Michael Rutger is a multi-talented creator who writes stories, photographs moments, and crafts cinematic projects. Some of his critically acclaimed novels include Hannah Green and Her Unfeasibly Mundane Existence, The Lonely Dead, Killer Move, and The Straw Men. Rutger’s latest novel is the brilliant horror story The Anomaly. Wanting to learn more about Rutger’s background and The Anomaly, I was able to interview him for ScifiPulse.
Nicholas Yanes: Growing up, what were some stories you loved experiencing? Are there any you still enjoy revisiting?
Michael Rutger: I used to constantly re-read books when I was younger. My first love was science fiction (basically everything Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov wrote, plus a few others). Then I discovered Kingsley Amis and loved his stuff, and eventually his son Martin Amis too, and a few other “literary” writers. Then I entered a horror period after discovering Stephen King, Peter Straub, and English writers like Ramsey Campbell and Nicholas Royle, before segueing into crime via Jim Thomson, James Ellroy and James lee Burke. I’ll still sometimes re-read favorites from all of them… a good book should stand multiple reads, and there are Bradbury collections and King and Amis novels that I’ve read five or more times.
Yanes: In addition to being a writer, you are also a professional photographer. How do you think being a photographer has made you a better writer?
Rutger: Well, I’m only professional in the sense that the photos are available for sale. It’s mainly a hobby and diversion — a way of being creative that doesn’t involve words (or deadlines, thank God). I’ve always been a visual writer, in the sense that having a clear internal picture of story settings is critical: if I can’t see a location in my head, as clearly as if it’s a real place that I’ve visited, I know I’m not doing good work. There’s a crossover with the photographs in that I often try to conjure a particular mood or strong, simple image with the camera — trying to make sure the finished article has emotional resonance. Being on the hunt for things to photograph also encourages you to look closely at the world, and sometimes to impose your own characteristic narrative shapes on it, so that’s fun — and it’s a way of working creative muscles without it being the same old thing.
Yanes: You currently write under three names. What do you think goes into making a good nom de plume?
Rutger: I have no idea, I’m afraid! The decision to take on noms de plume has always been driven by publishers, rather than a considered choice. It does confer a certain degree of freedom, as the three names (Michael Marshall Smith, Michael Marshall and now Michael Rutger) write slightly different types of material — but to be honest I would have been happier to be able to just write what the heck I like under a single name. Very few people can get away with that, however: the market, and readers, tend to like to know exactly what they’re getting.
Yanes: Reflecting on your career as a professional creative, how do you think you’ve grown as a writer?
Rutger: That’s an interesting question. I’m not sure I’ve grown, as such, though obviously one does hope to get “better” with practice, whatever “better” means. I’ve been a professional writer for nearly thirty years, and there have been phases within that — sometimes I’ve been more focused on short stories than novels, at times writing in one genre, then another… I guess that I’ve been exploring the same basic areas for most of that time (I love with the uncanny and strange, and trying to understand human nature and the currents that run through our lives) but from different directions. From a craft point of view, I think I’m always trying to make the prose more direct and clear. I have no patience with books that are hard to read, though I do also want to evoke ideas and emotions with enough subtlety to ring true — and that can be a challenging balance to pull off.
Yanes: You’ve recently published the novel The Anomaly. What was the inspiration for this story?
Rutger: I’ve been fascinated with unexplained mysteries and strange stories about the world and humankind — including our species’ distant past — all my life. Elements of this have cropped up in some of the earlier novels (THE STRAW MEN series, for example) but I’d never found a way of addressing that kind of material in a way that’s accessible and, I hope, fun. Once the character of Nolan Moore arrived in my head, and the team coalesced around him, I knew I’d finally found my way in.
Yanes: When doing research for The Anomaly was there anything you learned about the Grand Canyon that took you by surprise?
Rutger: I’d absorbed quite a few little stories and facts about the canyon over the years before I started the book, which is the way I tend to do things — rather than coming up with an idea and then having to research it.
Yanes: Nolan Moore – the protagonist of The Anomaly – is a great character. How did you go about crafting him? Is he based on people you know?
Rutger: I never base characters on people I know. They tend to arrive in my head as real people that I simply haven’t met – and are usually the first thing (apart, perhaps, from an underlying idea, though I’ve sometimes had characters arrive with no sense of what kind of story they want to be in) that come when I’m thinking about a new novel. Nolan had been around for quite a while. I first made notes about a scuffling, semi-charlatan guy who’s fallen into a career exploring Weird Things about fifteen years ago. Didn’t quite know what to do with him. Then I realized that a different idea I had could work as a vehicle for his first investigation… and suddenly I was writing The Anomaly.
Yanes: What are your long-term goals for The Anomaly? Will there be a sequel to this story? Any chance I’ll see this story play out on movie or television screens?
Rutger: I’m writing a follow-up now, with the working title of The Possession. We have some strong movie interest in The Anomaly, with a director attached, and so building on that is going to be one of my key jobs for early 2019.
Yanes: When people finish reading The Anomaly, what do you hope they take away from the experience?
Rutger: I hope it’s fun, most of all — but also that it makes them think a little about human pre-history, and the way myths and truth mingle and inform our lives whether we realize it or not.
Yanes: Finally, what else are you working on that people can look forward to?
Rutger: I’m near the end of the follow-up to The Anomaly, which has been quite a challenge: I want to try to give the same kind of reading experience without it just being the same thing again. It’s a scrappy first draft, and I’ll need to go back and do quite a lot of work on it. I also owe a couple of short stories to anthologies, and a short film script, and in the next month will start work on a television adaptation of my Straw Men novels. We’ve got a pilot done, so now it’s onto the Bible and the second episode… I’m looking forward to that. Hopefully there will be some new and unexpected stuff to do along the way, too — it’s that which keeps you fresh.