Hello my Freaky Darlings,
Today I have the incredible Ray Garton in the interrogation seat. He’s a very brave man.
Ray Garton is the author of the classic vampire bestseller Live Girls, as well as Scissors, Sex and Violence in Hollywood, Ravenous, his new Moffet & Keoph investigation Vortex, and dozens of other novels, tie-ins, and story collections. He has been writing in the horror and suspense genres for more than 30 years and was the recipient of the Grand Master of Horror Award in 2006. He lives in northern California with his wife Dawn where he is at work on a new novel.
You can stalk Ray on his website: raygartononline.com.
- What drives you to write?
I’m afraid if I figured out exactly what that is, it would vanish like a phantom.
- What attracted you to writing horror?
Nothing attracted me to writing horror, I just found that when I wrote, that’s what came out. Even before I was able to write, I would draw stories in panels, and they were almost always dark and even violent. I found that no matter what I tried to write, it turned out that way. I could write a love story, but it was a dark love story that didn’t end well. I could write something funny, but it would be funny in a dark, disturbing way. It wasn’t that I was attracted to writing horror, I sort of wrote it naturally, and that was the only genre where I fit. Fortunately for me, I happened to come along when the big horror explosion of the ‘70s and ‘80s was at its height.
- Who are your favourite horror writers?
There are so many. The list of horror writers who have influenced me and continue to teach me how to write horror is a long one, but I’ll give you some names. Richard Matheson, Thomas Tessier, Shirley Jackson, Stephen King, Charles Dickens, Richard Laymon, Robert Bloch, T.M. Wright, Mary Shelley, Peter Straub, Angela Carter, William F. Nolan, Clive Barker, Nicole Cushing, Jason Brock, Michael McDowell, Robert McCammon, Rod Serling, Jonathan Maberry, James A. Moore, — it’s endless. Then there are writers who don’t work in the horror genre but have written books that have had the same impact on me as a great horror novel, like Joseph Heller’s Something Happened, William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice, Pat Conroy’s The Great Santini, William Goldman’s Marathon Man and Magic. Those are only people who write horror or have somehow struck me in a horrific way. That doesn’t include all the other writers who’ve helped and continue to help shape me as a writer and feed my imagination. And as soon as I submit this, I’ll think of other names I should have mentioned. I hate questions like this.
- Which horror novels do you think every horror fan should read?
The novels that made me realize fairly early on that horror should be about people first, and that once you had learned that there really were no limits to what you could do were Stephen King’s Carrie and The Shining, Peter Straub’s Ghost Story, and Richard Laymon’s The Cellar.
- Ebooks or paperback?
I can’t smell an ebook.
- What would make you pick up a novel by a new author?
Anything that captures my attention and imagination — title, cover, jacket copy, something I’ve heard about that author, anything at all.
- Who is your favourite fictional character?
At the moment, it’s Donald Trump. As far as literary characters, I have many, but the first to spring to mind is T.S. Garp in John Irving’s The World According to Garp. He’s a flawed man who’s extremely curious about everything, talented, so human. I love the arc of his life in that book.
- Do you plot your stories or does it just unfold before your eyes?
I’m a lousy plotter. If I outline a whole book, I lose interest in it because it feels like I’ve already written it and I know what happens. I prefer to start with an idea or a character or both and let the story unfold as I write it.
- Do your characters take on a life of their own and do things you didn’t plan?
Oh, god, yes. They’ve changed the entire direction of novels. Once they’re up and running, I’m pretty much just following them to see where they go. If they run into a wall, I backtrack and start over from a certain point.
- Do you listen to music when you write or do you need silence?
Sometimes I have music playing, sometimes I’ll run an old familiar movie that I love as background noise or to set a mood, something I know well enough so that I’m not distracted by it, something that might set a mood in much the same way music does. I never used to be able to work in silence, but I often do these days.
- Do you do a lot of research for your stories?
I do as much as the story requires. Sometimes that’s a lot just to get comfortable with an unfamiliar subject so I can write about like I know what I’m talking about. Even if I don’t.
- Facebook or Twitter?
My preferred personal information gathering center and tracking device is Facebook.
- What really pisses you off about writing?
Don’t get me started. You’re trying to get me started, aren’t you?
Something that pisses me off about writing are the wrong-headed ideas about writers and writing held by so many non-writers. It’s not work, for example. It’s not a craft. I’ve met plenty of people with that attitude. People who know me well enough to know better still ask, after being apart for some time, “Are you still writing?” I’ve been writing full time for over thirty years and people still ask me that question. It’s asked in the same way one might ask, “Are you still collecting stamps?” Or, “Do you still golf?” They’re not asking about a profession, because nobody asks, “Are you still a veterinarian?” Or, “Do you still build buildings?” Writing is that little thing you do that’s kind of odd.
Sometimes it’s not people outside the writing business who hold wrong-headed ideas about writers. For example, here’s a tip: Never ask a professional writer to write for free (with the exception, of course, of charitable anthologies). Just don’t. What makes the writer a professional is the fact that he or she gets paid for his or her work. The right word for this job is “amateur,” someone who is not a professional. Someone who has exchanged writing for money. It’s also someone who may not be very good at writing, and definitely someone nobody’s ever heard of. Because you get what you pay for.
Another one, but this one is kind of weird. I’m shy. I always have been. This surprises a lot of people because once I’m comfortable with you, it goes away and is usually quickly forgotten. But in new situations around people I don’t know, I’m terribly shy. Drinking used to be a quick and reliable remedy, but I don’t do that anymore and haven’t for a long time. There was a time in my life when it was seen as nothing more than what it was: shyness. But since I became a published writer, it suddenly became a stuck-up attitude, a sense of superiority. It’s the same thing it has always been, it’s still exhibited in the same way, but because I’m a novelist, for some people it becomes something completely different and suddenly I’m an egotistical prick. He’s too good for us is the conclusion often reached. Once I discovered this, I was horrified.
I’ve worked hard on overcoming my shyness and I manage to hide it better than I used to (although I still maintain that it’s much easier after a few cocktails), but it’s still there. I find it very difficult to approach people I don’t know and I’m often tongue-tied in social situations with strangers, but it’s better than it used to be. It has NOTHING to do with what I do and it doesn’t mean I think I’m better than everyone else because I’m a novelist, which is so opposite who I am that it’s funny. I’ve met writers and people of any profession, all professions, who think they’re better than others and I don’t like them. If I had my way, I’d never talk about my work except for professional reasons, but what am I going to say when someone asks what I do for a living? “I prefer not to disclose that information.” People would either think I was a government spook or a lunatic I know, I know—First World problems, but annoying nonetheless.
You can’t possibly have enough space for me to go on. I will complain endlessly about minutiae if allowed. I’m like a gentile Larry David but without the genius. If we were having this conversation in person, my wife would be standing behind me waving her arms at you and frantically shaking her head.
Vortex is on my TBR pile. Have you read any of Ray’s books? Oh! And I would suggest stalking him on Facebook and Twitter. He is probably one of the most amusing authors on social media, especially if you have a twisted sense of humour like me.