On a Beating Heart


I think I’m far enough along now to look back with a smidgen of hindsight at what type of writer I am and will be in the foreseeable future. I spend a good bit of my work fixated on the mundanely, beautifully human while the horrific pushes into its bubble from the outside. My story “Dancers” perhaps exemplifies this most succinctly, to provide an example, though it’s certainly an ongoing passion of mine. Of all the kind things said about my collection Greener Pastures, I think Richard Gavin perhaps put his finger most squarely on its pulse when he wrote, “[Wehunt’s] fiction is a delicate wedding of Raymond Carver-style humanism and the authentically nightmarish.” I’m not one of Carver’s most avid acolytes, and I know very little of the Iowa way of doing things, but I do find that I feel along the same seams. Just, you know, with monster stuff sewn in.

The more horror–and particularly weird fiction–I read, the more I realize how many entire corners I’ve hardly swept over. Many don’t appeal to me much, but others are fascinating areas of exploration with formidable bibliographies. I realize I’m the sort of author whose work will be informed by many things rather than immersed in them, rather like minoring in a dozen subjects in college instead of majoring in one. I definitely embrace this, but it’s bittersweet (and a quite interesting topic in regards to audience, which is best left for another discussion).

Here are some specific concentrations of weird/cosmic/horror fiction I might never get around to exploring as much as I’d love to in my work because time isn’t a flat circle. These can be used as oils and water in many strange mixtures, but I list them here as primary concerns and modes of storytelling that exist more for themselves and less for a more “literary” (quotation marks emphasized) scrutiny of our ordinary human hearts.

  • Deep occult/black magic
  • Arcane philosophy
  • Pagan/folk
  • Historical
  • Philosophical/nihilistic

Have I carved myself into a niche? Have others with their own niches? I’m not sure, though I think one’s nook is more than roomy enough, and I love it here in my own dark. Some of these “concentrations” I just don’t have quite enough interest in as a writer to take significant time away from other areas, though I find them very interesting, celebrate them, and often enjoy reading them. Some will spend time on the periphery, though, and I look forward to seeing what continues to press against that human membrane in interesting new ways. Time will tell if I find time. I might prove myself wrong one day on a couple of them, which would be lovely.

In the end, the important thing is that at any given point, an author is writing whatever they’re most passionate about and letting the necessary flavors infect it. I simply know that I must have a beating heart.

7 thoughts on “On a Beating Heart

  1. This was good. I appreciate a healthy amount of self-analysis.

    I can’t help but feel it’s important to read outside of the specific genre one writes in but it definitely leads to what might be considered a bit of “wanderlust”. When I’m writing, though I truly appreciate and love the stories I am creating, I definitely notice the same kind of time restriction you hinted at. I have a document on my computer that I simply spit random ideas into, which I cherish, but there’s definitely a bit of acceptance that many of these ideas may never come to any sort of fruition. Some are way outside the realm of what I usually write. The responsibilities of maintaining a day job, I think, definitely narrow my own scope in this regard. You may experience the same.

    Do you think it’s possible, once you’ve produced a few more works and exorcised a few more of your more prioritized ideas from your psyche, that you might have the freedom to delve into these other genres/ideas more directly, as opposed to just a bit of spice on what you might consider your typical story style?

    1. Yes, I have a day job that doesn’t leave me with much writing time, so this balance is always an important consideration. I’m constantly tempted to go fully in this direction or that for a story or three–most often in one of the directions I listed above–but so far this humanism has wanted to be a part of nearly everything I do.

      At some point I’m sure I will branch out. I’m interested in doing so. In the nearer future, I suspect it will still carry a strong current of what I’m writing now. In the more distant future, I hope to have more writing time, which will enable me to grow a few more arms. 🙂

  2. Great post, Michael. I, for one, hear the Ray Carver influence in your voice, but it’s not the “Iowa-workshop literary-tone” (which Carver himself, IMHO, did not represent or embody, either). Instead, it’s a kind of naked, unflinching gaze at real human beings in real extremity; and (in your work as well as Rob Moore’s and Nathan Ballingrud’s, and others), a base-line allegiance to the human, to the real human story where the “dark”, “monstrous”, or “horror” elements arise naturally. I’m interested in your list of horror/weird “concentrations” that (if I’m hearing you correctly) don’t exactly inspire you, and that “exist more for themselves and less for a more “literary” (quotation marks emphasized) scrutiny of our ordinary human hearts.” I think you’re right about that, but it raises the whole question of “tropes” (although tropes may not be exactly the same animal as these “concentrations”): is it possible to write a story that makes use of one of these tropes/topics/concentrations and still ground the story fully in the (real) human heart? I’ve been trying to teach myself to steer clear of anything that seems like a “horror trope” in my writing–––then I read a story like Nathan’s ‘Sunbleached’ or ‘The Good Husband’ and think that it’s possible to use any tried and true horror trope as long as (as you say) it has “a beating heart.”

    1. These “concentrations” that “exist more for themselves” are the ones I listed and the ones I *do* want to explore in a way that partly or fully abandons emotional/character development in favor of the story itself. (I don’t know if you’ve read my story “October Film Haunt: Under the House,” but that was the primary idea there.) The ones that don’t interest me much…well, I’m really referring more to action-packed horror, where the words only serve as the rollercoaster car for the plot to ride in. I will read page-turners on occasion. They absolutely have a place out there. But I don’t read them terribly often, and (to generalize) I have to willfully turn part of my brain off so I don’t pay much attention to the prose. I read poetry far more often than screenplays, to simplify what I’m saying.

      I was trying to keep this post focused on me, lest it turn into some sort of treatise on horror and weird fiction (ha! maybe another day), but I can only see myself drawn to creating when the words themselves are half the journey. As far as tropes go, I agree. There are still ways to write in the tiredest trope with real heart and beauty. Ballingrud is a great example. The first story in my collection has been seen by many as a vampire story, but I tried to make that secondary to the un-monsterness of it, to invent a lazy word.

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