Welcome to the latest in my series of author interviews from talented writers around the world. Today I am pleased to introduce the gifted author, Scott West, creator of the horror novel, “Ghosts On The Highway”. Scott selected the self-publication route after attempting to track down a traditional contract. It has been interesting hearing his take on the positives and negatives associated with both routes and his experience in general.
1. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m a writer/musician living in the pacific northwest. We moved up here when I was three years old and I guess I’ve got moss growing on my toes and mountain-fresh river-water in my veins because it’s still a place I love. I’m a comic book collector and horror movie aficionado. I also like to occasionally use words like “aficionado” to make myself seem smarter. Trying to be an adult and not lose my sense of wonder or love of the strange and offbeat.
2. What do you do when you are not writing?
When the weather is good, I might be hiking around in the woods, looking for Sasquatch. Most likely, you can find me with a book in my hand, though. I haven’t played in a band for a couple of years now, but I haven’t put my guitar away forever. It seems that when I’m playing music, the writing takes a back seat. But increasingly the writing has become the focus of my life and music is more of a hobby at this point.
3. Do you have a day job as well?
I work for the library.
4. When did you first start writing and when did you finish your first book?
I’ve been writing all my life, but got serious about it about ten years ago. If you mean, when did I start the book, itself–that would have been in 2014. I finished it in 2015 and published it on New Year’s Day, 2016. There was a long and winding path to that finally happening.
5. How did you choose the genre you write in and where do you get your ideas?
I think the genre generally chooses the writer, and my muse has always been a bit of a devilish figure that lurks in the shadows, beckoning me to write about the weird, the fantastic, the frightening or the preternatural. I’ve always had a fascination with horror–in fiction, movies, comics, etc. This is where my writing tends to lean, although I will write about anything that to comes to mind, takes up residence and refuses to leave until I type it out. Ideas are all around us. Learn to observe and remember. Eventually, a couple of disparate things will clash unexpectedly and often a story will be the result.
6. Do you ever experience writer’s block?
I experience periods of laziness, where if something is proving too hard to describe the way I want I will let it lie and tell myself it’s writer’s block. But I’ve never just had nothing to write about.
7. Do you work with an outline, or just write?
I might have a vague idea in my head where a story is going, but I’ve never been able to work to an actual outline. I like the freedom of the story going wherever it wants to (to an extent–I also like playing God and forcing my will on the poor saps inhabiting my stories).
8. Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult?
Ray Bradbury. As a kid I loved his work for the wonderful language and sheer brilliant imagination. As an adult I have a whole different appreciation for the bravery (although I doubt he thought of it that way) to truly be himself, to be one-of-a-kind, and not change his work to fit in with accepted styles of the time. And he succeeded spectacularly! Reading Tom Sawyer as a child, and then Huckleberry Finn a couple years later, was also hugely influential. Mark Twain, Ray Bradbury, John Steinbeck, Stephen King, Philip K. Dick and Harlan Ellison – those are pretty much to my go-to guys.
9. Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?
I tried, unsuccessfully, to find a traditional publisher. The rejections I received were pretty uniform: “We don’t know what genre this falls under”, “We wouldn’t know how to market this”, etc. Honestly, part of me was relieved. Coming from a DIY, sort of punk rock music background, I have been pretty used to having creative control over my projects. I had a great cover–an eerie, black and white picture by a local photographer, Tom Moore–some little visual things inside–and I really wanted to hang onto those. The real challenge is that I sat on the book for about a year while I was going through some personal struggles, and when I came out on the other side of that and had to start thinking about what to do with it, I had no inclination to go through another round of rejections. About this time, I found out a co-worker was self-publishing books and after talking with her pretty extensively about the pros and cons, decided that would be the best course for Ghosts On The Highway.
10. If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you would change?
Although I’m happy with the way things turned out, and the amount of support and great feedback I’ve gotten from people, I think if I could go back I might actually try a little longer to find a traditional publisher. Mainly, because I’m just curious to see what would have happened.
