Roma Gray began writing at the age of 8 and wrote her first novel when she was 13.
Besides writing, she is also a project manager in the IT field. Her other interests include painting, hiking, archaeology, and physics. She lives in Oregon with her two cats, dog, and parrot.
Ryan Lieske: What is the first book you remember reading, or having read to you?
Roma Gray: The Night Before Christmas, a first for many people.
RL: What are the books that sealed your fate as a lifelong reader?
RG: When I was a kid, I used to get horror anthologies from the local library around Halloween time. The library would then pull them from the shelves the rest of the year and send them to the main library in Los Angeles. I loved those books and counted the days until they returned. In the meantime, I wrote my own horror stories.
The story that I never forgot was “The Emissary,” about a sick, bedridden boy whose only connection to the outside world was his dog. I remember wondering why it was horror…of course, when you see what the dog brings the boy at the end of the story, the question is pretty much answered. A classic. Another story that made an indelible impression on me that was in almost every anthology I read was “The Faceless Thing,” about a man who returns home to confront the monster that murdered his sister. They both still give me chills.
My feelings toward them is I’m still trying to recreate that thrill for myself that I felt as a kid. I wrote a short story “Perceptions” that was on a different topic, but my attempt to re-capture that haunting feeling in “The Faceless Thing.” I never enjoyed reading anything as much as I did those old anthologies when I was a kid.
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: I hated the books they gave us in middle-school and high-school. The YA genre really sucked back then. The stories were simplistic and the characters unrealistic. That might be why I write YA now, to write the books I wish I could have read back then. Of course, nowadays, the YA genre has great stories (The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner to name a couple). So…I guess the books of my teen years did influence me, albeit in a negative way. But I can’t remember the title of any of them.
RL: Speaking of this time period, 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: I did my homework, although I must admit, I despised The Scarlet Letter and just about every classic they forced me to read. To this day, I avoid anything with the word “classic” on it and literary fiction in general.
I think I was into Isaac Asimov at the time. His short stories, not his full-length books. I was still into short stories at this time.
RL: What were some of the stories of Asmov’s that still stand out to you?
RG: His really short stories, he had a thing for flash fiction. One favorite story, “Death of Foy,” was a Feghoot (a story pun or poetic story joke) on the old saying “A Stitch in Time”. At the time, I loved stories like that, but now I like subtler humor in fiction. Another short was about an alien family made of sugar. Looking back, I think I was just into flash fiction. It looked like something I could do myself.
RL: 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’d stay home and write. Writing was a better escape than reading. I had zero social life. I lived in a town where the gangs and drug dealers had practically taken over the neighborhood. I lived next door to a paroled rapist for two years. Truth be told, I stayed inside to keep from getting murdered or worse. A very unpleasant time in my life.
RL: What new books, literary styles, or genres were you exposed to in college?
RG: I took a creative writing class that introduced me to the idea of dissecting books to figure out what worked and what didn’t. It made me more creative. I learned to really think about possible story lines. It was also at this time that I discovered my favorite short story “Night Wire.” It’s a spooky, horror story and it got me back into horror.
RL: Can you talk to me more about “Night Wire” and what about it got you back into horror?
RG: What’s really spectacular about “Night Wire” is that it is spooky fiction at its best. Not horror, not graphic, and not childish (like Goosebumps). It gives you chills and leaves you with a haunted feel for the rest of the day. This is what I wanted to recreate from my childhood. That feeling. Not many authors write to this. Usually they go for true horror, which is harsh and in your face. Spooky horror is subtle, layered and hard to achieve.
I see this kind of writing more in short stories than novels, but I guess if I was to name novels that had achieved it, The Relic by Preston and Child, and The Bird Box by Josh Malerman come to mind. The Bird Box was spooky to the point of being disturbing. It was a book about unknown creatures, that if you looked at them, you went insane. So as the world degraded into chaos, the few sane people had no idea what these creatures were because they couldn’t see them (not even on videotape) but they were everywhere! People had to go around wearing blindfolds and the creatures were right there! Ahh!! Terrifying.
RL: What were your first bookstore experiences like?
RG: My town didn’t have many options. I mostly went to the library for their “buck a bag” sales. I’ll never go back to that town, but I imagine the library is still there. Unless one of the gangs burned it down.
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?
RG: I still love the horror books I read as a child. I don’t get as much of a thrill from them and this bothers me a lot. I think I’ve spent half of my adult life trying to recapture that feeling.
