Welcome back to Spaceship Urff! Personal circumstances (laziness) have kept the site dormant for a while, but it's back and more or less the same as ever! One change is that I've ababdoned an "issue" format and will now post items individually. Like this here interview with horror legend Ray Garton!
Ray has been writing novels, novellas, and short stories for thirty years. His work spans the genres of horror, crime, and suspense. His latest thriller, Frankenstorm, was released as an ebook serial by Pinnacle Books and is also now available in paperback. His short fiction has recently appeared in such anthologies as Nightscapes, Volume 1, Dark Visions: A Collection of Modern Horror, Volume 1, Horror Library 5, and Splatterlands: Reawakening the Splatterpunk Revolution. You can see his bibliography and keep up with new releases at his website, RayGartonOnline.com. He lives in northern California with his wife Dawn and is currently at work on his next novel.
Let's peer into his dark, diabolical mind, shall we?
You've been writing horror for quite a long time now. How and when did you start?
Very early, as a child. I always had this urge to concoct stories and characters. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t doing that in one way or another. It was just part of my make-up. It was something in which I had no more say than talking — just another way of expressing myself, a way of communicating. And I preferred to communicate horror stories even then. What did I know about anything? I was a kid, a teenager, a college student, I had no experience. So I had to rely on my imagination, and doing that always seems to lead down some dark alleys. I always went for a strong reaction from my reader, and I usually got it. It was kind of like an eight-year-old boy shoving a frog into the face of a five-year-old girl just to watch her run away screaming. I think that kid lives inside every horror writer, it’s just expressed in different ways. I’ve always thought of myself more as a storyteller than a writer, and the kind of stories I like are about people in extreme situations.
I think that stems from the way I wrote back in school. I had little or no experience to draw on, so I looked around and exaggerated what I saw, or threw in a killer, or a werewolf. And it was fun! I took to horror movies early on, much to my parents’ chagrin, and those, along with the many books I read, mostly in the horror, suspense, crime, and science fiction genres, shaped my writing. And the bible, of course, I got a whole lot of that, and it was a huge influence. I think that’s why the horror genre was so appealing to me — I already understood that language. Most horror fiction and movies of the 1960s and ‘70s — going back long before that, of course, but I wasn’t around — took place in the King James Bible universe, where everything good comes from god and everything bad comes from the devil. I grew up on that kind of horror and that was the kind of horror I wrote, that and some non-supernatural thrillers. I finally got tired of just entertaining my friends and my first novel sold in 1983 and I’m still learning how to do this.
To date, you've written over sixty books. Which of your novels is your personal favorite? Which is the work which you consider to be the best example of your fiction?
Sex and Violence in Hollywood. It stands out as my most enjoyable writing experience — the book just poured out of me, and fast, and it was very spontaneous, I really didn’t know what was going to happen at any time until it happened — and I think it’s my best book. It’s one of the very few books that I finished before ever showing it to anyone. Most of my novels have been sold on the basis of sample chapters and an outline, but I finished this one first. I think it’s the best example of my writing, and it contains everything I love about writing. It’s not a horror novel, but my love of the genre is in there. It’s a thriller, but it’s also a comedy. I think the comedy was the most enjoyable part of writing it.
When I was a boy, I always wanted to be a writer, but originally, I wanted to be a comedy writer. I wanted to be Rob Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show, the character played by Van Dyke who was the head writer on a popular TV comedy show. But I ended up following my other love, horror fiction. That’s not a big leap. Comedy and horror are two sides of the same coin. Both rely on surprise, and both focus on someone’s misfortune, but with different results. One amuses and makes you laugh, the other is frightening and disturbing.
Sex and Violence in Hollywood does both. Unfortunately, it’s hard to categorize, it can’t be slipped into a specific genre, and that kept it selling to major publishers (all of whom loved the book without exception). Also unfortunately, it’s not horror, so a lot of people aren’t interested. It’s been hard finding an audience for it, even though I think it has a pretty wide appeal for all its quirkiness. It also features my favorite of all my characters, a celebrity defense attorney named Rona Horowitz. Some real people, like the late Johnny Cochrane, who was famous for the O.J. Simpson trial, Jack Lemmon, Stephen Spielberg, and others make brief appearances, and Jack Nicholson is a minor character. A producer has been trying for a couple of years now to develop it as a movie. That process is long and tedious and I usually give it little or no thought because, in the end, it usually falls through. But I’ve got everything crossed for this one — my fingers, toes, eyes, testicles, everything — because I really, really want this movie to happen.
