my own mortality. The notion that something can come in from the outside, something over which you have no control, and which can change your entire life, literally overnight, carried with it a powerful dose of inspiration. With Wild Fell, it was a more intellectually formed idea, the idea of exploring the effect of memory and its loss—the intersection of the past and the present, real and imagined, so to speak—using the structure of a classic ghost story to do so.

What are your personal favorite horror novels, movies etc?

Michael:: I’m an unabashed, die-hard aficionado of the original Dracula. For the same reason, I love Salem’s Lot—the book, not either of the two movies based upon it. There are so many other novels and films that I love, but I’m going to give a shout out to a few of my favourites here, though this is by no means a complete list. Of the novels: Michael McDowell’s superb southern gothic ghost story, The Elementals; Douglas Clegg’s Purity; Peter Straub’s Ghost Story; Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House; Benjamin Percy’s Red Moon; Christopher Rice’s The Heavens Rise; Susie Moloney’s The Dwelling; Michael Marano’s Dawn Song; and almost everything of Robert McCammon’s, especially Usher’s Passing and Boy’s Life, two of my favourite novels, let alone horror novels. My favourite horror movie of all time is probably The Innocents, which is based on Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw, though once again, as soon as I say that, a dozen other titles rise up in protest in my mind, all crying “What about me? I thought you loved me best!” So I feel a bit like a literary and cinematic bigamist at the end of the day.

Anything you can tell readers about upcoming projects and what we can expect from you in the future?

Michael: I have a short story collection coming out from ChiZine in 2015 called The Devil’s Own Time, and I’m working on my third novel as we speak, but I’m loath to describe at this point, since I’m sure, like most of my books, it’ll be a completely different project by the time it appears in print. Ask me in a year or so and I’ll probably have a clearer picture.

Once again I thank you for talking to me!

Michael: It’s been a great pleasure, and it’s been all mine!

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