11. How do you market your work? What avenues have you found to work best for your genre?
Marketing has always been the hardest part, and that goes for all my musical projects, as well. I’m just not interested in that aspect of being a writer (or musician). Unfortunately, it seems more and more that an artist really does need to also be their own PR person. I’m getting slightly better at it. I was highly skeptical at first, but Twitter has actually been very effective–I’ve sold quite a few books through Twitter, even with my extremely limited marketing skills. Because my book is a little fuzzy around the edges, genre-wise, I’m able to deceptively infiltrate a lot of different literary enclaves, which is beneficial. It seems like the horror community has been very receptive to the book, which makes me happy because, even though Ghosts On The Highway doesn’t easily fit into that genre, it does share some aspects and I think a lot of horror fans have picked up on that. Other avenues for me have just been lots of word of mouth, networking with other writers, especially indie writers, and sharing each other’s work.
12. Have you written a book you love that you have not been able to get published?
Oh, several! Maybe someday they will see the light…
13. Can you tell us about your upcoming or recently published book?
The book I’m working on currently is the story of a very buttoned-down, well-adjusted, no-nonsense young man who has an unexpected encounter with something so mysterious and foreign that his entire life is upended and he begins to question everything he’s ever believed, all the minutiae–all the way down to the One Great Question of the Ages: What’s it all about?
14. Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?
The main character, John, is based partly on a real man I met at a gig in Seattle–a huge Native American who was living on the street and writing poetry in journals that he carried around in a garbage bag. John’s struggles with mental illness and medication are inspired by own experiences in those areas. The mythology that holds the story together is based on Coast Salish legends and history. The story itself is pure imagination, though.
15. What project are you working on now?
I have the above-mentioned novel and several short stories in the works. I also just recorded the first episode of a podcast I’ll be doing with my friend and co-host, Mike Longmire, who played bass in my first band. We’ll be talking about our musical misadventures with many, hopefully interesting, tangents. It’s called Feedback and Forth and should be out soon on iTunes and hopefully a few other platforms.
16. Will you have a new book coming out soon?
Swan River Press just released the anthology, “Uncertainties Volume III” which contains my story, “Ashes to Ashes”. I’m very humbled to be included alongside Joyce Carol Oates, Lisa Tuttle, and several more award-winning writers.
17. Are there certain characters you would like to go back to, or is there a theme or idea you’d love to work with?
My head is so full of vivid characters, I’m usually happy leaving the ones I’ve already written about where they are and move on to the next. As far as theme, I feel like I’m chasing the same one or two, but in different ways. There’s always something more I’m trying to understand about myself. I think I put my characters through the wringer in the hopes that if they can make it through, then probably I can, too.
18. What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?
I’ve never had a criticism levelled at me that I couldn’t learn from. Probably the harshest was being told by an editor that my “endings suck”. I actually couldn’t argue with her about that. But it forced me to work harder to fix that, and I hope that I have gotten better.
The best compliment, easily, was from a friend who told me that he never reads fiction, but he read mine because we’re friends, and he told me that he went from reading Scott’s book, to reading A book, to actually getting lost in the story and not realizing it until he came to the end. That, coming from a non-reader, really meant a lot to me. I think that’s the ultimate compliment for a writer.
19. Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?
Read as much as you write, and write every day.
20. Is there anything that you would like to say to your readers and fans?
Just to say thank you and I very much appreciate every single person who has bought, read, reviewed, passed on or even mentioned Ghosts On The Highway to someone else. Read voraciously and if you have any kind of creative urge, yourself–follow it! There can never be too many stories!
Please join me in thanking Scott for his open and candid responses regarding the publishing industry and for sharing his experiences and journey as a writer. If you would like to ask any further questions, please either use the facilities available below or contact Scott direct via the following links.
Social media contacts:
Please show your appreciation by checking out his work on Amazon:
Ghosts On The Highway (novel) – currently available at Amazon.com in paperback or Kindle format
“Sepulchro de Demonios” (short story) – Corpus Pretereo (anthology)
“The Monster in the Meadow” (short story) – Tales of the Talisman (magazine)
“Ashes to Ashes” (short story) – Uncertainties Volume III, currently available at http://swanriverpress.ie/titles.html