La legado vivo! With Ray Garton!

 

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Ray Garton has been writing novels, novellas, and short stories in the horror and crime genres for more than 30 years, including such titles as Live GirlsRavenous, Scissors, Sex and Violence in Hollywood, The Girl in the Basement‘Nids, and many others. His short stories have been published in magazines like Cemetery Dance and anthologies such as A Darke Phantastique, Dread: A Head Full of Bad Dreams, and the Cut Corners series of anthologies, and in his own collections like Pieces of Hate and Slivers of Bone. Under the name Joseph Locke, he wrote several YA thrillers and horror novels in the 1990s, including Kill the Teacher’s Pet and Game Over.

He has written several movie novelizations including The Nightmares on Elm Street (parts 4 and 5), Warlock, Can’t Hardly Wait, and Good Burger, as well as a number of TV tie-ins like his original Buffy the Vampire Slayer novel Resurrecting Ravana, and tie-ins with Sabrina the Teenage Witch and The Secret World of Alex Mack.  

His more recent titles include Vortex, Crawlers, the collection Wailing and Gnashing of Teeth, and the upcoming Paranoia Tango, which includes two novelettes of modern-day fear. 

He lives in northern California with his wife Dawn and their three cats, where he is currently at work on his next novel Monster Show.

Ryan Lieske: Ray, welcome to La legado vivo! Thank you so much for taking the time to discuss your Reading Life with me. So, to start things off, what is the first book you remember reading, or having read to you?

Ray Garton: I’m pretty sure the first book I was exposed to was the Bible. My mother used to read Bible stories to me, sometimes directly from the Bible and sometimes from illustrated books by a man named Arthur S. Maxwell, who was known as Uncle Arthur. He also wrote books of religious bedtime stories. This stands out in my memory because there was a character on Bewitched named Uncle Arthur who was played by Paul Lynde, and I remember playfully imagining that the books were written by Paul Lynde. Although bedtime stories by Paul Lynde would, I’m sure, bear no resemblance to those written by Uncle Arthur.

RL: Well, knowing what we know now, they would be interesting, that’s for sure. Probably not appropriate for a child’s bedtime reading, though.

RG: He was omnipresent when I was growing up and I always found him funny, but he was a troubled man. A mean drunk, by all accounts. There are some horror stories out there. I am addicted to Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast, and one of the many running jokes on that show is the fact that whenever Paul Lynde started drinking, the first thing he would do was expose his anti-Semitism. Gottfried does a wonderful impression: “The fuckin’ Jews are the reason I don’t have a goddamned career!”

Apparently, his attitude toward Jewish people was legendary. As was the story of when he and someone else—the someone else seems to change depending on who’s telling the story—stepped into the Solid Gold Dancers’ dressing room. Lynde looked around, wrinkled his nose, and said in his signature sneer, “This place smells like cunt. . . . I think.” He was quite nasty according people who knew and worked with him. He was once on a plane where a baby would not stop crying, and he shouted at the mother, “If you don’t shut that baby up, I’m gonna fuck it.” The center square was not a happy place. He lost a lot of close friends because of his vicious behavior when drunk. But he sure could make me laugh, and he still does. He was not someone I would want to know, but he probably made more people happy than miserable. It sounds like he tried hard to balance that out, though.

He was also an anomaly in that he was overtly gay—I mean, he never tried to hide it, he was aggressively bitchy and almost stereotypical at times, and I knew he was gay before I knew what gay was—and yet he was repeatedly cast as a suburban father with the all-American wife and kids in movies like Bye Bye Birdie and his own sitcom, The Paul Lynde Show. I can’t imagine that happening today and being embraced by people. I think it would be laughed at for all the wrong reasons. Of course, I’m not so sure it was entirely embraced by people back then. That may have been one of the things that made him such a funny actor.

I think it’s sad that someone who made so many people laugh for so long was so miserable. But that seems to be the norm in comedy.

RL: Unfortunately, it does.

I’d like to jump back to the Bible for a bit.

RG: Some of those Bible stories were damned scary. The plagues of Egypt in the story of Moses were terrifying, and the story of Abraham and Isaac really put a dent in my brain. I always imagined myself in the position of Isaac, being tied down by his dad, who planned to follow God’s order to kill the boy. How is that not a horror story? I found that pretty traumatic.

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Just a little light Sunday afternoon reading for the kids.

Those stories served as a kind of introduction to horror fiction, but they were not presented to me as fiction, which was what made them so damned scary. It wasn’t until later that I discovered that being scared could actually be fun.

Other early books were Peter Pan, The Wizard of Oz, and the work of Dr. Seuss.

RL: Bible stories were definitely the first stories I was exposed to, as well. My parents were, and still are, very religious. I was inundated with every type of Bible storybook you can imagine. And I won’t lie, I was fascinated and obsessed with them. Particularly the violent and scary ones. I agree with you—some of those tales are damned terrifying. One day, my mom bought me a record that had dramatizations of many of the more famous stories and for some reason I was particularly obsessed with the story of Joshua and the battle of Jericho. I loved the trumpet and how its power brought down those massive walls. Now, I have no memory of this, but my mother tells me that at around that time, I started having horrible nightmares, so bad they had to take me to the doctor. Through some circuitous means, they figured out that it was the voice of God from that record that was scaring me. It would certainly explain a lot about my development. But I digress…

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The record that warped Ryan Lieske forever.

I would agree that those stories were my first exposure to “horror.” Lazarus rising from the dead, the Plagues of Egypt, all of those you mentioned—definitely horrific, especially to the burgeoning, febrile imagination of a child. I was also fascinated by the Crucifixion story. In fact, I remember coming from Sunday School one day and building a cross out of some scrap wood and laying on it for hours. Again, a psychiatrist would have a field day with that, and I know it had a huge impact me—even to this day. I walked away from my parent’s faith a long time ago, but the Bible (and religion in general) remains an obsession for me, not to mention a motif in most of my own creative work.

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To paraphrase a line from Woody Allen’s Love and Death, “But Ryan had a completely different
concept of himself as a child.”

RG: I don’t know how old you are, but it’s possible we had the same set of records. I didn’t have all of them, but I could borrow them from the school library. I was an early fan of old-time radio, probably in part because of those records. I enjoyed the way it allowed me to use my imagination. I found that those stories, like so much of the Bible, raised endless questions. I also found that it was a mistake to ask too many of those questions, especially with persistence, in search of a reasonable answer. Nobody had any reasonable answers, and some of the people who were supposed to be teaching me that stuff had no answers to my questions at all. The questions were always silenced.

