Author Michael West Interview – 4 April 2013

Photograph courtesy of bymichaelwest.com
Photograph courtesy of bymichaelwest.com

Michael West is a member of the Horror Writers Association and Indiana Horror Writers, where he serves as President. 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, their turtle, Gamera, and their dog, King Seesar.

His children are convinced that spirits move through the woods near their home.

West’s short story “Goodnight,” originally published in WICKED KARNIVAL #6, was named “Best Horror Short Story of 2005″ in the P&E Readers Poll.

Okay, the above “bio” is from Goodreads and the information about author Michael West is encapsulated in just five sentences. Granted one is a very long sentence but the fact remains that we don’t know an awful lot about this chap who writes such brilliantly scary stories.

Michael has kindly agreed to take time out of his busy life to participate in an interview for MikesFilmTalk.com and after I did a Snoopy dance around my laptop in celebration I had to set down and write out some questions for him to answer.

So without further ado, let’s welcome author Michael West to my site and let the questions begin:

1.     How old were you when you realized that you wanted to be a   writer/author?

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.

2.    I’ve read that your influences were Stephen King, Clive Barker, Richard Matheson and Rod Serling; so I’m guessing that you’ve been “hooked” on the horror genre for a while now. Were there any other influences that were not literature related? For instance, movies or some real life experiences that started you down that road?

I’ve loved Horror as long as I can remember.  I don’t know why.  I used to trick babysitters into letting me stay up late to watch Night Gallery episodes and Hammer films. I’d collect toys based on classic Universal monsters.  In the eighties, when a new Horror film opened, I was always first in line.   In addition to the writers you mentioned, there are some film directors who have influenced me as well.  John Carpenter, George Romero, James Cameron, and Takashi Miike would be the most obvious ones.

3.    Are there any other authors that interest you at the moment? Any particular genre?

I love the work of Brian Keene, J.F. Gonzales, and Tim Lebbon, but Gary A. Braunbeck is one of the authors I admire most right now.  He brings this emotional reality to his fiction that is simply amazing.  His work elevates the entire genre, and I was so thrilled that he was able to write the introduction to my short story collection, Skull Full of Kisses, so honored and humbled by what he had to say.  As far as genres go, other than Horror, I’m really into Urban Fantasy right now.  I’ve never been a big fan of traditional Fantasy novels, but I love the idea of taking normal, everyday places and adding magical, fantastical twists to them.

Cinema_Of_Shadows-frontcover-small1
A Harmony Indiana book.

4.    A lot of your stories deal with the town of Harmony, Indiana. Is Harmony based on a real place?

Living in Indiana all my life, I have driven through and visited quite a few rural communities, and Harmony is based on my experiences and observations of small town life.  As far as the name goes, there is a New Harmony, Indiana, and so I thought to myself, “If there’s a New Harmony, there should be a Harmony.”

5.    I really could have made this a two-part question because I’m now going to ask about Colonial Bay. So obviously and wonderfully influenced by H.P. Lovecraft, is the “Bay” based on a real place or did you come up with the location based on your story idea?

The location, a town on an isolated island, was due to the story, but I always try to inject as much realism as I can.  I’ve been to a lot of coastal towns over the years on vacation, a lot of “tourist traps,” and Colonial Bay was based on all and none of them. 

6.    When did you become the president of the Indiana Horror Writers?

I believe that I was first elected President back in 2006.  I do know that there was a year when I stepped aside for various reasons and served as Vice President, but other than that, I have been President ever since.

7.    What exactly do you have to do in that position? Were you elected?

Yes, it’s an elected position.  I help steer the meetings and help keep the various projects and events we are involved with on track.  We try to get involved as much as possible in our local schools and community to help foster a love of reading and of speculative fiction in particular.  We appear at various book stores and conventions in the area to promote our works and, again, raise awareness that there is a lot of great talent in the state of Indiana.

SkullFullofKissesCoverart_w_text-202x300
A great collection of short stories.

