Michael J. Moore was already an established writer when he sent Prison Journalism Project his first dispatch, in August 2020 about the coronavirus outbreak at Monroe Correctional Complex (MCC), the first prison in Washington state to report confirmed COVID-19 cases.
His regular contributions since then reflect this storytelling expertise. Michael has written compellingly about his own experience in the foster care to prison pipeline, which he calls an early source of inspiration for his horror novels. He has also described what it’s like to find love while in prison. And as a close observer of the dynamics between corrections staff and the people incarcerated at MCC, he has provided detailed scenes documenting abuses of power, notably over shower and phone access in “Officer Boothcop” and “The Queue Outside the Sergeant’s Door.”
“I’ve made it my mission to expose a toxic mentality within the Department of Corrections (DOC) staff, which I believe causes broken people to leave prison worse off than when they entered,” he wrote in “Officer Boothcop.“ “Though the people entrusted to micromanage my life fear transparency and don’t appreciate what I do, the feelings are mutual. I don’t plan on stopping any time soon.”
Q&A with Michael J. Moore
As journalists, we always seek answers to the five most important questions we want our readers to know: who, what, when, where, and why. We sometimes throw in a how. We asked Michael these questions so our readers get to know him better.
Who are you? Tell us a little about your background and what you would like readers to know about you.
I’m Michael J. Moore, a horror author, journalist and social justice activist using art to raise awareness about issues, expose corruption and comment on the world around me in ways that I hope will connect with readers.
I’m a contributing writer for The News Station. My books include “Highway Twenty,” which appeared on the Bram Stoker Award’s preliminary ballot for Superior Achievement in a Novel, “After the Change,” which is used in a University of Washington curriculum, “Secret Harbor,” and “Nightmares in Aston: Wicker Village.”
My short fiction has won awards and been featured in dozens of anthologies and magazines around the world, alongside some of the biggest names in the horror genre. A collection of my nonfiction containing articles written for venues, including the Nation, the Huffington Post, the Marshall Project and CBS News, was shortlisted for the Dzanc Diverse Voices Prize.
I’ve written for universities including Harvard University, Stanford University and the University of Chicago.
I also write scripts, and I have had multiple plays and audio-plays produced, but, to be honest, the best way to learn about me is to read my work because I leave a little piece of me in every piece I write.
When did you start expressing yourself through writing? Tell us about your origins as a writer.
As a child, I used to write to try and understand the world around me. When the behavioral patterns of the adults around me didn’t seem to make any sense, I would sit down and journal about it until I began to understand their motives. It was more of a form of venting than anything else, but I think it enabled me, much later, to create fully developed characters with relatable and realistic reactions and behaviors.
I spent most of my life under the misguided belief that writing ability is tied to academic achievements, so I didn’t get serious about it until 2014, when I was sitting in the King County Jail in Downtown Seattle. I wrote my first novel in hardly-legible chicken-scratch on a few pads of legal paper as a way to deal with the stress of an impending 35-year sentence (in the end I only ended up with 12). Though it was a rough draft, desperately in need of revisions, it was passed around the pod, and so well-received that I had an instant fan base, along with a sense of destiny that subsequently changed my life.
God, writing and the love of my partner have managed to rehabilitate me and restore me to sanity.
What kinds of stories are you most interested in telling? What genres do you prefer?
That one’s easy. I grew up on horror films from the 1980s and 90s. Before I was even tall enough to reach up and open a door, my mother was pushing independent movies like “Sleep Away Camp” and “Prom Night” on me. I loved them then, and a few still hold up. Their influence in my writing is undeniable. The genre has regained its popularity, and I’m very proud to be a part of that movement, but journalism is amazing as well.
I started writing about prison issues last year because I felt deep down that the way the Department of Corrections (DOC) was handling the pandemic would inevitably lead to deaths and wanted to do my part to hold them accountable. I think it’s very dangerous anytime an empowered group of people control the historic narrative, and DOC is notoriously nontransparent.
Without documented accounts of what’s happening from prisoners, as well as prison officials, future generations are bound to repeat the mistakes the DOC would like to cover up. Sometime during 2020, however, I started finding work writing about other topics as well. I currently produce, on average, two to three commissioned articles per week.
Where do you find your inspiration, or the ideas, for your writing?
I have five senses, and any experience retained through them can be interpreted in any number of ways. Inspiration is everywhere, and good writing is always, at the very least, a nod to the world around us. Sometimes however, it’s the people I talk to that have the greatest influence. I recently wrote a middle grade novel called “Nightmares in Aston: Wicker Village” and it was inspired by a young boy who kept asking me about my horror work.
Why do you think writing is important for incarcerated men and women? Why should people on the outside read your stories?
If I’m being perfectly honest, I only think it’s important to write for those of us who do it because there’s something inside of us that won’t let us not write. As far as why people should read what we write, well for humanity to continually progress, there needs to be a culture in academia, literature and the media, in which differing opinions from diverse perspectives are acknowledged and used to further discussions and healthy debates.
How would you like to be remembered and thought of as a person?
Too soon to call it. Ask me in 70 years.