The 7Q Interview: Michael Griffin

August 27, 2018



Michael Griffin’s books include a novel, Hieroglyphs of Blood and Bone (Journalstone, 2017), and short fiction collections The Lure of Devouring Light (Word Horde, 2016) and The Human Alchemy (Word Horde, 2018). His stories have appeared in magazines like Apex and Black Static, and the anthologies Looming Low, Eternal Frankenstein, The Children of Old Leech and the Shirley Jackson Award winner The Grimscribe's Puppets.


He's also an ambient musician and founder of Hypnos Recordings, an ambient record label he operates with his wife in Portland, Oregon. Michael's blog is at and on Twitter, he posts as @mgsoundvisions.




#1. Looking back, what’s one fiction book that you feel truly made an impact on your writing? Do you still gravitate towards that author?


#1. My answer might be surprising, in that I'm guessing most people familiar with this book and also my own work might say, "I really don't see any of that influence present in your work," but a book that set me off on a certain angle of approach to storytelling was The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. Obviously there’s no “weird” element in that, but it contains some elements that I still think about and include in my own work. First, there’s the tension created by an unmet desire, looming over and casting a shadow across everything. So much of what’s wrong in that story, what’s wrong with the characters, or what they ache for and can’t have, or what someone else is doing that’s driving them crazy, is completely submerged beneath the surface, spoken about barely or not at all. The characters interactions are so dysfunctional and doomed, I love it. They can’t stop themselves from pursuing a certain terrible path, and just focus on finding pleasures along the way, seeing beautiful sights or having interesting food and drink. In a sense I’ve remained somewhat bound to that template, even though my own stories incorporate more strange elements.


Another very early formative influence that isn’t a book, but still feels importantly connected to where I am now, is the Twilight Zone TV show. I loved that the focus of stories for a wide, popular audience could be on inexplicable mysteries and confusion and impossibility. It’s still wonderful!


#2. How do you feel about the use of sub-genres in the industry? How do you describe your work overall?


#2. I don't really object to genre and sub-genre classifications the way some writers do. I think it's normal for people to want to classify the books and movies and music they enjoy. There's so much material out there, if subdivisions help people to narrow things down and make it easier to find what they want, that's okay. The only time I have any problem with it is when readers approach a book with narrow preconceptions because of the genre it’s tagged with, then imply the book is a failure because it didn’t fit that preconception. The most common example would be horror fans who really only want to read about blood and guts or monsters, and dismiss anything that doesn't include those elements as "not really horror." I think genre functions well to help people find what they need, and narrower sub-genres can do the same, and the only time we really run into trouble is when people have different ideas of what fits within the boundaries.


Though others have referred to my work as "quiet Horror," I have mixed feelings about the term, I guess because it seems to imply that it’s just horror, but with the volume turned way down. I usually refer to my writing as Weird Fiction, or if I'm talking about it with someone unlikely to understand that term, I say it's Horror with a creepy, psychological focus, rather than being about blood and violence and monsters.


#3. What about your writing process do you think is unique or quirky? What’s the worst writing advice you’ve ever received?


#3. The most unusual thing about my process is that I'm almost entirely focused on revision, and don't really bother trying to write a "good" first draft. My stories usually start from a bunch of notes, and I arrange these into an outline, expand the outline into a synopsis broken into scenes or chapters, then start filling in the synopsis as I go along. I go through it many times, with each pass not really stopping to make big changes, unless I encounter something really wrong that I just can't leave alone. Each time I go through, I see the story and the characters and settings a little more clearly, and it becomes easier for me to fill in specific details, or make the dialogue more interesting. My final drafts might not include anything from the first draft, and along the way might go through stages of being longer, then shorter, then longer again. This process means it takes me longer than most to write a story, and I'm always trying to find ways to proceed a little more straightforwardly, and produce more work.


I’ve seen a lot of terrible writing advice, and almost all the really bad advice I’ve seen is sort of the same thing, which is applying rigid, specific rules to writing in the form of “you must always…” or “you must never…” We’ve all seen this, things like “Real writers must write every day,” or “eliminate all adverbs from your writing,” or “avoid using said as a dialog tag,” or “avoid using any dialog tag other than said.” Even when this kind of advice contains some nugget of worthwhile insight (for example, sometimes using too many adverbs indicates a lack of care about choosing the right verb), absolutes like these aren’t doing anybody any good. I have to admit, I’ve become less interested in hearing anybody’s advice about writing, because what works for everyone is different. That’s not to say I don’t consider what people say works for them, and give it a little thought -- for example, I’m considering trying to handwrite my first drafts again, as I used to do, after having seen others talking about why they like this. It’s just that I think that kind of advice should be taken as “Here are some ideas you might try, things that might or might not work,” rather than iron-clad proclamations of absolute right and wrong.


