Michael Noll is the author of the novel Seven Attacks of the Dead and teaches writing at Texas State University. Michael will be teaching a class for WLT called “White-Knuckle Fiction: Creating Suspense in Stories and Novels” on Saturday, October 4 at St. Edward’s University.
Scribe: What motivated you to be a writer?
Michael Noll: I grew up on a farm about fifteen miles from the town where I went to school—which meant that I had plenty of time to read on the bus. So, that was probably the seed of my desire to be a writer. I loved to read. But the moment that I realized I could be a writer came years later, in college, when I happened to read Tim O’Brien’s story “How to Tell a True War Story” in one of those fat, unwieldy literature anthologies. It was the most contemporary literary thing I’d ever read. To that point, I thought that it was a straight shot from Shakespeare to Hemingway to John Grisham and Michael Crichton. In other words, I’d only read dead people and genre writers. And then I read this thing that felt like it was written just for me. From that point, I knew I wanted to try to write something like that story.
Scribe: Who is your ideal audience?
MN: One of the interesting things about contemporary literary fiction (speaking broadly) is that it often includes genre elements. A couple of years ago, when the Pulitzer Prize committee ticked a lot of people off by not choosing a winner, the three finalists included a book about an alligator-wrestling theme park and another book that was about, in part, a girl raised by wolves. I think it’s fair to say that much of today’s literary fiction is not dry. Readers can come to it from many different directions and with many different tastes. I’d like to think that’s true of my work as well.
Scribe: What have you learned from your association with WLT?
MN: Every time I teach a class, I’m astounded at the level of writing talent just floating around in the world. This is especially true of Austin, and anyone who spends any time with the Writers’ League of Texas will be bowled over at the level of raw talent and enthusiasm in the members and students. It’s a fun organization to be part of.
Scribe: What author would you want to have a beer/cup of coffee with?
MN: Well, I’m teaching a class right now where the students are reading Plato’s Republic. In it, Socrates makes some decisions about the best kind of art. As a result of those decisions, he says that if Homer (the guy who created The Illiad and The Odyssey) showed up at the gates of Athens, the gatekeepers should tell him to get lost—not because Homer was a bad storyteller but because he was too good. Socrates was afraid that Homer’s stories about devious gods and heroes would corrupt the youth. So, if I could choose a writer to have a beer with, it’d be the blind guy whose stories got people so riled up that he couldn’t be allowed inside the city.
Scribe: What is your favorite work of “white knuckle”fiction? Why?
MN: Two recent books kept me up way too late at night. One was Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. I’d read one of her previous books, so I knew she was good, but that book is almost ridiculously suspenseful. Another great book is Room by Emma Donoghue. It’s about one of those terrible situations where a man has kidnapped a woman and locked her away in his house. She ends up having a son, and the novel is told from the boy’s perspective. There’s a scene about halfway through the novel that was so tense that I had to read the rest of the book that night. I wouldn’t have been able to sleep otherwise. I’ll actually be teaching excerpts from both those books in this class.
To read about and register for our fall classes, visit our Classes page.