By the time I was in high school, I knew the Bible far better than my parents. When I was given a few verses to read in Sabbath school or church school, I read what came before and after, sometimes the whole book of the bible that contained the verses, and that’s where the questions came from, because I often found that the point the teacher was making with those assigned verses was not the point made in the bible when taken in context. I was an extremely curious child, but I was the only curious one in my family. The fact that I was adopted may explain this. They believed what they were told and did what they were told and never questioned it, looked into it any further than they had to, or even understood it.

Every time my dad uttered a sentence that began with, “The Bible says—,” which he did often, everything that followed was invariably wrong, often comically wrong, but it was a bad idea to laugh. To this day, my mom still leaves a Bible and usually a couple of other religious books lying open around the house in case people from church drop in for a surprise inspection so it’ll look like she reads them, but she doesn’t. I was the only reader in my family. They never knew what the hell their religion taught, where it came from, or what was in the Bible they claimed to base their lives on, and yet they were fanatics for it. I used to think it was just my family, but I think it’s reflective of so many religious people in the United States today, especially the ones who talk the most and the loudest.

RL: What were the books you feel sealed your fate as a lifelong reader?

RG: I think it was the addictive novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs that really sealed the deal for me. I couldn’t put them down and I couldn’t get enough. My parents went to a flea market as merchants every Sunday, and there was a man there named Cal who sold nothing but books, mostly old paperbacks. I loaded up on Burroughs there at a nickle a book. Tarzan, Barsoom, Pellucidar—I think my imagination got its first real workout from Burroughs.

RL: A lot of people tell me that, even if they were a voracious reader as a child, it was their middle-school and high-school years that had the most impact on the reader they are today. Would you say this is true for you?

RG: Yes, I agree with that. Those are fiery years and all of our experiences leave marks in some way, good and bad, that stay with us forever. Those years are a blur of books and writers for me. It’s a tornado of fiction of all kinds. I read current bestsellers like Sidney Sheldon, Anne Tyler, Thomas Tryon, Ira Levin, Mary Higgins Clark, Michael Crichton, Harold Robbins, William Goldman, Colleen McCullough, who had a tendency to choke me up, and so many others.

RL: I am so glad you mentioned Thomas Tryon. I personally think The Other and Harvest Home are two of the best horror novels of the 20th century, and they don’t get nearly the attention they deserve. 

RG: Tryon’s writing was elegantly twisted. I’ve encountered many fans of his work, particularly those first couple of novels, The Other and Harvest Home. I love his writing. There are still a few that I’m looking forward to reading. I especially enjoyed his books about Hollywood, Crowned Heads and All That Glitters.

RL: I’m familiar with Colleen McCullough’s work, but have never read anything by her. Can you talk a little bit about her work and what it was about it that had a tendency to choke you up? Have you revisited her work, and if so how do you feel about it now? 

RG: The Thorn Birds was a big bestseller in 1977 and back then I was scooping up everything with little regard to genre. It was a sweeping romance that took place in Australia, not the kind of book most fourteen-year-old boys were reading. In addition to being a powerhouse storyteller, McCullough had a talent for making her characters suffer. She was brutal and relentless. I wish she had tried her hand at my genre because that, combined with her brilliance at creating characters and making the reader connect with them and care about them, would have kicked some serious horror ass.

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And with such a sweet smile, to boot.

She was one of the writers who got under my skin. I use that term because I don’t know how else to describe it, and I can’t identify how she did it, but she could get under my skin, make me care, and then make me cry. She did it in other books, as well, like Tim and An Indecent Obsession. I’m happy to say that I haven’t come close to reading all of her books, so there’s more McCullough for me to look forward to. She did a wonderful series on life in ancient Rome that began with The First Man in Rome, and I recommend the whole series to everyone. It’s immersive. When you’re done, you’ll feel you’ve lived a life in ancient Rome.

RL: Any other writers you discovered during this period that stand out? 

RG: From about the age of 11 and into my high school years, I spent periods of time at a hospital in San Francisco. I was having some kidney problems that baffled doctors and I checked in with them often during that time. The ward where I stayed had a TV room with a couple of big bookshelves filled with paperbacks and I made my way through those. I read most of Ian Fleming’s James Bond books in one fell swoop, as well as a number of Mack Bolan and Matt Helm books. One of the nurses gave me a copy of Dune, which blew my mind. 

I read a lot of science fiction during those years, people like Ray BradburyFrederick Pohl, Robert Heinlein, A.E. van Vogt. I first encountered John Jakes as a science fiction writer with When the Star Kings Die, and later I learned more about American history from his Kent Family Chronicles than I ever learned in my deadly-dull history classes; I devoured that whole series. 

One of the biggest influences on me was Richard Matheson. I first read his Shock collections, which I found, again, at Cal’s booth, then I moved on to his novels, and at some point, I realized that he was also the author of much of what I watched on TV—episodes of series like Twilight Zone, movies like The Incredible Shrinking Man. That blew my mind. I had no idea you were even allowed to write stories, novels, and movies and TV shows! I actively sought his work and read everything I could find. If my imagination were a being that worshiped gods, Matheson would have been one of its first. I was in awe of the way he took horror out of gothic settings and put it in suburban neighborhoods and corporate offices. Robert Bloch did the same thing. Those guys were such big influences on me. 

RL: I’m a huge fan of Richard Matheson. I Am Legend and The Incredible Shrinking Man are masterpieces, as far as I’m concerned. I know he’s well-regarded in horror circles, but I feel like a lot of horror and SF fans aren’t aware of him as much as they should be. Now, this could just be endemic to my generation (Gen-X), and the one after mine, so I don’t say this authoritatively. I hope I’m wrong. Like, I’ve even talked to so-called diehard Twilight Zone buffs who don’t know who he is. But I preach the gospel of Matheson whenever I can. Especially to Stephen King fans who’ve never heard of him. Arguably, without Matheson we might not have King. And I feel Matheson, like Tryon, deserves a much broader readership than he has now.

RG: I meet people all the time who don’t know his name, but when I point out all the Matheson material they’ve been unknowingly enjoying all their lives, they’re astonished. One man did all that stuff?

He was not a flashy writer. His prose was lean and straightforward, but that prose was always rich with the story he was telling. His entire body of work deserves reading, but I found his short stories addictive. He set them firmly in familiar places, like suburbia, the workplace, small-town America, school, and that made the horror so much more effective. I use the word “horror” advisedly because not all of it could be accurately categorized that way. He was one of the voices of The Twilight Zone and many of his stories had the same feeling as those episodes. They took place in a reality that was only slightly tilted the wrong way.

