Patrick C. Greene Unveils Michael G. Williams
HIS SHRINE TO SANTA MUERTE
in the new anthology from Sekhmet Press
Hi Michael! Thank you for joining me today. Let’s kick off this interview with the most important question. Have you ever encountered a ghost?
What kind of music do you listen to for inspiration?
It depends a lot on the genre, of course, but I tend to listen to a lot of low-vocal electronica or symphonic when writing and outlining. I want something moody but nothing that will put words into my head. Favorites are Covenant, iNTROSPEKT, Philip Glass, Bit Shifter, Brian Eno, Combustible Edison, Octex, Hot Chip, The Seldon Plan, Glows in the Dark or Robert Rich. If I’m writing something set explicitly in another era, I tend to lean heavily on the music of that time. If I’m doing noir-ish stuff I listen to Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Dianne Reeves, The Carolina Chocolate Drops or even Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings. I’m sorta-kinda working on a series of novels about an unlikely amateur detective in the gay subculture of Nashville, TN, in the 1980’s and for that I just fire up anything I liked in high school. Heh.
Have you ever started a project, felt it run out of steam and had to abandon it?
Absolutely. I have to imagine every writer has. If they haven’t, they probably aren’t listening to that voice in their head telling them the current project just isn’t ready for their attention. I have to let projects “bake” for a long time, both before and after the first draft. I have to give myself time to think up what I hope will seem clever or interesting on the page and seem all the more so for being experienced more densely than I imagined them over time. I have a Lovecraftian short story called “A Shadow Over Appalachia” that has been started and abandoned multiple times in the last three years. It just isn’t ready for me yet, nor I for it, and time is the only solution. There’s something about the main character and his voice I haven’t figured out yet and I have to wait until I find them. I’m not even sure what it is I’m missing. C’est la guerre.
What’s the most shocking book or story you’ve ever read?
Fledgling by Octavia Butler. It reached right down into my guts and up into my brain and twisted both all around with its story and characters and their relationship. It accomplished what I think many of us want: total cognitive dissonance. I found myself rooting for its incredibly unsettling protagonists despite really wishing I had never heard of them.
Do you remember a particular moment or incident that made you decide to be a writer?
I don’t remember which one, but it was a Nancy Drew book. I loved those when I was a kid, and I still do, and I had so much fun reading them I decided I wanted to make something like it. For whatever reason, the switch was flipped to make me realize someone had invented Nancy Drew and made up stories about her and it didn’t take magic powers to do so.
Do you have a certain space and time set aside for writing or is it more of a free-form process?
I do almost all my writing on weekends at a particular coffeeshop. The staff are friendly – the owner declared me their author laureate – and it’s close enough to home to walk or bike but far enough to be sequestered. If I write at home, other demands intrude on my time and attention. I have to go somewhere with easy access to caffeine and sugar and use my ancient laptop (preferred because it cannot play any current videogames). When I hear people say they write all the time, whenever, wherever, in tiny snippets as they get the chance, I feel tremendous respect for them. I have to set aside time and it has to be long enough for my brain to settle down and words to start coming out.
How would you describe your writing style?
First-person sarcastic. I like sassy protagonists and I like to write from their perspective alone so I get to spend all my time in their heads. First-person narratives have a lot of built-in mechanical advantages in the genres I prefer: hard-boiled, noir, investigative stories mashed up with sci-fi or horror or close studies of gay life. They come preloaded with potential for a narrator who misses a detail or doesn’t “get” something or isn’t reliable to begin with. They let the character I find most interesting tell me a story as I write. I love that.
What other sorts of themes or genres would you like to explore?
My major themes tend to be aging and the power of social support networks. Mostly I write stories about people who find themselves living in what I call, in my own life, “the undifferentiated now”. They don’t have kids or extensive families to act as living calendars reminding them of time’s advance. They’re blessed and cursed with the ability not to notice the days going by until all of a sudden they’ve gotten older and so have all their friends. Whether these characters are vampires, gay men or lonely detectives – character types to which I keep returning – they find they have to rely on the found families they have around them, the social networks of friends and neighbors and other persons who care about one another by choice rather than by obligation. All the blessings I’ve enjoyed in life have come to me through the people for whom I care and who care about me. We all need those: friends and lovers and someone to recommend books.
Please briefly describe your path to publication.
In 2012 I won a regional writing contest with an unfinished novel called Perishables. That prompted me to finish it and some friends suggested I self-publish it on a lark. I did, but I was terrified to identify myself as someone who wanted others to read his work because, like, what if it was terrible? Instead, I set about an experiment in which failure was explicitly allowed: I wanted to see how tough it would be to sell a copy of Perishables to ten persons I did not already know. I was very public about this and turned it into an open-source marketing and publishing thing, kind of performative in nature, and that got me some attention from other writers and self-publishers. The next thing I knew, I was having a couple of short stories published in anthologies and people were asking for a sequel to Perishables. So, here I am: three books into a five book series and debating which series to start when The Withrow Chronicles conclude next year.
To date, I have never queried an agent. I should get on that, but it seems like it would take a lot of effort away from writing and writing is the part I enjoy.
Who are your favorite fictional antagonist and protagonist and what was it about them that struck a chord for you?
My favorite fictional antagonist is Dracula. He’s so weird by modern standards: he comes from this remote place, way up the mountain, and he really grates against the modern sensibilities of the people who find him. (This resembles my experience of being a college freshman in significant ways.) He thinks he’s charming when in fact he’s terribly off-putting. At the same time, his differentness generates a real allure. He appeals to the most old-fashioned and selfish parts of ourselves, the parts of which we must be most wary.
My favorite protagonist is Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. He’s a wiseass and a good guy who can be kind without suffering the compulsion to be nice. He’s a human being who’s been wounded and like any other injured creature he’s dangerous to provoke. The language Chandler lets flow through Marlowe to us, the readers, is music. I consciously chose not to read the last 20 pages of Farewell My Lovely some years ago because I’m not ready to live in a world with no more Marlowe left for me to read.
Aside from writing, what is your favorite artistic medium?
In terms of my participation in it, photography. I love to take photographs and I love to view the photography of others, whether they’re fellow photographer friends or professionals exhibiting their work. (If you’re my friend on Facebook and you ever wonder whether anyone actually looks at the photos you post, I totally do.)
I also love music and spent years both as a symphonic musician (trumpet, french horn and clarinet) and as a choral singer and director. I don’t have many opportunities to participate in music anymore but I am always listening to something.
Thanks again for joining me today and letting us get to know you better. I wish you the best of luck with Wrapped In White and all of your future endeavours.
Michael G. Williams is a native of the Appalachian Mountains and grew up near Asheville, North Carolina. He describes his writing as wry horror or suburban fantasy: stories told from the perspectives of vampires, unconventional investigators, magicians and hackers who live in the places so many of us also call home. Michael is also an avid athlete, a gamer and a brother in St. Anthony Hall and Mu Beta Psi.