Do you have any overarching goal or ambition as an author?
To entertain. I think of myself primarily as an entertainer, that’s my job. If I can keep doing that, the readers won’t go away.
You co-authored a book about the controversial haunting of the Snedeker family, the events of which form the basis for the film A Haunting in Connecticut. You've since publicly stated that the events depicted in the book should not be considered non-fiction due to the unreliability of the witnesses. Do you personally have any belief in the paranormal, or do you believe such tales belong only to the domain of fiction?
I’ve been fascinated by the paranormal my whole life. As a boy, I was terrified of it because of my family’s religious beliefs. We were Seventh-day Adventists, and Adventists believe there are no ghosts, only demons posing as ghosts. I grew up believing that anything mysterious, anything we didn’t understand, was probably evil. And I grew up scared shitless. All the time. I don’t believe that anymore. In fact, I’m not much of a believer, I’m pretty skeptical across the board.
I don’t believe in things like demons or ghosts. If it turns out that there is life after death and dead people are trying to communicate with the living, I seriously doubt that it’ll be discovered on a paranormal “reality TV” show because those shows are all bullshit. Those shows, “paranormal investigators” like Ed and Lorraine Warren (The Amityville Horror, In A Dark Place: The Story of a True Haunting, etc.), psychics like the late Sylvia Brown, mediums like John Edward or James von Praugh — all complete and utter bullshit, nothing more than con artists who prey on vulnerable people. I’m not saying that weird, inexplicable things don’t happen — the world is full of things we don’t understand yet — I just don’t include the supernatural on my list of possible explanations, and unlike so many, I certainly don’t jump to that explanation first. As a horror writer, as someone who’s always looking for a new idea, I do consider that explanation as possible material for a story or book. But I don’t believe it. There are still plenty of things we don’t understand, but look at all the things we’ve learned about our world, all the mysteries we’ve solved, all the weird phenomena we’ve been able to explain. In all those millennia of exploration and discovery, the supernatural usually has been our desperate, ignorant explanation for the things we didn’t understand, but not once in human history has the supernatural turned out to be the actual cause of or explanation for anything. Everything we’ve believed was supernatural at first has been perfectly natural and rational. I think that will continue to be the case. We humans fear the unknown and come up with some pretty scary explanations for it. That’s how we deal with fear.
That’s where people like me come in. Horror writers entertain with fear. But because I’m a horror writer, most people are shocked that I don’t believe in the paranormal. In fact, some even get pretty miffed about it. As I said, I’ve always been fascinated by it and have done tons of reading about it over the years. In fact, the reason I took on the job to write In a Dark Place was that I’d followed the adventures of Ed and Lorraine Warren in the National Enquirer when I was a kid and I thought it would be a fun job. But it wasn’t. When the stories told by members of the family allegedly plagued by an infestation of demons didn’t mesh, I approached Ed Warren for advice. He said, “These people are crazy. All the people who come to us are crazy. That’s why they come to us. Use what you can and make the rest up. You write scary books, right? That’s why we hired you. Just make up what you have to and make it a good scary story.” That’s how Ed and Lorraine worked. I’ve talked to other writers who’ve worked with them and have been told of similar experiences. That’s how the entire paranormal industry works. All those books about “true hauntings,” all those TV shows about ghosts and demons, those are all con artists making money off of people’s need to believe.
Two new novellas were released by Cemetery Dance, Dereliction and Vortex. My new novel Frankenstorm was serialized in six parts and will be available in paperback in May, and I’ve started work on a new one in a similar vein in which I get to destroy the Las Vegas strip. (Note: This interview was conducted in early 2014. Frankenstorm is available here.) I’m also working on a new thriller.
Let's all thank Ray for joining us by buying his books, shall we? Head over to RayGartonOnline.com where you can find all the links and whatnot.