You may read Michael's Guest Blog - On the Road Among the Drug-Fueled Face-Eaters: Dark Books and Dark Vacations For Dark Times - here.
TQ: What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
Michael: Magic! On some level, I believe that our stories come from something ancient and soupy in our psychology and mythology. So in order to tap into that, I sometimes do little rituals or make talismans. Or maybe just BUY something that symbolizes the story for me. For example, we were driving across Arizona a few weeks ago on a family road trip, and I had an idea for a book starring Death. Driving across the desert will do that to you; it was like being in a trance. I had this very nuanced, detailed, striking idea, and I was making voice notes like crazy on my phone. And then when we got to the Big Texan Steakhouse in Amarillo, I bought this beautiful pewter bottle stopper in the shape of a cow skull. And I’ll keep it by my laptop while I write that story.
TQ: Who are some of your favorite writers? Who do you feel has influenced your writing?
Michael: Kurt Vonnegut, Richard Brautigan, Daniel Wallace, Christopher Moore, Audrey Niffenegger, Tom Robbins, Patrick deWitt, Ted Kosmatka. These novelists feel absolutely free in choosing how to write, and what to write about. They’re like the test pilots of fiction. If their story is roaring along as fast and high as you think a story can go, and then they think “You know what would really drive this story home would be if a lesbian mermaid retail goddess made the news by quitting her job at Hot Topix!” And that’s where most writers pull back and just have their character step in a puddle or something, and strain to make that meaningful. These guys have the balls to put the mermaid in. Their characters are magicians and hit men and giants and guys who used to work for Nixon. Their stories come after you with a lead pipe.
My wife, Janine Harrison, writes like the writers I’ve mentioned. We met in, and still belong to, the Highland Writers’ Group and the Indiana Writers’ Consortium. Everything Janine does reminds me of the importance of writing about what matters (check out her story “Laundry Day” in A&U Magazine.
Language-wise, I HOPE I’ve been influenced by a few poets. Wallace Stevens, Robinson Jeffers, and two contemporary poets, James Hill and Christopher Citro (christophercitro.com)
TQ: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Michael: Both! I plot like crazy. I make outlines, I decorate walls with index cards. But then I ignore all that shit when I start writing. You can’t PLAN for a book to come to life. It either happens in the heat of going wild on your keyboard, or it doesn’t.
I pantsed a whole novel last year. Between early October and mid-March, I wrote a whole novel – I think I’m going to call it Appalachian Death Ride – on very few notes. Once I started, I never looked back, never made corrections, never looked anything up. And I finished. And I love a lot of it. There’s this guy who gets laid by a ghost when he’s a kid, and years later he’s in a coma for 10 years, and when he comes out, he becomes a sort of coal-country funeral director and shaman who can talk to the dead, perform green burials, and, when called upon, help people die. Okay, so the whole story is there, but it’s a MESS! I’m picking my way through it, line by line, this summer, but it’s like a narrative Gordian knot. I’ve got people alive on page 40 who are dead on page 200 and going fishing on page 215, and have a different name when it’s time for the huge revenge-by-arson scene. I think it will turn out quite well in the end, but right now I’m getting up at 7 every morning and going “Aw, fuck…couldn’t I have made just a few more notes before starting out?”
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Michael: Knowing the difference between a good idea and a dumb idea.
A few months ago, I wrote this story based on a history of famous rainstorms in a small Ohio town. Great idea! I had a blast writing it. Then I was reading it out loud to Janine, and it became obvious that it was just one of the dumbest stories of all time.
Then I had this other story, “The Street of the House of the Sun,” about two Mexican restaurants at war with each other. I kept it in a drawer for two years. Then the editors at The Pinch asked if I’d send them a story. I sent them a couple, and “Street” was one of them. The Pinch published it, and nominated it for a Pushcart. In October, it will appear in The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2012. And I was just sitting on it because I wasn’t sure if it was any good.
TQ: Describe Up Jumps the Devil in 140 characters or less.
Michael: It’s a biography of the Devil as an American trickster. He tempts and taunts his way through history, trying to make Earth better than Heaven.
TQ: What inspired you to write Up Jumps the Devil?
Michael: “The Devil Went Down To Georgia,” by the Charlie Daniels Band, and “The Devil and Daniel Webster,” by Stephen Vincent Benet.
The idea that this mythical god-being goes around getting into it on a personal level with everyday humans…I thought it sounded like the most fun story I could ever write. Not only that, but there were no limits! My character could prowl around in history, do magic, drive anything he wanted, take on any challenge that pleased him. With all that power and freedom, I wound up with a character that one reviewer said was basically a “Joe Six-pack.” I liked that. It means I managed to make the Devil human, and that was the challenge that attracted me to begin with.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for Up Jumps the Devil?
