Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Interview With Michael West

I had the pleasure to interview Michael West, the author of The Wide Game and Goodnight among others, as part of our Seventh Star Singles Contest sponsored by Seventh Star Press. I hope you'll enjoy this interview as much as I enjoyed interviewing Michael West.

Michael West is a member of the Horror Writers Association and serves as President of its local chapter, Indiana Horror Writers. A graduate of Indiana University, West earned a degree in Telecommunications and Film Theory, and since that time, he 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, and turtle, Gamera. His children are convinced that spirits move through the woods near their home.

For further information, please visit Michael's site at www.bymichaelwest.com.

Don't forget to participate in our contest to be one of the 3 lucky readers to win 8 e-books, including Michael's Goodnight and For The River Is Wide And The Gods Are Hungry.

Hi Michael. Would you like to tell us a little bit about yourself?

Well, anyone who follows me on Facebook and Twitter knows I love two things: coffee and Horror. I’ve loved Horror as long as I can remember; as a child, I used to trick babysitters into letting me stay up late to watch Night Gallery episodes and Hammer films, I subscribed to Fangoria and read every Stephen King that came out, and I wrote my first novel while still in high school (A work that will never, ever see the light of day. Awful. *shudder*). My love of coffee didn't start until much later, but if you took it away from me...well, let's just say that would be a real Horror story.

Let's start with digital books. What do you think of e-books? What does the future hold for paper books and e-books? Do you have an e-reader?

I think e-books offer some great advantages. For older readers, it gives them the ability to adjust the font size and read without glasses. And with the smaller price tag of many e-books, it gives readers a chance to discover new, lesser known talents. People are more willing to take a risk on you when your work costs less than a cup of coffee. LOL I don't have an e-reader, but my wife has a Kindle and my son has a Nook. I hope the future will allow the two formats to peacefully co-exist. CDs have not gone away because of iPods and iTunes, and even vinyl records have made a resurgence for collectors. You can't have your favorite band sign an iPod, but as you can't have your favorite author sign your e-Reader, so I think that physical books will always have a place. I know for me, nothing can replace the experience of reading a book...the weight of it, the smell...digital formats can't replace that.

My following question or my following set of questions are about knowing you as a reader. What kind of a reader are you? Who are your favorite authors? What are your favorite books? How do you choose the books that you read? Do you tend to go for a specific genre more than others? What are you currently reading?

Wow…well, I'm a slow reader. LOL I know people who can read several books a day, but I read several books a year. I also read a lot of short stories. And news articles. LOTS of news articles. I'm always doing research, always looking for that next great story idea. As for favorite authors, I love Clive Barker, Richard Matheson, and Rod Serling, but growing up in the eighties as I did, I’d have to say Stephen King is…well…king. I just love the way he can take a normal, everyday, real-life place or situation and make it into something horrific. Going to the grocery store? Well, you’re going to run into a monster. Oh, and that quiet little town you live in? Overrun by vampires. The hotel you’re staying in and the car you’re driving right now? Haunted. That’s something I try to do in my fiction as well, making the real fantastic and vice versa. My favorite books are King's The Stand and 'Salem's Lot, Barker's Books of Blood, and Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park. I read anything that sounds interesting, but as you can tell, the works are mostly Horror and Sci-fi. If I read Fantasy, it is usually of the dark and Urban variety. I like anything dark, really. I'm currently between books, but I just finished re-reading all six volumes of Alan Moore's Swamp Thing. I've read it several times, and it just gets better with each pass. Next, I need to pick up a copy of The Monster's Corner: Stories Through Inhuman Eyes. My friend Gary A. Braunbeck has a story in it, and I just love stories told from the monster's point of view.

Now let’s talk about Michael West the writer: When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve always been a storyteller. Before I could write, I drew pictures to illustrate the tales that were spinning inside my head. As I got older, I wrote screenplays and made films with my parents’ video camera. And, when the stories that I wanted to tell outgrew my meager budgets, I turned them into short stories and novels.

Do you have a specific writing process? Do you follow a regular routine?

I tend to have an ending in mind when I start. That's not to say that the ending doesn't change half a dozen times by the time I get there, but I need to have a goal, something to work toward. I’ve got a coffee mug covered in artwork from my short story “Jiki.” I usually fill that up and turn on music, either film soundtracks or 80s music, I can’t work when it’s totally quiet. I also like the room to be as dark as possible, so I will turn off lights or close blinds before I start. Then, when I finish a novel or short story, I will go to my favorite restaurant and order my favorite thing on the menu to celebrate. And then I start the whole thing over again.

