Welcome back for this week’s author interview! Today, I’m thrilled to feature the fantastic Michael David Wilson! Michael is the founder of This is Horror, an amazing website and resource for the horror genre, as well as an accomplished author in his own right. His new book, The Girl in the Video, is out now from Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing.
Recently, Michael and I discussed his inspiration (and almost-origin story) as a writer, his new and forthcoming work, as well as his favorite and least favorite parts of the writing process.
A couple icebreakers to start: when did you decide to become a writer, and who are some of your favorite authors?
I’ve recently heard several writers, including Nick Mamatas and Max Booth III, say writers need to get better origin stories so I’m tempted to tell you about when I was four years old and a group of men wearing horse masks and brandishing machetes stormed the house and held my family hostage. They only agreed to release us if the firstborn made a blood oath there and then vowing to become a professional writer. As the firstborn, that responsibility fell to me. I say tempted because none of that actually happened so I’ll have to disappoint Mamatas and Booth and tell you something more cliched but at least authentic.
Stories have always been an important part of my life. Since I was a kid my mother would read bedtime stories to me. To begin with it was the likes of Beatrix Potter and Enid Blyton, then when it came to choosing my own stories I selected tales by Roal Dahl and a little later, R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps. I remember reading George’s Marvellous Medicine by Roal Dahl and deciding to write my own rip-off version on an Acorn Computer. I also wrote stories about animals going on adventures because that seemed to be the thing to do (thanks Homeward Bound and Watership Down) and at nine years old I wrote the weird Jack and the Beanstalk inspired tale, James and the Chocolate Tree which I described at great length on an episode of the Ladies of the Fright podcast.
But I think my fascination with darker tales started with my grandmother. When I was young I’d stay over at my grandparents’ house and she’d tell me ghost stories and detail strange supernatural occurrences in England. The lines between what was fiction and nonfiction blurred so much that it would be impossible to tell you which events supposedly occurred and which were just stories. It was then that I experienced my first adrenaline rush as a result of horror stories and I’ve been hooked ever since.
Haruki Murakami, Jack Ketchum, and Ania Ahlborn are up there with my favourite authors. Right now I’m reading Wolf Town by Jeff Strand—I love the witty minimalist dialogue and the way in which he blends horror with pitch black laugh-out-loud humour. I’m also reading Mackenzie Kiera’s All You Need is Love and a Strong Electric Current, coming out later this year via Unnerving. Talk about a book that doesn’t hold back! It’s sexy, it’s extreme, it’s daring, it’s in your face, it’s unflinching, and it’s hilarious. This isn’t for the faint of heart, but for those with the stomach, turn the page, Mackenzie will show you a good time and then she’ll mess you up.
Congratulations on the release of your book, The Girl in the Video! What was the inspiration for this story, and what was the process like as you were writing it?
I was taking part in the ‘write one story per week’ challenge in 2017 when Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing put out a call for their anthology, Lost Films. I love the work that Lori and Max do at PMMP and I think Lost Signals is amongst the best anthologies released in recent years. Naturally I started drafting up ideas for stories that might be suitable for Lost Films. Pretty soon I had a story that was far longer than the maximum word count for stories in the anthology. I mentioned it to Max and he said to send it his way and to my delight PMMP decided to publish it as a stand-alone.
As for inspiration and process, when I’m writing for a theme I like to take the James Altucher approach: if you can’t come up with a good idea, come up with twenty ideas. This is along the lines of giving yourself permission to suck. I’ll start writing down 20 ideas and then seeing which ideas might just work. I’ll often combine elements from each of the ideas until I have a basic premise. For The Girl in the Video I knew early doors that it was going to involve an English teacher in Japan receiving strange videos. I wanted to examine the worst possible outcome when you click that unsolicited link, combined with the claustrophobic nature of being in another country where the native language is not your own, and of course there’s the exploration of the darker side of technology and just how much of our private lives we’re putting out there for anyone to access. The Girl in the Video is pitched as The Ring meets Fatal Attraction for the iPhone generation. If that sounds like your thing and you like dialogue-heavy, minimalist fiction, with dark humour, this one may be for you.
I’m a planner, so I knew the main beats of the story and how it would end before writing anything but I’m not too precious about the plan, if I have to change course during the writing then so be it. Funnily enough, that’s happened a number of times with my collaboration with Bob Pastorella, Peeper Ritual. What start off as a short novella became a 45,000+ word novel.
