Monday’s Friend: Stuart West
Today I am pleased to welcome fellow MuseItUp author Stuart West to the blog.
SW: I don’t know that destiny had anything to do with it, but I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was in third grade.
SJT: Who would you cite as your influences?
SW: It depends on if I’m writing YA or adult (I like to flip-flop back and forth), but I’d go with a hodge-podge of Stephen King, Harper Lee, Ray Bradbury, Roald Dahl, and let’s toss in some Joss Whedon while we’re at it.
SJT: What advice would you pass on to beginner writers that you wish someone had told you when you were first starting out?
SW: Make sure your liquor cabinet is well-stocked. No, I’d probably tell them to be prepared for a marathon rather than a sprint. Don’t expect overnight success. Write because you love to. Stay in school and drink milk.
SJT: Tell us about your latest novel.
SW: Elspeth, the Living Dead Girl is a paranormal mystery, drama, comedy, thriller, romance what’s-it. Elspeth, a rebellious dead girl, is summoned from Limbo to uncover the identity of a murderous drug dealer at a suburban Kansas City high school. The only problem is she has to share a body with Elizabeth, an extremely uptight, preppie student who wants to attend an Ivy League college, win the title of prom queen, and marry her Prince Charming with picture-perfect posture. Hijinx and trauma ensue.
SJT: Your books seem to be part paranormal drama, part mystery, part something else. How would you describe the genre you write in?
SW: Good question, Sara. I don’t know… “Kitchen Sink Genre” maybe? I do like to mix a lot of genres together and shake ‘em up. It keeps writing interesting (I don’t know what’s going to happen half the time until it does) and hopefully, the reader off-guard.
SJT: Your main character, Elspeth, is a ghost. What inspired you to write a book about a ghost who solves mysteries?
SW: I wouldn’t necessarily call Elspeth a ghost. She’s just as alive as Elizabeth is. She just can’t bring her body with her when she leaves Limbo. I introduced Elspeth and Elizabeth in my second Tex, the Witch Boy book, Tex and the Gangs of Suburbia. At the time, I never suspected they’d get their own book. But Elspeth threatened to steal my book away from my protagonist, Tex, practically begging for her own book.
SJT: Have you got plans for a series featuring Elspeth?
SW: I’m never going to say never, but I think I ended the gals’ stories in a good place. However, I did leave it open. We’ll see.
SJT: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
SW: To my wife’s befuddlement and I suppose, my shame, I’m an unabashed fan of absolutely awful horror films of the ‘70’s through the ‘80’s, the golden era of cheese. Sometimes it’s an endurance test viewing these, but it’s my duty to sit through every bad flick I can find.
SW: I have lots of things percolating in various stages. There’s a historical horror epic told in the ‘30’s and ‘60’s detailing the downfall of a once prosperous mining town. I’m working on a darkly comic tale about serial killers. And my own take on zombies.
Blurb for ELSPETH, THE LIVING DEAD GIRL:
If you’re dead already, can you die again? Elspeth’s been summoned from limbo. Her new assignment? Track down the culprit in the mysterious death of a student at Clearwell High. And incidentally, uncover the identity of the new drug dealer prowling the halls. Only one problem—the body she has to co-inhabit has a different agenda. Elizabeth just wants to be prom queen, marry Prince Charming, and graduate with perfect posture. Both girls, alive and dead, will have their separate worlds rocked before the killer is unveiled. Nothing is as it seems. No one can be trusted. Being dead has never been so dangerous.
All books available at MuseItUp Publishing: http://museituppublishing.com/bookstore/index.php/search?keyword=stuart+r+west&limitstart=0&option=com_virtuemart&view=category
Elspeth, the Living Dead Girl: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00LBG4VKM
Tex, the Witch Boy: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00B3U5OWU
Tex and the Gangs of Suburbia: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00E5RWBGA
Tex and the God Squad: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00H9HPIA4
And my adult horror tale, Neighborhood Watch: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00IA6ZTIO
“So, Susan, have you ever made out with a girl?”
I knew she never had. Truth be told, I hadn’t either. But I enjoyed busting my roommate’s chops. Her expressions were always well worth it. I took my kicks where I could find them.
“Relax. I’m kiddin’!”
Susan stood by the door, her fingertips pressed against her lips in horrific contemplation. I rolled over on my bed, my leather jacket creaking like a tree limb in the wind. “It’s not like it was an offer or anything.”
“Elspeth, honestly!” She practically vanished when she sat on her bed. Only Susan would color coordinate her sweater with the ugly aqua-colored bedspread. “Have you, um, ever kissed a girl?”
