Saturday, May 16, 2015

Interview With Michael Hodges, Author of THE PULLER.

I discovered Michael Hodges a few years ago when I ended up doing a promotional blurb for a novel he and his agent were shopping around. Later, he sold a novel to one of my publishers (Severed Press) and I was absolutely floored at how well written it is. Truly a spectacular book and a great debut for a guy who I think is going to produce many wonderful works of fiction.

He has agreed to do a short interview here at my blog. And here it is:

JRS: THE PULLER is one of the best monster novels I've read in a very long time. Unique in many ways. What gave you the premise for the critter, and is there a Lovecraftian element to the monster?
Thanks, James. The premise is a combination of things. Back in my late teens I spent the night in my single cab Toyota pickup (the one in THE PULLER) in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I drove deep into the woods to see where the logging roads ended  (they didn’t). Then I woke at 3 am with terrible anxiety, and proceeded to haul ass down the main forest road. For whatever reason, I felt I needed to flee from something. What exactly I couldn’t say. I remember my headlights creeping me out as they illuminated the tunnel canopy. The other is from the Evil Dead. I loved the camera work where you were the “spirits” zooming towards the cabin while the Pompei-era Pink Floyd noises played. I wondered what it would be like to have this happen in reverse, that if Matt Kearns tried to leave the cabin, he’s pulled back by something he can’t see.

As far as a Lovecraftian element, I was not conscious of it while I wrote the novel. The Being (or the Puller, take your pick) is really anything you want it to be, which is why I don’t truly show what it is. It’s nature’s defense mechanism against over-logging. It’s some random thing that came down during a massive solar flare. It’s your significant other abusing you. It’s your job you hate. It’s a disease. The Puller is anything that keeps you where you don’t want to be.
JRS: What about the setting? Why the Huron Mountains? Have you spent a lot of time there?
Michael Hodges: Yes I did. I spent many weekends there in the summer and falls of my youth. I chose the Huron Mountains because they are one of the oldest ranges on earth and because I am familiar with the flora and fauna. But they really aren’t mountains anymore, more like sad knobs. They were once as tall as the Rockies. There’s something melancholic about that which compels me. It makes us feel small and weak. If these once grand mountains can’t survive, how can the human species? Then of course, there’s the flipside: they’re still there, aren’t they? There’s always a kernel of contradiction which attracts me.

The Hurons, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan has .01 percent of its original old growth forest remaining. The place was absolutely hammered. Yet it still harbors wolves, cougar, and fisher. It’s taken a beating, but somehow, someway, keeps wriggling its toes. The story of Matt Kearns is no different. Also, some of the best examples of the last old growth exist back in those fold of granite. If value is judged by scarcity, those are some valuable trees.

JRS: I admired the way you made integral characters out of wild animals? Does this reflect your feelings about the creatures who live on the planet with us?

Michael Hodges: I  don’t consider animals as “lesser” than human. I believe that every living thing should be treated with respect and kindness.  Writers who focus solely on the human perspective and urban ecosystems lose me.  It’s such a limited viewpoint, and completely self-involved. There’s so much more to this world.
JRS: You mentioned to me that you did not outline the novel. Did this make the act of writing it easier, or more difficult? Was the process thus more organic than it otherwise might have been?
Michael Hodges: Easier. I had a basic premise (a guy trapped by an invisible creature at a mountain cabin), and went from there. Each day I’d get more ideas while writing and jot them down in Windows Notepad if they didn’t fit into the day’s word allotment or sequence. I love how Stephen King describes this as “uncovering a fossil” each day. Others call it “pantsing”. The joy of discovery is like a drug for me. 

First drafts are by far my favorite part of the writing process. And I like your word choice of “organic”. The character is trapped, let him/her work their way out organically. Get out of the way and let them tell the story.
JRS: Have you placed any more novels with any publishers?
Michael Hodges: We are in the process of that. I have seven novels completed and ready to go. I want the next novel sale to be its own thing. I have series-itis. I think I’d kill myself if I had to write fourteen books on the same character….I don’t care how much money they gave me. I  just couldn’t do it. Time is more valuable than money.
JRS: What can you tell us about the film option and the people who will be producing the movie?
Michael Hodges: Well, I’m not sure I can say a whole lot. But I can tell you it’s the talented Sonny Mallhi, producer of THE STRANGERS with Liv Tyler. It’s an amazing film.
The first draft of the screenplay should  be nearing completion. I’m thrilled Sonny has the option, because he makes movies about people being trapped, and I write novels about people being trapped. I think he’s going to make an incredible movie.

I want to say here that Michael is a unique and multi-talented individual. He earns part of his living as a wildlife photographer of great skill. I am hoping to get him to showcase some of his favorite wildlife photos here at the blog in a day or so.

THE PULLER by Michael Hodges.
And here's my review of Michael's first novel. I mean what I say.

"My first reactions was that this can't possibly be a first novel because it is so well constructed and so effectively written. But it is Hodges' first publication in novel form. What he does here is absolutely amazing and THE PULLER is easily one of the best monster books I've read in many years (at least since Owl Goingback's CROTA).

Hodges delivers some exceedingly fine prose throughout the novel and creates a sense of place that is sharp and clear. I've never visited the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, but Hodges makes me feel as if it is now familiar territory. And not just familiar, but at the same time striking and damned frightening.

THE PULLER deals with the story of a young man (Matt Kearns) who retreats to his family's fishing cabin located in the wilderness of the forests in the Huron Mountains overlooking Lake Michigan. He's there to gather his thoughts and collect his emotions after the deaths of his father, his girlfriend, and his loyal dog. While there, he encounters and is subsequently trapped in the isolated cabin by a monstrous creature referred to as "the Puller" (you'll find out just why, and it's not pleasant). It has been a very long time since I've seen a writer create so effective a monster as the Being in this book.

Along the way to this situation we are treated to a number of fascinating characters that include a cast of animal inhabitants of the Upper Peninsula, all of whom have some connection to Matt. Hodges proves himself to be a master of foreshadowing and of connecting disparate strings of plot to weave an absolutely startling tale. His skills are so good that you don't expect the prose to be uniformly perfect, but that is the case.

THE PULLER comes with my highest recommendation. It is, as I said, one of the best monster/horror novels I have read in a very long time."

1 comment:

  1. Excellent Q&A. Thanks for sharing.

    I'm looking forward to seeing some of Michael's wildlife photos.