Michael G. Williams is the author of the short story DADDY USED TO DRINK TOO MUCH in the
NEW Vampire Anthology
He is also the author of PERISHABLES and TOOTH & NAIL (The Withrow Chronicles).
Daddy Used to Drink Too Much
Percy came to me for the first time when Mama had been dead for sixteen days.
She’d waxed and waned like some consumptive moon for years, chasing normal life just like a cat after a string. One day in the middle of what had been a pretty good spell she said she felt real weak. That night I watched her eyes go blank while the sun set. She let out a long breath like a chain clanking and that was that. I’d never seen a person die but I could feel her go when she did.
Daddy walked over the hill to town for a preacher. When they returned the next afternoon I’d washed Mama and wrapped her in a sheet. Daddy dug the grave that night while the preacher and I sat with her. The reverend fell asleep eventually but I stayed awake all night listening to the shovel strike earth, out in the clearing beyond the creek, down a hole that could never be big enough to contain our grief.
I was sixteen so I basically ran the house already with all the time Mama spent sick. Daddy and I went through the motions for a few days without saying much, following our habits in heavy silence. Mama and Daddy grew up together in a little town over the mountains between Tennessee and North Carolina. There’d been bad blood between their people so they ran away. Mama and Daddy went southwest along the ridges, up and down old logging roads, until they found a place without any opinions about them at all.
Town was most of a day’s walk on deer trails and abandoned mining or logging roads. Times were bad all over in the Depression but worse than anywhere up in Appalachia. Daddy found work for a while with a logging operation but it closed so he was stuck doing odd jobs. Mama would sew now and again. When her hands were steady she’d tat lace flowers twice as pretty as the real things. Mama would mail them to a store in Asheville; a few weeks later the store would mail her a little money after the tatting sold. Sometimes they’d send colored thread and a special request. Mama would always fret over those custom orders the most but she’d be so proud when she was done. We were all good with our hands, good at making things and doing for ourselves. I learned as much as I could from her as a little girl, before sickness crept in one bloodied handkerchief at a time until Mama was frail and tired. I read, too. Every Christmas and every birthday I’d get new shoes and books. Sometimes Mama would get books mailed to her from that store in Asheville. On warm evenings I’d sit out front under a tree and read of things that could never happen set in places far away.
Mama and Daddy were both pretty free with how I was permitted to spend my time, what I could read, how I could think. They ordered me books from all over, grownup books from distant places. Mama said they didn’t want to keep me ignorant the way they’d been kept. There was one thing absolutely forbidden me: Daddy was always clear that he wouldn’t have spirituous drink in the house. Sometimes he’d get worked up and rant about it. When he wasn’t around once, I asked Mama why. “Daddy used to drink too much,” she said. Her voice was quiet even though he was down the hill working in the corn. “He gave that up when we got together. Him and me, we saved each other from a lot of things by coming here. He’s trying to save you from it, too.”
I went to a school down the hollow, an hour’s walk away, when Mama was doing well and they could spare me. Daddy would always ask me when I got back if there were boys at school who were “troublemakers or drunkards”. He’d warn me that most young men only want one thing and they’d use liquor to get it from me. He never said what it was but I had books aplenty to tell me that. READ MORE
Michael G. Williams is a native of the Appalachian Mountains and grew up near Asheville, North Carolina. He describes his writing as wry horror or suburban fantasy: stories told from the perspectives of vampires, unconventional investigators, magicians and hackers who live in the places so many of us also call home. Michael is also an avid athlete, a gamer and a brother in St. Anthony Hall and Mu Beta Psi.
Michael’s INTERVIEW with Fiona Mcvie
Name Michael G. Williams
Age Physically 39, mentally 23.
Where are you fromI was born near Asheville, NC, and live in Durham, NC.
