Michaela’s writing hones in on anxiety, loss and distress, and plays with nonlinear timelines. Originally from NYC, she currently works as a civil servant in the UK, and is an active member of the Oxford Writing Circle. Her writing has recently been featured in The Oxford Review of Books, Pink Disco Magazine (forthcoming), The Talon Review (forthcoming) and Cassandra Voices—to which she is a regular contributor. Following this novel, she has begun posting chapters of a speculative fiction project on her Substack, 11 Billion Words.
Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?
My family is quite artistic, so I was surrounded by music, painting, theater, and writing throughout my life. My dad is from Ireland and made sure I read legendary Irish writers like W. B. Yeats; meanwhile, my mom would quote Joni Mitchell lyrics like aphorisms, so it was inevitable I’d at least know what good writing sounded like.
By age 16, I knew I loved to write, but didn’t quite know where I fit in until my mom suggested I read Crime and Punishment for my senior paper. I took to Dostoevsky immediately, read several of his short stories, and knew there was no turning back. It doesn’t hurt that we share a birthday, if you believe in astrology and all that. Even if I’ll never achieve as much as he did, he inspired me to write intense, cerebral stories that addressed both sociopolitical issues and the depths of human emotion. They may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but every writer has a reader.
What inspired you to start writing this book?
It was a strange situation: I had just seen Sleep No More, the immersive production of Macbeth in NYC, in which the actors often pull members of the audience away for these intense “one-on-ones”. Lucky me, I managed to get two of them. That night, I dreamt of a young man wandering through the woods in late autumn during a downpour, looking for a girl. He spied a man in a black overcoat who, like in the one-on-ones, pushed the young man up against a tree and told him the girl was dead. At the time, I was in a fiction workshop in college, so I decided to turn that dream into my workshop piece for that week. It was a confusing mess of a short story, but there are still lines from that original draft in my current manuscript.
But all dreams live in a wider psychosocial context. I was reeling from an unrequited love affair with someone I would probably never see again, but who often contacted me and kept me hanging on to hope. I constantly questioned why people leave others with no sense of closure, and why I couldn’t let go of anyone I’d ever loved. So this dream of someone searching, being unable to see clearly, hearing answers from others rather than the person they love, came at the perfect time. And I needed to write it out. The mental illness element came a bit later, when I took several psychology classes and realized no one is cruel without a reason, even if it only makes sense to them.
Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?
It took ages to settle on the right title. Almost six years after I wrote the short story, I was watching Synecdoche, New York, and heard the title Caden picks for his doomed “masterpiece”: The Obscure Moon Lighting an Obscure World.
While I didn’t want to plagiarize Charlie Kaufman, that suggestion finally shook me out of my title rut. The moon is a recurring image throughout the novel, though I can’t pretend I deliberately made it a symbol in every scene. Equally, the parallel search the main character takes through his memories reminded me of how murky memory can be, especially when in distress. Again, I don’t want to pretend I’ll accomplish as much as Charlie Kaufman, but I chose Lighting a Blurry Night as an homage to how much that film impacted me and pushed me to finish the novel. On the off-chance Kaufman ever reads my book, I hope he’s not mad at me.
If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?
This book actually has a pretty lengthy soundtrack, but I’ll list a few of the highlights:
“Letters to an Old Poet” by boygenius
“Easy Way Out” and “Pitseleh” by Elliott Smith
“Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd
“Give Me Your Fire, Give Me Your Rain” by The Paper Kites
“Heal” by Tom Odell
“About You” by The 1975
Describe your dream book cover.
Despite being raised by two visual artists, I struggle to picture the right cover for this novel. Sometimes I picture something like a Caspar David Friedrich painting: a vast, starry sky with a hill in the foreground, and the silhouette of a young man on his knees, clutching his temples. Something peaceful with that tiny element of horror you can only catch if you pay attention.
What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?
I’ve had internships in a load of sectors: fashion, video editing, journalism, experimental psychology and non-profit development. I’ve also worked as a waitress and college porter. After obtaining my Master’s degree from Oxford, I worked for an InsurTech startup, then a public policy consulting firm, and am now a civil servant in the UK government.
If (and when) this novel is published, I don’t think my readers will know I’m passionate about mitigating online harms, and am extremely plugged in to AI Ethics discourse. I purposefully leave social media/tech out of this novel because I think it would be quite pander-y. Despite the story taking place in 2018, it only really discusses phones and messaging as means of communication, and even then it’s rare. I think technology will be incorporated into other stories, just not this one.
What books did you read (for research or comfort) throughout your writing process?
Before knowing about the importance of comp titles in the agent submission process, I read similar books to make sure I wasn’t copying anyone! Pardon any clichés, but I read Lolita, Diary of an Oxygen Thief, The Catcher in the Rye, and Looking for Alaska. In addition, I read several psychological studies about male cases of Borderline Personality Disorder to make sure I reflected the experience accurately, and took a class on the psychology of memory in college.
What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?
I want the novel to convey, from the outset, that human behavior can’t always be explained or justified, even when we search for answers. My perfect reader would probably be someone who needs that reassurance, though I can’t pin down a specific type of experience that would push them to that point. I suppose at some point in our lives, we all take a difficult journey through the past to make sense of the present.
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