Guess I had unleashed her inner beast.
“No.” I kicked my feet into the air. “I’m bored. Bored, bored, bored!” Everything about my living arrangement was boring. Our small bedroom was a simple dorm room, decorated in bland pastel colors—a sixties nightmare. The walls were constructed of cold, harsh cinder blocks at odds with the decor. A few paintings of doe-eyed children hung on the walls, attempting to spruce the joint up. Delivered the opposite effect.
Ho-hum. As I said, boring.
Thirty years ago, when I first woke up, I honestly thought I’d gone to hell. I encountered Ms. Pillows first. The name fit her to a T. Tightly packaged into her purple dress, her lumps bulged everywhere. And I remember thinking, the devil’s an overweight, blue-haired woman wearing cat-eyed glasses.
* * * *
“Well, child, that’s a hard distinction to make here.”
“I’m Ms. Pillows. I suppose you can say I’m the welcoming committee.”
I sat up and studied the room. “So, hell is pastel colored?” Whether it was hell or not, it may as well have been. I absolutely despised light colors, preferring everything dark.
“Oh! Oh, my!”
I had shocked the devil, probably not an easy thing to do.
“No, Elspeth, not at all! You’re in a very special place now.”
“Let’s just say it’s somewhat of a way station.” She beamed at me in a grandmotherly fashion, waiting for her nonsensical words to affect me. “Tell me, Elspeth, what’s the last thing you remember?”
I closed my eyes, attempting to erase dark memories. But they came flooding back with a vengeance. “I was at a nightclub in New York. I glommed onto some guys. They took me out into the alley. They beat me, robbed me and…” My voice grew ragged. I fought back tears. I didn’t want to appear weak. Since there was no way I could finish my tale without breaking down, I just shook my head and embraced silence.
“It’s okay now, Elspeth,” she said, patting my hand. “Those days are behind you.” She smiled sadly, knowingly, her eyes crinkling at the corners. “Everything’s fine now.”
I sacked up and pulled my act together. Couldn’t keep me down for long. “Okay. So, what is the deal anyway?”
“Elspeth, you’ve been given another chance. Your life was forfeit before your natural time. It happens sometimes.” She shook her head apologetically as if bureaucratic incompetence were to blame for my death.
“So, what does that mean, exactly? Am I alive? Did the doctors save me? Or what?” I rose from the small bed and grabbed my jacket from the back of a chair. Feeling woozy, I immediately crashed back onto the mattress.
“Now, now. It’s going to take you a little while to become acclimatized to your new existence.” She placed her hand on my forehead. “Just relax. You’re not going anywhere for a while.”
“Ms. Pillows! Would you please tell me what the hell is going on?”
Ms. Pillows blinked her eyes at my blasphemy. But I felt the fate of my soul was kinda’, you know, important.
“Oh, my! Language please, Elspeth.” Her lips turned white and all but vanished into a tight grimace. “As I said, you’ve been given a second chance. I’m afraid you have left the mortal world as you know it.”
“However, there are certain individuals we encounter from time to time whom we feel are worthy of a second chance. Sometimes, it’s because a mistake was made and as a consequence, they’re taken before their previously scheduled time. Other times, we feel a person has special qualities—talents—that can be used to make the mortal world a better place.”
“Which kind am I?”
“A little bit of both.”
“Well, let’s get going, then!” I swung my boots over the side of the bed. “How’s this work?”
“Patience, Elspeth, patience.” She grabbed my feet, attempting to hoist them back into bed. After huffing and panting, she gave up, leaning back in her chair. “Youth today. No patience.” She clucked disapprovingly. “I’m afraid it’s not as simple as your going back to the mortal world and picking up where you left off. You’ll be assigned a host body.”
“A ‘host body’?”
“That’s correct, Elspeth!”
Where’s my damn gold star?
“Your host will be someone your age, sharing similar physical qualities. It will be up to you to make her understand what’s happening. We can’t have an unwilling host body, after all.” She giggled toward the ceiling as if sharing a private joke with God.
“Yeah. We can’t have that.”
“Anyhoo. You’ll have to share the host’s body. And, mind you, it’s just a temporary thing. We can’t be expected to inhabit your host full time!”
“So. What’s the catch?”
“Excuse me?” She pushed her glasses up along her nose.
“I know damn well…”
Ms. Pillows gasped.
“There’s gotta’ be a catch. You guys aren’t doing this just because you’re nice! Whoever you are!”
“So cynical. Yet, in this case, you’re correct. You will be asked to do certain things. Sometimes, they might even prove to be dangerous.”