I’m always pleased to put out the word about stories that have the fantastic leaking into the real world – even more so when they incorporate small-town living. With that in mind, I’m very pleased to be a stop on Michael Williams’ tour for Vine: An Urban Legend.
I’ve got a great interview with Michael, but first I want to introduce you to him and this really intriguing book!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michael Williams was born in Louisville, Kentucky. Much of his childhood was spent in the south central part of the state, amid red dirt, tobacco farms, and murky legends of Confederate guerillas. He has spent a dozen years in various parts of the world, Vermont, New York, New Jersey, Wisconsin, with stopovers in Ireland and England, and emerged from the experience surprisingly unscathed.
Upon returning to the Ohio River Valley, he has published a series of novels of increasing oddness,combinations of what he characterizes as “gothic/historical fiction/fantasy/sf/redneck magical realism” beginning with Weasel’s Luck (1988) and Galen Beknighted (1990), the critically acclaimed Arcady (1996) and Allamanda (1997), and, most recently, Trajan’s Arch (2010). His new novel Vine will be released this summer.
He lives in Corydon, Indiana with his wife, Rhonda, and a clowder of cats.
SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS
- Michael Williams Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/michael.williams.33046
- Michael Williams Blog: http://michaellwilliams.blogspot.com/
SJ: Every writer has some sort of process. Give us a glimpse into yours.
Do you meticulously outline? Do you write depending on what calls are
MW: As we begin, let me just say that these are all wonderful questions—thoughtful and fresh. That being said, it’s a shame that the first answer is going to be rather dull.
Yes, I meticulously outline, but outlining for me is kind of like MapQuest—something to point me in the vicinity but something I also acknowledge is gonna be nowhere near accurate. In fact, by about the fourth chapter of any novel I’ve done, the story takes on its own life and energies, and the outline goes into the dustbin, having already served its purpose.
SJ: Bonus question – Do you put on a cape and do a chant before hunkering down to work? Sacrifice anything? Along with your process, what’s your quirkiest writing habit?
MW: The main thing that hunkering down gets you is pretty simple: it gets you started, without which you’re never going to write, are you? Most writers I know sacrifice quirkiness to diligence, because it’s a regular job. You punch the clock and do the work.
I have found, though, that in order to maintain a distraction-free climate, I’ve had to do certain things at certain times in my career. When my two boys were young teens, I had this practice of wearing a baseball cap while I write: that way, if I was walking around or lying on the couch and I was actually working, it was a signal to both of them that I was not to be disturbed right then. This worked for a while, until the younger son brought a friend over, who greeted me as I walked through the room, only to be yelled at by Shane, who said, “No! No! He’s WEARING THE CAP!” Made me decide that I’d better simply be inconspicuous rather than encourage neighbors with torches and pitchforks to surround the house.
SJ: Are you a meticulous planner or do you believe in the muse? Where do your ideas come from? Do they filter in through your dreams? Do they show up at inopportune times and whap you upside the head? Do they result in a shady deal with a dark power?
MW: Oh, I’m a firm muse believer. Planning is good to get you started, to point you in the right direction, but there has to be room for surprise. If I’m never surprised by what I am writing, then it’s a pretty clear guarantee that the readers won’t be surprised, either, and I’d rather they would. Dreams and epiphanies are welcome, and deals with dark powers generally happen when you sign the contract with the publisher (I’m kidding, Blackwyrm, I really am).
SJ: bonus question – If your muse had a physical manifestation, what would he or she look like and how would she or he act? Is it a sexy superhero version of Callisto? A sharp-tongued rogue? A reptilian alien? Do they have a catch phrase?
MW: Actually, Vine is filled with Muses. The traditional nine appear in chorus to comment on the events in the book, though some of the Muses talk more than the others. That being said, my principal Muse in Vine is T. Tommy Briscoe, a 60-ish, homeless Elvis impersonator, glittering with lamé and smelling of Mogen David. Because why not? He inspires, and given his appearance and background, he can be nothing less than forgiving, I think.
SJ: What’s the book/story that’s closest to your heart? Is there a piece that you clearly feel is a piece of you? Do you play favorites?
MW: When it comes to my books, I’m like one of those horrible fathers you hear about: “I love them all the same, but _____ is my favorite”. I say it to each of them in private, so the others don’t hear. But I only mean it when I say it to Trajan’s Arch, because of all my books it’s clearly the most autobiographical. Please don’t tell the other books: each of them thinks it’s the apple of my eye.
SJ: If you could only write one genre ever again upon pain of being sacrificed to Cthulhu, what would it be and why?
MW: Fantasy. I owe it one: for introducing me to the love of reading, for starting me in my writing career, for continually reminding me of the layers of wonder that hover around us and above us and beneath us. Fantasy encourages me to read the world as a poem, and that’s the way I discover meaning in my experience.