I absolutely love the cover for the book. Who’s the artist, and how did the cover develop?
That’s Pye Parr. I’ve known him since I worked at Rebellion Publishing (2000 AD, Solaris, Abaddon Books) and he’s done the cover art for a number of This Is Horror titles (perhaps most notably A House at the Bottom of a Lake by Josh Malerman). I knew I wanted him to do the cover art for my debut book and to my delight PMMP were onboard. As I’ve worked with Pye, I trust his judgment and we have the cover art process streamlined—I send him the story, he reads it, he comes up with four rough cover concepts, I tell him what I like and don’t like and then he drafts something up. After that we go back and forth until the cover is perfect. In early drafts the cover was more black and red but as soon as Pye started messing around with all those bright colours The Girl in the Video cover reached the next level. I couldn’t be happier with it and I love how many people have commented on the cover, too. It’s been a delight to see so many people photographing it on Instagram for the bookstagram community.
You’re widely known in the horror community as the founder of This Is Horror. How has your work for the site and in particular your work as an interviewer shaped your writing?
At this point I’ve now interviewed hundreds of writers and heard so many pieces of writing advice over the years. Funnily enough it was you, Gwendolyn, who said “when it comes to writing advice—your mileage may vary”. I take a similar approach to writing and indeed all advice, it was Bruce Lee who said: “Absorb what is useful, discard what is useless and add what is specifically your own”.
Now the writing advice is great in terms of the technical aspect of the craft but perhaps what has been more useful for many listeners are those talking candidly about mental health struggles, work-life balance, family-writing balance, perseverance, dealing with failure and rejection, and time management. It’s one thing to teach someone how to write well but you also have to learn how to practically be a writer under your own unique circumstances. A lot of creatives are likely to be far harsher to themselves than they are to others. Don’t say something to yourself you wouldn’t allow someone else to say about you. Be kind to yourself. Work hard and persevere but also give yourself a break.
Perhaps the thing above all that helped me as a writer was giving myself permission to be me and to write in my own authentic voice. For a number of years I wondered if in interviewing masters of horror like Ramsey Campbell and Adam Nevill if I’d inadvertently created a situation where whatever I put out I would disappoint people because the writing I produced bore little resemblance to those I interviewed. Of course this was bollocks, not least because I’ve interviewed such a wide range of authors from Victor LaValle to Nadia Bulkin to Elizabeth Hand to David Moody to Peng Shepherd etc. etc. As soon as I let go of having to write how one might expect the founder of This Is Horror to write and I just wrote as my authentic self, I wrote easier and I wrote better. My writing is minimalist, dialogue heavy, awkward, dark, at times humorous, and above all it’s authentically me. Perhaps it’s horror, perhaps it isn’t but what matters is it’s the fiction that best reflects me as a writer and what do you know people are responding to it well, too. I mean, praise from Josh Malerman, Brian Keene, Alan Baxter, and David Moody—a review from Mother Horror in Cemetery Dance … are you kidding me?! Surreal and gratifying.
Your next book, House of Bad Memories, is due out next year. What can you share about that story?
It lands via Grindhouse Press and I’m pitching it as This Is England meets Prisoners meets Peep Show. I reckon it’s darker and more unrelenting than The Girl in the Video though it’s not without its humour. It’s set in the UK and if it were adapted for film I could see someone like Shane Meadows as the screenwriter and director.
What’s your favorite part of the writing process? What’s your least favorite part?
When the first draft is going well that’s very satisfying. I also like the final draft where I’m just tinkering with word choice and looking at the story on a sentence by sentence level.
My least favourite part is when I wonder “what if this was all a fluke?” or “what if I’ve told all the good stories I have to tell?” or “what if I’m actually just a bit shit?” Model illogical, of course, but what I’m saying is self-doubt’s a bastard.
What projects are you currently working on?
I’m just fine-tuning Peeper Ritual with Bob Pastorella which should be out later this year. I’m also in the early stages of a collaboration with Max Booth III called Wounded Duck. My current long-form solo project is called She’s Gotta Die—it’s Kill List meets Weekend at Bernie’s meets The Wicker Man.
Huge thanks to Michael David Wilson for being part of this week’s author interview series! Find him online at his website as well as Twitter and Instagram at @wilsonthewriter. Also, check out This is Horror at its main site and on Twitter and on Instagram!