Vampires Don’t Sparkle by Michael West: A Blood-soaked Bonanza

VDS-Cover-SmallI have to admit that I had given up on the world of vampire literature. Thanks to a suburban housewife in America, vampires had become a race of sulking, bloodless, pedophiles who glittered in the sun like cheap dime store jewellery.

In the sun??

Growing up on a steady diet of Hammer Horror (and yes the capitals are required) and discovering films like Near Dark, The Hunger, Fright Night, et al; I was disgusted at the thought of a “tween” vampire written by someone who did not even like vampires. It was a joke with a bloodless punchline that left a foul taste in one’s mouth.

I had given up hope of ever reading a vampire tale that would affect me so much that I had to sleep with the light on and nervously peer into darkened corners or jump, heart pounding, at every creak and pop as the house settles for the night.

But…

I had not counted on Horror Master (again the capitals are required) Michael West to collect such an array of brilliantly bloody and violent “old-fashioned” vampires. Vampires who: cannot walk in the sun and don’t look like a tawdry bit of moving glitter dust when they do, rip out throats, are cruel and vicious, have super-human strength and require a stake, and a hammer to kill.

It appears that I am not alone in my disgust at the current fad of foppish, shiny, reflective pompadour wearing sweetie-cakes who’d rather starve than rip out a throat and glut themselves on human blood. It appears that Mr West also longed for the more “traditional” Dracula type vampire and set out to find a collection of short stories where the vampires don’t sparkle…they kill.

He offers, for our entertainment and enjoyment (and terror) fifteen different stories about blood ingesting, super-human creatures who yearn for your blood from fifteen different contemporary authors. There is even a robot vampire!  But all these stories have one thing in common, apart from the fact that all the vampires in them are actually scary and would not appeal to any “tween” that I know of; these stories suffer from originality. 

They also have a wonderful Dionysian pathos that is admirable. I will admit that when I finished this blood-drenched work of art I felt (apart from uneasy about the fact that night had fallen) quite sated; akin to a tick or leech or even a mosquito after a long leisurely feast of blood from a victim.  Because the vampire is a blood sucking creature whose bodily fluid intake and exchange is as primal as the act of sex.

Michael West prefaces this collection of stories stating two things. The first is his dismay about what vampires have become in popular fiction. The second is his personal catharsis in dealing with two people who are near and dear to him being stricken with cancer.

One was a good friend and colleague who lost her battle against the horrible disease, the second is his wife, who has won her fight against this merciless killer. It is because of his personal involvement that he has donated a portion of the proceeds from the sales of this collection. He will be doing the same for his future anthologies.

If you love  more traditional vampires grab this book with both hands and read it. In a world of 2 and 3 star books and vampires who really aren’t, this collection is a real 5 star glorious bloodsucking creature of the night read.

I will leave you with Michael’s own statement about the book: “Stephenie Meyer stole this monster from Bram Stoker. We’re stealin’ it back!”

Michael with Elvira Mistress of the Dark...
Michael with Elvira Mistress of the Dark…

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.

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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.

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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.

Skull Full of Kisses by Michael West: A Short Story Stradivarius

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Skull Full of Kisses is a ten story collection of Michael West’s short fiction. I can tell you know, that if you go to read this collection, you will find no two stories alike. Each and every one is different, unique and damned scary.

There is a short story in there for everyone.

Interested in Japanese culture? Fascinated by the Yakuza and Japanese Demons? Well Jiki will be right up your alley or basement, in this case.

West gives us glimpses of the horrific haven of Harmony, Indiana and a look at the Lovecraftian village of Colonial Bay; where you definitely don’t want to ask the question – What’s a nice girl like you, doing in a place like this?

There’s a great little place that’s just out of reach in the desert unless you take Einstein’s Slingshot; a one-way ride into the realm of nightmares and things that like human flesh.

If you ever dreamed of being an astronaut, you’ll want to avoid the story To Know How To See, which feels like a Twilight Zone episode with tinges of The Outer Limits.

While I’d love to set here and give little “teasing” clues about what is in the book and the themes of each story, I won’t.

What I will do is urge you to read these…quickly…while with friends…and in the daylight. If you attempt to read these alone, slowly, or at night, you might just have bad dreams. Or more correctly nightmares.

When Michael West tells a scary storynothing can be considered safe. Not even your loving girlfriend who never wants to let you go (For Her).

At the beginning of this post, I said that all the stories were scary. I will hold my hand up and  admit that this is a lie. I will not divulge the title of this particular tale. I’ll let you stumble upon as I did, by reading this collection. It is, I think, my favourite and no, it is not scary in the traditional sense, but is it very good.

West has a little “afterward” in his collection where he talks about what gave him the idea for each story and when it was originally published. It is a fascinating look into the mind of a horror writer. He warns about not reading this section before you read the stories as there could be spoilers hidden there.

I would listen to him. If you skip to the back, he might find out. And, I don’t know, you could wind up in one of his stories.

Now where I might find that entertaining (there’s nothing worse than one of those people who jump to the back of the book) if you are one of those people, I cannot think of a better punishment. Because as much as I love being scared by West’s scary denizens in his stories, I’d hate to have to deal with them.

Another great addition to the Michael West collection I already own and I will now wait (not so) patiently for his next offering of terror.

A real 5 out of 5 for creative and non-repetitive horror. If this collection was a musical instrument, it would be the Stradivarius of its peers; playing with a deeper and more resonant sound than other stories in the genre.

Read it.

Author Michael West and a fan.
Author Michael West and a fan.

