Q: Tell us your background and what made you become a writer.
MICHAEL: I started writing back in 1994, after a short stint as a music reviewer for a local paper. I'd always been a horror/SF fan, and decided that it would be fun to try my hand at self-escapism. It worked. I really loved creating, although I really wasn't very good at it. I'd received some wonderfully positive rejections from magazines like Deathrealm and many of the other small press magazines that I'd found through Scavenger's Newsletter, a monthly market report newsletter for horror writers. That kept me going, until my first couple of sales to magazines like Heliocentric Net, Crossroads, and Pirate Writings--which is still publishing under the Fantastic Worlds title. It took a long time, a few years, before I really felt comfortable with my voice, and at that point I started writing my first novel ATMOSPHERE. It was at this point I gave up my dream of becoming a rock star-I sold my Les Paul guitar and bought a laptop. Still use the same heavy laptop, in fact. Anyway, I've always been interested in horror, every since I was a little kid and used to sneak glimpses of horror movies on TV (one movie I saw as a kid, DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK, was the catalyst for my Golden Eyes stories, which led to the writing of my recent novel, DEEP IN THE DARKNESS), or the real-life ghost story books at the library--you know those ones with all the fake photos of 'ghosts'? In junior high, I was reading the likes of Piers Anthony and Alan Dean Foster, and soon moved on to King, Barker, McCammon, ad Koontz. I haven't been the same since. I think it's instinctual--my daughter, who's three, is fascinated by the scary scenes in Snow White and Sleeping Beauty and other classics. A real chip off the ol' block.
Q: DEEP IN THE DARKNESS, your second book, is definitely a city-dweller's nightmare. Does your living/working in NY have a big influence on that?
MICHAEL: Well, it did while writing ATMOSPHERE, which takes place in NYC. Being here everyday, and being so familiar with the streets and the scenery and the general feel of Manhattan, gave me a lot to work with when tackling that first novel. ATMOSPHERE tours many places in NY, Midtown, The Village, The Bronx, The Trainyards... I knew it all, so it made it easy for me to take the reader there. The second novel I wrote, SLEEPWALKER, which is more of a modern SF/Suspense-Thriller, takes the readers into the burbs, where I live. Again, it was easy for me to describe everything in that book because I'm really there everyday. The scenery in SLEEPWLAKER (which, incidentally, will be out later this year from Delirium Books), is really based on my hometown of Melville/Huntington. That was fun to twist some horror into. With DEEP IN THE DARKNESS, well, I knew it had to take place in a small town full of wooded land, as was evident in the Golden Eyes shorts stories. So, I went with New England and the fictional town of Ashborough. I did a bit of online research on New England, but not a lot. I really had a feel of imagery in my head for this, and I went with it. Back to your question, the answer is yes. There's a good deal of my personality in the big-city doctor Michael Cayle, and I placed myself in his shoes and tried to envision how I would act if under similar pressures, then wrote it all down. I might have done everything the same way he did in the book.
Q: I haven't had a chance yet to read your first novel, ATMOSPHERE. What's the crux of that story?
MICHAEL Atmosphere tells the tale of Frank Ballaro, a close-to-retired police detective who while off-duty stumbles upon a cult-like murder right in his own Manhattan neighborhood. He hooks up with a former Captain, Hector Rodriguez, and together they unravel what appears to be a series of murders where teenaged boys are the victims of bald men wearing black clothing and sunglasses. Sounds weird, right? Well, it gets much weirder. Clue by clue, the pair lead themselves throughout Manhattan unraveling the mystery of the word Atmosphere, the only clue they have, uttered by the first victim of the crime as he takes his last breath. It's an urban horror tale/police procedural, with some very unexpected twists and turns. What's been nice is that people are still discovering Atmosphere, now 18 months after its release.
Q: LEISURE BOOKS seems to be at the forefront of horror publishing and there's obviously a rise in popularity of the horror novel. Why do you think that is?
MICHAEL: Leisure took a shot a few years back by expanding their horror line. And they did it in a very slow and methodical fashion in an effort not to bury themselves too deeply. They were in the right place at the right time. Horror started to make a comeback. The editor, Don D'Auria, was as enthusiastic about the genre as the writers were, and he made efforts to attend cons and get to know the writers that were on the rise. As a result, the writers got to know him, and Leisure, just like that, was leading the trend. Three years ago, Leisure expanded once again to two titles a month, and that still seems to be working for them. This way they can continue to publish some of their mainstay vets like Laymon and Clegg, and bring on some of the newer voices as they had with myself, Gerard Houarner, and Charlee Jacob. Now, you'll see even more new names on their roster, like Brian Keene, Gary Braunbeck (one of the best writers out there today) and James Kidman, in additional to their new regulars like James A. Moore and Tim Lebbon. Leisure also continues to impress today with unique covers that seem to stand out on the bookstore shelves.