8.    I’ve just finished reading your short story collection Skull Full of Kisses. Is there any chance that some of these might “reappear” later as a longer version?

It is certainly possible.  I get emails all the time from faithful readers who want to see more of my Japanese demon, Jiki.  I would love to do something more with her sometime. 

9.    I’m sorry to have to ask this next question, but enquiring minds want to know. Where do you get your ideas? Are they left over dreams or something that just strikes you as interesting?

I get my inspiration from a variety of places.  Sometimes I will see an article in the news that strikes me as odd and I start to ask myself that question: “What if…?”  But a lot of my ideas come to me when I’m in the shower in the morning, in that weird, dream-like state between consciousness and unconsciousness.

10. I loved the award-winning story “Goodnight.” Is there any chance of revisiting those characters later?

Thank you.  There are no plans at the moment, but I never say never.

11. Your “Bio” on Goodreads states that your children think the woods around your house are haunted. Any thoughts on that?

I’ve never personally seen or felt anything around our house in the almost twenty years that we’ve lived here, but my sons claim to have had experiences there, and I believe them. 

12. Have you ever had any “ghostly” experiences?

I went on several ghost investigations, doing research for my novel Cinema of Shadows, and I did have an experience or two.  I was in what they called “the demon closet” in the old Woodcarvers building in Converse, Indiana, and I witnessed a hanging light moving like a pendulum when there was no breeze or any reason for it to be moving.  I asked questions, and received spikes on an EMF meter in reply.  I also spent the night there and woke up to hear people arguing in the hallway outside my room, but there was nobody there.  Very creepy place!  I never felt alone there.  It always felt as if I were being watched.

Number 1 in the Legacy of the Gods series.
Number 1 in the Legacy of the Gods series.

13. I know that you’re working on Hades’ Disciples at the moment. How’s that coming along? Can you wager a guess on when it will be finished?

It is coming along.  With it being the second book in a series and knowing a bit more about the characters, it is going quicker than the first.  I’m hoping to have it done this summer.  The publisher has their heart set on a fall release, so time is short.

14. When you write, do you set yourself hours, words or pages as a goal?

I try to set word goals.  Right now, I shoot for 1,000 words a day. 

Sometimes I meet it, sometimes I exceed it, and sometimes I don’t even come close, but I like having something to strive for.  It is the only way I can meet my deadlines. 

15. And finally, (just because I’m a fan of Inside the Actor’s Studio) I’m going to crib some of their infamous questions:

  • A:  What other job would you like to do?   Film director.
  • B:  What other job wouldn’t you like to do?  Growing up, I always said I would never work in fast food.  I was too afraid that I would find out horrible things about the food and never want to eat it again.
  • C:  What is your favorite word?    Awesome.
  • D:  What is you least favorite word?    Can’t.

Besides working on his second book in the Legacy of the Gods series (Hades’ Disciples) his latest offering is now available from Seventh House Press: Vampires Don’t Sparkle is a great new vampire anthology featuring some of the best talents in the genre. It is available in paperback and e-book formats.

Michael took on the role of editor in this collection of varying vampire tales. His motivation for taking on this project was a personal and close one, a portion of the proceeds from the sales are going to cancer research.

In Michael’s own words, he says why: “It is a very personal cause for me.  One year ago, I lost one of my closest friends, author Sara J. Larson, to cancer, and then my wife was diagnosed with the disease last fall.  I hope that, with this anthology, we can help win the fight against this real-life horror.”

I’ve got to finish by saying that I am honored that Michael chose accepted my invitation to an interview. I am a huge fan and I am sure that if any of you are horror fans, you’ll love his work.

If you like truly original scary stories, you cannot go wrong with reading Michael West’s tales of terror.

Available now from book sellers and a portion of the proceeds are going to cancer research.
Available now from book sellers and a portion of the proceeds are going to cancer research.