The way I write horror probably owes more to Richard Matheson than anyone else, even though there may not appear to be any similarities on the surface. Matheson taught me how to do it, and I’ve always adopted a very similar approach to horror—create a familiar setting, familiar people, make the reader care about them as you lull that reader into a relaxed sense of complacency, and then fuck everything up with some kind of supernatural threat and put the characters through hell. Matheson taught me what horror was, how the genre works best. For me, anyway. Those stories in the Shock books opened my mind as effectively as any psychedelic drug and allowed a storm of ideas to flood in. One of my biggest regrets in life is that I never met him.

RL: Before we move on, are there any other writers or books that left their mark on you during this period of your life?

RG: It was during those years that I read, for the first of several times, the book that made me laugh till I had tears running down my cheeks: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. I remember being repeatedly shocked by the book The Happy Hooker by Xaviera Hollander. I became lifelong fans of the writing of Pat Conroy with The Great Santini and John Irving with The World According to Garp. A Christmas Carol was my introduction to Charles Dickens, whose work I still read and love.

RL: Irving and Conroy are two writers I seriously need to become more familiar with. But damn that ever-growing To-Read pile. What is it about them that you love so much that continues to resonate with you?

RG: Pat Conroy wrote mostly about abusive, toxic families, and I come from one of those. His writing was informed by his troubled relationship with his abusive father, and that’s something I can relate to well. Even though his fiction often involved people in the military, like The Great Santini, and the details of their lives were quite different from my own, I recognized the world he created and the emotions of his characters. Too well. That was how he got under my skin. He showed me people going through some of the same experiences I’d had, and was still having, and somehow assured me that there was light at the end of the tunnel, a better life on the other side. And damn, he really knew how to make me blubber.

John Irving is a different kind of writer. His books typically take us through the entire arc of a character’s life, or a group of characters’ lives. Reading one of his books is like living a different life with entirely different experiences than your own, and it’s always rewarding. Quirky, funny experiences and emotionally devastating experiences. Because of his writing, we don’t just read about those experiences, we have them. He’s unique. I don’t think there’s anyone out there doing what he does. Not the way he does it, anyway. It usually takes him a few years to write a novel. He’s slow, but it all shows on the pages. I have a few of his books that I haven’t read yet. I’m stocking up. He’s not a young man anymore and every time I finish one of his books, I wonder if it’s the last. It’s a chilling thought. I hate to think of a world in which there are no new John Irving novels.

In the ‘80s, I read something Stephen King wrote, maybe in Danse Macabrebut I’m not sure. He suggested that young people find out which books the adults didn’t want them to read, and then read them. I had been doing that long before I read King’s suggestion. As a Seventh-day Adventist, all fiction was off limits to me, so that wasn’t hard to do. I remember having to hide most of the books I read back then. I went to Seventh-day Adventist schools and concealed the covers of the books I read because if I got caught with them, I’d get into trouble. In fact, I did a couple of times.

RL: I can relate. Different denomination but similar restrictions on my reading. King was officially verboten until I was around 16. Although unofficially, I was reading him much earlier than that. God bless the “forbidden,”because anything my parents gave that label to I sought it out immediately. Same for movies. It helped having a friend whose parents had cable and didn’t much give a damn what we were watching when I spent the night at their house.

RG: I had lots of “forbidden” in my life growing up. If you’re a Sadventist—which is a term I sometimes use in the interest of accuracy—life stops at sundown on Friday and doesn’t resume until sundown Saturday, which is the Sabbath. That means no TV, no radio, no secular music, no secular reading. I used to yearn to watch Saturday morning cartoons, but I was in Sabbath school and church on those mornings, and even if I was home I couldn’t watch them because it was the Sabbath. One Saturday afternoon, my cousin, who lived next door, rushed over to my house breathless with excitement. He was barely coherent. He insisted that I come over to his house. I was about five years old. I got permission, and as we went over there, he told me that there was a movie on TV that I had to see about ghosts and a hidden treasure. My paternal uncle and his family were not religious at all, so they engaged in the grievous sin of enjoying themselves on the Saturday. My cousin knew I wasn’t supposed to watch TV that day, so he didn’t say anything in front of my parents. At his house, we sat down and watched this black-and-white movie that turned out to be William Castle’s 13 Ghosts, my first horror movie. Up to then, my only horror exposure had been TV shows like Dark Shadows and Twilight Zone. That movie scared the shit out of me. But it made me realize that being scared could be fun. This was a revelation to me.

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Hero.

The books I went to the greatest lengths to hide were Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, The Sentinel, any horror fiction that had a Satanic element—and there were a lot of those back in the ‘70s—or dealt with the supernatural. That made up a big chunk of my reading material.

I especially remember one book that I stumbled upon at Cal’s flea market booth. It contained two novels by Philip Jose Farmer. The image on the cover, by the artist Enric, was a beautiful, mostly naked, vampire-fanged woman with a bat perched on her hand with its wings spread and, wrapped around one calf, a snake with a human head.

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SOLD!

Cal was reluctant to sell that book to me because of my age, but in the end he did. The two novels were Image of the Beast and Blown, and I had never read anything like them before. I discovered in that book that science fiction could be as dark and full of dread as any horror.

RL: I love stories like that! There was a librarian in town who did something similar for me, with a couple of old horror paperbacks I found in their little “used books for sale” room. I can’t remember which ones, but I talked my way into buying them. I think one of them might have been a Ramsey Campbell book. Can you talk a bit more about those two novels you mentioned, and the impression they made on you?

RG: I’ve been trying to finally organize my books and I came across that book again recently. I still have it. I haven’t read it in decades, but I plan to reread it soon. When I bought the book, Cal was hesitant, as I said, and when I asked why, he told me that the book was “controversial” and had been banned in some places. The thought of a book being banned so that people couldn’t read it almost made my young head explode right there all over Cal’s cash register. It was forbidden. Initially, I was intrigued by the cover, but the fact that it was forbidden—and not just by the Sadventist church—that turned my spark of interest into a raging fire. To be honest, I don’t remember the details of those books now because it’s been so long, but I remember some of my response. I already knew it was a “forbidden” book, so maybe I was conditioned to feel this, but those novels gave me the sense that I was reading something I was not supposed to read. Not because my parents or my pastor or Jesus didn’t want me to read it, but something that simply should not be read. It had an unwholesome quality to it. And yet it was riveting. I remember enjoying both of those books and I look forward to rediscovering them.

