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.” Earning a degree in English and an MBA, he has worked various jobs before settling into being a full-time author. He currently resides on Long Island with his wife and children.
Welcome, Michael. It’s a pleasure to have the opportunity to interview you today. To begin, tell us a little about the title Stillwell — what does it refer to?
Thank you so much for the opportunity, Tyler! I’m thrilled to be here. Stillwell is a street on the North Shore of Long Island. I liked the sound of it, and made up Stillwell Manor and the wishing well found in the book. They are wholly a figment of my imagination. However, the north shore is dotted with creepy old mansions dating back to the 1600s.
The story does have quite a history element to it, even though it’s a product of your imagination, so does it have any real or historical basis?
There is a famous home in the town of Oyster Bay called Raynham House. During the Revolutionary War, it served as headquarters of the British army, even though the family was ardent rebels. There is a rumor that one of the officers fell madly in love with the daughter of the house, Sally Townsend. I took some of this lore, switched it up, and incorporated it into my story.
Since the book does have a Revolutionary War connection, did you have to do much research for that part of it?
Long Island is known for being a hotspot for the Revolutionary War. Throughout my childhood, I spent many days visiting historical sites. Additionally, my mother is a huge history buff and she was very instrumental in providing me with the historical backstory of Long Island.
Tell us about the main character, Paul, and about his wife’s death. What happened to her?
Paul’s wife, Allison, died of brain cancer swiftly and suddenly. From diagnosis to death, they have only six months to prepare for the idea that they will not be together for the rest of their lives. However, most of this is not in the novel. The novel deals mostly with Paul and his children coping with the loss of an important member of their household.
How does the “haunting” in the novel first begin?
There are several small ominous signs Paul experiences in the beginning of the book, and the reader is not sure if the hauntings are real or in Paul’s head. It’s not until we get to the sequence where he comes face to face with the demon that the real hauntings begin.
Can you explain, without giving too much away, what the connection is between Paul’s wife’s death and the Stillwell mansion?
This is a story about trapped souls. Paul is surrounded by them and only he has the key to unlocking their freedom. Stillwell mansion is the catalyst that connects the “hauntings.”
I understand Paul is a real estate agent who becomes involved with “Stillwell” by trying to sell it. Can you tell us a little about how or why it is haunted without giving away too much, or how he first realizes it is haunted?
The mansion was owned by an old school friend whose father inexplicably killed his elderly wife and then himself. Paul sees a horrible vision where the crime took place and begins to question his own sanity. He is a logical person and cannot believe his eyes. Only when more things begin to happen, he realizes this may be something more than his imagination.
Michael, I’m curious about the well in the book. I’ve visited Fort Niagara where there’s a haunted well, so did you have any inspiration for making the well at Stillwell haunted, and just how is it haunted?
There is something special about a wishing well. It is the recipient of people’s hopes and dreams. It seemed a perfect foil for the culmination of the desires of many of the characters in the book.
What first made you interested in writing this book?
I have always had a fascination with the afterlife and have had many great readings from world renowned psychics. I believe there is an afterlife. Hypothetically, if someone is kidnapped in this world, we can find clues on their disappearance and I thought it would be interesting what would happen if someone was kidnapped in the afterlife? How could we find the clues to set their soul free?
You mentioned that Paul isn’t at first sure whether he’s imagining things or really experiencing the supernatural. Does grief open a door for supernatural experiences to happen for him or for people in general?
I think everybody has the capacity to “see” or “hear” things, but society often makes us reject these abilities. Paul, like many of us, is a modern man who is both logical and grounded. Perhaps his heart wrenching grief has enabled him to open his mind and the love for his missing wife has enabled him to reach for anything to be able to communicate with her. In the movie “Field of Dreams,” the theme was “If you build, it will come.” If you want something badly enough, perhaps if you think it hard enough, it may come as well.
Michael, what do you think makes Stillwell stand out, say from The Amityville Horror or the many other books and films about hauntings that are out there today?
Stillwell is not a gory book. I don’t find gratuitous violence necessary to tell a story. I have been influenced by many great writers like M. Night Shamalyan and inspiring stories like Ghost. Sometimes when dealing with the afterlife, it doesn’t have to be about blood and guts, but about love and healing.
Well said, Michael. I agree with you there, but most of the horror books and films I see are quite gory and violent. Would you say in some ways you are writing in reaction to those or do you think you’re writing within a horror subgenre, or a paranormal subgenre with a different intent than just to scare?
I want to make people think. I want people to take away from my books that they are realistic enough, for them to wonder if it really could happen. The best books stay with readers, long after they’ve finished them.
Michael, will you tell us about your first book Brood X? I understand it’s about a cicada invasion—is it also scary, sort of like a version of Hitchcock’s The Birds where nature turns against man?
That is exactly what my basis for writing Brood X was. There is nothing scarier than the believability of nature attacking mankind. Clearly, we don’t stand a chance. While Zombies, Vampires, and Werewolves can scare the living daylights out of you, you can close the book knowing it’s not real. My books are based on the notion that it could be real, and to me, that is definitely scarier.
I agree with that. I find it scarier to read crime books or books about real hauntings than books about zombies for that reason. Do you have plans for a third book, Michael, and if so, can you tell us a little about it?
Oddly enough, I’m writing a new novel called The Book Was Better. It’s about a down on his luck writer who hits the big time writing a trendy zombie book that gets turned into a blockbuster movie. Well, he’s kidnapped by an obsessed fan who is angry that the studio changed the ending.
Sounds great, Michael, and I love the title! Well, thank you again for the privilege of interviewing you today. Before we go, will you tell us about your website and what additional information we can find there about Stillwell: A Haunting on Long Island?
It was a pleasure Tyler. Again, thank you for this interview. I’m humbled. You can learn more about Stillwell and my other books at www.michaelphillipcash.com. They are also available now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kindle.
Tyler: Thanks, Michael. I wish you much luck with your books and look forward to reading more of them.