Michael Fassbender is a part-time writer in the Chicago area. His first literary love is supernatural horror. Poe and Lovecraft inspired him to begin writing in high school, but 2016 marked his first appearance in print media apart from a few college journals. His story “Inmate” appeared in Sanitarium Magazine, and “The Cold Girl” appeared in Hypnos Magazine. A number of non-fiction articles are now available on his website, and there is also a short story in the tradition of Poe on the fiction page.
How did you become interested in the Victorian era?
There are two separate answers to this question. As an historian, I think I found the most interest in the realm of military history. If we frame it in terms of the Crimean War to the outbreak of World War I, we are looking at a period of profound technological and organizational changes. We see the widespread adoption of rifles, the development of smokeless powder and repeating firearms, the emergence of the machine gun, and the advancement of artillery from a line-of-sight threat to a more distant danger. Armies are growing larger and employ more sophisticated logistics, and enhancements to the lethality of Victorian weapons inspires a more defensive mindset. The trench warfare that characterizes World War I has its antecedents in the Crimea.
Then we have my reactions as a horror maven. The look of the Victorian era is wonderful in horror, whether we have a haunted house tale or a vampire story. No matter how bright and cozy (or should I write, cosy) they may be by day, by night those houses look like a proper haunt. The characteristic funerary culture of the period is wonderful for horror fans, and I made substantial use of this in my story “Tisiphone.” And finally, it is in the Victorian era that the occult ceased to be a matter for locked rooms and became activity for parlors. While I am not a practitioner of the occult myself, it is a major feature of horror fiction, and this brings a unique flavor to Victorian horror stories.
Both of these elements contributed substantially to my story, “Miroir de Vaugnac.”
What is your favorite Victorian horror story?
If we include Poe, then it would have to be “The Masque of the Red Death” (1842).
Should we set that master aside, I would probably pick J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla right now. For me, I think it’s the questions that this story suggested that make it stand out. Specifically, the last time I read the story, I found myself wondering about the long-term effects of the vampire’s attention after it was destroyed. Would the human victim be relieved, or would she perceive it as a kind of loss? Those questions inspired a flash fiction story of my own.
Do you have a favorite Victorian horror movie? What attracted you to this film?
This proved harder than I expected. So many of the classic Victorian stories have been updated to a more contemporary timeframe when they are adapted for film. Oddly enough, the film I’d choose had the reverse effect: the filmmakers of the 2009 adaptation of The Wolfman grounded that version in the nineteenth century, and I thought it was a successful adaptation. I think it reinvigorated a story that had become a bit formulaic, and I always enjoy seeing Sir Anthony Hopkins in a horror film, whether he’s the monster or the monster-hunter.
Are your characters based on real people?
None of the main characters are real, but I did incorporate two historical figures to ground the story further in reality. I draw reference to Col. Arthur Fremantle of the Coldstream Guards, who undertook a private trip to observe the American Civil War from the vantage point of the Army of Northern Virginia. He is most famous for observing day three of the Battle of Gettysburg from the headquarters of Pickett’s command. Agnes is really his mother’s name, and I thought it reasonable that she might know Beatrice because of their shared experience of being Army wives. It is Agnes’ concern for her son that gives Beatrice her first chance to use the Miroir, and at the same time, the use of a known historical figure allows me to present an accurate reading without having to state that the reading was accurate. After all, Beatrice had no way of cross-checking what she’d learned.
Do you use an outline to write? Or do you write by the seat of your pants?
I usually err on the side of spontaneity. I begin a story with a general idea of where it is meant to go, but as I write and come to know my characters better, the course they take will often shift, and once in a while I revise my plans for the story substantially by the time I reach the end.
Do your characters have free will? Or do you decide their fate?
I try to give my characters a sense of agency, even if the final scene was actually the first thing that I planned. The choices they make need to be consistent with who they’ve shown themselves to be all along. Sometimes this means that I need to tweak the character to fit the result better, other times I tweak the result to better reflect the character I’ve created.
What are you most afraid of?
This would probably involve catching some highly lethal disease, like rabies, or else contracting a really nasty form of cancer.
What is your favorite form of divination?
I don’t practice any forms of divination, so I have no practical preferences. From an outsider’s perspective, I find Tarot cards to be much more picturesque than astrology or numerology. What I liked about scrying is that it offered me the opportunity to describe scenes. I thought that would be more rewarding for me as a writer, and more entertaining for the reader.
Who is your favorite horror author?
For the number one slot, I’d still need to name my aged grandsire from Providence. H.P. Lovecraft is the reason why I began writing when I was in high school. As a writer, I’ve tried to grow past his limitations, but I’m still working on learning from his strengths.
What does the future hold for you? What books, short stories, or works do Horror Addicts have to look forward to?
I have a couple of other stories nearing publication. In one case, the final list of authors is not yet public, but for the other, I can say that my short story “Old Growth” will appear in the volume Scary Stuff, published by Oddity Prodigies.