I’ve gotten that same feeling from a number of books and movies, that feeling that I shouldn’t be reading a book or watching a movie. That’s a hard thing for a writer to pull off well and I always see it as a sign that I’m in good hands. In high school, I read a fantastic novel about the Loch Ness monster called Hellstone by Steven Spruill, which ended up being an extremely influential book because Steve has become one of my dearest friends. We were both raised in very Seventh-day Adventist families and grew up in the subculture, so we share a lot of experiences and he’s become my brother from another mother. He’s also a brilliant writer

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There are so many I haven’t mentioned and couldn’t possibly without writing a whole book about it myself. I was influenced in some way by everything I read, I think, and I continue to be influenced by what I read every day. While I write mostly horror, my reading was never confined to that genre. I soaked up a little bit of everything.

RL: Were you one of those kids who went rogue from the curriculum and read whatever you wanted, sometimes even ignoring what was assigned to read altogether?

RG: All the time. Adventist reading lists did not include fiction back then. They might now because I hear they’ve loosened up somewhat, but back then, fiction was forbidden because the prophet and founder of the Adventist church, Ellen White, wrote that God showed her in a vision that reading fiction would cause all kinds of health problems, including eventual physical paralysis and insanity, even death. I swear I’m not making that up. All I had to do to go rogue from the curriculum was read something that interested me.

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“Dear Diary…my family and I come from a long line of people who have never had sex. That’s what God told me, anyway.”

RL: Wow. I actually did not know that. I had a friend in high school who was an Adventist, but she rarely spoke about it. 

RG: Seventh-day Adventist doctrine is crazier than a bag of wet cats. The whole church is built on Ellen White’s dark fascination with and condemnation of masturbation. Adventists are known for being vegetarian. It’s not a requirement, but if you eat meat you’re a second-class Sadventist. Most people on the outside think this is for health reasons. In fact, most Adventists don’t know the real reason they’re vegetarians. It’s part of what they proudly call Ellen White’s “health message,” which was given directly to Ellen by God himself. Adventists will tell you that Ellen was decades ahead of the medical establishment with this “health message.” This is utter nonsense.

Here’s the message: All of the worst ailments known to man are caused by masturbation. Ellen claimed to have spoken to women on their deathbeds, drained of energy and sanity by their addiction to masturbation. One of the things that led to this wicked activity was diet. God told Ellen that eating meat and spicy foods would inflame the animal passion in people and make them want to masturbate. The reason most Adventists are vegetarians is that God told their prophet that meat eating leads to meat beating.

Ellen White’s writings have always been the target of plagiarism allegations, even when she was alive back in the second half of the 19th century. There were actually newspaper articles written about it back then giving examples of her theft. Thirty-something years ago, the church hired a devout Adventist to meticulously research this issue and turn in his findings. His findings were that she had not only engaged in plagiarism, she had stolen far more than anyone had ever thought. They immediately booted him out of the church. It turns out that as much as eighty percent of Ellen’s writings were stolen from other writers of her day, and many of the descriptions of her visions were identical to popular religious paintings of her day.

She wrote literally stacks of books in her lifetime. Most Adventists have read no more than a tiny fraction of her body of work because, frankly, it’s depressing and makes the reader descend into a pit of self-loathing. On top of that, the church has had to mute its devotion to Ellen because so much embarrassing information about her work and life have come to light, especially since the arrival of the internet. But even though most Adventists have no idea what all those books contain, they passionately defend Ellen against accusations of plagiarism in some pretty hilarious ways. For example, they point out that plagiarism wasn’t against the law back then so it’s okay. That’s not true, it was against the law, but hard to prove. My favorite is this one: “God showed her what writings to steal!”

The church desperately needs Ellen’s writings because that’s the only thing that sets them apart, makes them unique. Without those books, they’re just Seventh-day Baptists. So they cling to her desperately and still hold her writings equal in significance to the writings of the biblical prophets. According to Ellen, everything she wrote came from God, and that included gems like the fact that wigs cause insanity, that the American Civil War was fought to preserve slavery and that Jesus Christ would return before the institution of slavery ended, that England would declare war on the U.S. and win, that Saturn was inhabited by “tall, majestic people” who she met while visiting with the prophet Enoch there, the population would decline sharply due to disease (no doubt caused by chicken-choking and taco-palming), and one of my favorites, that “certain races of men” exist because a long time ago human beings fucked wild animals in the wilderness. She was a self-confessed alcoholic addicted to vinegar, which at that time was hard cider, and had been drinking so much for so long that when she quit the withdrawals almost killed her. Her interpretation of the bible is bizarre to the point of being heretical to mainstream Christianity.

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Ellen’s “vision,” borrowed from her Twitter account. I’ve looked, and Ray is definitely not making any of this up.

She claimed that the Catholic church was the Beast of Revelation and would one day assume control of the U.S. and then the world and pass a Sunday law requiring everyone to worship on Sunday under penalty of death. Adventists would be hunted down, arrested, imprisoned, tortured, and killed for refusing to worship on Sunday. That, more than anything else, was hammered into my head daily growing up. I used to lie awake in bed at night begging God to kill me before the Time of Trouble began so I wouldn’t have to live through it.

When I realized that probably wouldn’t work, I’d lie awake trying to come up with painless, non-messy ways to kill myself as soon as I realized the Time of Trouble had begun. This was before I even started school. I grew up in a constant state of terror because of this. When people ask me why I write horror, I reply, “Because I was a raised a Seventh-day Adventist and learned how to scare from the best.”

RL: No shit. I am seriously flabbergasted by all of this. And I appreciate you sharing. My religion-spawned nightmares as a child have nothing on yours. I know a lot about a lot of different religions and beliefs, but somehow I missed all of this about Adventists. 

RG: It’s organized insanity. I used to think it was just that religion, but I’ve come to feel that way about religion in general. Adventism, though, manages to be as oppressive as it is insane and it nurtures self-loathing. I would go into more detail to make my point, but we’d be here all week. I don’t do it much anymore, but each time I used to write about my religious experience in the past, I usually heard from a handful of people who would thank me for covering it because they were former Adventists and had similar or identical experiences, but they thought they were the only ones and, more significantly, they thought there was something wrong with them because that’s what their pastors always told them. If the religion doesn’t work for you, it’s your fault. The church has managed to successfully pass itself off to the world as a mainstream Christian denomination, but it’s not. I maintain that it’s a harmful cult, and that’s supported by the fact that support groups exist to help people out of Adventism. If you’re born into the cult, it’s extremely difficult to get out because it consumes every part of your life, and the only way to get out is to walk away from everything, your entire life. That’s hard to do.

RL: As I said, I appreciate you sharing your experiences, and I hope that anybody reading this that may have had similar experiences as yours will feel some kind of commiseration or solace. I’m going to be thinking about this a lot, I can tell you that. I could listen to you talking about this for a whole week, believe me, so yes, let’s get back to a more pleasant subject. 

