On October 31, 2018, Unsolicited Press released Michael Murray's debut essay collection WRITING NAKED. The collection is brave, reckoning with self-esteem issues, depression, and addiction.
Our team sat down with Murray for a brief and beloved interview:
What literary journeys have you gone on?
To be quite honest, hardly any. I don’t read much, which is probably surprising. I read a lot of film critiques and other random stuff. I have a difficult time reading, let alone sitting still for more than five minutes at a time.
What is the first book that made you cry?
I remember reading the Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls when I was in roughly fourth grade. I stayed up late to finish it and remember waking my mom and dad up in the middle of the night because I was inconsolable. I truly remember my heart hurting for the first time in a way that was completely foreign to me.
Another book that devastated me was The Cay by Theodore Taylor. My fifth-grade homeroom teacher Ms. Jones read it to us little by little for a span of a few weeks. She read it with an islander accent and by the end of the book the entire class, including Ms. Jones, was bawling. I’m not sure if we were crying because the book was sad, or because it was so devastating to see how sad Ms. Jones was. Either way, I’ll never forget it.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Writing is completely exhausting for me. I can only write in the morning because it’s something that I look at as “getting out of the way.” So much of my writing, if not all of it, is highly personal, and the process of digging through my mind to remember certain events, feelings, and specific details is, for all intents and purposes, exhausting.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
I would say self-doubt, and also being overly confident. Also, booze, women, and drugs.
Does a big ego help or hurt writers?
I have the lowest self-esteem of most people I know. Never in a million years did I think I’d ever publish anything, let alone secure a book contract. So, who knows. I think both can work. There are some arrogant assholes out there who do really well, and there are modest writers who crush it too. I guess it depends on what type of person you are.
Have you ever gotten reader’s block?
I always have readers block. I seldom read, but when I find something I like, I binge on it. Right now, it’s Melissa Broder.
Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
Yes, and then I remind myself that however people interpret my writing is their problem. I say this, but I don’t really feel it yet. I am terrified that my writing will hurt people. I see a shrink and that’s a lot of what we talk about, but whether it’s a tweet, a FB post, or a text message, once I write something, how people react is completely out of my control. “Once the fire’s lit, fuck the match.”
Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?
Well, if someone doesn’t feel emotions strongly they’re either in denial or a sociopath and plenty of sociopaths and people in denial write. So, yes?
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
No one really famous besides Alissa Nutting. I have plenty of friends that are writers, but none of them are technically authors. Reading Alissa’s “Tampa” rattled me because it was one of the most vulgar things I’d ever read, and at the time I was taking her workshop at John Carroll University. I couldn’t believe that this book came out of her head. She caught a lot of shit for that book, and now it’s been hailed as one of nine books to read this summer for women. She knocked it out of the park. I’m terrified to really write with brutal honesty and nakedness, but she truly inspired me.
Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
I think each book will stand alone and will also undoubtedly connect and cohere with what comes before and after them. I also think that I might write one book and be done with it. Who knows.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
$20 for my submission to [the contest offered by] Unsolicited Press.
What authors did you dislike at first but grew into?
I think most anyone that I’ve read and didn’t like I stopped reading.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
Beyond being a child I feel that I always knew language had power, whether I was as aware of it as I am now, I have no idea. I’m terrible at remembering these things.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
A Widow for One Year by John Irving. I saw the film “The Door in the Floor” which covers the first third of the novel and had to know how it all ended. John Irving writes dysfunction so well and he’s beyond well-known, but I never hear people talk about this novel. My mom had the book and I plowed through it. It was incredible to me. It made me want to be a writer even more, not so much because of Irving’s style, but because of one of the characters, Ted Cole. He was the garden variety philandering drunk who was tragic and whatever but I adored him.
How do you balance making demands on the reader with taking care of the reader?
I don’t think I consciously do either, and it’s probably a good thing.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
I wouldn’t, but I am obsessed with emperor penguins and orcas.
What do you owe the real people upon whom you base your characters?
I don’t write characters, and I feel the only thing that I owe the people that I write about is the truth, which, of course, is subjective.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
Somewhere between 1-1,321.
What does literary success look like to you?
Making enough money to be able to do the things that I like and not be in debt up to my ears. Being able to give an occasional reading where people buy me drinks after and cute co-eds find me mysterious and intriguing. Making into Oprah’s book club and then standing her up for an interview. Having one single person tell me that something I wrote gave them hope.
What’s the best way to market your books?
Honestly, after one Facebook post I’ve had hundreds of people asking me “how’s the book Murray?” It’s terrifying. I’m not sure I want to market any further than that, if you can even call that marketing. As much as I can’t stand social media it seems to be the most effective platform to market anything.
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
I don’t research much of anything in regards to my writing. It’s almost completely personal writing. I check facts to cover my ass, that’s about it.
How many hours a day do you write?
It depends, I usually pick one thing to write about and as soon as I’m finished with that I move on to the next thing. Usually between two and four hours.
What period of your life do you find you write about most often? (child, teenager, young adult)
Mostly teenager and young adult, but lately I’ve been writing about my present state.
If you didn’t write, what would you do for work? And if writing isn't your "day job", what are you currently doing to pay the bills?
I’ve worked in restaurants half my life. I have a love/hate relationship with them. I love serving and tending bar. It makes me love people, and it makes me hate people. The restaurant where I currently work is the most well-run place I’ve ever worked, and I can’t imagine working anywhere else. My co-workers are my family. I feel I get paid to hang out with my friends and deal with some very needy people on the side. I seldom dread going to work, and when I do, it’s usually because I’m hung over or because there’s powder on Mt. Hood, or really good surf.
What one thing would you give up to become a better writer?
I feel the one thing I must give up to become a better writer is alcohol.
What is your favorite childhood book?
The Giving Tree.
Does your family support your career as a writer?
As much as they can. My mom is an avid reader, so is my father and step-father. One of my sisters is a writer as well, but she is currently putting that on the back burner. My mom fears that what I write will hurt people from my past, and she’s probably right. She also fears that I’ll air my family’s dirty laundry, but she’s going to have to get over it. My dad is supportive from a distance, and encourages me to write about whatever I want as long as it doesn’t come from a place of anger, and my step-father is supportive in the fact that he has always believe in me and encouraged me to head down this path as a writer.
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