Interview with Michael Phillip Cash
The Hanging Tree: A Novella
Michael Phillip Cash
Red Feather Publishing (2013)
Reviewed By Susan Violante for Reader Views (01/14)
Article first published as Interview: Michael Phillip Cash, Author of ‘The Hanging Tree’ on Blogcritics.
Born and raised on Long Island, Michael has always had a fascination with horror writing and found footage films. He wanted to incorporate both with his debut novel, “Brood X: A Firsthand Account of the Great Cicada Invasion.” He followed that book with “Stillwell: A Haunting on Long Island” and now his third book “The Hanging Tree: a Novella.” After earning a degree in English and an MBA, Michael has worked various jobs before settling into being a full-time author. He currently resides on Long Island with his wife and children.
Tyler: Welcome back, Michael. Last year I had the privilege of interviewing you about your first two horror novels, so I’m curious where you’ve gone with this third book, which I understand is a new kind of horror story for you. Will you set the scene for us in the opening with the characters Chad and Arielle and how they become involved with the Hanging Tree?
Michael: Thank you for having me. It is always a pleasure. I wanted to release a short story or novella just for Halloween. There is something special about living on Long Island on that holiday. It is steeped in history. I was driving past the “tree” on route 107, and a picture of Goody Bennett materialized in my mind. She needed a story, but I was afraid it would be cumbersome to do a whole book on the 1600s, so Chad and Arielle, two very modern teenagers with universal issues, were able to be the backbone and set the stage for a modern day haunting that stretches back for hundreds of years. Chad and Arielle are typical teens, sitting under a majestic tree, purported to be haunted, and facing some very serious decisions. She is disillusioned with her parents, angry, and considering making a life-altering commitment for all the wrong reasons. Chad is hormone, as well as, ego driven.
Tyler: You refer to the book as a novella, but I understand it’s really a collection of related short stories. Will you tell us a little more about the structure and how the stories relate to one another?
Michael: The real tree has a reputation that goes back to the beginnings of the last century. I merely extended it to include ghosts dating from three interesting time periods. Of course, Long Island is rich with colonial history, so having a mid-wife from the early settlements was not hard to imagine. Goody Bennett and her granddaughter are the first victims of the tree. The story begins with them. All of the later specters end up in the tree because of their relationship to the original inhabitants. While each of the characters is vastly different, with varied lives and challenges, the tree is the common denominator. Their fate is connected through Remedy the cat and though their lives do seem unconnected, each of their stories is about choice and the responsibility we have to take for our choices. Each character makes decisions that will propel them to their fate; the question is: is it inescapable? How they end up there is revealed in the very end of the book, and I don’t want to give it away. Suffice to say, Chad and Arielle may be the next victims and are the back story, giving the ghosts a chance to relate their own sad histories and how the hanging tree applies to them.
Tyler: Is Goody Bennett a historical person, or were you inspired by a real person in creating her?
Michael: She is totally fictional, but became very real to me. I can see her in my mind’s eye very well, and she resembles a great aunt of mine.
Tyler: Your previous books were novels, so what made you decide to change to short stories?
Michael: There was some sensitive material in this story. Since it was the first time I was addressing these issues, I wasn’t sure how my readers were going to react. I wanted to be sensitive to their feelings as well. Also, I was not quite sure I could carry a whole book in these time periods. It took a lot of research and I did not want to get anything wrong.
Tyler: Tell us more about the Hanging Tree. Was anyone actually hung on it and is that how it’s haunted?
Michael: There was a horrific accident there in the 1920s. They call it “The Hanging Tree” because victims were thrown from the vehicle to land among the branches. When the light is just right, sometimes it is said, you can see them hanging from the tree. My parents used the sad story of the tree as an example for drinking and driving or excessive speed during my teens. They always told us that the future is riddled with choices and it’s what we pick defines our outcome. They scared the crap out of me and I intend to show the tree to my own children as they get their licenses.
Tyler: I know in your previous book, “Stillwell: A Haunting on Long Island,” the story tied back to the Revolutionary War and now this one goes back to the 1600s. So would you say you’re a history buff, or what is it about history, in your opinion, that adds to a good horror story?
Michael: I love history. My mom is a historian and has a story for everything. If we drove to Florida, she had stories of battles and brothers fighting against brothers. If we were in the south of France, it was Cathars and the significance of Friday the 13th. Nevada to California was about the Gold Rush and the infamous Donner Party. Who needed television? A good horror story should not be about the impossible, but the average seen in a new light. There is nothing more frightening that to make something real as well as believable.
