By now readers of this site should be familiar with West's name. Last year he made the Best of 20111 list not once, but twice. He also made the Most Anticipated Releases of 2012 list with his new novel Poseidon's Children, which launches the first book in a four part Urban Fantasy series entitled Legacy of the Gods. With the release of Poseidon's Children just a little over a month away, I thought it only fitting to invite Michael to share a bit of the story behind Poseidon's Children.
So, without further ado, here's Michael West:
Bringing Poseidon’s Children to Life
Or: How the Star Wars of Horror became the Texas Chainsaw Massacre of Urban Fantasy
By Michael West
I had a very vivid, very strange dream. Some dreams fade as soon as you open your eyes. Others stick with you for days. This particular dream has been with me for over twenty years. It involved an ancient stone temple, with odd markings etched into its walls, and a very seductive sea-creature. Most people have fantasies about movie stars and musicians; mine get directed by H.P. Lovecraft.
Inspired by the visuals of this dream, I set about writing a screenplay. I was still in college at the time, studying film and television, still holding onto my boyhood dream of being the next Steven Spielberg or James Cameron. This was back when computers used huge 5 ¼” floppy discs to store information. I had a case full of them, and in between classes, you could find me in one of the campus computer labs, working on my epic. It was dark, filled with horrible monsters and bloody mayhem, with a touch of Science-Fiction sprinkled throughout; a project that I lovingly described to friends as “the Star Wars of Horror.”
I never finished that script. The more I wrote, the more I realized that the story I wanted to tell was just too large in scope for my meager budget at the time. Instead, I took all the work I’d done and began the task of converting dialogue and stage direction into paragraphs and prose.
When I finished the first third of my manuscript, I printed it off in sections using the computer lab’s dot matrix printer (Oh man, I’m really dating myself here!), and like a proud papa, I handed it off to some friends, asking them to offer their critiques. I didn’t have the time or paper to print more than one copy, so this huge ream of paper--about two hundred pages worth--got passed along from one person to another, each one writing me notes along the way.
Then, tragedy struck. Remember those 5 ¼” discs I told you about? Well, I lost them. All of them. Don’t ask me how. I left them in a classroom, dropped them in a parking lot...to this day, I still have no idea where they are. At the start of the day, I had them, and at the end of the day, they were gone, and with them went my novel-in-progress.
But at least I still had that hard copy, right?
Nope. I went back to all of my friends, trying to track it down, but I had no better luck with them than I’d had with those classrooms and parking lots. No one seemed to know where that stack of paper was, and even if they did, nobody wanted to admit that they were the one who lost it.
And so, for a time, I tried to forget about the story and move on. I mean sure, I could’ve gone back and started the novel all over again from scratch. But let’s be honest, shall we: it’s one thing to have your friends and family give you some bad feedback on a project, but when fate steps in and takes away all known copies of your work, that’s the universe telling you that you just need to stop. At least, that’s what I thought at the time.
That dream just wouldn’t die, however, and the more I thought about it, the more I talked about it with other people, the more I realized that it was something I would have to tackle again someday.
In the meantime, I got married. Three years later, my oldest son was born. And three years after that, with another son on the way, a friend from Indiana University unpacked a box of stuff from his college dorm room and found a stack of paper with my name on it.
The prodigal offspring had returned.
And so I sat down and read the manuscript for the first time in almost a decade. A lot had changed since I’d written it. In addition to my new family, I now had a computer in my home, and I’d written some short stories, found my voice as an author, a voice that now screamed in agony at the clunky prose and horrible dialogue on display in the faded dot matrix ink on those two-hundred pages. And yet, all those ideas that I’d been toying with over the years were still there, begging me to pick them up and play with them again.
Over the next year, I rewrote the existing portion of the manuscript and just kept going, finally finishing the story. I weaved in more mythology, loading up the novel with all of those cool ideas that had been crawling around inside my brain. And when I printed it out on my laser printer, the final product was nearly eight hundred pages long and weighed over ten pounds, dwarfing the latest edition of the Indianapolis white pages.
Obviously, it was in need of some editing. So I did what any professional author would do: I went to said Indianapolis phonebook and looked up “Editor, Books.” Believe it or not, I found one name. She used to read slush for a New York publisher, but now she edited text books and instructional manuals for corporations. As luck would have it, the idea of working with fiction again excited her, and she agreed to help me whip my manuscript into shape. For the next two years, that’s exactly what we did.
When we felt we had it ready, I sent it to several publishers. As a writer, you get a story in your head that you’re passionate about, and you just want to tell it in the best way possible. You don’t stop and think about what genre you’re writing in. But, since I considered myself a Horror author, I approached the Horror market first.
Over and over again, the same response: “We really enjoyed Poseidon’s Children, but we didn’t find it to be scary enough to be Horror.” Based on some of the story elements, they suggested that I try a Science-Fiction publisher instead. And so I took their advice, hoping to have better luck, but finding only further rejection. “We found this to be a fast-paced, enjoyable read,” they told me, “but it’s just too horrific to be part of our Sci-Fi line.”
So there I was, stuck with a book that everyone liked, but nobody wanted. No one could even agree on what it was! It was dark, that much was certain, and bloody; it had elements of Action Adventure, Mystery, Thriller, Science Fiction, and, of course, Horror. So where should I turn?
Frustrated, I shelved the novel once again, focusing instead on other projects. I published enough short fiction to fill a collection, Skull Full of Kisses, which was published by Graveside Tales, and I wrote two more novels, The Wide Game, also for Graveside, and Cinema of Shadows, which I sold to Seventh Star Press as part of a multiple book deal. All Horror.
And still, that dream kept gnawing at me. I loved those characters, that mythology, and I wanted to get it out there.
I decided to take another stab at Poseidon’s Children. This time, I turned to the other writers of my writing group, Indiana Horror Writers, for suggestions. It was Maurice Broaddus, who was writing his own series of novels at the time, who told me that what I had was clearly Urban Fantasy. I questioned this, thinking that all Fantasy, even Urban Fantasy, had to have wizards and dragons. The more I looked into it, however, the more diverse the genre became. Urban Fantasy could have vampires and werewolves, it could have demons and monsters, even aliens.And the more I read, the more I thought that my novel was a perfect fit.
I decided to do one final polish. I played up some elements, jettisoned others, and expanded the whole mythology into a series I was now calling The Legacy of the Gods. But I still kept it dark, kept it bloody; in fact, I lovingly described it as “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre of Urban Fantasy.” Satisfied with the finished product, I approached my current publisher, Seventh Star Press, who had released a fair amount of Fantasy and Urban Fantasy before taking on my Indiana-based Horror Series, and I waited nervously for their response.
When they told me they loved Poseidon’s Children, I was overjoyed, and yet I kept waiting to hear “but it’s not scary enough for this,” or “it’s too Sci-Fi for that.” This time, however, it was just right. They greenlit the entire series and set a release date for March of 2012; more than twenty years after that initial dream.
So now...here we are, on the eve of the novel’s release. Soon my faithful readers will be able to dive into the world I’ve been swimming in alone for so long. In fact, some reviewers already have their copies. "A little more gruesome than most of the Urban Fantasy novels I've read," one of them has already commented.