Now,  reading is inherently a solitary activity, so did your reading life ever supersede or cause conflict with your social life growing up? Were you more apt to hide out in the library at school, or stay home on a Saturday night to read a book?

RG: I was a pretty solitary kid. I wasn’t an only child, but because my sister was fifteen years older and left home when I was four, I was kind of raised like an only child. I was never without a book, I took one wherever I went. I still do. I read in the car, in waiting rooms, anytime I’m not doing something else. I can’t say that reading superseded my social life, but I did read a lot, and I know there were times I chose to do that rather than engaging in more social activities.

RL: What new books, literary styles, or genres were you exposed to in college?

RG: I attended a Seventh-day Adventist college for a while and my reading continued as usual, independent of anything I was being assigned. Although I didn’t finish it at the time, I read some of Naked Lunch by William BurroughsI didn’t finish it because I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. But it made me aware that there was a lot of stuff out there that was quite unlike anything I’d read so far, challenging stuff, and I would return to Burroughs later. My sensibilities were changing.

I read Richard Laymon’s The Cellar during my last year in high school, which made me realize that if he could write a novel about monsters with penises that had tongues, the boundaries of the genre existed far beyond the traditional stuff I usually read. And I began to apply that to my writing. I had been writing throughout the time we’ve covered. I started writing stories from the time that I could write, and when I wasn’t reading, I was writing. Laymon kind of set off a bomb in my head.

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I read some classic horror during those years by Robert Louis StevensonBram Stoker, Charles Dickens. Most people don’t think of A Christmas Carol as horror fiction, but it is. It’s stark, raving horror, but it’s become so familiar and is so associated with the Christmas season that it’s lost its edge. Well, it hasn’t lost it, but most people don’t notice it anymore. Dickens wrote other ghost stories, as well. But I haven’t really read much more than that until recent years.

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I agree with Ray. The 1970 Albert Finney version scared the shit out of me when I was a kid.

I read the Illuminatus! trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea just out of high school and it freaked me out. In about the seventh or eighth grade, our math teacher set math aside for more than a week and spent that period playing audio tapes for us by a guy named John Todd, who claimed he was formerly a high-ranking Illuminati witch. No one in that class knew what the Illuminati was, but Mr. Todd explained it to us, and it scared the shit out of me. This was our math class, remember, and we were taught that the richest and most powerful families in the world, the people who funded everything, controlled everything, were Satan-worshiping witches who, at some point in the near future, would come out of the shadows and enslave all of us. When I read that trilogy, I first began to panic because it reinforced almost everything John Todd had said in those audio tapes. I honestly wasn’t sure that those books were fiction. But as I read them, I began to feel some relief because, yes, they were fiction, and they were published shortly before I heard the Todd tapes. I began to see some light at the end of the dark tunnel I’d grown up in when I realized that it was quite possible, maybe even likely, that Todd had read those books and used them to concoct his speaking tour to evangelical Christian churches throughout the last half of the 1970s. Those books had a big impact on me and I’ve since reread them, and I’ve always followed conspiracy theories. I find them fascinating. And now, conspiracy theories are being reported on the news. I’ve been incorporating that paranoid stuff into my fiction lately, and it all started with that trilogy.

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RL: I’m a conspiracy guy, too. And I blame (in the best sense of the word) Oliver Stone and Whitley Strieber. Hell, a decade or so ago I was even into all that Bilderberg/New World Order stuff Alex Jones was raving about, but now I know better, and I think that dude’s completely bugfuck.

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Beyond completely bugfuck, if that’s possible.

RG: It was the Illuminatis! trilogy that made me realize how much fun all of that could be. I follow that stuff, but I don’t inhale. There are real conspiracies, history is full of them. JFK is a good example. But so much of the stuff floating around today is pure paranoid delusion, and naturally most of it has its roots in religion, particularly fundamentalist Christianity. I think I enjoy following conspiracies because they’re imagination exercises.

My new book, Paranoia Tango, contains two novelettes that dive into the world of conspiracy and urban myth. The novel I’m currently working on, Monster Show, involves a lot of conspiracy stuff, along with TV horror movie hosts of the ‘70s and ‘80s (who were actually a government psyop), a comic book artist and writer in recovery from addiction, Nazis, government mind control experiments, and interdimensional monsters eating people in San Francisco’s tenderloin district, among other things. It is an area rich with fun ideas, but it’s taught me something: It’s very hard to make most of those conspiracy theories work as fiction. The large holes in these theories are easy to gloss over when you’re David Icke telling a stadium full of people that everyone in the royal family is a reptilian alien, or when you’re Alex Jones screaming into a camera about—well, just about any of the stuff Jones screams about.

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Totally legit. Totally. 

Writing In a Dark Place for fraudulent paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren and being told to “make it up and make it scary” really opened my eyes to a lot. As a result, my motto in life is “Be skeptical; everything is bullshit.” People like Alex Jones and David Icke, like their predecessors the televangelists, are con artists selling books, videos, and website memberships with fear. Sex sells, but fear enslaves.

RL: Talk about your seminal book store experiences.

RG: My first book store was Cal’s booth at the flea market, of course. I have such fond memories of hanging out there and browsing through the newest boxes of books Cal brought in. I didn’t know it at that time, but Cal was a gay man in an extremely conservative part of northern California, and he had some unusual beliefs—he was waiting for the Space Brothers to land in their ships to stop war and cure cancer—and I know that couldn’t have been easy. But he was a terribly sweet man who loved books and people.

Then there was a used book store in Anderson, where I lived. I think it was simply called the Anderson Book Store. It was run by a woman named Jean Miller and her companion, a woman whose name escapes me. Jean was a friend of my mother’s. Mom was a nurse’s aid and, prior to opening her store, Jean worked as a nurse, and that’s how they met. On my first visit to the store, Jean gave me a gift: J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. “You can have this one,” she said, “because I know you’ll be back to buy the other three.” She was right. I adored the book and returned to get the others. That was when I realized that I’m not much of a fantasy fan. Not that kind of fantasy, anyway. While The Hobbit was a delightful read, I found the Ring trilogy to be a tough slog. I got through it, but I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as I had that first book because there were a lot of songs and poems in the trilogy, which I did not sign on for, and it went on forever and ever. It probably was made worse by the fact that, due to some of the language, it felt a little too much like reading the Bible. I hoped that someday a movie adaptation of The Hobbit would be made. Forty years later, Peter Jackson comes along and turns that simple, beautiful little book into a nine-hour trilogy, which annoyed the hell out of me. Incidentally, I later found out that Jean was my wife’s dad’s cousin. Small world.