Candyman (1992): Bee Afraid

Candyman (film)
Candyman (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Directed by (and adapted for the screen by) Bernard Rose, based on a short story by Clive Barker from his Books of Blood, Candyman is a scary edge-of-your-seat suspense-filled horror movie. The entire film reeks of foreboding and the tension is almost unbearable. On its release in 1992 it became a runaway smash with audiences and critics.

Although Barker’s short story takes place in England, moving the location to Chicago’s North Side Housing development of Cabrini Green does not harm the movie at all.

Candyman boasts a great cast: Tony Todd as Candyman, Virginia Madsen as grad student Helen Lyle, Xander Berkeley as her slimy husband Trevor Lyle, Kasi Lemmons as Helen’s best friend Bernie Walsh, and Vanessa Williams as the battle-scarred resident of Cabrini Green Anne-Marie McCoy and way down on the cast list is Ted Raimi doing what he does best, dying by Candyman’s hook.

The plot centers around Helen Lyle who is, with the help of Bernie, doing her Master’s thesis on urban legends. It is while she’s interviewing students that she becomes aware of the Candyman.

The original Candyman was the illegitimate son of a white slave owner and one of his slaves. He was a very talented artist and lived as a free man. He was much in demand for his artistic skills and after he meets a white girl whose portrait he’s been commissioned to paint. They fall in love.

Unfortunately, Candyman has forgotten the first rule of living as a black free man in early America. When the townspeople find out that he and the white girl are together they react badly. They chase down him down and cut off his painting hand and replace it with a hook. They then cover him with honey and he is stung to death. The crowd chant Candyman as he dies.

The urban legend says that you can summon the Candyman by saying his name five times while looking in a mirror. Although why anyone would want to do this is beyond me. When Candyman appears, he kills the summoner with his hook. I can only assume that it would be a guaranteed way to commit suicide.

Helen and Bernie both jokingly tryout the ritual in Helen’s bathroom mirror with no apparent effect.

The location of the legend appears to be the Cabrini Green housing project. Helen goes to scout out the place and hears of at least two deaths that have been attributed to Candyman. She literally places herself in danger as she tries to hunt down the facts of the two murders in the Green.

As Helen continues to pursue the story, her husband stops supporting her. Although the main reason is that he is having an affair with one of this female students. Not too surprising as he met Helen this way. Helen’s life becomes consumed by the Candyman and he begins to control her.

At the film’s end, Helen has suffered for her thesis, which is probably never going to be published. She pays the ultimate price to escape the Candyman that she so foolishly summoned, twice.

As I pointed out at the beginning of this post, Candyman is full of foreboding. It feels ominous from frame one. Director Bernard Rose never lets up in this slow build of danger and suspense. When the film finally finishes you feel drained and not a little exhausted.

The character of Helen (as played by Madsen) is a complex one. She appears to be a mix of  unconfident newlywed and mature student who pursues her  thesis with an almost childish recklessness. She doesn’t seem to be able to foresee the consequences of her actions and she foolishly puts not only herself but those around her in danger.

When she does belatedly realise the harm she has caused, she reacts. Her motivation is to save a baby and herself from the Candyman. She manages to accomplish both but it is almost too late for the baby and she dies in her escape from the Candyman.

Tony Todd infuses Candyman with a sad menace. That he is a vengeful spirit is beyond question, but he still manages to convey the emotional and physical pain that he is filled with.

Candyman is Todd’s film though. He overwhelms the screen every time he appears. When he is not on-screen, we wait impatiently for his to show up.

The rest of the cast performs brilliantly, they had to otherwise they would have been completely blown out of the water by Todd.

In my opinion, this was one of the best adaptations of Clive Barker’s books. It was the first in a “planned” trilogy that has since grown into a foursome.

Definitely a two bag popcorn film. One to lose from jumping in fright and one to stuff excitedly into your mouth. Great film.

Cover of "Books of Blood"
Cover of Books of Blood