A little about your self…
I grew up in a very rural area surrounded by shadowy woods and oddball characters and, though I moved as far away as I could manage the second I had the opportunity, I am extremely grateful for that upbringing. The middle of nowhere is both sheltering and smothering. In college I became a brother in St. Anthony Hall and a brother in Mu Beta Psi, both of which did a lot to encourage creativity. I have a degree in Performance Studies from UNC Chapel Hill and work in information security. I’m a professional geek, which is a lot like being a very specialized type of plumber. It demands a type of creativity very different from writing, which I find is important to having anything left to devote to my work.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
My very latest is that my short story “Daddy Used to Drink Too Much” will be featured in Wrapped in Red: Thirteen Tales of Vampiric Horror from Sekhmet Press. This has been an extremely productive year for me overall: I published a short story on my own, published Tooth & Nail (the sequel to my first novel,Perishables) and have a short story titled “The Several Monsters of Sainte-Sara-La-Noire” in the recently-released Theme-Thology: Invasion from HDWP Books.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
Storytelling is highly valued in my family and in traditional Appalachian culture in general. I was listening to people relate oral histories as a tiny child and wanted to get in on the action. I tried to write a novel in third grade. It wasn’t very good, but it was a lot of fun. I was lucky enough to have some teachers who really encouraged me, very early on in life, so by the junior high school I was really trying to mimic my favorite writers and explore different ideas. Again, I’m not saying they were great – I was no savant – but I was doing my adolescent best.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I considered it an important hobby by age 14 or so. I started calling myself a writer, however, when I started doing National Novel Writing Month and was really working to accomplish long-form stories and challenging myself to work across different genres. That was in my late 20’s. Prior to then it was something I enjoyed but not something I considered myself always to be doing. NaNoWriMo really put me in a mindset of always being preparing for the next project. That made a huge difference in my thinking.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your story?
“Daddy Used to Drink Too Much” is based in part on a desire to see the other side of a vampire story: the perspective of the people who are victims, the people who have to try to put their lives together once the Count is sated and goes on his merry way. Vampire tales are often encrypted stories of abuse, of personal relationships (sexual or otherwise) fouled by power disparities and of the corrupting, intoxicating nature of that power. Lots of works derive their horror from a close study of the monster and I wanted to focus instead on the humans who may find themselves just as monstrous in their own way.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
Almost everything I write is genre fiction, usually some flavor of vampire or detective story or, when I’m really feeling it, vampire detectives. I also write the occasional science fiction story. I enjoy literary fiction but genre fiction is also literature and it’s way more enjoyable to write. I also write almost exclusively in first-person. It’s much easier for me. It lets writing be a role-play exercise and I find myself just as surprised by the ending as the characters are.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
Titles are very, very important to me. I almost always have a title before I have a story. The title is something about which I’ll do a little brainstorming and then I’ll let it bake until one pops into my head. The rest of the story is informed by that title. I knew for this anthology, for instance, I wanted to write a vampire story set in Depression-era Appalachia. It was a setting I hadn’t explored but of which I’d heard many stories from relatives. I knew right away I wanted the title to feel a little colloquial to reflect the rural setting and to give it the right ambience. The word “daddy” occurred to me right away so I let that sit for a day or two as various phrases cropped up: “Daddy Won’t Wake Up” was one that came to mind but for which I didn’t have a story; “Daddy Darkness” was another; “Fetch Daddy a [Something?]” was another. Eventually the phrase “Daddy Used to Drink Too Much” came to mind. I liked it, and it immediately suggested the question of to whom it could be attributed. That got me thinking about a narrator and the story blossomed from there.
Fiona: Is there a message in your story that you want readers to grasp?
We are not the sum of our errors, nor are those we love cursed to bear them for us.
Fiona: How much of the story is realistic?
A great deal of it, actually. The notion of a family tucked away high in the mountains in a stagnant economy with little but one another and their overshadowing past is no feat of fantasy. There are elements drawn from my own ancestors’ biographies.
Fiona: Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Hmmm. Given the content of my story, I think maybe I should plead the fifth on this one. Heh.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most?
Reading Dracula in seventh grade was absolutely life-changing. The epistolary format and the notion of friendship and trust overcoming the looming darkness were incredibly important to me. It made me seek out close friends with whom I could create strong bonds and it made me want more stories about how big concepts or larger-than-life characters could impact the individual experiences of baseline humans. It’s a very personal novel, in terms of the characters and the narrative arcs they experience, and that gives it its power.
On the other hand, reading Foundation in college was also perspective-shifting. It’s a story about how whole societies can be affected by one small person at a time. Over and over again, Asimov’s stories are about how the fates of entire civilizations are decided in small moments by exceptional but entirely believablepersons. They are amazing reading and they definitely inspired me to activism.
Fiona: If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
If I could attend a writing workshop with any writer, it would be Terry Pratchett. He creates such compelling characters and his stories are so driven by their motivations rather than by arbitrary events, but he has this incredible ability to keep the world alive and changing and tell a huge, overarching story over many, many novels. I could read his books over and over again for the rest of my life.
Anne Rice has to be the substitute teacher on days Sir Terry is under the weather, however.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
Real talk, here’s my currently-reading list:
Monsters of the Gévaudan: The Making of a Beast (Jay M. Smith): non-fiction about a completely real werewolf scare in early-Renaissance France.
Food for the Dead (Michael E. Bell): non-fiction about completely real vampire scares in 19th century New England.
The Black Knight Chronicles (John Hartness): humorous and adventurous vampire fiction set in NC.
Pirate’s Honor (Chris A. Jackson): fantasy adventure fiction set in thePathfinder world and written by a really nice guy who lives on an actual boat.
House of Leaves (Mark Z. Danielewski): exceptionally good multi-format literary horror.
Junius and Albert’s Adventures in the Confederacy (Peter Carlson): non-fiction about two journalists who traveled south during the Civil War.
The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane (Robert E. Howard): classic tales of the renegade Puritan on a mission to scrub the world of injustice, mostly by stabbing it.
Operation Trojan Horse (John Keel): delightfully crazy ideas about the nature of all sorts of paranormal phenomena, UFOs and other bits of weirdness cropping up in the experience of humanity to exhibit highly irrational behaviors. Excellent reading for anyone who needs to refill their tanks with the truly weird.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. I’m usually “currently” reading anywhere around a dozen books. It takes me forever to finish one, yes, but I have to be able to flit between them. We don’t get our ideas from nowhere. We get our ideas from what we consume and digest and so we must always be consuming if we want always to be producing.
Fiona: What are your current projects?
Right now I’m mostly working on editing Deal With the Devil, the third novel inThe Withrow Chronicles, my vampire series set in the small-town and small-city South. It’s a five-book arc in which I tackle different genres by inserting into them a misanthropic gay vampire from the 1940’s who lives in suburbia. I love writing Withrow and I love getting to play around in suburban fantasy (as opposed to urban fantasy). It started with Perishables (a zombie story), thenTooth & Nail (vampire novel) and now Deal With the Devil is a superhero book. The fourth will be a spy novel titled Attempted Immortality and the fifth will be a war story titled Nobody Gets Out Alive.
I’m also crazy excited about the anthologies I’m in this autumn. Wrapped in Redand Theme-Thology: Invasion both consist of really incredible stories.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
St. Anthony Hall (also known as the Fraternity of Delta Psi), hands down. My brothers and sisters are a community of people who believe in one another and the ideas of one another. It challenged me to think for myself, to defend my conclusions and to seek new ways to present myself.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
No, I see it as a vocation. It isn’t just what I do, and I’m not sure it will ever pay the bills, but it’s what I feel I should do.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Only a couple of hundred thousand things, I’m sure. I have never met the writer who was truly satisfied with a story, no matter its publication status. That’s one of the skills we have to develop as part of our craft: we have to learn when to type THE END and let it go so we can move on to the next idea. Some creators never figure that out. It was one of the first big unexpected temptations I experienced in self-publishing: realizing I could go back and “fix” the Kindle edition of a novel any time I felt like it. I’ve had to be very strict with myself.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
From “Daddy Used to Drink Too Much”:
It was a high, lilting tune and in my mind I always saw a lonesome figure tracing some far horizon as they made their way from this world to the next. The boy’s voice was as pure as an angel’s and I barely breathed as he neared the house. I hadn’t thought on that song in years but it seemed to have been written just for me.
The singer–Percy–emerged from the woods singing one of the last lines:I want to shout salvation’s story in concert with the blood-washed band. He looked about my age with long orange hair and pale skin gone silver in the moonlight. He wore dark clothes and an old gray cloak called an Inverness coat. It had a coal company logo on it in bright white stitching. Percy was thin, like he’d snap in a strong wind. He smiled at me. His canine teeth were bone white, sharp and long as the blades on a pair of sewing scissors.
I knew exactly what he was, from books.
From Deal With the Devil:
A couple of other vampires and I were watching the local youth ballet perform Dracula in hypnotic slow motion when a perfectly pleasant autumn turned into a whole heap of trouble. It started with a scent: the faint but distinct sickly sweet bloodstench of a fellow predator – another vampire, one I didn’t recognize – in an auditorium I’d expected to hold only humankind. One sniff sent the hairs on the back of my neck straight to standing and I groaned to myself in over-privileged complaint. I’d gone there to get a little culture and found politics in its place.
The ballet performance was good but not great. To be honest, that’s one of the things I liked best about it. At human speeds of perception it probably looked fine enough, maybe a little rickety in the way of every event staged for proud parents and nervous instructors. Ground to a supernaturally slow pace, that same ballet performance took on a poetry improved by its imperfections. A child – a teen, but gods: a child! – was skillfully yet inexpertly donning the mantle of that classic monster and I loved every second of it. The best art speaks to something universal and at the same time to something deeply felt and personal: Faulkner’s tales of familial claustrophobia, a lasting pop song, painted landscapes that snare the viewer’s mind by rearranging all the colors and textures of their local palette into somewhere familiar they’ve never been. These kids were doing the same with the archetypes of predator and prey.
The teenager in the title role was depicting a monster we’d all seen a hundred times, sure, but he was also showing us himself as a monster: how it would look one day when he would stalk one or another type of prey. That probably didn’t occur to the average mom or pop in the audience but their children were on stage hunting and fearing and slaying one another to the applause of those who loved them and it was important – it was art – not just because of the skill or the time they’d invested in it but because they too would one day face monsters and chase each other and they would maybe kill or be killed. These children were dancing us a dream of the nightmares that kept them awake into the gray hours and so too their society. In wide arcs and graceful swoops – and trembling embraces and slightly staggered tempos – their frail vitality contrasted the inevitability of vitality’s end and I reveled in that irony.
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
I’m terrible at outlining and at plotting things out in advance. I tend to jump into the idea, mid-scene, and see what happens. I’m always terrified my story is going nowhere as a result but so far it’s worked out and it seems to be a necessary part of my process. The occasions on which I’ve tried to outline have large been exercises in measuring in how many syllables of written text I would utterly diverge from the planned outline.
Fiona: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
Favorite? As in, one? Oh, I can’t. Let’s try three:
I am in constant awe of William Faulkner for his incredibly personal and unflinching stories of the good and the bad of life in a small town. The Sound and the Fury is a book every writer should read. Every single writer, bar none, even if they don’t like him, needs to read that book. It has taught me volumes about getting inside the heads of different characters.
Another of the ties for first is Anne Rice. Again, she specializes in the intensely personal and the passions of individuals bound together by fate and circumstance. She figured out how to talk about people whose lives are dangerously lived on the fringes of society: people whose loves or families or other priorities are inescapable by them and intolerable to society. If that isn’t compelling character design, I don’t know what is. Her descriptions are just to die for.
The third tie for favorite is Isaac Asimov. Lots of people find him dry and scientific but that’s part of what’s so amazing about him: his characters have passionate motivations derived almost entirely from their own intellectual pursuits. He didn’t write novels about people who come into conflict and meet with successes or failures just to provide events in a soap opera: his characters are chasing ideas.
Last, H.P. Lovecraft was just amazing. He’s considered to be incredibly creative, but it’s actually possible to see lots of earlier authors’ work in his own output. That isn’t to say he wasn’t creative, though. He worked slavishly to combine his own ideas and interests with a highly concentrated selection of the best and most intriguing ideas he encountered – as every writer does – to come up with something entirely new. I think there’s an argument to be made that he invented the horror/sci-fi crossover. Without him, our shelves would be much thinner, much less interesting. There would be no Alien, no X-Files and countless stories in between.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
I do very few in-person events, though I would love to do more. I love traveling and I love sharing my stories with new people and getting to seek inspiration from those places. Every time I go somewhere I find myself seeing it through my characters’ eyes. Withrow loves Scotland; his cousin Roderick prefers Key West.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
The covers for The Withrow Chronicles have all been done by John Ward.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
In the case of “Daddy Used to Drink Too Much”, it was definitely editing it down to the word count limit Sekhmet Press placed on submissions! Ha! I tend to be verbose. (Can you tell?) On the other hand, that was good, important work. It helped me come up with a voice I hadn’t used much before. Withrow is a rambler but the narrator of “Daddy Used to Drink Too Much” is much more terse.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Write. Do not let yourself get caught up in anything that is a distraction from writing. Lots of writing groups and writing circles and meetups and the like exist for writers and they are all, in my experience, a way to prevent one’s self from doing actual writing. They are a way to talk about writing and pretending that’s as good as writing. Avoid that trap.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
It’s my hope that my work makes them a little uncomfortable and a little intrigued and a lot entertained. I want my readers to like my characters enough to follow them into the darkness so I can show them something new once we’re there. It is so flattering when that happens: when a reader connects with my work and makes me feel it was worthwhile. I cannot overstate my appreciation for the generosity they show by giving me their time and attention and I sincerely thank them.
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