Then there was the Redding Book Store in the neighboring town of Redding, which was huge and included a couple of aisles of magazines. In addition to books, I bought a lot of horror-related magazines and comic books of all kinds there. I did my only local signing there after I was published. It was my only one because nobody but my family and friends showed up. It was a great store, but I think my favorites have always been used bookstores. The average book store carries books that are in print and reasonably easy to find, but when I walk into a used book store, I never know what I’ll stumble upon. I think that love of searching through shelves and boxes of old books started at Cal’s flea market booth. It’s still one of the my favorite things in life.

The Paperback Trader in Redding was a great used book store where I used to spend long periods of time searching the shelves, but the previous owner died and the new owners don’t know anything about running a bookstore. One of my current favorite bookstores is Borderlands Books in San Francisco, a new and used store that specializes in science fiction, horror, and fantasy. I’ve done several signings there, and it’s run by good people. I haven’t been there in too long and I miss it.

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Borderlands Books. Looks like Heaven to me.

RL: Did you find, as you grew older, that the books of your youth began to mean less to you? Or do you still enjoy all the types of books you’ve been exposed to throughout your life? Are there certain authors, genres, or books that make you cringe remembering how you used to love them?

RG: No, there aren’t. I’ve never had that reaction to any fiction I’ve enjoyed. If it’s something I loved as a kid, I most likely still love it. I read a lot of pulpy stuff growing up, and sometimes I revisit those books and find that the writing is…let’s say less than great. And some aren’t as good as I remember. But I still love them because they played a role in my development. I think growing up on so much pulp fiction explains my work, to some degree. I’ve always thought of myself as a pulp writer, even though the term is a bit antiquated.

RL: How has your reading life survived adulthood? How do you work reading time into your life now?

RG: I’ve never had to work reading time into my life because it’s always been a part of the fabric of my life. My wife Dawn, who is also a lifelong reader, is the same way and we spend plenty of time reading silently together. I long for the days when I had no responsibilities and could spend endless hours reading, of course, because I’m not able to read as much as I did then. But I’m never without a book. These days, I sometimes use a Kindle, but most of my reading is done with actual books. I consider turning pages to be one of the great pleasures in life. And I’m an inveterate book sniffer.

RL: Page turning and book sniffing are two of life’s most sublime pleasures. I’ve had people look at me strangely in bookstores when I stick my nose in the middle of a new paperback. And I don’t care. If they don’t get it, their loss. Although the used book smell is by far more transcendent (even if it gets my sinuses in a snit).

RG: Yes, I get stares for sniffing books, and I don’t care, either. Back in the 1970s, they must have used the same glue on all the paperbacks because the new ones all had a very similar scent. Used bookstores are the best places for book smells, though. Those books have lived, they’ve been around, they’ve been read again and again and again by so many different people. You just can’t do that with e-readers.

RL: What types of books are you mostly drawn to now?

RG: I’ve developed a passion for crime fiction in general and noir in particular. My affection for noir started with Cornell Woolrich, then the late writer Tom Piccirilli introduced me to David Goodis and Jim Thompson, and I’m always looking for more. I recently discovered the work of Jerry StahlHis first book was a memoir called Permanent Midnight, which covers his years writing for TV while being a hardcore junkie. His experience as a junkie has informed his fiction, which is noir on laughing gas. The novels are insane, but there is an authenticity to them that I don’t often find in this kind of fiction. When he writes about drug addiction, it has the painful bite of writing that comes from personal experience and has the ring of truth because he focuses on details that most gloss over or ignore altogether. His books Plainclothes Naked and Pain Killers are some of the best noir fiction I’ve read in a long time, but unlike most noir, which tends to be bleak and humorless, Stahl’s stuff is fucking hilarious. He finds humor in some pretty bleak and even gruesome situations. Elmore Leonard (fortunately, I’ve not yet read all of his work) and Carl Hiaasen are two writers who spring to mind, too, I return to their work often.

I’ve been reading more biographies than ever before, and probably more nonfiction in general. I gobbled up actor-writer Simon Callow’s biographical trilogy about Orson Welles, and in the last book learned that there will be a fourth book in the trilogy, which makes me happy. I’ve read some great nonfiction during the last few years. The work of muckraker Jessica Mitford is delightful. I’ve read journalists like Russ Baker and Annie Jacobsen in recent years. Jacobsen’s book Operation Paperclip: The Secret Intelligence Program that Brought Nazi Scientists to America is both fascinating and infuriating because it outlines how Germany lost the war, but the Nazis . . . not so much.

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In the horror genre, I’ve been reading more old fiction than new, including Arthur Machen, Ambrose Bierce, Clark Ashton Smith, and H. P. Lovecraft. I first read Lovecraft when I was a kid, but I didn’t really appreciate what he’d accomplished with his work until more recently. I have a friend, Scott Connors, who has written a good deal of wonderful scholarly work on both Smith and Lovecraft, and I’ve read him.

My reading has not only survived childhood, it has expanded to include a much wider variety of material.

RL: How do you share your love of books with others?

RG: I rarely loan books to people because I’ve lost too many that way. If I loan you a book, that means I have an extraordinary amount of trust in you. But I have given books to others, bought them for people—when my wife and I have always regularly given each other books. I’ve never joined a book club because it simply doesn’t occur to me. I’m not much of a joiner, for one thing, but my life is kind of a book club, anyway, because everyone in it reads and a lot of the conversation is about books.

RL: I’m one of those people who reads several books at a time. I’ve been called a reading polygamist. Are you?

RG: For most of my life, I read only one book at a time. It’s only been in recent years that I’ve become a reading polygamist. I’ve got books scattered all over the house so that I can go into just about any room and find a book I’m reading. I think I’ve become a moodier reader. My reading mood changes more frequently than it used to, and I’ve had to juggle books to satisfy those moods.

RL: Thank you. I do believe you just crystallized the thoughts I’ve had swirling in my head when I’ve tried to answer why I am polygamous with my reading. Mood. Like, right now I’m currently reading Mischling, by Affinty Kofar, which is a fictionalized account of two twins being experimented on by Josef Mengele, along with a memoir about working in the luxury hotel business, and King’s Under the Dome. And you know, as compelling as I find Mischling, I’m not always in the mood to go there. And if it’s been a hectic day, and my brain capacity is nil, well, a snarky memoir is just the ticket. I can chuckle and not think too hard. So yeah, I totally understand that about mood. And I realize now that’s why I select the books I do to add to my Currently Reading pile. Hell, tomorrow I may suddenly be in the mood to read about a filmmaker and might grab that Kurosawa autobiography off my shelf and read it all in one sitting. I love the chaos, and I don’t really know why. But I think your idea about mood goes a long way toward explaining it.   

