Funny thing, when I'd started Unnerving Magazine, I was very familiar with subbing and the function of small lit mags (to a point), but I knew very little about indie authors. Meaning, I had no idea Michael Wehunt was such a fantastic writer when I emailed him these questions.
Q: What is your most recently published work?
MW: Standalone work: My collection, Greener Pastures, which came out in April from Shock Totem Publications. Most recent overall: My novelette “I Do Not Count the Hours” in Paula Guran’s The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu: New Lovecraftian Fiction.
Q: When did you first begin writing fiction?
MW: In 2011, after fighting it for a long, long time. The decision to do it kind of crept up on me, but it felt very sudden. I was rereading King’s Skeleton Crew (the story “Sorry, Right Number,” which isn’t even one of my favorites) and felt it bubble up. I’d loved horror so much when I was a kid. I wanted to write it when I grew up. But by the end of my teens, I’d stopped reading it entirely. What happened? Had I really been that scared of writing for so long? Yes, I had been that scared, and I was tired of it. So I did it.
Q: Who are the authors that influence your work most?
MW: Flannery O’Connor, Laird Barron, Annie Proulx, James Dickey, Robert Aickman, and I try to read Cormac McCarthy only sporadically because I automatically want to mimic him.
Q: What has contributed most to your successes?
MW: This is what I would like the answer to be: A conscious effort to write in a mode that gives horror and literary equal shares of my attention. I can’t write unless it is on a sentence level as well as the overall arc of a fiction. I hold a special place in my heart for those who have two important things to say at once, those who tell stories that make your skin crawl while also peeling open a character’s life to examine the contents while paying close attention to the characters as flesh and blood people. And I try to be a part of that search for the profound, where these two things overlap. Finally, in my secret thoughts that aren’t that secret as of the writing of this sentence, I hope people think I can write creepiness really well.
Q: Do you have any stories you regret writing or releasing?
MW: My first three or so stories very quickly went into the trunk, but after that I was lucky. My third published story, “The Anything Cloak,” gives me a little pause. I haven’t read it in quite some time and would probably be mostly okay with it. It’s a little clumsy but not embarrassingly so. But not long after I wrote it, I read Joe Hill’s “The Cape” and realized the central conceit and theme (while somewhat different) had been done a lot better already. That was an ouch moment.
Q:Is there a subject or theme you haven’t written about, but would like to, if so, why?
MW: I would like to write a period piece one day, something long and deep that involves pulling up the roots of a religious movement in colonial America or a subject along those lines. When God was more biblical. But I don’t know that I ever will. I find myself always mired in the present, looking at how we live right now. Nothing else has yet held me with a grip approaching that.
Q: What is your favorite scary book and why?
MW: Laird Barron’s Occultation and Other Stories. It’s his second collection but the first I ever read, and I was hooked. That book was my window into weird fiction, cosmic horror, contemporary awesomeness, all of it. Five years on and I’m still reeling from it. But for all his strengths and all my nostalgia, the biggest reason of all I place Barron on a special pedestal is that he is one of the very few authors I’ve encountered who can really, truly write creepy scenes in which there is a visceral feeling of dread. Masterful, and something I very much aspire to half the time.
Q: What is the grossest thing you’ve ever eaten?
MW: Long ago, someone paid me five dollars to eat a single M&M that had been sitting in a puddle of water under a water fountain for several hours. This was a highly trafficked public place.
Q: What is your favorite horror novel 40+ years old?
MW: I hate to be boring, but Carrie was the first horror novel I ever read, back when I was seven or eight, and so will always be my first gateway, much like Occultation was my second gateway. I knew I was experiencing something important, little kid or no.
Q: What are you reading now and is it any good?
MW: I just started The Fisherman by John Langan, although I told myself I was going to hold off on it for a little while longer. I’ve heard so many good things about this novel. That same meeting place between literary merit and big, cosmic horror. So far it’s wonderful. Langan is another hero of mine.
Q: Do you listen to music while you write, if so, what genre(s)?
MW: I’ve always been a big listener, but I used to require complete silence while writing for some reason. But eventually I worked music into my ritual, and now I almost require it. I listen to a lot of field recordings and drone. Some ambient, too, but it usually is on the dirtier, uglier side. Or records with texture and decay that don’t forget about beauty, however warbled it is. Examples: Indignant Senility, William Basinski, Belong, Deathprod, Stars of the Lid.
1Q: What was the first scary movie that you saw and what about it scared you?