Michael: Wow, what didn’t I do? I read everything I could find about how the idea of the devil developed across history, and across cultures. At one point I had The History of God and The History of the Devil side-by-side on my bookshelf.
I also traveled quite a bit. I visited Salem, Massachusetts, where I learned that the old hill where they used to hang “witches” is now a playground. My friend Josh and I went on an extended camping trip to Gettysburg, Washington DC, and Boston. We visited the White House, and walked the field where Pickett’s Charge took place. We visited Lexington Green, where the American Revolution sort of began. We hiked up Bunker Hill. On my own, I visited Dealey Plaza, in Dallas, where Kennedy was shot. I studied all kinds of books and films about Woodstock. At one point, the Canal Era was going to play a big role in Up Jumps the Devil, so I hiked miles of overgrown canal locks near Piqua, Ohio. I went on a kayak trip down the Blackhand Gorge in Ohio, and we hiked back into the woods to see a canal-era aqueduct that was still in use as a farm road. That turned into kind of an adventure…it was on VERY private property, and my friends Pasta and Dave and I were escorted at gunpoint back to our kayaks.
That kind of thing is my favorite part of writing. I like to believe there’s an Indiana Jones element to it.
TQ: Who was the easiest character to write and why? Hardest and why?
Michael: Oh, the Devil was the easiest. As I said, he came without limitations. Not only that, but the basic idea of the character is already in people’s heads. A lot of my work was already done for me!
The toughest was Memory, the singer. I don’t know if I can explain why without giving away the store. Let me just say that a lot of the book depends on there being things we don’t know about Memory. Also, she has amnesia, so there are things even she doesn’t know.
TQ: Without giving anything away, what is/are your favorite scene(s) in Up Jumps the Devil?
Michael: I guess my very favorite is the guitar duel, deep in the swamp, with Two-John Spode.
After that, I’m partial to the chapter where he temporarily sheds his immortality and his powers as part of a bet, and then the Battle of Gettysburg breaks out all around him.
TQ: What's next?
Michael: Oh, I’m trying to master that other book I mentioned, about the Appalachian shaman. After that, a book kind of in the same vein as Up Jumps the Devil, except featuring Death as a walking, talking character. Not an original idea, but I think there’s a lot of new ground to be broken, there. I wonder where the research for THAT one will go.
I might also work on an old, set-aside manuscript called Apollo’s Ghost. The main character is an alcoholic surfer and astronaut whose life falls apart after he gets back from the moon, so he fakes his death. Then he embarks on a cross-continent trip with Jim Morrison, who has also just faked his death, and they’re trying to reach this Pacific island where both are worshipped as gods. You know how I said I had a hard time telling if an idea was dumb or not? I’m thinking that one over pretty hard.
I just bought a Mustang GT, so I’m looking forward to the research trips.
Up Jumps The Devil
Up Jumps the DevilEcco (HarperCollins), July 3, 2012
Trade Paperback and eBook, 368 pages
A stunningly imaginative, sharp, funny, and slyly tender novel featuring the Devil himself, John Scratch.
He's made of wood. He cooks an excellent gumbo. Cows love him. And he's the world's first love story . . . and the world's first broken heart. Meet the darkly handsome, charming John Scratch, aka the Devil. Ever since his true love, a fellow fallen angel named Arden, decided that Earth was a little too terrifying and violent, John Scratch has been trying to lure her back from the forgiving grace of Heaven. Though neither the wonders of Egypt nor the glories of Rome were enough to keep her on Earth, John Scratch believes he's found a new Eden: America.
John Scratch capitalizes on the bounty of this arcadia as he shapes it into his pet nation. Then, one dark night in the late 1960s, he meets three down-on-their-luck musicians and strikes a deal. In exchange for their souls, he'll grant them fame, wealth, and the chance to make the world a better place. Soon, the trio is helping the Devil push America to the height of civilization—or so he thinks. But there's a great deal about humans he still needs to learn, even after spending so many millennia among them.
Overflowing with imagination, insight, and humor, rippling with history and myth, Up Jumps the Devil is as madcap and charming as the Devil himself.
Up Jumps the Devil Pinterest Board (under Michael Poore)
Book Tour Dates, Summer 2012:
July 14 - Jay & Mary's Book Center
1201-C Experiment Farm Rd.
July 19 - McLean & Eakin Booksellers
Yellow Chair Series
307 E. Lake St.
Aug. 7 - Boswell Books
with Lev Grossman, author of The Magician King
2559 N. Downer Ave.
Aug. 16 - Schuler Books & Music
(Downtown Grand Rapids)
40 Fountain NW
Grand Rapids, MI
Aug. 24 - Barbara's Bookstore
810 Village Center Dr.
Burr Ridge, IL