RG: I definitely need to read Mischling. My dad was a WWII vet in Germany and I’ve always been fascinated by that period.

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RL: It’s an interesting, at times uncomfortable, read, but I recommend it.

RG: Right now, I’m reading The Late, Great Creature by Brock Brower, a collection of stories by Arthur Machen, American Gods by Neil Gaiman, and Shadow of a Broken Man, the first of the Mongo mysteries by George C. Chesbro. And even while reading those, I’ll get an itch to start something else that will satisfy some new mood.

RL: Now, I’m not a big fan of the term guilty pleasure. However, for want of a better term, what are your literary guilty pleasures?

RG: I’m afraid I just don’t think that way. It’s like “trashy novels”—I don’t think there’s any such thing, really. Badly written novels, yes, but trashy? I’m not comfortable with that term, either. I grew up reading mostly horror, but I dipped into everything from tear-jerking dog stories to Harlequin romances to pornographic westerns. I suspect I don’t feel guilty about reading material because, from day one, I was taught to feel guilty about reading material. That never sat well with me and I always fought it. I don’t think anyone should associate guilt with reading. That sort of thing encourages ignorance, and I think our culture encourages that enough as it is. We sure as hell have more of it than we need!

RL: I love the way you think! And I agree. But I have to ask…pornographic westerns? I must know more.

RG: I read a couple of the Longarm books. That was a series of pornographic westerns, but it wasn’t the only one back in the ‘70s. They weren’t so much cowboys and Indians as cowboys and fucking. I can’t remember the name of the author of the Longarm books, but it was a pseudonym for several different writers. The books themselves do not stand out in my memory, only the fact that I read them.

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And, if I’m not mistaken, they used a photo of Raquel Welch from the film “100 Rifles” on the cover there. I’m kinda interested…

RL: This one could apply to all art, really, but in terms of writing, what are your thoughts on genre? What I mean is, do you feel it’s necessary to label? Ultimately, do you think genre labeling even matters? Does it matter to you?

RG: It doesn’t, and I wish that was the case universally. But that’s the way it is. I’ve come to ignore those labels for the most part because I’m much more interested in content, and I know that some content defies labeling. My personal favorite of the novels I’ve written is Sex and Violence in Hollywoodwhich got an overwhelmingly enthusiastic response from New York publishers but was ultimately turned down by all of them because they didn’t know how to market it. The book was hard to categorize. It was dark, it was funny, it was a crime novel with a touch of gruesome horror, and because it was set in the movie business and even included appearances by some real celebrities, like Jack Nicholson, they couldn’t figure out what it was or how to market it. It was ultimately published by a small press and now it’s available as an ebook, but it never had the life it might have had because of the importance placed on labeling. I don’t like it, but that’s how it’s done.

Personally, though, I don’t pay much attention to it. I’m more interested in writers and content than labels.

RL: Now might be a good time to ask this. I knew you wrote some novelizations, but I had no idea you wrote the one for Good Burger! I actually collect novelizations and tie-ins, so I’m quite fond of them in general. However, having seen Good Burger (it’s one of my girlfriend’s favorite childhood movies), I’m very curious to know how that would play out on the page. I’m curious to more about that whole process, really. And then, bringing it back to the subject of reading, what are your feelings about novelizations in general, and their place in the literary world? As someone who has written them, I’m very interested in hearing your thoughts on all this.

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Not gonna lie, I’d really love to “read” this scene.

RG: Just a few days ago, I was visited by a couple of documentary filmmakers, Stephen Scarlata and Jim Kunz, the guys behind documentaries like Jodorowsky’s Dune and Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau. They interviewed me for a new documentary they’re making about movie novelizations and the people who write them. They were only here for about ninety minutes but I could’ve talked to them all day because they are passionate fans of novelizations, and so am I. I haven’t read any lately, mostly because they’re just not very common anymore, but I used to read them all the time.

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My lovely, battered copy of Ray’s Elm Street novelizations.

For me, novelizations were the only access I had to movies I could not see in the theater because, like most enjoyable activities, going to movie theaters was prohibited among Sadventists (although I think they’ve since loosened up on that in order to hang on to as many tithe-paying members as possible; the church is hemorrhaging members these days). I still have several of the novelizations I bought back in the ‘70s, like Foul Play and several Neil Simon movies, including The Goodbye Girl, which was the first movie I ever mustered the courage to see in a theater, thus risking my eternal salvation (another story altogether).

Writing a novelization is the closest I’ll ever get to directing a movie. I’m given a script—a draft of the script that is usually made obsolete pretty quickly by changes made during shooting—and I get to adapt that into a novel, fleshing it out with details, and adding incidents and maybe even entire subplots to make a novel-length story. Some novelizations come with firm restrictions while others are a little looser and leave room for invention from the novelist. For example, at the time that I wrote the novelization for Warlock back in the ‘80s, I was known primarily for writing very sexual horror. I had a chance to put my own stamp on the book, and I did. I gave the Warlock a gigantic wang. It was a weaponized penis I called the Devil’s Member, which he used to rape his victims to death.

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Until I met Stephen and Jim, I had no idea that there were novelization lovers out there who collect them, read them, and compared them to the movies to see how they differ. Nor did I know that Warlock is highly prized among these fans, that it has a kind of cult following. People are still reading it thirty years after it was published. I was walking on air all day after learning that. I was shocked. Part of the reason for the book’s popularity is that it differs quite a bit from the movie. For example, the reader is shown the Warlock’s point of view, which doesn’t happen in the movie at all. And, of course, the huge Satanic schlong.

A lot of writers—most, in fact—who do novelizations are kind of ashamed of them. They see it as lowly hack work. I’ve never felt that way. It gives me a chance to put my own stamp on a movie by giving the reader things they can’t get from the screen, like getting inside characters’ heads, the back stories of characters who have none, that sort of thing. I’ve always tried to make it a different experience than the movie. The deadline is always tight so they’re written quickly, and they’re really marketing tools for movies, but I don’t think they’re anything to be ashamed of. No writer should ever be ashamed of the fact that he’s working. I think that applies to everyone, not just writers. And I think I’m vindicated by the fact that there are people still enjoying a novelization I wrote thirty years ago. Those old books still have lives.