MW: The first scary movie I saw was The Exorcist. I was seven years old. I don’t remember it scaring me at all, and my mother confirms that it didn’t seem to bother me. It had to have bothered me, though, right? There’s some intense and dark imagery in that, and I can’t imagine Regan’s layered and cracked devil voice not getting to me. I’ve only had one nightmare in my entire life, and it was after watching the original Salem’s Lot TV movie maybe a year later. Vampires were chasing me up and up and up through an old house, and a hole in the floor would get bigger with each ascent. So I have to choose that movie by default.
Q: What is the worst scary movie you’ve seen and why does it suck?
MW: Without question the worst scary movie I’ve seen is Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2. I’ve only come close to walking out of a film twice, and that was the closest of the two. The Blair Witch Project is one of my favorite movies (and deserves to be viewed without the hindsight of all the found footage movies it spawned), so for the sequel to be so completely awful…I don’t even remember much about it. In my mind it feels like a long Marilyn Manson music video made for MTV. Soulless. Hopefully the new film will make up for it.
Q: Are you binge watching anything right now, if so, what?
MW: I’m watching Parks & Recreation all the way through for the third time. That show, The Office, 30 Rock, and Arrested Development are on an every-two-to-three-year re-binge loop. I love all four and they’re a huge help in decompressing after the shrieking horrors of the day job.
Q: Do you have any reoccurring dreams, if so, what are they?
MW: I almost never remember my dreams. I might go three or four years without having a clear memory of a dream, and I probably have fleeting, vague impressions of ten dreams a year. As far as I know, I’ve never had a dream twice, and they’re always very mundane. Once I dreamed that I stopped and picked up a receipt off the floor, saw that it was boring, and dropped it. It doesn’t get much more boring than that. Not sure what that says about me as a person and a writer.
Q: Who’s your 90s pop-music spirit animal?
MW: I was utterly, completely absorbed in Björk in the 90s. I still love her, but back then I really, really, really loved her. Every inflection in her voice made me happy.
Q: If you could you join a TV cast and live it as real life, who would it be and why?
MW: The Office (US), for a very boring reason: It’s quiet and they all have such wonderful chemistry. In the end, even if they don’t want to be, they are a family.
Q: Do you have a favorite Lois Duncan book, if so, which?
MW: I had to look up the title because it’s been so long, but the only one I ever read is Killing Mr. Griffin, so that wins be default. I never read much of her or Pike or Stine.
Q: What would your course of action be if you found an alien living in your attic/basement/car trunk?
MW: I’d do the right thing and alert whatever authorities I felt were best, but first, if communication were at all feasible, I would try to have some conversation and ask all the usual what-does-it-all-mean questions. Is Laird Barron just making up all the Old Leech stuff? I would try to create at least one inside joke. The alien’s well-being would be paramount, though.
Q: Is there an editor you haven’t worked with, but would like to?
MW: Ellen Datlow. I won’t say why because anyone reading this will know why. Okay, fine, it’s because she’s the best.
Q: If you were to retell a Tom Selleck film into a horror or sci-fi story, which is it and how would it come together?
MW: Quigley Down Under was big in my family as a kid. My parents love westerns, although I never cared much for them. Too much whitewashing. But Quigley would give me a chance to write that period piece I mentioned earlier. But it would have to involve the fall of colonialism in this alternate history, along with some creepy outback creatures and a strong sweep of the Weird.
Q: If you could write a story with any author, living or dead, who and why?
MW: As someone who’s never co-written anything, I’ll be bold and say Chesya Burke. Until recently she was an Atlanta author like myself, so I find her to be a bit of a kindred spirit. But—important distinction—she could teach me volumes about myself as an author and a person. Her skill is formidable and her viewpoints are things I can learn from. I have great admiration for her, and everyone should go check out her collection Let’s Play White.
Q: What are you working on now?
MW: I have a couple of commissioned stories to write, and I’ve got edits coming up for my novella that’s coming out on Dim Shores this fall, titled “The Tired Sounds, A Wake.” But soon, for the first time ever, I will be starting a novel. I’m excited and appropriately nervous to see what happens. I’m sure I’ll learn a great deal and find out more about who I am as a writer.
Michael Wehunt grew up in North Georgia, close enough to the Appalachians to feel them but not quite easily see them. There were woods, and woodsmoke, and warmth. He did not make it far when he left, falling sixty miles south to the lost city of Atlanta, where he lives today, with fewer woods but still many trees. He writes. He reads. Robert Aickman fidgets next to Flannery O’Connor on his favorite bookshelf.
His short fiction has appeared in many places, including multiple best-of anthologies. His debut collection, Greener Pastures, was a finalist for the Shirley Jackson Award, shortlisted for the International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts’ Crawford Award, and published in Spain, where it garnered nominations for the Premio Ignotus and Premio Amaltea, winning the latter. It is available from Apex Publications. He is currently at work on his first novel and pondering the order of the stories in his second collection. Website.