Are you in fact a Griffin, the magical beast or lore?
I’m not a creature of myth, but I do possess a lion’s courage and fearsome power, plus the vision of an eagle. Also wings.
Has anyone ever called you Micheal Michael motorcycle?
Every Christmas and birthday card I’ve received from my brother Colin, for at least the past 20 years, has been addressed to Michael Pichael Motorcycle, or sometimes he writes MPM and we both know what it means. I think when we were really young, he started calling me Michael Pichael, because little kids think it’s really funny to change a word by one letter. He repeated that over and over, trying to drive me insane. Michael Pichael, Michael Pichael, Michael Pichael, Michael Pichael, until I’d hurl a Coke bottle at his cute little angelic head. Somehow later that nickname crossed with the more familiar Michael Michael Motorcycle rhyme, I guess.
Do you like Cheez Its?
I’ve always believed you can tell a lot about someone by the choices they make, especially about really important things. Cheez Its or Cheese Nips? I’m willing to fistfight over this. Cheez Its are so much better.
I think about caffeine a lot. I’ve formulated a caffeine strategy. In college I overused the stuff, the way college kids are inclined to find something they like and overdo it until they almost poison themselves. Like, you know, four Super Big Gulps per day. One time right after college, I entered a Three-Day Novel contest and drank two cases of Coke during that spree. I still depend heavily on caffeine but I’ve become wary of it. I think the stimulant effect is desirable, but for me, it comes with an edginess or anxiety which is counterproductive to my writing. I find I’m often better being a little undercaffeinated. Give me enough coffee to wake up, then some sugar, and no more coffee the rest of the day. This is completely the opposite of how I always did it before, but it seems to work better.
Nah, I don’t even mess with the stuff. I’m mystified why people want to get themselves hooked on a drug with such nasty downsides. Of course, that’s what we all think about OTHER people’s drugs. We’re defensive and protective about our own.
I don’t know, man. In the olden days, people had to put oil in their cars. Now with synthetic oil, it’s like you drive around for the entire life of the car with the oil that was in the engine when you bought it. That’s how it’s supposed to work, right?
Do you think of yourself as a weird fiction writer?
I don’t exactly think of myself as a weird fiction writer, but I realize other people think of me that way, and I’m not arguing against it. After a while it’s hard not to think people expect a certain something from you. You can defy it, go along with it, or something in between, but no matter what, you’re aware of the preconception so it affects you somewhat. I also recognize these categories can be a useful shorthand, like if you meet another writer and they ask what you do, and you don’t have time to go into all your influences and what your work is like. You can just say “Weird fiction, quiet horror” and they get it well enough.
Oregon’s pretty great, really. I’ve lived here almost my entire life. It’s funny, growing up in a place and feeling like it’s distinctly minor league, too small, too quiet, too far removed from everything cool in the world… then to grow up and find it’s maybe the coolest place in the country. I’d like to believe part of this blossoming of Portland’s worldwide reputation is related to my own coming of age. When I was a dorky little kid, Portland halfway sucked. Now that I’m grown up, I’ve made Portland cool. This seems like a pretty good working theory to me.
You ever written a story that was just bad, and tried to fix it, but just gave up?
I think everyone comes out with clunkers every once and a while, they just don’t admit it. Not only do I gladly admit that this has happened to me, but some of my best work has grown out of the rotting, abandoned corpse of a story I’d tried and failed to write years before. I first began doing this as a kind of exercise in discipline, and trying to study what worked and didn’t work by examining the deficits in these busted half-stories. While I certainly have dozens of aborted stories to which I never returned, I’ve found that the ideas that have stuck in my head for years after I gave them up, the characters or settings or plots that seemed too compelling to forget, have formed the basis for some of my most interesting work.. It just took a second try, or third, or even more. Sometimes an idea just needs an extra layer, or a change to a character, or requires the story to start in a different place on the timeline. A given story seed can become something else, something quite different and much better.
Do you like hats?
I admire men who can wear a hat well, and I have heaps of scorn for men who wear hats badly. I hate few things as much as young guys who wear baseball caps everywhere they go. Sorry, dudes.
Do you like bats?
No, but I dig the part of the interview where we fall into a cool kind of Seuss rhythm and rhyme.
Do you have any particular type of music you listen to when you write?
