Ray Garton is the popular, award winning author of over sixty books. He has been praised by Peter Straub, Stephen King, Harlan Ellison, Ramsey Campbell, Joe Lansdale and Dean Koontz.
In addition to movie tie ins that include the Nightmare on Elm Street series and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, he has written numerous original horror novels. In 2006 Ray was presented with the World Horror Convention Grand Master Award.
Ray lives in Norhern California with his wife Dawn. As a huge fan of horror fiction, it was an honor to interview Ray. - David Kempf
Tell us how you became interested in horror. You have said in the past your religious upbringing was full of obsession over the end of the world and fear. How much of an impact did the church have on you?
My upbringing had a lot to do with my interest in horror, although I didn’t realize it at the time. I saw my first horror movie on TV when I was about five years old. It was 13 Ghosts. By that time, I was already living in fear of the “time of trouble” that’s such an important part of Seventh-day Adventist doctrine. I regularly had nightmares that would disrupt my sleep, and I would sometimes lie awake at night in bed, either praying that god would kill me before that time came, or trying to decide how best to kill myself once it arrived. That movie scared the hell out of me, but it was a fun kind of scary. I enjoyed it. It channeled the fear that was bottled up inside me.
After that, I sought out more horror on TV, and I discovered horror comic books and later, novels and short stories. But this only caused more trouble for me because Sadventism (as I call it) prohibits the reading of fiction. I understand that these days, they have a much harder time dictating that particular rule, but the cult’s prophet and founder, Ellen G. White, wrote that god showed her that reading fiction could actually cause health problems, physical paralysis, and mental illness. So I got a lot of flak for my interests. In fact, I was reminded almost daily that my interests were a sign that there was something wrong with me, that Satan was working hard on me.
I always had a need to tell stories. I don’t know why. Before I could write, I drew them in comic strip panels. Then I learned to write and I was always writing stories, one after another, and they all tended to be dark. Most fell in the horror genre. This, I was told, was a sign that Satan was working through me. Being told that sort of thing all the time, day after day, resulted in a lot of self-loathing.
Did it impact your work politically and philosophically as well as personally?
No, I don’t think so.
You also said that you believe you got a pretty good break into the writing business, do you think it’s more difficult to make fiction writing your sole source of income these days?
I was very lucky in that horror fiction was extremely popular when I was starting out. I sold my first novel when I was 20. It was published in 1984, in the middle of the horror fiction boom. If I were starting out today — well, the very thought makes me shudder. Things are a lot different now. Not only has horror never recovered from the collapse of its mainstream popularity in the early ‘90s, but publishing itself bears little resemblance to the business when I started out. I don’t envy anyone who’s starting out right now. There are a lot of new avenues that writers can take, but writers have to do all their own marketing, and good luck getting attention. These days, everybody and their plumber has a book to sell. It seems if you’re not hawking a book, you’re some kind of slacker. Everybody’s doing it.
How many short stories have you written?
I don’t know. I’ve never counted them. Dozens.
How many novels have you written?
I’ve written about 62 books altogether — novels, novellas, short story collections, movie novelizations, and TV tie-ins. About half of those are novels.
Do you enjoy mentoring or helping new writers in the horror genre?
I’m always willing to answer questions and offer encouragement and, if I have any, advice to new writers, whether they work in the genre or not. I got a lot of kind encouragement and advice from writers when I was starting out, and I’m always eager to do the same for others. I don’t have the time to read manuscripts, and legally, that’s a bad idea for any professional writer. But I always try to make myself available to up-and-coming writers.
Tell us about your daily (or nightly) working routine.
My routine seems to morph with each project. Right now, I’m writing in the late afternoon and evening, I usually take a break to spend some time with my wife in the evening. And then I get back to work when she goes to bed. While I’m writing, I usually have music playing, or a movie running on the TV. It has to be a movie I’ve seen many times, though, something I’m familiar with so it doesn’t become a distraction. I like the noise, though.
What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment as an artist so far?
Of my novels, Sex and Violence in Hollywood is my personal favorite. It was wonderful writing experience, it flowed so smoothly, and I was very happy with the final product. Of my horror novels, I think Scissors is my favorite because it’s so unusual. No vampire or werewolves, none of the usual trappings of horror. It’s completely different from everything else I’ve written. Those are my best for now, I think. That’s open to change, of course.
How do you come up with the original plots and characters you create?
First of all, I try to avoid doing what’s already been done. For example, I wouldn’t go near zombies right now. Everybody’s doing zombies. I’m not crazy about that subgenre, anyway, but right now, I want to hurl every time I see a new zombie novel or collection or movie. Enough, already! The plots are usually determined, to a certain extent, by the characters. And the characters are drawn from my own personal experiences with people. I don’t mean that they’re based on specific people, because they aren’t. They come from my experience with people in general.
Name some of your favorite horror books.
Ghost Story, The Shining, Frankenstein, I Am Legend, Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs — those come immediately to mind. For much of my life, I read mostly horror fiction, but not for some time, now. These days, I read a little of everything and not much horror.
Name some of your favorite horror films.
The Black Cat (1934), Bride of Frankenstein, The Howling, The Haunting, Pan’s Labyrinth, Session 9, Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, The Mist, Carrie ...
Why do you think horror films and books remain relatively popular?
Their popularity never dies, although it does experience surges from time to time. Watching a horror movie or reading horror fiction are two of the only ways we can put ourselves in safe danger, confront and survive death, be terrified without risking our injury or death, and walk away with a great feeling of relief. They’re our way of having nightmares when we’re awake. When they’re done right, they fill that need.
What are your latest projects?
I have a couple of novellas coming from Cemetery Dance, Vortex and Dereliction. I have short stories in some upcoming anthologies like Horror Library Volume 5, and an anthology called A Darke Phantastique, edited by Jason V. Brock and William F. Nolan. And right now I’m working on a new novel that I can’t discuss just yet.
Many thanks to Ray Garton.
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