Do you work with an outline?

I don't tend to outline the novel as a whole, but when I get to the next chapter, I first jot down the key things that happen in it, then I fill in the prose. But even then, the characters really dictate what happens. I could do all the planning in the world, but the characters would just do their own thing anyway. LOL

Have you ever experienced writer’s block? Do you have any special remedy or routine that you apply in this situation?

Oh sure. All writers do at one time or another. There are days when I will type a thousand words and other days when I'm lucky to string a sentence together. I have to admit that I hate writing that first draft. For me, that’s the most difficult thing in the world, just getting all the words out onto the page and giving the story a beginning, middle, and end. But you just have to work through it. Sometimes, I'll just take a break and walk, watch a movie, or listen to music until something comes to me that I have to write down. I find that once it’s out there, once I get into the editing process and the re-writes, that’s when I’m most happy. I’ve spoken to writers who feel just the opposite, they love getting it all out there and hate doing edits, but I view it the way a sculptor views a huge block of marble; it’s a pain, getting that stone into the studio, but, when you start to chip away at it, when it starts to like what you envisioned, or, in some cases, better than what you envisioned... there’s no greater feeling in the world than that.

How did you choose the genre you write in?

I don't think it was ever really a choice. As I said, I’ve loved Horror for as long as I can remember. I’d collect toys based on the classic Universal monsters. In the eighties, when a new Horror film opened, I was always first in line. Even when I wrote scripts for Educational Television, I found ways to sneak in Horror themes. I pitched a program called Teen Terrors—a look at the stress, fears, and anxieties that all teenagers must face—and filmed host segments in graveyards and the torture chambers of local haunted houses. It was only natural that, when I finally put pen to paper to write prose, the result would be horrific.

I’ve enjoyed horror books since an age when I shouldn’t even have been allowed to read them and when I look back I see a constant change or evolution in what is popular. What do you think of the genre’s evolution? How has your take on horror changed throughout the years you’ve been writing?

Yes, what's popular is always changing. There was a time when nobody wrote about zombies and vampires were passe, but now they're all the rage. I'm not a big fan of the really extreme Horror. I’m certainly not afraid to hack and slash. I think a certain amount of blood is needed and expected when it comes to Horror fiction or films. But if you have characters who bleed like a lawn sprinklers, more than the body can physically produce, it just becomes laughable. All of my stories so far seem to have centered around relationships of one kind or another. My first novel, The Wide Game, was about first love, and my story "Goodnight," which is now available as a Seventh Star Single e-book, is about the love of a great-grandfather for his great-grandson. Most relationships are complicated, but, in my stories, some of those complications are supernatural.

Do you pay any attention to the reviews of your books? If yes, do they influence your writing in any way?

Sure, I read the reviews, particularly the ones from faithful readers on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, etc. They do tend to put a bit of pressure on you. Here are all these people who love your work and say things like, "I can't wait to see what he comes up with next," or "I don't know how he's gonna top this," and you start to wonder, "How am I going to top that? What if I can't top it?" But, ultimately, you just have to tell the best story you can tell and hope it resonates with people.

What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?

Luckily, there hasn't been anything really scathing. *knock on wood* But sometimes I'll read a comment that will leave me scratching my head, wondering why the person didn't understand this plot point or that. The best compliments have been the remarks on how well-drawn my characters are. I think the most important element of writing is creating good, believable characters. You can have the most original plot in the world, an amazing monster or villain, but, if the reader doesn’t care about the people in your story, they’re not going to read it. That’s why a lot of movies made from horror novels fail. The filmmakers concentrate on the Big Bad—the vampire, demon, what-have-you—and the characters get short shrift. When you really care about the people in a story, you get lost in the narrative and you feel things on a very visceral level. That’s the type of connection I strive for in my own writing.

Do you have anything specific that you would like to tell your readers?

I just want to thank them for their support. Writing is a very solitary process, just you and your laptop with no idea how your work will be perceived. It's very gratifying for me that so many people enjoy what I do, that they're actually out there waiting for the next thing to come out, and I can't wait to give them more.

In the meantime, however, faithful readers can always get up-to-date information on me and my work at my website, http://www.bymichaelwest.com.

Michael, thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions.

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