RL: As a writer finally making his way into the world of publishing, one of my Bucket List goals to write a novelization. I have a producer friend who’s looking into it for me. I, for one, have a huge respect for them (for the ones that try, at least; I’ve read a few that aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on). AND, I am definitely tracking down that Warlock book. Satanic schlong? I have to read that. That should have been in the movie!

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I’ll never look at Julian Sands the same again.

Are you a physical copy person, or do you prefer other ways of reading books, such as e-books or audio? Does the delivery system, as King calls it, matter to you?

RG: I have a Kindle and I use it, but I prefer holding a book in my hands and turning pages. I’ve never warmed up to audiobooks because I don’t listen as vividly as I read.

I think people will always read. Maybe not as many people because the numbers seem to dwindle steadily, but I think there will always be readers. I’m more concerned with whether or not we’ll have the freedom to read or write what we please in the future. That worries me.

RL: I know what you mean. I’ve had similar worries lately. I’ve been having a lot of Handmaid’s Tale/Fahrenheit 451 nightmares over the last several months. Which brings up another question: in 451, it ends with people in the woods, memorizing outlawed books so they can write them down again someday. What is your “451 book,”that you would commit to memorizing?

RG: It probably would be Catch-22. That way, like Arthur Bach, I could sometimes just think funny things.

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Readers, you know what to do.

RL: Do you take a book with you wherever you go?

RG: I never leave the house without a book, maybe my Kindle. Ever. Even if I don’t plan to read, I have one with me just in case. I’m never bored. I don’t understand the concept of boredom because I always have a book to read.

RL: I love getting to the doctor’s office early, so I can get some good reading time. Also, I love giving my girlfriend rides to her appointments, for the same reason. It makes me laugh when a friend texts me and asks what I’m up to, and when I say “chilling with a book,” and they say, “You bored?” I’m like, uh, NO. Reading a book is not synonymous with being bored. But only readers understand that. The worst are people (and this happened to me a lot  in college) who see you reading and interpret that as “Please come up and talk to me, I’m desperate for conversation.”Nothing annoys me more. Unless you love the book I’m reading and want to talk about it. Otherwise, leave me the hell alone!

RG: I used to write late at night in 24-hour coffee shops. For a while, I frequented what was then the 76 Truck Stop here in Redding. I met my wife there, she managed the gift shop on the graveyard shift. I would sit at the coffee counter and either write or read. I wrote my novel Lot Lizards there.

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The late stand-up comic Bill Hicks used to do a bit about reading in a coffee shop and being asked by the waitress, “Whatchoo readin’ for?” Not what are you reading, but what are you reading for. Before I knew who Hicks was and heard him tell that story, I was asked that question by a trucker at the coffee counter in the 76 Truck Stop. “How come you’re readin’ that book?” I said, “Because I’m taking a break from writing a book.” He chuckled derisively, shook his head, and left me alone.

I always bury my face in a book when I’m on a plane because I’ve often found plane conversations with strangers to be unendurable.

RL: Do you collect books?

RG: Our house looks like it collided with a public library. There are books everywhere. Movies, too, but more books than anything. In fact, it’s time for a purge because there’s no more room. Some of them have to go. I’m tempted to sell them by the box on eBay, or something, like grab bags. I don’t think of it as being important to me because I’ve always surrounded myself with books, they’ve just always been there, but I guess it is. I love books. I will never have enough money to buy nor enough time to read all the books I want to buy and read. I think we should be given two lives—one for living and one for reading. If we could live the reading life first and retain everything we learned, the quality of the life for living probably would be improved significantly.

RL: What books do you feel have influenced you and shaped you the most: as a human being, as an artist, etc.?

RG: I’ll confine this to my home genre, otherwise we’ll be here for weeks. Books like Rosemary’s Baby, I Am Legend, The Exorcist, The Shining, Ghost Story, and They Thirst made me realize how versatile horror can be, how it can comment on the times in much the same way that science fiction does, or add vivid life to familiar subjects.

Ghost stories have been around forever, but in Stephen King’s hands, the haunted house tale, transplanted to a hotel, seems new. In Ghost Story, Peter Straub suggested that what we had always believed to be ghosts were, in fact, something else entirely. Robert McCammon brought Dracula into the present with They Thirst, which made vampires feel like a new idea. There was nothing supernatural at all in Jaws, but it was no less a horror novel with a real Monster.

The first truly gory horror novel I remember reading was The Fog by James Herbert, who was probably the first splatterpunk a decade before the word was coined. There were scenes in that book that made me actually gasp in horror. I immediately followed that with The Rats, and became a faithful reader of Herbert’s for years. He was perfectly capable of writing chilling books that were free of gore, of course, but those early novels were a punch in the face. There wasn’t a lot of extremely gory fiction in the 1970s, which made Herbert stand out.

Herbert’s work and Laymon’s The Cellar, taught me that if you’re going to write horror you might as well live up to the name of the damned genre and go all the way. Novels like The Other, The Haunting of Hill House, and The Auctioneer taught me the value of subtle chills and growing dread. I learned from both extremes and everything in between, and if I’ve done my job right, that shows in my work.

RL: Have you ever read a book that made you cry?

RG: Again, if I answered that question truthfully we’d be here for hours. I can be an easy cry. Not as much as I used to be—in the past, I was known to cry at phone company commercials—but it’s still there. I’ve already mentioned Colleen McCullough, who did me in with The Thornbirds and Tim. The two other writers who immediately spring to mind are Pat Conroy and John Irving. The Lords of Discipline, The Hotel New Hampshire, The Great Santini, Prayer for Owen Meany—those guys get me every time. And then Conroy got one more out of me by dying. It’s so sad when a beloved writer dies because it takes out of life one more thing to look forward to—that writer’s next book.

RL: Lastly, just for fun, what is the one book be it a widely lauded classic, or bestselling popular phenom do you find absolutely unreadable?

RG: I’ll go with the most recent example: the Fifty Shades of Grey books. Oh, my god. Just…oh, my god. Bad writing on its own is bad enough—I’ve done some myself, so I speak from experience—but badly written sex scenes are embarrassing. The only good thing that’s come from it is a new interest in other erotic fiction, much of which is beautifully written by writers like Angela Carter and Anne Rice.

Anne_Rice
“Suck it, E. L. James. I was steaming things up before you were even born.”

RL: And on that note, thank you for discussing your reading life with me. Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did!

RG: It was a pleasure. This is my favorite subject! 

workplacepicture
Ray Garton with his cat Buddy.

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BE SURE TO CHECK OUT HIS LATEST RELEASES

 Vortex, Crawlers, the collection Wailing and Gnashing of Teeth, and the upcoming Paranoia Tango, which includes two novelettes of modern-day fear. 

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