Michael Nethercott has published tales in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction; Crimestalkers Casebook; Plays, the Drama Magazine for Young People; and various anthologies including Best Crime and Mystery Stories of the Year 2009, Dead Promises, and Gods and Monsters. He is a recent recipient of the Black Orchid Novella Award for traditional mystery writing. His website is www.michaelnethercott.com .
You’re the winner of the Black Orchid Novella Award for traditional mystery writing, but many of your stories have otherworldly or magical realism aspects. What attracts you to a story?
As a writer (and reader), I’d say that I’m inclined towards solid storylines with a clear arc to them. Not to say that every little thread has to be tied up succinctly, but I do favor what might be considered “traditional” plotting. As to the otherworldly: yes, I do find myself gravitating towards ghosts, dreams and mythology. My Irish roots no doubt play a part in this. Even when writing a tale that has no actual supernatural mechanism to it, I still find myself peppering the narrative with people and notions that touch on things not quite of this world.
In “Tribute” the narrator, Alan, encounters two highly memorable characters, his Uncle Dewey and the squatter Orcus. How do you think about creating character?
I really enjoy the whole process of bringing a character into the light. Starting with the name. I ponder long–sometimes way too long–on my characters’ names (savoring the task, really.) I also like to know what they look like more or less, and how their speech patterns differ from other characters in the story. Quirky’s good too. Often, as the story percolates in my head, the requirements of a character will evolve. I might start off thinking that Mrs. Winston is a small, rather calm woman, but as the trajectory of the tale gets clearer, I might realize that she needs to be more physically imposing and volatile to make the plotline work. With Orcus, I was walking through a stretch of woods, making up the story in my head, and was beginning to get a sense of who this person needed to be. Then, rounding a bend, I encountered a young man–long-haired, wispy beard, smiling–and thought “Aha! that’s how Orcus would look. Maybe not that easygoing and friendly, but that general type.” And so Orcus moved a few degrees closer to his “birth.”
What are you working on now?
I’m working on more short mysteries. Additionally, I’m shopping around a mystery novel “The Beckoners of the Dead” (again with the otherworldly!) featuring O’Nelligan and Plunkett, the detectives who appear in the Black Orchid Award novella. I also write plays, and am looking forward to seeing an upcoming production of one of them, “The Best Wine,” produced by the Vermont Actors Repertory Theatre in Rutland, Vermont.