I’ve been a fan of Michael West ever since I read Cinema of Shadows and have met and talked with him quite a few times at the conventions I usually attend. Of course, even at conventions, what amounts as “conversation” between two introverts is viewed by outsiders as long silent pauses followed by one or two short, terse sentences.
But if only those extroverts knew what we’re really plotting telepathically….
And without further ado, the awe-inspiring interview with the Maestro of Terror. Enjoy!
What got you into writing?
I’ve always been a storyteller. Before I could write, I would draw pictures to illustrate the tales that were spinning around inside my head. At age seven, after watching Star Wars for the first time, I decided that I wanted to be a filmmaker. I would write screenplays and make movies in the back yard with my parents’ video camera. And, as the stories I wanted to tell outgrew my meager budgets, I eventually turned my attention to writing short stories and novels.
What fascinates you most about Horror?
There is just something so wonderful, so primal, about fear, and that release you get when something scares you and you scream or jump out of your seat. It’s the same rush you get when you ride a really great rollercoaster. And, like any really great rollercoaster, as soon as you get off that ride, you want to get right back on it again.
As a genre, what sets Horror apart from Dark Fantasy or Thriller?
Well, in my mind, Horror deals more with the supernatural, ghosts and demons, while Dark Fantasy is more monsters and mythology. Thrillers can happen to you or the person next door; there is generally nothing supernatural about a thriller.
What is The Wide Game about? And what is Skull Full of Kisses?
In The Wide Game, Paul Rice, on the advice of his wife, is making plans to attend his 10th year High School reunion. Returning to his boyhood home of Harmony, Indiana, he finds that he is still haunted by memories of that time–memories of Deidra, his first love, and memories of the Wide Game. It was ten years ago that Paul and his friends watched their day of fun become a race for their lives, a fight for their very souls.
Now, as he meets the survivors of that day once more, Paul makes a chilling discovery: the incomprehensible forces that toyed with them have yet to finish playing their own game.
Skull Full of Kisses is a collection of my short fiction. It is ten stories, each one different from the next. There is some Horror, some Dark Fantasy, even some horrific Sci-fi. I like to think of it as a really good season of The Twilight Zone.
What are the differences between long fiction and short fiction, other than size?
They are entirely different skill sets. You have a lot less real estate to work with in a short story, so you have to develop your characters quickly, you have to get the action rolling and build up speed to the climax as fast as you can, like a plane running out of runway. With a novel, you have much more room to explore character motivations and themes. That said, it is far easier to kill off all your characters in a short story, because the reader has so much less time invested in them. If you kill off the main character at the end of your three hundred page novel, you get hate mail. Lots of hate mail.
What is similar?
Both novels and short stories need good, interesting characters. For me, a good character has to be relatable. You need to feel like they are someone you might know in real life: the neighbour, the classmate, the guy at work who keeps to themselves and lives with his mother by the old motel off…wait… Anyway, they can’t be pure good or pure evil, because, in reality, nobody is like that. The hero will have their negative qualities, their quirks and foibles, and the villains will have their charming qualities, their charismatic traits. Everyone is the hero of their own story, even the most despicable villain.
What are the key things you feel aspiring writers need to know in order to “break in”?
You need to craft believable characters and dialogue. It’s always been difficult for me to craft believable dialogue. I can write what a character is thinking, feeling, or doing all day long with no problem, but once they open their mouths…my progress slows to a crawl. That’s become easier over time, but it’s still something I struggle with. My advice to beginning writers is to read your work out loud. If you can’t say it without tripping over your own tongue, something needs to change. Also, have people read your stuff who don’t even like the genre you right in. Fans of a particular genre can be forgiving of certain cliches, where as someone who doesn’t normally read or watch stories in your genre may point out ways in which you can make the characters and their motivations seem more real.
Does music help you in your writing, either through providing inspiration or by just helping to set the mood?
Oh yes. I can’t work when it’s totally quiet. I will usually put on some kind of music, either film scores or something dark, like Depeche Mode, Sisters of Mercy, or good ol’ 80s Hair Metal.
And why do you think Horror and Metal work so well together?
I think it is very easy to convey horrific ideas and imagery with Metal, and likewise, I think good Metal can help inspire you to write a lot of Horrific imagery.
Last but not least: who do you think would win in a three-way fight? Dracula, the Wolf Man, or Tinkerbell?