The Wide Game by Michael West: Top-Notch Terror

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Author Michael West has exceeded himself on this re-release of his first novel, The Wide Game. When this book was originally published it was only 249 pages long and had (presumably) a huge amount cut by the publishing house. Weighing in at a full 395 pages you get a lot of bang for your bucks in this Scare-ground ride of a book.

I will admit to being a huge fan-boy of Mr West’s work since “discovering” him on Goodreads. He has leapt onto the shelf of my favourite authors and will no doubt remain there. I first read Cinema of Shadows and after getting hooked on his writing style and the type stories he wrote, I started devouring everything I could read by the man.

There is not a doubt in my mind that Michael West will become as popular and as renown as Stephen King. There is a point in the book that is an apparent nod to King’s Pet Sematary and quite possibly to Salem‘s Lot. Not to mention a big “wink” to Children of the Corn. He definitely has that same “cinematic” touch that KIng has perfected over the years and Michael is the only other writer who can startle me so much.

He is that good.

The Wide Game introduces us to Paul Rice who has returned with his wife of six years, and their two children, to his childhood home of Harmony, Indiana for his ‘Class of 88’ high school reunion. Unfortunately for Paul this will not be a loving walk down memory lane. It will be a nightmarish “reliving” of the terrifying 1988 Wide Game.

The Wide Game is based on local Indian customs. The indigenous tribe in the Harmony area were called (oddly enough) Miami Indians and they were the “bringers of the corn” to Harmony. The game is a race through the corn fields that surround the town. Each year the Senior Class pays a fee to enter the race. Who ever wins the race (the finishing line is a flooded quarry) gets the “pot” and this year it is a thousand dollars.

Amazingly the Wide Game has a bloody history. Previous contestants have died or killed themselves. Or vanished. Despite the infamy connected to the game high school students participate in the race every year.

We get to meet a young (and old) Robby Miller, who we’ve met before in other Harmony books.  His high school years were split between school and working part-time as a paramedic for the towns fire department. We also meet Deidra, Paul’s old flame and first love. We follow the class and the main participants of the game and watch as the events spiral out of control and culminate in a horror filled night of demonic scares and death.

Paul has lived with the ghosts of his classmates deaths and a love for Deidra that has never gone away. He must face his past;  his demons and Deidra.

Michael West has once again taken us to Harmony, Indiana and scared the bejeezus out of his faithful readers. The action moves with all the deadly purpose of a runaway steam train. A train that is full of menace, death, demons, and fear. Like his other books, I could not stop reading this tale and at times I gripped the edges of the book with white knuckles while my eyes raced down the page. I can also attest to the fact that this book actually instigated a nightmare while I was reading about Paul and his classmates.

If you have not encountered Mr West’s superior horror fiction, I implore you to do so. Right now.

This is a full 5 star stunner of a book.

Author Michael West and a Colony Bay resident.
Author Michael West and a Colony Bay resident.

Poseidon’s Children by Michael West: Lovecraftian Lunacy

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I know that I’ve now done three straight reviews on Michael West’s novels, with a small break for a review on an Evans Light novella, but I tend to really get into a new author who’s been included in my stable of favourites.

Poseidon’s Children is a brilliant Lovecraftian horror story that pays homage to the man who invented horrors that climbed from the sea. Of course the best thing about a Michael West Lovecraftian story is that his characters dialogue will sound real and natural, not like the original H P Lovecraft’s constant problems with dialogue.

The book starts with a young collegiate couple who fall victim to some evil and hungry monstrosity from the sea surrounding the island community of Colonial Bay. After the young man is devoured, his girl almost escapes with the help of a hotel resident who heard her screams.

The hotel resident is named Larry Neuhaus and he is on the island with his girlfriend Peggy trying to save their relationship which is struggling after an ex-girlfriend kills herself.  When he tries to save the girl on the beach, he sees something that looks like a man behind the girl just before she is pulled beneath the waves.

It turns out that the young man who was killed first is the only son of  billionaire gangster Roger Hays who now wants revenge for the death of his only child.

Meanwhile two archeologists have discovered what they believe to be Atlantis. Dr Miyagi and her lover/assistant Alan Everson are being financed by Roger Hays and when their funding is halted because of his personal tragedy they go to offer their condolences and to get the latest check signed so they can continue their exploration.

Once there they find out that Colonial Bay, where Hays’ son was killed, seemingly has links to their discovered underwater metropolis. Miyagi and Everson accompany Hays to the island to find out more about this connection.

We also get to meet Earl L. Preston (who was working for Homeland Security in Spookhouse) and we find out how he made the transition from Coast Guard Officer to law enforcement. He also winds up on the island as part of a murder inquiry.

When this disparate band of people get together on Colonial Bay, they arrive in time to discover the ancient evil that has risen on the island with the express purpose of killing all of humanity.

One of the Lovecraftian creatures in Colony Bay.
One of the Lovecraftian creatures in Colony Bay.

Poseidon’s Children is the first in a series of the Legacy of the Gods stories. I hope that despite his detour to Harmony, Indiana that Agent Preston will be a constant in this new series. He is a great character and one that I really like. I’d also like to think that Larry Neuhaus and his girlfriend will feature in future stories.

I can well imagine that this new series will be quite broad in scope, considering the clues that were revealed at the end of the book, so we may never get the chance to revisit Larry and Peggy as well as their new “family.”

As I wait eagerly for my copy of The Wide Game to arrive from Amazon.co.uk via the post, I’ll keep reading Michael West’s existing books and re-enjoying the great roller coaster rides that his stories take you on.

A welcome addition to any bookcase, whether it be a real or computerised one and a another 5 star book from a 5 star writer.

Author Michael West and a Colony Bay resident.
Author Michael West and a Colony Bay resident.