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.
Tyler: Welcome back, Michael. We just discussed your book Stillwell recently. That book was about a haunted mansion, but Brood X that we’ll discuss today is a different kind of a horror story, about a cicada invasion. For those of us who don’t live in cicada territory, could you explain to us a little about what makes cicada invasions frightening?
Michael: Thanks for having me back, Tyler! It’s a pleasure to be interviewed by you. It’s a great question. I wanted to create a tale by magnifying the most mundane aspects of nature. By taking something as innocuous as a bug like a cicada, I wanted to create terror by the possibilities of an overwhelming happenstance and the havoc that would occur. The real scary part is, there is such a thing as Brood Ten, and when you read about it, if nature decides to get out of control, the possibilities are truly terrifying.
Tyler: What gave you the idea to write about a cicada invasion?
Michael: I was watching the movie The Birds by Alfred Hitchcock. The idea of countless birds terrorizing a town is what gave me my idea. The scope of an attack of this sort is so awesome, and if realistic, infinitely more frightening than made up creatures like vampires, werewolves, and zombies. I didn’t know which bug I was going to choose until I heard a song by my favorite band called Clutch. The song is called “The Dragonfly” and part of the lyrics include “the cicada sing.” That prompted me to do more research on cicada and I found out that Brood X is a real occurrence.
Tyler: Michael, is the cicada invasion a purely natural phenomenon in the novel, or has mankind, as sometimes happens in horror novels, interfered with nature and added to the problem?
Michael: Nature is constantly evolving. What makes us so superior that we think the line ends with us? 65 million years ago, dinosaurs were the kings and dominated the planet. Right now, it’s our time. Perhaps in 65 million years from now, a new species will be here and we will be extinct. If nature decides to overwhelm us, we don’t stand a chance. I do believe that humans do not respect nature.
Tyler: What exactly does the title “Brood X” mean?
Michael: Brood X is known as the Great Eastern Brood. It’s one of the 15 broods of cicada that appear regularly throughout the eastern United States. It has the greatest range and concentration of any of the 17-year cicada. I chose this particular brood because the name did indeed sound ominous.
Tyler: Tell us about the main characters, Seth and his wife, Lara. Who are they and what are their lives like when the novel begins?
Michael: Seth and Lara are a typical 21st-century couple who are living the life of entitlement. Everything is easy for them. Seth was just laid off from work and instead of concentrating on getting a new job, has chosen to laze away his time on unemployment and document his wife’s pregnancy. Lara is an elementary school teacher who keeps tight control on her orderly world. She has a soft heart and the couple is devoted to each other. They live in an insular world and are not troubled by the “demons” ravaging the world. Famine, war, plagues, disease, crime are just newspaper articles to them.
Tyler: How does the cicada invasion start and can you tell us when it becomes a serious issue?
Michael: The ever-zealous news reports of the impending invasion, and while some people do take it seriously, many people don’t heed the warnings. The attack trickles in with isolated incidents, and while frightening, as long as it’s happening to other people, it remains unbelievable in the sheer idea of it. It’s not until life grinds to a screeching halt when all services (cell phone, TV, sanitation, deliveries) are all affected by the invasion, that it becomes real.
Tyler: Can you tell us what is Seth and Lara’s first encounter with the cicada and how do they react?
Michael: I don’t want to give away too much, but Seth’s reaction is quite comical. He can’t believe the big deal people are making. “Call the press, get CNN down here” is his reaction once he finds the first cicada in the backyard. Lara has a different reaction. Basically the same reaction ANY scared person would have if a large bug flew into their car. I will leave that to your imagination.
Tyler: I mentioned above that you like “found footage” films, but not being a film person myself, could you explain to us what exactly that means and what influence films or film-making has on your writing?
Michael: Originally I wrote Brood X as a screenplay. I love found footage films and the unexpectedness of plot development. Found footage is generally seen through the eyes of the protagonist who is going through the ordeal and taping it as it’s happening. They have a documentary feel to it, which lends to its realism, thus making it more terrifying. Brood X called out to be made with as much realism and the only answer was to do it in the style of found footage. This leaves the reader guessing as to the outcome of what really happened because as it is found footage, you have no real idea of whether they survive the outcome. After not getting much traction with the script form, I converted it to a book, but I wanted to keep the found footage element because it’s something rarely seen in book form. Recently, the script came in 7th place in a screenwriting contest and is currently being considered for a feature film.
