Michael Rowe is the author of Enter, Night, and his newest novel, Wild Fell, just came out. He was kind enough to answer a few questions about the new book, his writing, and much more!
Everything about your new book, WILD FELL, makes me want to read it: an isolated island, a hundred years of secrets and the dark mystery surrounding the estate called Wild Fell…and the list goes on. Will you tell us more about it and what inspired you to write it?
I’m delighted that makes you want to read it. I’m also delighted that my publishers, ChiZine, chose to bring it out in December. As you know, there is a rich history of ghost stories at Christmastime that goes back to the 19th century. WILD FELL is a classic Gothic ghost story set in contemporary times. It concerns a man, Jameson Browning, whose father is slowly dying of Alzheimer’s. Jameson buys a house on a remote island in Georgian Bay with money he received in a settlement after a car accident. It’s the first impulsive thing he’s ever done in his life. When he gets to the house, called Wild Fell, he finds out that he’s not alone in the house, and may not have been alone for most of his life.
A number of thing inspired me to write it, but most of all, I was inspired to write it one evening during a Thanksgiving break when we were up north at the lake. My godson Michael climbed up on my lap and asked me to tell him a ghost story. I made one up on the spot about the large island in the center of the lake where his parents’ cottage was situated. The island, which is owned by a rich German family who are apparently almost never there, is enormous, and whatever is behind the trees is completely hidden from view. Michael pronounced the story “pretty good,” and since he’s a young man of extraordinary taste, I thought I might have something. I’d been looking at this island for years, wondering what was there. I still don’t know, but there’s now a novel about it!
You have an extensive background in journalism, but have you always wanted to write fiction? What inspired you to start writing novels?
I’d always vaguely planned to turn my attention to fiction at some point, but I was a very happy nonfiction writer as well. In 2010, I got very sick, sick to the point that I found myself contemplating my own mortality. It wasn’t a “come to Jesus” moment in terms of wanting to write a novel before I die in any sense of the word, but it was a shock to my writer’s mind—it gave me a sudden, devastating insight into the fragility of life, and how it can all change abruptly, removing control from you and setting you on an uncharted course. The result was ENTER, NIGHT, my first novel, about a northern Canadian mining town suddenly overrun with vampires. All of their lives were abruptly changed by a force coming in from the outside. Also, while I was writing it, my yellow Labrador, Harper, was in his last year of life, so a great deal of the sense of impending loss in that book was informed by that knowledge.
What is your writing process like? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
It depends on the project. WILD FELL was very much the work of a plotter, and a tight plotter at that. A great deal of WILD FELL is the work of a pantser. A good deal of that book took me to a haunted place almost of its own volition.
What authors or books have influenced you the most in your writing, and in life?
As a horror writer, the obvious writers: King, Straub, Barker, Clegg, Shirley Jackson, M. R. James. I started my life reading British fantasy by Alan Garner. I would venture to say that Garner’s brilliant THE OWL SERVICE is a horror novel posing as a fantasy novel. As a nonfiction writer, Joan Didion, Oriana Fallaci, Sebastian Junger, Jon Krakauer. Benjamin Percy, an American literary writer who has recently turned his prodigious talents to horror with his novel RED MOON, literally got me reading short fiction again when I read his collections THE LANGUAGE OF ELK and REFRESH, REFRESH—now that was a “come to Jesus” moment. As for influencing me in life, probably May Sarton and especially Isak Dinesen, aka Karen Blixen, who wrote OUT OF AFRICA and lived a life of elegant eccentricity, all the while producing glorious prose. She died on a Friday in September in 1962, and I was born three days later, on that Sunday. I’d like to think our souls brushed in the ether. It’s my favourite literary conceit.
What are you reading now?
I’m reading Christopher Rice’s gorgeous and chilling modern southern Gothic horror début, THE HEAVENS RISE. I’m almost done, and the book is so beautifully written that I want to lick it, the way you lick cake batter off the blades of a blender when you’re a child.
If you could experience one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
The original DRACULA, by Bram Stoker. Hands down. I’ve never forgotten reading that book for the first time, which I did when I was a precocious eight or nine years old.
Most of your writing deals with decidedly creepy, and even downright scary themes, but what is something that truly terrifies you?
Losing the people I love, losing friendships, losing animals I love.
What piece of advice would you give to an aspiring writer?
Aside from reading omnivorously and writing, I advise actually sending things off to publishers. Don’t wander around with a journal, sighing a lot, and telling everyone that you’re a writer. If you’re a writer, it will become obvious soon enough. And don’t give up, for God’s sake. Writing is one creative endeavor that actually rewards persistence and experience. I never want to hear, “I’m too old to start writing now,” which is pure nonsense. If that were true, we wouldn’t have Frank McCourt’s ANGELA’S ASHES, and the 1996 Pulitzer Prize would have gone to someone else.
For you, what’s been one of the best things about being a published author?
I grew up in a family of thinkers. My father was a diplomat and my mother was a former American schoolteacher turned porcelain artist. What we did around the dinner table throughout my childhood was talk about things—ethics, politics, sex, social mores, and a great deal else. My grandfather, whom I never knew, was a great supporter of Canadian writers. In many ways, me being a writer is a natural outgrowth of that heritage in the sense that it enables me to not only participate in an ongoing social dialogue, but also to start them, on occasion.
As for being a published writer, I’ve been one since I was 21, so the only me I know is the one who is a published writer. I suppose, simply put, the best thing about being a published author is that I get to do something I want to do. It also provides me with a legitimate reason to ask a lot of questions, which is probably the best thing about being a published author. People answer a writer’s questions sometimes in a way they might not answer those of a different sort of stranger.
When you’re not working on your next project, how do you like to spend your free time?
I spend time with my friends, and with my dog, or at home with my partner and our extended family. I spend as much time as possible with my godchildren. Nothing makes me happier than having a large group of friends over, with a fire in the fireplace, lots of good wine, some great food, and the sound of animated conversation everywhere.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on my third novel, and my third essay collection. I also have a short story collection coming out from ChiZine in 2015 called THE DEVIL’S OWN TIME. And next year—joy of joys—Random House will bring out ENTER, NIGHT in German. So I think 2014 is going to have a few chuckles along the way.
About WILD FELL:
The crumbling summerhouse called Wild Fell, soaring above the desolate shores of Blackmore Island, has weathered the violence of the seasons for more than a century. Built for his family by a 19th-century politician of impeccable rectitude, the house has kept its terrible secrets and its darkness sealed within its walls. For a hundred years, the townspeople of Alvina have prayed that the darkness inside Wild Fell would stay there, locked away from the light.
Jameson Browning, a man well acquainted with suffering, has purchased Wild Fell with the intention of beginning a new life, of letting in the light. But what waits for him at the house is devoted to its darkness and guards it jealously. It has been waiting for Jameson his whole life . . . or even longer. And now, at long last, it has found him.
From the Sunburst and Aurora Award-nominated author of Enter, Night comes an unforgettable contemporary ghost story in the classic tradition of Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw.