1. When/why did you decide to become a writer?
I read my first novel—The Black Stallion—in first grade. It enthralled me. I asked to use the typewriter my aunt had loaned my mother, and I sat with that book open to the first page, transcribing the words. I was mesmerized how letters formed words, words became sentences, and sentences became paragraphs. All forming a movie of words rather than pictures in my head. I knew I had to do this. I needed to create my own stories.
2. What authors inspired you when you were younger? What books do you enjoy reading today?
Walter Farley, the author of The Black Stallion series inspired me first. Then I discovered Ray Bradbury a few years later. I devoured every story and novel of his I could find. After that came Stephen King. Wow, he really blew my mind! At my grade school I was the only one who knew about Stephen King. Maybe because we were still so young! But I thought I’d discovered this new author, a treasure few people had heard of. Then in high school I saw his books everywhere. I learned that he was just about the most popular novelist ever! So much for my secret find. I still read King’s novels and short stories as soon as they come out. Peter Straub is a favorite of mine. And I recently discovered John Sandford. He’s terrific!
3. What was the inspiration behind your novel Blood Vengeance?
Blood Vengeance was very much inspired by my own move to San Francisco, though my experiences lacked the supernatural! I had very little money and lived with a friend in the Tenderloin. A lot of crazy stuff went down there. I wanted to write about the loneliness and confusion I felt at the time, as well as about that dark, dirty aspect of San Francisco that is hidden away from the touristy and wealthy districts. All that set the stage for this idea growing in my head: the ghost of a serial killer continuing to torment his victims.
4. Why did you decide to write about a bullied character? Was there any significance?
I was never bullied outright, but I endured more than my share of teasing. Growing up gay in a small town in Wisconsin—and in a parochial school—was tremendously difficult. Those days have haunted me throughout my life. I read all those horrible news stories about kids killing themselves because they don’t fit in. Or being killed by classmates! It is an issue with which I’m deeply connected. At least in small part, Blood Vengeance is about triumph over that.
5. What was it about serial killers and the dead that interest you?
I remember when the police arrested Jeffrey Dahmer. That all happened while I was learning to drive, and all the radio stations reported constant updates while I was out practicing. I’m from Wisconsin, so that was local news. My recollection is that no one even knew a serial killer was murdering in Milwaukee. Dahmer kept his victims, so there wasn’t a body count. Then all of sudden, here was the devil right in my home state, killing young gay men. There was so much speculation. That was a different kind of horror than with traditional serial killers. All that terror was dumped in our laps all at once. That’s what sparked my interest in the “serial killer genre.”
6. Were any of the characters personalities or emotions taken from real life?
There’s quite a bit of me in Brennan. We like the same books, same movies, same music. We think alike. But he’s certainly not a mirror image. I took my own experiences and used them as a starting point for him. All the other characters are mostly made-up. Though I think it’s inevitable that quirks and traits of people I’ve met will end up informing characters I write.
7. What other genres would you like to try your hand at?
I’m very happy being a dark fiction writer. Fortunately, that covers many topics. I can see myself writing more dramatic-themed novels, not so supernatural or outright horror. The dark corners of human psychology interest me.
8. What would you do if you were dealing with Brennan's paranormal experiences?
Run for the hills! Seriously, though, I hope I’d have the presence of mind to keep my cool. He handles it all pretty well. Of course, he has Tara to help. She’s the voice of reason and logic. That’s really the point of the book—of Brennan’s group of friends. We all have different voices inside us. Sometimes they point out our own flaws and insecurities, or tempt us into doing the wrong thing. But just as often, they suggest ways to make us better people.
9. Everyone loves horror for different reasons. Why are you, personally, attracted to the genre?
First and foremost, I love to be scared. And I’m a huge horror movie fan. I like sitting alone in a dark theatre—or at least in my living room with all the lights off—and being genuinely frightened. Ghost stories and haunted house tales are my favorites. More and more, horror movies are going for shock and gore. I like that, too! I enjoy many foreign horror movies; those tend to push the envelope further than American horror. In writing, the extreme horror and splatterpunk movements are interesting. But what truly gets me is a slow, tension-building novel or even short story (or movie). I like feeling off-kilter. Kafka, Poe, and Lovecraft were all masters at creating unease. That a thrilling experience for me. I hope to create those same feelings with my own work.
10. Would you like to see Blood Vengeance as a film? If yes, who do you want to see play your characters?
I would love to see a film version of Blood Vengeance! Kier Gilchrist (It Follows) would be perfect for Brennan. Or Kodi Smit-McPhee (Let Me In). And though he’s older than the age I’ve written for Uncle Marc, I always imagined Mark Ruffalo in that part. Jayden Smith would be wonderful as Alex.
11. Where do you see yourself and your career in the next ten years?
I will hopefully have ten more novels out! I want to steadily increase my readership, to reach more people. All I want to do is write stories for the rest of my life. I hope I can entertain—and disturb—a lot of fans.
12. What would you be doing if you weren't writing?
I’m sure I’d be teaching English and literature at a small college. All my friends told me I would make a great teacher—that my excitement about reading was contagious. Of course, I’m sure that I would still be scribbling short stories when I came home at night.
13. Can you tell KSR what you're working on next?
My next book, Edging, is at my publishers now, awaiting final edits. That one is DeLillo’s White Noise meets Peter Straub’s Floating Dragon. I had a lot of fun writing it. And right now, my third book is ready to come to life. It’s burning a hole in my mind.
14. What authors, dead or alive, would you like to collaborate with?
Friend and fellow author Jason White and I have discussed writing a screenplay together. Nothing is written down just yet. I also wonder if Stephen King and Peter Straub would bring me aboard for another Jack Sawyer adventure.
15. Thank you for participating in the interview. Can you please leave the readers with three things that may surprise them about you?
I love Pink Floyd and saw them in 1994.
I don’t like fruit salad. I don’t like all my fruit touching each other, juices mingling. I like to eat things separately.
My husband and I have three cats: Casey, Oliver, and Lizzie. They are all spoiled rotten.
Bio: Michael Schutz-Ryan was born and raised in the frozen tundra of Wisconsin. He attended the UW-Stevens Point and graduated with an English degree from the Madison campus. A lifelong diet of Ray Bradbury and Stephen King whet his appetite for the macabre. A lover of all things horror, he plumbs the depths of Netflix in search of scary movies, and then podcasts and blogs about them on Darkness Dwells (http://www.darknessdwells.com) His debut novel, Blood Vengeance, was recently published by Permuted Press. His short fiction has been featured in the anthologies Ugly Babies, Cranial Leakage: Tales from the Grinning Skull, Beyond the Nightlight, and in the magazines Infernal Ink, Expanded Horizons, and SQ Mag. He lives in northern California with his husband and their three furry cat-children.