Tyler: That’s wonderful, Michael. It sounds a bit like the “Blair Witch Project” then. What was the most difficult part of turning a screenplay into a book and did you have to add to or cut from the story to do so?
Michael: Blair Witch was an inspiration, as was many other types of found footage films. Screenplays and books are worlds apart. Screenplays must get by with as few words as possible but must convey so much, while with books, the sky’s the limit. It’s much easier, in my opinion, to convert a screenplay to a book because the book allows you to explore the different senses that accompany every page. What did their house look like, what did Seth feel, what did Lara think of Seth in college, the history of each character, the depth of their emotions…you can explore anything in a book. But you can’t do this in a screenplay. Seth breezes in — is an example of what a screenplay action line is like. But in the book you can go into great lengths of what Seth was thinking about as he breezed into the room. The screenplay followed the beat that every film must have. I took these beats and extended them into the book. Nothing was cut from the story, I only added.
Tyler: Our reviewer, Jennifer Hass, really loved Brood X and felt it was extremely scary. What other kinds of comments have you received from reviewers, and do you feel you made the book as scary as you had hoped, or even scarier? Have you been surprised by any of your readers’ responses so far?
Michael: Brood X was never intended to be a slice and dice, hack and gore horror novel. I wanted primal fear at the probability of something so epic yet believable happening to any community in America. I want to stress that my cicada, while their name is real, the idea of them overwhelming the countryside is an invention. Here are some excerpts from reviews:
“When I started reading couldn’t put it down for more than a few minutes at a time…”
“The characters and storyline are frighteningly believable…the invasion is easy to imagine as well. Cash describes it all down to the smallest of details…”
“The story is very thought-provoking as, yes, this could happen!”
“…excellent, subtle, psychological assessment of the phenomena of relationships, fear and denial…it is a very good dramatization of the reaction of people to an impending catastrophe.”
“Cash has written a harrowing tale of survival against all odds of a supernatural nature.”
“Part satiric take on contemporary yuppie expectations…part anatomization of contemporary marriage…part creature-feature with all of the traditional elements of the great 50s films…part homage to the fairly recent genre of found-footage horror films—Brood X is a quick, fun read.”
“…a Twilight Zone-like horror story of biblical proportions.”
“…horror at its best…up close and personal, and inflicted with ways that address humanity’s inherent fear of and disgust for bugs.”
“breathing new life into a genre that has been occupied too long by the usual suspects: sickness, the undead and global warming.”
Tyler: Those are great, Michael. Do you have any tips for people who want to write horror fiction?
Michael: Horror seemed to be the perfect fit for me because I feel it’s the most emotional. It really gets people’s hearts racing. It’s the only genre I can think of that will give you sweaty palms. That’s power. Horror dates back to the caveman times. The real part of any horror story is three components. My bible for writing screenplays and books is a book called Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. This has been my inspiration to write as much as I do. The three components in any good horror story, or as the late Blake Snyder said a Monster in the House story, is 1. A Monster 2. A House 3. SIN. If you can build a foundation about these three things, then you have a great horror story. The monster invades the house caused by a sin. Research Jaws or Aliens — it’s the same movie. Jaws is the monster. The house is Amityville. And the Sin is greed — for keeping the beaches open during the summer months when the mayor knew there was a shark in the water. In Brood X, the monster is the cicadas. The House is Long Island. Seth and Lara just can’t pick up and move. They are stuck. And the sin is sloth. Seth’s laziness is what gets his family into the mayhem caused by the cicada. Stick with these three elements of horror and you will nail it!
Tyler: So what is next for you, Michael? More horror novels? And if so, can you tell us a little about them?
Michael: If Brood X takes off, I have a Part II ready to go, called Brood X: Escape from Long Island. I’m currently working on two novels — one is a ghost story called The Hanging Tree and the other is a thriller called The Book was Better. I have another action/thriller script I’m converting to book form called Five Boroughs.
Tyler: Thank you again, Michael, for the interview. Before we go, will you tell us about your website and what additional information our readers can find there about Brood X and your other books?