Tyler: I really love the eerie book cover with the tree and the red sky behind it, and also that there’s a cat in the tree. Is that Remedy and will you tell us more about him?
Michael: Yes. Remedy the cat is like a black thread that binds the story. Ever hear about the myth of cats and nine lives?
Tyler: Cool. I think I get it. So where did you come up with all of the ideas for this book, Michael?
Michael: As I said earlier, the actual tree was my muse, the characters gleaned, typical of other Long Island time periods. Martin and Arthur are from the age of the Gold Coast when bankers and railroad magnates built fabulous mansions and had extravagant parties just before World War I. Gibson Girl, I left deliberately vague because her story was so ugly I couldn’t commit it to words.
Tyler: One of the reviews I read at Amazon for the book said it had minimal violence and minimal foul language. Was that intentional on your part?
Michael: Yes. These characters became REAL to me and I found I couldn’t hurt them, particularly Gibson Girl. When I began her story of rape and violence, I found I just couldn’t describe it. I let suggestion leave it to the reader to understand how horrible and unfair life can be. The book is about their choices and actions that determined their fate, so I had to include them, but decided to do it minimally. I do not like gratuitous violence.
Tyler: What do you feel is the secret or requirement for writing effective horror fiction and keeping the suspense going for the reader?
Michael: I think to keep the suspense going, you can’t be predictable. Let me tell you something, Tyler; I don’t even know where the story is going until the characters tell me. As they develop, plans change because I find myself saying, “No, she wouldn’t do that. This is what her motive would be.” They are not predictable because as they grow, they become real people with real responses, not action figures that do what I want. The books unfold for me as well, and sometimes I am baffled, then shocked where it goes. As far as effective horror, nothing scares me more than the probable. As in “Brood X,” insects take over the earth in a very realistic way. In “Stillwell,” Paul’s realization that his wife is held in limbo by a demon is layered with everyday life. I want readers to think; this could happen—might happen.
Tyler: Well said, Michael. The probable is what scares me the most too. Did you think writing a book to launch for Halloween was effective from a marketing perspective and will you do it again?
Michael: While it was fun, I realized that from the beginning of November to January, launching a book is not a really wise thing to do. People are preoccupied with getting ready for holidays—so next time I will launch books in September and then hold off until after the holidays.
Tyler: You always have a surprising number of reviews at Amazon very quickly, Michael. Do you have any secrets or special activities you do to get the word out about your books and collect so many reviews?
Michael: I have a mailing list, of course. I send out hundreds of books, hoping readers will be willing to write a review. I also have a social media guru; Julie Gerber from Away We Go Media who has a network of bloggers and gets interest stirred by contacting the right parties. Facebook plays a big role, and I am proud to say that I think I have a pretty substantial fan base at this point. I have contacted many reviewers from both Amazon and Goodreads and asked for honest reviews. I also give out books on the street, in the supermarket, anywhere, asking people to read and review.
Tyler: Well, it’s definitely working for you, Michael. So what’s next for you? More novels, short stories, or a combination?
Michael: I just completed my first foray into science fiction, “Schism: The Battle for Darracia.” It’s a coming of age story about a prince struggling with his identity. I created a whole new universe, and this book has battle scenes, that could be considered gory. Writing in this genre did not affect me the same way as the others. I am in the middle of the second book of the series, untitled as of yet. As soon as it’s done, I have a new paranormal crime drama based on a true story that I have started to research. I love stretching myself to try new things.
Tyler: That’s interesting, Michael. Did you feel you were limited by writing horror? Is that why you wanted to try new things? Do you feel more comfortable writing one kind of fiction over another?
Michael: I am a new writer and really don’t have a comfort zone yet. Each book is a new experience to me. When I find something that intrigues me, I want to spin a story about it. It could be on anything. I also still write scripts as well.
Tyler: Thank you again, Michael, for the opportunity to interview you. Before we go, will you remind us about your website and what additional information we can find there about “The Hanging Tree: a novella” and your other books?
Michael: My website is www.michaelphillipcash.com. You can find there links to my blog, my books on Amazon, and how to connect with me on Facebook and Twitter. There’s even a book trailer for my next book “Schism.”
Tyler: Thanks, Michael. We’ll be sure to check it out. Best of luck with “The Hanging Tree” and all your future books.