What Once Was Flesh
From the Anthology Collection
Michael West’s Vampires Don’t Sparkle
The Genesis of “What Once Was Flesh”
“Where do you get your ideas?” is the most common question writers are asked. (Followed closely by “Do you know Stephen King/Stephenie Myer/J.K. Rowling?” and “How much do you pay to get your books published?”) Sometimes it’s a question we can’t answer because we simply don’t know. Some ideas just pop into our heads fully realized, and all we have to do is sit down and write. (Too bad that doesn’t happen more often!) But sometimes we know exactly where and how a story idea is born, and that’s the case with my contribution to Vampires Don’t Sparkle, “What Once Was Flesh.”
I started writing seriously – meaning with the intent to publish and make a career out of it – in my late teens. I read Writer’s Digest religiously, along with tons of How-To books. One of the bits of advice that I encountered over and over was that writers should always carry a notebook with them to jot down ideas. I tried. I bought a pocket-sized notebook and carried it around with me, but I never seemed to write much in it, and half the time I’d forget to bring it with me, or I’d lose it and have to buy another one. Eventually I gave up. But now, in my late forties, I’ve finally found a way to make note-taking work for me. The notepad function on my phone is the perfect solution. I already carry my phone with me wherever I go, and I don’t need to worry about finding a pen to write with. Best of all, since I can email my notes to myself, I don’t ever have to worry about losing them. So now, whenever an idea occurs to me, I pull out my phone and type it into my notepad. Better yet, I can record weird and interesting things that I see on a daily basis, usually people, objects, or events that I might easily forget encountering if I didn’t write them down. For example, here’s one entry: “Guy with dirty old book bag with stick figure drawn on it with a word balloon saying hell is other people.” It’s an odd detail I noticed in a coffee shop one day, and if I hadn’t written it down, I’m sure it would’ve slipped my mind within minutes. What, if anything, I’ll ever do with this detail, I can’t tell you. But it’s there in my notepad if I ever need it.
So when it came time for me to write a story for Vampires Don’t Sparkle, I did several things. One was, of course, think deeply on the guidelines. The thrust of the anthology was to present stories about evil vampires, to reclaim the mantle of monster for the poor bloodsuckers after they’d been Twilighted into eternal brooding adolescents. That was cool. I’d grown up reading books and watching movies in which vampires were scary feral predators only masquerading as humans, demonic things that used human form solely as camouflage in order to better stalk their prey. But they weren’t just interested in obtaining food or preserving their own undead existences: they wanted to spread their unholy contagion, in the process damning as many innocent souls as possible.
So once I had a handle on the anthology’s theme, I knew I needed to avoid any ideas that other contributors might use in their stories. (This is always the tough part of writing for themed anthologies – you have to try to ensure that your idea stands out from, but yet complements, a bunch of stories you haven’t read.) One of the best ways to write original fiction is to avoid riffing on stories, movies, or TV shows you’re familiar with – and all too common failing for all of us, if we’re not careful – and instead draw on your unique experience. So what did I do? Grab my phone and start scrolling through my notes, of course!
I often go to coffee shops to write (in fact, I’m typing this in one right now). I need a certain amount of noise and activity around me to concentrate, and I’m not tempted to procrastinate since there’s nothing else to do with drink coffee and write. One day as I was walking into a Barnes and Noble, intending to write in the café, I noticed an EMS vehicle parked in the lot. It said Community EMS on the side, there were two men sitting up front, and the engine was running. The vehicle looked a bit old, and it struck me odd that it didn’t seem affiliated with a particular town or city. “Community” seemed so generic. And I wondered what they were doing just hanging out in a bookstore parking lot, engine running. I figured maybe they were taking a break for lunch or something, and it was a bit cold out, so maybe they were running the engine to stay warm. I thought no more about it, went inside, and wrote for several hours. And when I came outside to head to my car, there was the EMS vehicle, sitting in the same spot, same two men sitting in front, engine still running. Hours later.
As soon as I got into my car, I recorded the incident on my phone.
I decided it would make a good basis to start with for my vampire story. For one thing, I was almost guaranteed no one else would write about something similar. I was the only person who saw the vehicle and thought it was strange. (Side note: this is how to “write what you know” when writing horror/science fiction/fantasy, etc. You don’t literally write about your experience; you use your experience as a starting point, as a seed from which to grow a story.) And it struck me that posing as an EMT would be an excellent way for vampires to find prey. Since there were two men in the vehicle in real life, I decided to put two men in the vehicle in my story. And since the anthology was about evil vampires, I wondered why truly evil entities would choose to work together instead of working alone. After that, all I had to do was start writing.
So, if you’ve got a smart phone, think about using the notepad function to record your ideas and especially your observations. But be warned: if you see an EMS vehicle sitting in a parking lot, engine running, don’t walk up to it and knock on the window. You might not like what’s sitting on the other side.
- Exclusive – Author Tim Waggoner Talks Supernatural: Carved in Flesh (dreadcentral.com)
- Vampires Don’t Sparkle by Michael West: A Blood-soaked Bonanza (mikesfilmtalk.com)