Welcome back! For this week’s author interview, I’m thrilled to feature CM Muller. CM is an accomplished dark fiction author as well as the editor of the esteemed Nightscript series, an annual anthology which focuses on strange tales.
Recently, CM and I discussed the genesis of Nightscript as well as what he has planned for his own fiction career.
A couple icebreakers to start: when did you first decide to become a writer, and who are some of your favorite authors?
Up until 11th grade I had zero interest in reading and writing. Sports and television dominated my early years, though I must say that programs such as Tales From the Darkside and Monsters held great appeal. Thinking back on it now, I suppose that’s the reason I decided to withdraw a copy of Cujo from my school library, and in turn rabidly consume that rough beast. Thus began what is certainly one of the grandest addictions of all: reading. King, Barker, McCammon, and a host of other authors became my mainstays until college flip-flopped my sensibilities and found me focusing on more “lit’ry” folks: Carver, O’Connor, Faulkner, to name but a few. Writing followed a similar track, in that I attempted to mimic stories I was reading at the time. It was only about a decade after graduating from college that I renewed my vows, as it were, with horror; or, in this case, “weird fiction.” I credit Mark Samuels and Simon Strantzas as being the prime movers who lured me back to my roots. Their work spoke to my more mature self, and I immediately set about writing stories “in a similar vein”—a dozen or more of which are now aging respectfully in a file folder marked “Never to See the Light of Day.” As far as favorite writers are concerned, I would say that as well as each of the above, I might also include Shirley Jackson, Terry Lamsley, Caitlín R. Kiernan, Thomas Tryon, Livia Llewellyn—but really, such a list could go on and on, and change on a weekly basis. (I’m also a diehard sci-fi fan, though we’ll save that for another day.)
Your short fiction has appeared in a number of fantastic venues, including Shadows & Tall Trees, The Yellow Booke, and Strange Aeons. What is your typical process for writing a short story? How long does it usually take to complete a story, and how many revisions does a story undergo before you submit it to publishers?
For the story which appeared in Shadows & Tall Trees, entitled “Vrangr,” I lost count how many pass-throughs I made. More than thirty and less than sixty, perhaps, but I guess such nitpickiness paid off. It’s still hard for me to believe that I made it into that esteemed publication: another important springboard, to be sure. My process as a whole has morphed considerably over the years. Currently, I compose my first drafts with black pen and yellow legal pad (and, yes, it must be yellow). From there I input those sloppy words into a digital file and spend the next two to however-many months editing, letting the story recuperate, editing some more, perhaps edging “that which is deemed a failure” toward the trash icon before being re-inspired, editing some more, and then finally passing it on to an old college friend who is always my first reader. So, yeah, it’s kind of a ritual, with lots and lots of time spent trying to get a piece as right as I can. The most exhilarating part of the process, for me, is that first handwritten draft and subsequent near-completed story where things start to flow and shine. The in-between? Well, I guess that just depends on the day. A lot of self doubt comes into play, but with continued persistence I almost always break through that wall. I used to compose my first drafts on a manual typewriter (which is a lovely and different process altogether) and lately I’ve considered returning to that antiquated mode. While no means a Luddite, I do believe there is something to be said about immersing oneself in the “old ways.”
The first volume of Nightscript was a huge success in 2015, and the second volume will arrive this fall. What inspired you to start an anthology series that focuses on ‘strange tales’?
The impetus for such an endeavor rests almost entirely on Michael Kelly’s announcement (back in 2014) that Shadows & Tall Trees would be going on indefinite hiatus. That was devastating news to a lot of folks, so I figured why not give it a go. There’s that old Bradbury quote about leaping off a cliff and building your wings on the way down, which is certainly what I had in mind when originally announcing the anthology via social media (and, believe me, I considered scrapping the idea numerous times before clicking the “post” button). I felt confident I could pull the production part of it off, as I’ve had experience with layout and design and book construction in general, but I wasn’t as self-assured as to how the anthology would be received. I needn’t have worried, however. The success of the volume has exceeded my expectations, thanks to a host of gracious individuals whom I can never thank enough. I hate to use that old cliche about the stars aligning and whatnot, but the timing could not have been better for putting out such a volume. It was, of course, a lot of work, but also a labor of love from beginning to end. I might also add, nostalgically, that the anthology shares, in more ways than one, the crooked path of own my writing. To wit: I released a single issue zine back in 1990 bearing the Nightscript moniker, which contained half as many stories and was printed on a Xerox machine. We’ve come a long way, N and I.
Continuing with the theme of strange tales, do you remember the first story you read that could be classified as “weird fiction”? Was that the start of your love for all things weird, or did your fascination for unusual fiction grow more slowly over time?
The one which comes most readily to mind is H.P. Lovecraft’s “Cool Air.” Both story and, later, Night Gallery episode, greatly inspired me. Going back to that Xerox machine I mentioned above, I should also add that I was employed at the very print shop where Nightscript came into being, and during the course of working there I became acquainted with a repeat customer who shared a mutual interest in Lovecraft. He had an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the HPL universe, as well as the “weird circle” with whom he associated—most notably, at least to me, Minnesota natives Donald Wandrei and Carl Jacobi. Anyway, to make a long story short, I was invited to attend a meeting of a writing club whose sole focus was “weird fiction,” and from there I became friends with numerous like-minded individuals. So, yes, as much as King and Lovecraft have slipped from the pinnacle they once held in my writerly life, I cannot deny their significant influence. They were the springboards which launched me into the pages of many another author—in other words, that grand domino effect of readerly discover which continues to this day.
You currently reside in St. Paul, Minnesota. When crafting a setting for your fiction, do you find yourself inspired by the place you live, or do you tend to take the bulk of your inspiration elsewhere?
As much as the city inspires me, I find even more inspiration in rural settings, particularly back country roads which invariably lead to abandoned farmhouses and derelict barns, to forgotten cemeteries, fields of corn, deep woods. I need merely hop in my vehicle and head out for a leisurely stroll through these hidden places, and without fail I am inspired anew. “Vrangr” certainly takes its inspiration from such an impulse. The interesting thing about such a dynamic, however, is that I’m not entirely certain I could live in the country. I enjoy the “chaos” of the city, or in my case the city suburbs. There’s the comfort of the local coffeehouse, the library down the way, the used bookstore within biking distance. Creature comforts which I need to keep close. Though, who knows: perhaps in the waning years my comfort level will shift and I’ll find myself in a cabin in the woods.
Other than Nightscript, what projects can we expect from you in the next year?
I have a new story, entitled “Diary of an Illness,” which is due to appear in Weirdbook #33 this autumn. And, yes, as you mentioned: Nightscript II will be released in grand October and will contain 21 “strange and darksome tales.” Why 21? We’ll leave that to the discerning reader. Looking ahead to 2017, I’ve been tinkering with the idea of releasing a collection of stories, but knowing me, this pipe dream might very well extend into 2018 or beyond. I love the idea of trying my hand at a novel, but as the proud parent of two rambunctious boys, I have relegated myself (at least for now) to the production of short stories and, of course, ushering in new volumes of said anthology.
Where can we find you online?
My blog—www.chthonicmatter.wordpress.com—contains, perhaps most importantly, information pertaining to Nightscript. To prospective authors, I should also like to mention that my next open reading period is slated for January 2017, and I’m already itching to read the deluge of new submissions. The visitor to Chthonic Matter will also find links to the various venues which have somehow been moved to publish my weird wares, online or in print. It’s certainly a great time to be crafting strange tales. I can only hope that such a “renaissance” will continue for many years to come, and that more venues such as Nightscript will creep forth from the shadows.
Big thanks to CM Muller for being part of this week’s author interview series. Look for the second volume of Nightscript this fall!