#4. How does music and media factor into your writing? Do you feel it plays as much an inspirational role as literature?


#4. Music impacts my writing in many ways. Not only do I always listen to music whenever I’m planning or writing or editing a story, but music often finds its way into the story itself. Most of the time if I imagine my characters listening to something, I find that I have to listen to it over and over while I write. Even if specific music doesn’t become part of the story, though, I always have something going while I write. 


If I’m planning or outlining or brainstorming, I can listen to all kinds of music, but if I’m actually writing out the story, I usually have to listen to something kind of subdued and atmospheric, and usually something without words to distract me. Lots of ambient music and soundtracks. When I’m having a really hard time focusing on the story and my mind is wandering, I put on headphones and play minimal or repetitive music. Lately my main go-to for this is Transamorem Transmortem by Eliane Radigue which is a very simple electronic drone, but which always gets me into the perfect mental groove for writing.


As far as actually inspiring my work, giving me ideas and that sort of thing, I’m not sure I take much of that from music, but sometimes from movies or TV. It’s not often I watch a film or TV story and end up inspired with a new idea for a story of my own, but what often does happen  is that I may come up with an idea for a specific element, or a line of dialog, or some kind of conflict or event, based on what I’m watching, which works for the story I’m already writing. I keep a little notepad and pencil nearby in the living room and often scribble some note to myself about an insight that comes to me in the course of watching.


#5. As an author, how much do you engage in social media? Do you feel it is more for your own entertainment, or for marketing and networking?


#5. I've engaged in social media quite a lot, maybe too much, at last as seen from the angle of all the time it takes. I've mostly done it for fun, though, and because I've enjoyed the engagement, the discussions and the new friends, rather than because I'm driven there to focus on self-promotion. It did become clear, though, after I began publishing, that I was sort of obligated to take part in self-promotion and networking. While I’m lucky that I usually find that kind of thing fun and natural, it’s also true that even if I didn’t want to participate any longer, I would probably have to for the sake of spreading the word about my writing. 


Lately I've found myself wishing I could withdraw from Twitter and Facebook, not because I don't still enjoy my friends -- I do feel that on balance the interaction is still fun and rewarding -- but because those networks have been increasingly revealed to have treated their users and our private information in ways that I find harder and harder to accept. Really I just wish there were some new alternatives people could move to, in the way that we moved from AOL and Usenet and Livejournal and Myspace, and I could follow my friends to new networks that worked better than Ello or Google Plus or Vero, but behaved better than Twitter and Facebook.


At this point, almost all my friends live somewhere other than Portland, so it would be nice if we had some kind of electronic meeting area that minimized the worst of the negative aspects we’ve all been forced to accept from the big social networks.


#6. Where do you see the future of horror fiction heading? In turn, what changes would you love to see, either socially or technologically?


#6. I’m not sure I have a great sense of where Horror fiction is heading. The wider genre seems to be doing pretty well, with lots of writers and publishers and readers all keeping the cycle going. I have a little better sense of what’s going on in the narrower subgenre of Weird Fiction, and that seems to be thriving and pretty dramatically expanding. There are so many great writers, amazing editors and cool publishers of all sizes, so now we have more cool stuff to read than anyone could really keep up with. It’s a good problem to have, and I don’t know where this will all end up. Will “the Weird” remain a subset of Horror, or will it break out? Will someone come up with a better name for it? Will more of the writers from our narrow little niche make the jump to the mainstream, as Jeff VanderMeer seems to have done? Even if the Weird scene just remains something like what it is now, I’ll be very happy to keep soaking up all the wonderful new writing that’s happening around these parts. 


#7. What can you tell us about any forthcoming projects? What titles would you like to promote now?


#7. My second collection, The Human Alchemy, just came out a couple months ago from Word Horde. It’s still so new, I can’t yet tell how it’s going to be received, but it’s the book I’m most proud of overall. 


It may be some time before the next new thing comes out. In the past year I’ve spent a lot of time writing a novella and a novel, both of which were set aside temporarily before being quite finished, and now I’m working on a new novel. So at this point, I have a lull in publishing where I focus on writing the next thing, and people will have to check out my existing books. One thing I’ve learned as a writer is that sometimes there’s more writing happening and less publishing, and sometimes the reverse. It seems like people continue to purchase and read The Lure of Devouring Light, my first collection, and I hope that book and The Human Alchemy will each send readers toward the other, since the two books are sort of a matched set. 


The Human Alchemy


The Lure of Devouring Light











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