Trapped in The Twilight Zone?

Old Gas Station in Quartzsite Author Photo

Since moving to the little snowbird community of Quartzsite, Arizona life has begun to resemble an episode of The Twilight Zone; the one where William Shatner is trapped in the diner with the fortune telling machine. Not the one which still gives me the screaming meemies everytime I watch it (black and white old timey effects be damned), “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.”

In the “Nick of Time,” Don Carter and his new wife become fixated with, and scared to leave, a fortune telling machine that seems to really work. At the end of the episode, both he and Mrs. Carter are seen feeding pennies (That’s how long ago the show was, now that sort of machine would cost you a quarter at least.) into the thing, refusing to leave the diner. Trapped by their own curiosity and not wanting to leave before getting another fortune told, again and again and…

While I am not trapped by a device that predicts the immediate future, I am caught by several different things in this tiny burg. For one, I find the whole area deliriously addictive. On main street alone, there are abandoned buildings, old and new, that pop into view as one rides or walks along it. The petrol station above, and its partner the garage below, are both quite old. At a guess, probably built in the 1930s or 1940s. Although looking at the pumps; the 1950s is probably more accurate for a time frame in terms of usage.

Petrol station's garage...
Downtown Quartzsite Petrol station and garage circa 1950?

Here is where my innate laziness comes in, I could probably find out when the building was used or at least built but since my Internet signal is intermittent as best, as Stevie King says, “fuhgeddaboudit.” I did Google 1950s pumps and my last guess appears to be correct, but the time the buildings were constructed will have to remain a mystery for now, or until I get better access to the net.

Interestingly enough, on the other side of Main Street is another closed down petrol station. Much newer in design with modern fuel pumps sitting alone and forlorn in front of the boarded up brick building, it makes Quartzsite look like a ghost town in the making. There are other old buildings that are remnants of  days gone by that were old before a time when the average automobile that passed through Hi Jolly’s final resting place were gas guzzling monsters all made in Detroit.

Adobe ruins on Main Street Quartzsite Az
For instance, this Adobe structure could have housed Hi Jolly…

Apart from the dead and dying businesses that litter the streets, there are signs that modern amenities exist in the town. For one thing, RV sales clutter up the main road through town and Burger King just got in WiFi for its customers, to compete with MacDonalds and Carl Jr’s, and most places that sell cigarettes also sell “vapes;” the modern “healthier” equivalent of tobacco smokes. Never mind that the WiFi offered for free, and for purchase is slower than dial up used to be and that no one seems to be too interested in cigarettes that are electric and “safe.”

The other strange, or Twilight Zone-ish thing about Quartzsite is that there seem to be no young people. Certainly there are those passing through, one visiting young lady that was stunning enough to make the heart pound, but on the average the population is aged. There are a few younger folks who work in the Dairy Queen, Subway and the other few fast-food eateries in town but the area is not overrun with denizens much younger than their mid 70s.

*And yet, surprisingly, there is a grade school here. The bus can be seen coming out to the community where I’m living at the moment. So there must be a younger population somewhere; just not, apparently, along Main Street.*

In fact, at 56, I feel like a youngster myself.  While this has nothing to do with feeling trapped it does add to the surreal flavor of this town. Apart from my fascination and the feeling that I’ve stumbled onto the geriatric version of Never Never Land,  there is the lack of transportation. I have a $50 bicycle that I am slowly getting used to, but no car or any other motorized vehicular mode of travel.

Cactus and Mesquite

I feel that I’ve stepped back to yesteryear in terms of time it takes to get anywhere. From my current residence, if I bike, it takes me around 40 to 50 minutes to get to main street. By foot, it takes roughly 100 to 120 minutes depending on the heat and my physical state. I have learned that the fall, aka face plant, in the desert really banged me up pretty well. This has not helped speed up travel times.

Running out of one of my heart meds hasn’t helped either. It is apparently in the post office now, but my poor father couldn’t stand in the huge queue to pick it up. I told him not to worry, that if I didn’t need the stuff I wouldn’t stand in line behind 50 people either. It’s been three days since taking it and I’m not dead yet…

The Quartzsite USPS is tiny and when the season hits, an army of snowbirds queue up to get their general delivery mail and the “lady” who runs the place appears to be eccentric and not a little contrary. Apparently it is a prerequisite to be this way when dealing with an elderly population. And yes, that last sentence was meant to be facetious.

I have learned that there is a bus to Prescott, AZ for Veterans ride to the VA there. I will be using it as I have no other way to get travel to that facility.  The actual VA “run” takes place twice a month. There does not appear to be a bus running anywhere else, either from or through this tiny hamlet.

This lack of motorized transport definitely adds to the feeling of being trapped. The inability to get decent internet or even a television signal at the RV is also a contributing factor.  Financial situations dictate that if it ain’t WiFi at the Burger King watching Hulu Plus the day after, I’m not seeing it or writing about it. I continue to get invites to screenings of films but thus far have no way to travel and watch/review them.

However trapped I may feel, there is no question that this is beautiful terrain. The feel of Quartzsite is that of a western town lagging behind the rest of the world. It has just enough modern amenities to keep it from feeling like the “town that time forgot” but apart from looking like the world’s largest flea market, the town has an aura of yesteryear. This is not helped by the average age of those who both live here year round and the snowbirds who flock here every winter running easily into the retirement range.

Camel Stop Auto Repair
The old Camel Stop

In essence this surreal flavor of Quartzsite, combined with the step back in time, equates to a trapped in The Twilight Zone feel. While there is no Rod Serling providing an introduction or epilogue there are signposts “up ahead.” One final odd note on this quirky little town; there seems to be a regular contingent that migrate here every year, and the locals as well as these snowbirds appear to know immediately when a new bird flocks in.

Anecdote: While sucking up the Burger King WiFi, a lovely local Snowbird, assumed that I was a feathered fly-in seeking warmer climes and said as much. I responded, “No love, I came here from Vegas.” Her confused and shocked face was truly funny and gave me the best chuckle of the day. To that friendly woman I say, “Thank you.”

10 February 2015

Richard Matheson I Am Legend Creator Dead at 87

Richard Matheson I Am Legend Creator Dead at 87

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.