Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Michael Norman Q&A

The king of ghost stories, Michael Norman, is back in his weekly profile leading up to that most spooky of holidays. It's only fitting that for Halloween Mike joins us to discuss his works and answer a few tough questions about that most important of holidays. Well, enough from me, let's get right down to the hard hitting questions! Also don't forget to enter for a chance to win a signed copy of his new book, The Nearly Departed: Minnesota Ghost Stories & Legends.

Question: For someone new to your work how would you summarize what you do?

Answer: I write "true" ghost stories from around the Midwest and across the United States and Canada. I try to tell the stories of the hauntings in a way that lets readers come to their own conclusions. Some of my titles are: Haunted America, Historic Haunted America, Haunted Heartland and, my newest books, The Nearly Departed: Minnesota Ghost Stories and Legends.

Question: How did you get interested in researching ghost stories in the first place?

Answer: My late co-author Beth Scott and I decided to write a non-fiction book back in the late 1970s. I discovered a quote from the late folklorist Robert Gard that Wisconsin had more ghosts than any other state! I thought that was extraordinary, so Beth and I set off to see if that was true. I still don't know, but Haunted Wisconsin has been in print now for 30 years.

Question: Any ghost story that really got to you?

Answer: I think "Something Evil on Larrabee Street" was pretty scary because the family vacated the house because of their fear. The house was pretty ordinary, but according to the Tallmanns it just about destroyed their family.

Question: Being an expert in ghosts you were asked to be on Space Ghost, what was it like filming your episode? Did you actually get to meet Space Ghost in the “flesh”?

Answer: This was 15 years ago. I was seated on a stool in front of a single camera and asked to ad lib answers to some questions a producer asked off camera. Pretty boring explanation I know, but the "magic" came in adding the animation later on. And, uh, he's a drawing...

Question: What do you think it is about the North woods in Wisconsin that inspires macabre writers (Neil Gaiman living in the area as well)?

Answer: I don't know why Gaiman lives in the region...I've often wondered that. For me, it was where my teaching career took me. But for others, maybe it's the dark woods and deep water that inspires them.

Question: 100 years from now if you could haunt any location of your choosing where would it be?

Answer: The first balcony at Lincoln Center. How cool would it be to get to hear all those great concerts!

Question: How is it being an author associated with a particular time of year?

Answer: I'm "king of all media" for a week or two then go back to delightful oblivion.

Question: Your favorite ever Halloween costume?

Answer: I rarely dress up for Halloween. Maybe it's also being an actor, but for me putting on a costume has always been about doing a role and when I'm offstage I prefer being myself -- which in and of itself can be pretty spooky first thing in the morning!

Question: Do you feel the popularity of your books has increased with the resurgence of Halloween brought about by the likes of Tim Burton? Or do you think Halloween has always been big no matter how commercial it is?

Answer: Halloween has become a huge commercial industry because corporate America has pushed it. There is little realization now of its ancient origins and there really should be.

Question: Favorite Halloween candy?

Answer: Has to be peanut M&Ms.

Question: If you could teach at Hogwarts what subject would you teach?

Answer: Freshman Decomposition.

Question: You are also very active in theatre. How does writing for the stage differ from writing a book?

Answer: The stage limits you in terms of what you can "show" obviously so you have to depend more on dialogue and the audience's imagination.

Question: What is your opinion of the advances in technology that make authors more accessible to their fans, with blogs, goodreads and facebook?

Answer: It's good, though time-consuming. Anything that promotes book sales...!!!

Question: Being an author of “the printed word,” how do you feel about electronic readers such as the Sony Reader and the Kindle? Haunted Homeland, Haunted Heritage and Haunted Wisconsin all being available on the Kindle.

Answer: Oh, I think it's fine as long as authors are paid adequately. I'm a "book" person myself so I can't imagine using one.

Question: What was it like going from being half of a writing team to going solo?

Answer: Beth died 15 years ago, so I've been solo for quite awhile. I think we established a style and I've tried to stick with it.

Question: Do you have a favorite cover among your books?

Answer: I do like the new one, though the original concept for the cover and interior photos for "Haunted Wisconsin" are hard to beat. Great designer and photographer helps!!

(Miss Eliza side note: My grandfather was the photographer who took the picture for the cover above, and my mother was the designer!)

Question: Your books have over the years gone from regional to more national ghost stories, starting in Wisconsin and then encompassing all of America, but your newest book focuses on Minnesota. Why Minnesota, and why now?

Answer: Why, because the Minnesota Historical Society Press came to me with the idea and I agreed. Simple as that. I didn't have plans for another book, but I couldn't think of a good reason to say no.

Question: In the future do you ever plan on going more global? Perhaps expanding to other countries?

Answer: No.

Question: What’s in the future for you? Any exciting projects you’re able to talk about?

Answer: Nothing in particular, though I may explore adapting some form of my ghost stories to the stage. We'll see.


Haunted Wisconsin is a classic that I've owned for years! I live in RF and have had the chance to listen to Michael speak at the public library, and I hope to catch the discussion next week about his new book!

"Freshman Decomposition" - I love it!
I wonder if his life is like that John Cusack movie "1408." Without all the horrible stuff.

Great interview!

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