Dracula, hands down.
Michael West is the critically-acclaimed author of The Wide Game, Cinema of Shadows, Spook House, Skull Full of Kisses, and the Legacy of the Gods series. A graduate of Indiana University, with a degree in Telecommunications and Film Theory, West has written a multitude of short stories, articles, and reviews for various on-line and print publications. He lives and works in the Indianapolis area with his wife, their two children, their bird, Rodan, their turtle, Gamera, and their dog, King Seesar.
His children are convinced that spirits move through the woods near their home.
The God Killers by John F. Allen brings Urban to Urban Fantasy. Set in both Chicago and New Orleans, Allen manages to breathe supernatural life to both cities in a believable manner without sacrificing the real world “feel” of the actual cities.
That being said, while the overall story was great; a good blend of action, character depth and complexity, and some pretty cool plot twists; it was a mixed bag for me in some specific parts. Some parts I loved. Other parts almost disrupted my suspension of disbelief.
Ivory Blaque, the main character, has a depth and complexity in her character that’s rarely found in the Urban Fantasy/Supernatural Romance subgenres. The only other character I’m aware of that can even compare, when it comes to character depth, would be Carrie Vaughn’s Kitty Norville. But when it comes to sheer attitude and ass-kicking ability, Ivory has them all beat.
The absolute best scene in the novel is the Wild West style duel between Ivory and Johnny. In that scene Allen shows his ability to take a classic (and often clichéd) trope and give it a twist that would make Joss Whedon applaud.
But then there was those moments when POV got broken, like when the God Killers got referred to as the God Killers before Ivory would have known that’s what they were called. And then there was the nightclub scene when the short black woman was suddenly, a paragraph or two later, a tall black woman. Last but not least, it also felt as if Allen continued the story onward after this novel should have ended, and the last “cliffhanger” chapter would’ve been better off being the first chapter to the upcoming (I hope) second novel.
But in spite of the small, but glaring, nitpicks, I still enjoyed reading The God Killers and find Ivory Blaque to be a fascinating character who I would love to read more of.
Best to read while listening to: A little Midnight Syndicate (for all those vampires), some Metallica and Megadeth (for all those werewolves), with a little hip hip (preferably Ice T and some Ice Cube…actually, there’s only Ice T and Ice Cube, all the rest are Vanilla Ice-wannabee posers), and good old-fashioned Jazz. Oh yeah, definitely Jazz. And toss in a Detective Noir soundtrack and a dash of Aeon Flux theme songs for Ivory.
The first novel in The Golden Threads trilogy, Thread Slivers sets the overall story up well. Leeland Artra delivers fast-paced action, a complex and twisting plot, well-developed characters, and a vast world whose intriguing history gets hinted at throughout the book; leaving you wanting to know as much about Duianna’s history as you do about the fate of Ticca and Lebuin.
Even though he’s not the main character, The Duke steals the show. But what else would you expect from a horse-sized talking wolf that cusses like a sailor? And considering his background (which I won’t get into and thus spoil), I wouldn’t be surprised if this “Fantasy” trilogy turns out to be cleverly disguised Science Fiction.
I tend to hate cliffhangers, mostly because it pisses me off to have to wait six months to a year to find out what happens next. But that’s really the only peeve I have with the book, for it’s a cliffhanger that actually does its job because I want to know what happens next, now!!!! Now dammit!! NOW!!!!!
Best to read while listening to: Three Musketeers soundtrack, combined with the soundtrack to Patton.
Spooky music is one thing. Spooky music combined with equally scary sounds in the background is quite another. But a CD full of such music arranged in a manner that sounds like it could be the soundtrack to any Hammer horror film, and you have Monsters of Legend by Midnight Syndicate.
“Building the Monster” is an obvious tribute to Frankenstein. And other songs sound like they could be straight out of Dracula, among other films. By far the creepiest was “Cloistered Cemetery.” Every song creates the proper macabre atmosphere for its purpose, especially “Dark Tower.” And while “Ancient Portal” is all sound effects and no music, it fits right in as a bridge to the next song.
Midnight Syndicate has made a lot of excellent albums over the years, but this one is by far one of the best. Every fan of the old Horror films, or anyone who likes scary music, should add this CD to their collection.
Best to listen to while reading: any of the classics, like Dracula, Frankenstein, or Poe’s short stories.