Lots of ambient music, some electronica and film soundtracks and jazz. I almost completely avoid writing to music with lyrics because I find the words draw me out of the story and cause distraction. For most stories, I design an iTunes playlist to create a certain mood, either a feel I want to inhabit while I create, or something that suggests the world or the psyche of the story. Sometimes the playlists are several hours long, sometimes they’re short. Not long ago I finished writing a novel that took something lke five months of listening to nothign but Wardruna. I guess for the rest of my life when I hear Wardruna I will think of the settings and characters of that particular story.
If Scooby Doo was a blood-thirsty murder dog, would we even know it? Like, what if his bumbling persona is just to cover up that he’s been killing indiscriminately for years?
I got nothing, here.
You ever had wrist trouble? I wear these tennis wrist wraps, they look silly but actually work well for days I have to write a lot.
Remember back when everyone had carpal tunnel syndrome. It was like 1999 and everybody had an ergonomic keyboard and all that. I had really sore wrists then. Somehow I manage it now by being careful to face my keyboard squarely, and not at an angle. I think I screwed up my right wrist by sitting so I had to angle that wrist a bit in order to hit the keyboard.
Are you a morning person?
Nah, the opposite. After 23 years of the same day job, I’ve found that you can force yourself to get used to waking up fairly early, but I’ll always be wired to feel more comfortable at night, in the dark. I get more creative work done after the day is over, not before it begins. I’m sitting here typing this in the dark, knowing I have to wake up in six hours for work, but I’d rather do it now than go to sleep and wake up earlier to type these answers. I used to think morning people must be pretty stupid and untrustworthy but I’ve softened this view.
Do you write at night or in the morning, or in the afternoon?
Most of my writing happens during a day long “door’s shut, leave me the hell alone” binge every Sunday. So morning, afternoon, and evening. I might do 9-14 hours straight. Other than that, I grab 60 minutes whenever I can, either right after work, or late at night, several times per week. I definitely feel different, writing at night. I never write with the lights on, and most of the time when I’m writing, it’s in Scrivener in the “distraction free” full-screen mode, a black background and grey-green text. So the room is DARK, nothing to look at but the words. That’s when I really get submerged in the story and feel the rest of the world disappear.
Got any pets?
Yes, a cat. We love the cat but I have to shut her out of the room or else she keeps running into me and yowling for food nonstop. This happened three minutes before I typed these words.
You got a record label, right?
I do. In the mid-nineties I took a break from writing, or maybe had a breakdown and couldn’t do it any more, and spent my creative energy working on ambient electronic music. I started a record label called Hypnos and it actually did really well, became a big thing, kept me busy, and it’s been lots of fun. The world is changing, as far as how feel people about buying music. Most of the people I knew who owned indie labels around the same time gave up. Hypnos is still going strong. My wife does a great job running the mail order. I just need to dedicate more time to putting out new CDs on the label. Life is busy!
I got this song I just wrote “Pissin’ out my ass.” It’s about the struggle of the poor in a classist society.
No, it’s about diarrhea.
Oh, right, a question…
Do you watch college basketball?
Not much, but I watch a fair amount of college football. In fact, I watch every Oregon Ducks football game without fail.
Who do you think would win in a fight, Ross Lockhart or Justin Steele? Follow up, do you think if they fought tag team style they could beat up a paring if Peter Straub and Stephen King, but a somehow younger straub and king?
As much as I think beating people up is pretty important, it makes me sad to think about these two swell guys fighting. Steely wins the tale of the tape, but Lockhart’s got grit. Ross is the kind of guy who’d slice the guts out of some fool who said the wrong word, Ross smiling the whole time, then immediately afterward, sit back with Elinor in his lap, savor a fancy brew and post a picture and some tasting notes to Twitter as if nothing outlandish had ever happened. Justin’s got another decade more seasoning at least before he attains that level of badassdom. Now, just because Steely doesn’t quite match Lockhart as a threat, I have to say these two would easily dro the hammer all over Straub and King even in their heyday-est of heydays.
You like bananas?
I eat a banana every morning. Bananas are fundamental.
Got any plugs?
Just one, but I think it’s a big one. My collection The Lure of Devouring Light is coming out in April. The book includes eleven stories, more than half the word count previously unpublished. It also has my novella Far From Streets, which many people seemed to want to read, but they missed out on the original out of print release. I feel very lucky to be involved with Word Horde, to work with Ross Lockhart, and also to joint an incredible roster of talented writers.
Thanks for the interview, Sean!