Ginger Nuts of Horror
Today's guest is the great Ray Garton. Ray really is one of the masters of the genre. He has written over sixty novels, novellas, short story collections, movie novelizations and TV tie-ins. His 1987 erotic vampire novel Live Girls was called "artful" by the New York Times and was nominated for the Bram Stoker Award. His thriller-comedy Sex and Violence In Hollywood is in development as a motion picture. In 2006 was presented with the World Horror Convention Grand Master Award.
Could you tell the readers a little bit about yourself?
I’ve been writing ever since I learned how to write, and I became hooked on the horror genre when I saw William Castle’s 1960 movie 13 Ghosts on TV at about the age of four. I knew I wanted to be a writer since I was eight. My boyhood dream was to be Rob Petrie from The Dick Van Dyke Show when I grew up, a comedy writer. The fact that I wanted to be a writer was kind of a problem in my family because we were Seventh-day Adventists, a pseudo-Christian cult that believes, among other things, that fiction is wicked because it’s nothing but lies. The reaction of my friends and the church to my chosen career has been the source of a lot of pain, sadness, and fear for me, but not writing what I write was never an option. I sold my first novel in 1984, a couple of years after I dropped out of college, and here I am. I live in far northern California with my wife Dawn. We have cats.
Do you prefer the term Horror, Weird Fiction or Dark Fiction?
It really doesn’t matter to me. People can call it whatever they want, as long as people are still reading it. The word “horror” seems to have fallen out of favor. I think the New York publishing industry lobbied to pass a law prohibiting the use of the word “horror” within New York city limits. I keep seeing a commercial for the movie Mama, which is currently in theaters here in the U.S., in which a blurb refers to it as a “supernatural thriller.” Not only have people backed away from the word “horror,” they give it a very wide berth when they walk by it. I still use the word, and I’ve found that most of the loyal fans of the genre do, too. I’ve written a good deal of stuff outside the genre, but once you’re put in a particular box, it’s hard to get out. I’m not complaining, though. I’m a horror writer first and I’ve never had a problem with the label.
Who are some of your favourite authors?
There are so many. Charles Dickens, Sidney Sheldon, Shirley Jackson, John Irving, Charles Beaumont, Anne Tyler, Mel Brooks, Franz Kafka, Peter Straub, Daphne du Muarier, Robert Ludlum, Neil Simon, William Goldman, Dostoevsky, Harold Robbins, Stephen King, Merrill Markoe, Robert Bloch, David Martin — I could go on and on. That’s just a few off the top of my head, in no order at all. When it comes to things like writers, books, movies, picking a favorite has always been impossible for me.
What are you reading now?
I’m rereading Next, the last novel Michael Crichton wrote before he died and became a ghostwriter, and I just picked up Gore Vidal’s Myra Breckenridge, which I’ve never read. It has to be better than the movie. It has to be. I’ve had stomach aches that were better than that movie. And waiting in the wings, I’ve got Darrell Hammond’s memoir God, If You’re Not Up there, I’m Fucked, about his years on Saturday Night Live and his battles with addiction and all the mental and emotional fallout from a horribly abusive childhood.
Which book do you wish you had written?
Psycho comes to mind. I finally read it for the first time last year. It’s such a tight, spare, flawless novel, and its influence — not only on writers, but on the entire culture — is immeasurable. But if I’d written it, of course, it would be a completely different book, and I have no doubt it wouldn’t be as good. I don’t think Bloch ever got the credit he deserved as a writer. The difference between Robert Bloch and most other writers is illustrated in this scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QlesvrKh82M — in which Indiana Jones is Bloch. He wasted no words, no space on the page, his writing is lean, but it can be jarringly evocative. He knew exactly what to leave to the reader’s imagination. You can come away from a Bloch story or novel feeling like you’ve just read something gory and horribly explicit, even though he’s described none of it. He could imbue a story or novel with wicked humor without being jokey or obvious about it. And yet, credit for his most influential work usually goes to Alfred Hitchcock, who wasn’t even a writer.
If you could use any other author’s creation in your own work, who or what would you use?
Probably Batman. I’ve been a Batman fan since I was a little kid and I’ve always wanted to write a Batman novel. It would be intimidating, but fun.
Describe typical day spent writing. Do you have any unusual writing habits?
I don’t think any writing habits are unusual because every writer goes about it differently. I can’t write in the morning because my brain doesn’t start to function until hours after I’ve gotten up. I usually start writing in the late afternoon, maybe early evening. I write more on some days than on others. People sometimes ask me how many words I write I day. I have no idea. When I was younger, especially in the early years of my career, I wrote much faster than I do now. I’m pickier these days, more concerned with quality than quantity.
What piece of your own work are you most proud of?
Sex and Violence in Hollywood. It maybe the best writing experience I’ve ever had. The book just flowed out of me. And it gave me a chance to write something funny. It’s not a horror novel, it’s a dark comedy thriller.
What is the hardest lesson you have learned with regards to your writing?
You can’t please everyone. No matter who you are or how good you are, there will always be people who hate your work. I don’t mean people who nitpick or are simply indifferent about it, I mean people who genuinely hate your work, and sometimes, by association, you. There has never been a writer whose work was loved by everyone. The sooner you embrace that fact, the easier your life as a writer will be.
What do you like to do to relax?
Read somebody else’s hard work.
Can you tell us about your last book, and can you tell us about what you are working on next?
My last novel was Meds, and it’s been a while. My wife lost her job in 2010 and was unemployed until December of last year, so I had to scramble and get whatever writing work I could. None of that included a novel. It’s the longest I’ve gone without writing a novel. Meds is a thriller about pharmaceutical drugs and the dangerous side effects they can have, which are often concealed for as long as possible by greedy pharmaceutical companies. I’ve just started work on a new novel, but I can’t discuss it just yet. I have a new deal with a publisher, but it’s not completely worked out and hasn’t been announced yet, so I don’t want to jump the gun.