Shells Chats with author Michael West

Does having a degree in Film Theory influence your writing in any way?

As a result of my background in film and video, I tend to be very visual. I see the story as a movie in my head. So when I write it all down, I try to include as many details as possible so that the reader and I are watching the same movie. I also think that, having watched and read as much Horror as I have, I have a better understanding of the conventions of the genre. I know what works and what doesn't for building terror and suspense, and try to incorporate only the stuff that works.

What is it about the Horror genre you love the most and what other genres do you enjoy writing in?

I've always loved Horror. It's a very liberating genre, and one of the oldest forms of storytelling. Cavemen told stories of the monsters they'd slain to terrified women and children. Epic poems were written of gods and terrors from the far reaches of the mostly unexplored globe. And some of the very first films ever made were horror stories. But what I love most about Horror is its ability to help us deal with our own fears, to explore the human condition and real world problems and injustices through allegory, and to continue to provide a safe outlet for our emotions. When you survive a horror film or book, close the cover or walk out of the dark into the light of day, you just feel better. The same is true for me as a storyteller. When I get done writing a Horror story or novel, it's like an exorcism. The demons are out of my head and there on the page, and it just a wonderful feeling (and much cheaper than therapy).

I enjoy writing Sci-Fi and Dark Fantasy as well. In fact, one of my goals this year is to finish my first dark Sci-Fi novel. I've written several short stories in the genre, but never a full length novel, so I'm looking forward to the experiment.

How has being a member and president of your local chapter of the Horror Writers Association helped your writing career?

The Indiana Horror Writers are my second family. After day upon day of working alone in a vacuum, it's so wonderful to be able to meet with other writers, to talk shop and life and just be able to hang around with people who understand what it is that you do. This is a tough business, and it's difficult to navigate the rough waters on your own. As a collective, however, you are able to learn things about various markets, to get feedback that helps you hone your craft and find your voice. All the success I've had in my professional career came since I joined HWA and IHW, and I highly recommend that new writers join a group of some kind.

You've written a lot of short stories, what do you find challenging about writing those type of stories?

Well, it's a much different process than writing a novel. In a novel, you have a lot of real estate to work with, to explore various themes and delve deeper into characters' motivations. Short stories are short and sweet. You have to get in, get your idea across, and get out in about 5,000 words or less, sometimes much less. I usually can't sneeze less than 3,000 words, so I have to be very frugal with my words and choose each on carefully.

If you had to choose a favorite character from one of your stories which one would it be?

Oh my... that's like asking me which of my children I love more. If I had to pick one, it would probably be Jiki. She's a Japanese demon from the first story in my collection, Skull Full of Kisses. She's sexy and seductive, knows what she wants and how to get it, and I really enjoyed writing her. In fact, right now, I'm drinking coffee from a mug with her picture on it and wearing a T-Shirt of her, so yeah, I guess she would be my favorite. *Laughs*

Please tell us a bit about your book Skull Full of Kisses and where the ideas came for this book?

Skull Full of Kisses is a collection of my short fiction over the last five years. Each story had it's own inspiration, which I detail in the "Notes" section at the back of the book. For example, the story I just spoke about, "Jiki," was my homage to the Asian Horror films that I love, particularly the films of Takashi Miike (Audition, Ichi the Killer). Another story, "Goodnight," which won the P&E Poll for Best Horror Short Story of 2005, came about because I had two story ideas-- twins who try to fool death, and a Grandparent telling their grandchild a bedtime story--that I could not make work on their own. It took me a while to realize that they were actually two halves of the same tale.

How does writing short stories compared to writing longer works for you? Is it more challenging or easier in your view?

As I said before, they really are totally different skills. Both have their advantages and their drawbacks. It takes much less time to write a short story-- I've written one in a single day before--but you are limited to the exploration of character and theme that you can accomplish in those 5,000 words or less. Then again, because of that, you can kill off everyone in a short story, because the reader has also invested far less time with them. If you try to kill off everyone in a novel, it tends to make readers very angry, because they have become so much more attached to those people. They feel like they know them. When I sit down to write, unless it is for the specific guidelines of an editor, I never say, "This will be a short story," or "This will be a novel." It all depends on the strength of the idea and the characters. Horror should be all about the characters. The more real they are, the more the reader will feel fear.

Can you tell us a bit about your novel The Wide Game?

On the advice of his wife, Paul Rice 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.

The story was a very personal one for me, as I grew up during the time period in which the novel is set, and I was thrilled that Dale Murphy and Graveside Tales books decided to release it on February 15th.

Who did the cover art for The Wide Game?

The cover for The Wide Game was done by artist Bob Freeman, who also did the cover for Skull Full of Kisses. It really captures the feel and setting of the novel. It's very 80s Horror, and I'm just so happy with it.

What advice would you give to a new writer coming into the publishing world?

I think it’s important for writers to have readers who aren’t fans of their particular genre. Someone who likes horror is far more forgiving of the conventions of horror, where as someone who doesn’t read or watch the genre will take you to task on aspects of plot and character that don’t ring true. And, if these readers suggest edits, listen to them. As a writer, you have to learn to kill your babies. You may write a truly amazing passage, or a wonderful subplot, but, if they don't serve your story--if they bog down your action or obscure your theme, you need to make the edit. It's never easy, but in the end, the story will flow much better because of it. Which brings us to one final bit of advice: never throw anything away. I’ve cut things from novels that I’ve later turned into stand alone stories or parts of other novels. Just because something isn’t right for Project A doesn’t mean it won’t be a better fit for something in the future.

How do you feel about e-books compared to print books and what is your view of the future of bookstores?
I have nothing against E-Books, so long as there is also a print version available. I read work off the computer or a digital reader from time to time, but there is nothing like the feel and smell of a real print on paper book. I would love to see people get out and support their local bookstores, especially those small, independently-owned bookstores. I love to walk int and look over the shelves, turn the books over in my hands and read the covers. I hope that option never goes away. That's not to say that it won't change over the years. iTunes didn't kill your ability to go out and shop for CDs in brick and mortar stores. At least, not yet. I think we may see smaller book stores in the future, or books being just a small part of larger box stores that don't specialize in the printed word.

Do you have any appearances/events coming up in the future you can tell us about?

Where can people find out more about you?
I will be a guest on The Funky Werepig Blog Talk Radio program on Saturday, February 12th at 2:00 pm. I have a book signing at the Barnes & Noble in the IUPUI Campus Center (420 University Boulevard Indianapolis, IN 46202 / Store telephone: (317)278-2665) on Thursday, February 24 from 11 am-1 pm. And I will be at Mo*Con VI, InConJunction 31, and FandomFest among others. Faithful readers can find out more about me, my work, and my schedule at my website, http://www.bymichaelwest,com and on Facebook and Twitter.

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