Michael Rowe was born in Ottawa in 1962 and has lived in Beirut, Havana, Geneva, and Paris. An award-winning journalist, and literary nonfiction writer, he is the author of Writing Below the Belt, a critically-acclaimed study of censorship, erotica and popular culture, as well as the essay collections Looking for Brothers and Other Men’s Sons. His essays, articles, and reviews have appeared in the Globe & Mail, National Post, The Advocate, and The Huffington Post, as well as CFQ, The Scream Factory, All-Hallows, among many others. For 17 years he was the first-tier Canadian correspondent for Fangoria. He has won the Lambda Literary Award, the Randy Shilts Award, and the Spectrum Award, and has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award, the Associated Church Press Award, and the International Horror Guild Award. As the creator and editor of the critically acclaimed horror anthologies Queer Fear and Queer Fear 2, he was hailed by Clive Barker in 2002 as having “changed forever the shape of horror fiction.” He is married and lives in Toronto. Enter, Night was his first novel. His second, Wild Fell, was published in December 2013 by ChiZine Publications.
Michael kindly answered a few of my questions…
Kristin Centorcelli: Congrats on the Shirley Jackson Award nomination! Will you tell us about your novel and what inspired you to write it?
Michael Rowe: Wild Fell is a classic ghost story set in Georgian Bay. In many ways it’s about what ghost stories have always been about—the intrusion of the past into the present, unpaid moral or ethical debts coming terrifyingly due, and the permeability of time. It’s also about fathers and sons, fathers and daughters, and the violence families can do to one another behind closed doors with impunity. And it’s also about small towns, and how the lives lived in small towns have the entire epic, towering drama of lives lived in cities, and perhaps even more. The fact that most of us don’t hear about them doesn’t make them any less dramatic. Mostly, though, it’s about a big, creepy haunted house and how—with every respect and due to the legendary Shirley Jackson—whatever walked there, walked alone.
KC: What, or who, have been some of the biggest influences on your writing, and why did you first begin writing?
MR: I started writing at a very young age—younger than ten. Aside from a very real desire to channel my imagination into telling stories, there was a magical aspect to creating worlds on paper that appealed to my sensibilities as a child. I have a distinct memory of sitting in the back yard of our house in Ottawa very earnestly trying to write a story about a 17th century witch who had come back to life in the modern age. I think I was about ten. I read constantly, especially horror and science fiction. I was very fortunate in that I had parents who regarded reading as essential to my development, and very generous about allowing me to read whatever I wanted to read, for the most part. I’ve kept a diary off and on since I was about eleven, so the act of writing has been a constant. I published my first piece in a real magazine—a love poem in ‘TEEN magazine—in 1977, when I was fifteen. You never forget the first time you see your byline, ever.
As to the influences on my writing, there’ve been almost too many to mention. In my earlier years, hands-down the fantasy novels of Alan Garner. With regard to my horror writing specifically, aside from the expected—Stephen King, Robert McCammon, Clive Barker, Michael McDowall, Jonathan Aycliffe, and especially Peter Straub, who continues to kick down the doors and walls of “genre” and its alleged literary restrictions—I continue to be influenced, or at least inspired, by the work of Susan Hill, who has written the most brilliant and terrifying classic ghost stories of our age, most notably The Woman in Black. My “classic” grounding includes the work of Emily Bronte, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry James, Poe of course, and the M.R. James school of English supernatural fiction. And of course, Shirley Jackson, who somehow managed to serve America some of the best fiction of the 20th century without the gatekeepers of “literature” ever really realizing they were reading first-rate horror fiction.
KC: If you could experience one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
MR: It would be the original Dracula. I was nine years old, and the book literally changed my life. Aside from setting me on the career path on which I currently find myself as a writer, it was also the first time a book had ever lifted me up out my world and into a completely different one. It was like astral projection—the countryside, the castle, its inhabitants, they all became real to me. I had the great experience of re-reading the opening sequences of Dracula in the courtyard of Castle Bran in Transylvania a few years back when I was on assignment in Romania for Fangoria. The essay, “Dreaming in the Land Beyond the Forest,” which appears on my blog on my website, and was originally published in The Advocate in 2004, is about how real literature can become to a child when it impacts them at a young age.
KC: What does it mean to you to be nominated for the Shirley Jackson Award?
MR: This award is the award I hold in the highest possible esteem. It’s named in honour of a writer whose work I respect beyond measure, it’s juried by an erudite, sophisticated, literary panel of judges. I’ll always be a Shirley Jackson Award finalist, and even being nominated for this award is richer than winning some others. What it mostly means to me is that, as a novelist, I’m going something right, which is a tremendous inspiration to work harder and up my game as a writer.
KC: What’s next for you?
MR: I’m working hard on my third novel, and I have a short story collection, The Devil’s Own Time, coming out from ChiZine, most likely in 2016.