SJ: What’s your biggest frustration as a writer? What do you consider the downside, or is there one? Is there any cliché that makes you want to wring people’s necks?
MW: My biggest frustration is plotting. I envy writers who can readily put together one of those plots where everything falls into place like that old Mousetrap board game everyone played when they were kids. Plotting is hard, hard work, filled with redirections and backtracking, and I always hope I get it right, and always think it could have been better.
Are you talking verbal cliché? That’s what comes to mind for me. I think that when someone refers to my work as “whimsical” because it’s fantasy, that really bothers me. “Whimsical” strikes me as all unicorns and rainbows, and you’d be lucky to find one of those damned things in anything I’ve done, because…jeez, I’m getting all worked up just thinking about it.
SJ: If you had to be stuck in one of your own books/stories for the rest of your life, what would it be and why? If you had to stick a loved one in one of your own books, what would it be and why? An enemy?
MW: I’d be in Arcady, as would my loved ones. A fantasy world set inside English Romantic Poetry (also set inside Kindle now—so much for a shameless plug!). Because who wouldn’t like being dropped into something written by Blake or Keats? An enemy I’d sentence to Vine: it’s a world that starts out funny but darkens pretty quickly. You’ll see.
SJ: Do you think it’s possible to develop a sure-fire recipe/formula for success as a writer? Would you want to, or does that compromise the art or the fun of it?
MW: It would be the worst thing that could happen to me as a writer. It would tempt me to do the same thing over and over, when the chief source of my joy is to do things different each time out.
SJ: Everyone has words of wisdom for young writers, so I’m not going to ask you about that. With a few unknown writers becoming success stories, a lot of people seem to think it’s an easy career choice. What would your words of wisdom be to these people?
MW: It’s not an easy career choice. Especially with the publishing industry in flux. There are more opportunities now than ever before for an aspiring writer to be published, but being published is not your ultimate goal. Nor are book sales, though we all promote books and like royalty checks. What is important is that your principal satisfaction always comes from what you do, not how you market it. I’m dismayed sometimes at the convention discussions in which sales pitch takes the place of poetry: you may or may not think my books are any good, and that’s your call, but no amount of marketing is going to make the books any better. Your primary duty as a writer is to write well, god damn it, not to peddle your wares like an encyclopedia salesman. I know that you want your work to be read by more and more people, but the first obligation (despite what people may say and despite how much they may scoff at me for saying this) is to your art.
SJ: It seems like everyone likes to gang up on certain genres as being inferior, less meaningful, or cheap entertainment (especially if it’s speculative in nature). Make a case for the genre you write.
MW: I’m completely beyond having to make a case for fantasy. I’m an academic, and I defended my work for years, since I worked with Dragonlance and since Weasel’s Luck came out in 1988. The face of critical study is changing. There are articles and books being written about fantasy and fantasists. Part of this is due to a new generation of scholars who grew up reading and loving fantasy fiction, and, as their literary judgments have matured, have moved past snobbery and (frankly) class prejudice to advocate the cultural worth of fantasy—and of science fiction and mystery and romance, for that matter, although these are not my genres. What’s more, I find myself more drawn to genre-crossing than to writing more traditional fantasy; in that, I share common ground with more “literary” writers, the principal contrast being that they are too timid to own up to writing fantastic fiction.
SJ: What do you want people to instantly think of when they hear your name or your work mentioned?
MW: Someone who doesn’t compromise his standards. I suppose I have, on occasion, but I’m working toward not doing it at all.
SJ: Please tell us about your latest/favorite work or a little bit about what you’re working on right now. It’s plug time, so go for it!
MW: I’m beginning a new book, but this blog tour is designed to promote the most recent novel, Vine. Vine is a contemporary Greek tragedy, set in a small Midwestern city: an amateur theatre director undertakes a production of Euripides’ Bacchae, his idea being to disrupt his small-minded, staid community (which is how he sees his town, a judgment that is both fair and unfair). Well, the catch to his enterprise is that he doesn’t know that these plays were religious, that they were written to call forth the god when performed. Inadvertently, then, he summons the god Dionysus into the here and now. It doesn’t end pretty, although there’s enough humor and poetry along the way to entertain, I’m hoping.
Vine: An Urban Legend by Michael Williams
Genre: Mythic Fiction
Amateur theatre director Stephen Thorne plots a sensational production of a Greek tragedy in order to ruffle feathers in the small city where he lives. Accompanied by an eccentric and fly-by-night cast and crew, he prepares for opening night, unaware that as he unleashes the play, he has drawn the attention of ancient and powerful forces.
Michael Williams’ Vine weds Greek Tragedy and urban legend with dangerous intoxication, as the drama rushes to its dark and inevitable conclusion.
To follow the rest of the tour, go HERE