As for the rise of the horror novel, well, I don't think it really ever went away. It's just getting better, and the readers are taking notice. There's always been some room alongside the greats that everyone's has read already. So where does one go after a few King and Koontz novels? The Leisure titles, that's who! Now, it is nice to see that other publishers are also starting to take on more horror titles. This is great for the genre, and I don't think we'll see the overproduction of titles that we saw in the 80's. The horror industry has learned from its mistakes.
Q: Who is your favorite contemporary author?
MICHAEL Oh. I have to pick one? Well, assuming that the giants like King, Barker, Koontz, and McCammon are authors of the new 'classics', then I'd have to go with... uh... how do I pick one? Well, there's Simon Clark. His books are big and beefy and suspenseful, not to mention horrific. Blood Crazy gave me nightmares. Laymon, with the support of Leisure, has post-humously made himself one of the genre's hottest names today. Doug Clegg, again, is more popular than ever thanks to Leisure and the current rise of popularity of horror fiction. I also dig Gary Braunbeck a lot, as well as Tim Lebbon. But, since you mentioned 'contemporary' as opposed to just horror, I'll have to throw in Chuck Palahniuk and Michael Chabon, whose work, although considered literary, has crossed over into horrific territories with some pieces. Gosh, can't really pick one.
Q: What is your next novel going to be about?
MICHAEL Okay, there's actually two novels to speak of. One, as mentioned earlier, is SLEEPWALKER, which is completed and will be released in Limited Edition Hardcover from Delirium Books later this year. Right now I have no plans on this being a mass-market release. Why? Well, it's not a true horror novel. It falls into that modern SF/suspense mold-kind of like the stuff Dean Koontz has done in the past with Lightning and The Bad Place. Don't get me wrong--there's plenty of horror elements here, and has perhaps one of the most brutal slayings I've ever written about. It's a long book too, nearly 120,000 words. It's not right for Leisure, nor for any other horror publisher, I don't believe. I would like to see it sold to the mass-market, but as of now do not have an agent, and have no personal contacts at other non-horror publishers. It's too bad too, because in my opinion, SLEEPWALKER is my best book. It's about a man, Richard Sparke, who has trouble sleeping... when he does, the imagery from his dreams seeps into his waking world. Fairly soon, Richard has trouble deciding what's real and what's a dream. There's murder, a lot of murder, and Richard is being investigated by the police, who are hot on his trail. Richard finds no choice but to run from the police and try to discover what the heck's going on. Of course, he finds out, and that's where all the fun begins.
As for my next horror novel, THE DEMONOLOGIST, well, it's in progress at this point, but coming along perfectly. It's an all-out horror tale about a rock star who becomes possessed by a demon. Think The Exorcist meets Eyes Wide Shut meets The Evil Dead. There's influence from all those movies in this, yet, I believe it's an incredibly original story. This book should be completed by the Summer. Delirium will probably do the Limited Edition hardcover in 2005, with a mass-market paperback to follow later in the year.
Q: Anything else you wish to talk about?
MICHAEL Well, for those interested in some new short fiction, you can find tales forthcoming later this year form A Walk On The Darkside, edited by John Pelan, to be released in mass market paperback from ROC. I also have a story coming up in Hot Blood 12, edited by Michael Garrett and Jeff Gelb, forthcoming in trade paperback from Kensington. In addition, you'll find tales of mine in Allen Kozsowski's new horror magazine, Inhuman, and in the anthology Decadence 3, coming soon from Flesh & Blood Press. I'm looking to put together a huge collection of my short stories, perhaps select 30 or so of my all time best tales, new and old, to put them in an omnibus of sorts. Haven't really put any feelers out yet, but it's been about three years since I've had a collection come out. It'd be nice to out a 'best of', so to speak. I do know that I'd like it to be a big book. We'll see how that pans out... I certainly have plenty of material that wasn't published in any of the two prior collections.
I'd like to personally thank everyone for all their support over the years... the enthusiasm of the readers has been wonderful. Anyone wishing to contact me can do so at Michael@Laimo.com. Thanks!