RL: How has your reading life survived adulthood?
RG: Audiobooks. I can listen to them when I go for walks, do housework, long drives, etc. I also read kindle books at night before I go to bed. I actually go through more books now than I ever did.
RL: Currently, what types of books are you mostly drawn to?
RG: I like books that reach me on both an emotional and intellectual level.
A perfect example is The Relic. It was suspenseful, terrifying, and intelligent. It’s my favorite book. It hit all the right places. I read it at least once a year, if not two or three times.
RL: I liked The Relic, and I do enjoy reading both of their solo work, but I’ve never read any of the follow ups to Relic. Do you follow that series?
RG: I’ve read a few of them, but they never achieved the same magic. That’s not to say their other books aren’t good (I particularly like some of Lincoln Child’s solo works) but none of them ever reached me the way Relic did.
RL: How do you share your love of books with others?
RG: I share books with friends. We swap back and forth.
RL: I’m one of those people who reads several books at a time. I’ve been called a “reading polygamist.” Are you? Or are you pretty monogamous when it comes to reading?
RG: I work on one audiobook and one kindle book at a time. I like to focus on the story, and multiple books would be too much.
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: Silly horror stories. Makes me feel like a kid at Halloween.
RL: Could you give me a couple of examples?
RG: I guess “silly” probably isn’t the right word. I guess what I really mean are the softer, spooky stories. You see this more often in the classic old short stories such as “Night Wire” and “The Faceless Thing” (by Edward D. Hoch). Both stuck with me and have influenced my writing. But that’s not to say there are no modern day examples of this. For example, there is this one anthology The End of Summer: Thirteen Days of Halloween by J. Tonzelli that hit me that way as well.
RL: This one could apply to all art, really, but in terms of writing, what are your thoughts on “genre?”
RG: Genres probably help people find what they want to read, but it can be misleading too. Genres are such big buckets.
RL: 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: Audiobooks are my favorite above all. I don’t feel like a story is real until I’ve heard it in audiobook. After that, kindle. The backlight makes it so much easier to read. I think audiobooks are the wave of the future. They’re halfway between television and a book. Seriously cool.
RL: Do you take a book with you wherever you go?
RG: I take audiobooks on planes or on walks. Other than that, I only read at home. When I read, I want to focus on it without interruption.
RL: Do you collect books?
RG: I have an English style library (red walls, red Persian rug, wood work and lots and lots of bookcases). It’s just always struck me as super cool to have them around. Like, I’m in a haunted mansion…yeah, I’m really too much into this Halloween thing.
Ironically enough, almost all of my books are on science and ancient languages. Most of the fictional books I wrote myself or my friends wrote. A few of those older anthologies, and of course, four or five copies of The Relic.
RL: What is your favorite book of all time?
RG: The Relic is my all-time favorite. Perfect everything. Yes, the movie sucked. But the book is amazing. Never read anything that I ever liked more.
RL: And, have you ever read a book that truly, deep down in your soul or psyche, disturbed you or went too far and made you not want to finish it?
RG: In regards to a book that disturbed me so badly that I stopped reading it, there was this one book―can’t remember the name. This teenage girl is in the middle of an apocalypse, and she is looking for her father. She has these animals with her, a dog and a pet hamster in a cage. Well, at one point she gets distracted and leaves behind the hamster in her car. She realizes her mistake, but she decides to keep going so as not to lose time getting to her father. In other words, to avoid a temporary inconvenience, she knowing allows a living, breathing creature that depended on her for survival to die slowly of hunger and thirst. The complete lack of empathy in this story, the message it sends…I will never read a book by this author again. Ever. And I almost never say something like that, but I’m still angry about this, even to this day.
RL: Have you ever read a book that made you cry?
RG: In regards to making me cry, I cry over interesting things. Toneye Eyenot once wrote a story called “Gray Matter” in an anthology called Extraterrestrial (edited by Michael Noe). That was such a sad story, it really hit me hard. Another one is in a book called “Sharkantula” written by Essel Pratt which is a lovely, campy book, but there is one touching moment with these dolphins that made me cry. Silly.
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: If you put the word “classic” in front of it, I usually won’t read it, haha. The Scarlett Letter is the first one that I encountered so I’ll use that. It is cruel and just left me feeling ill afterwards.
RL: Thank you for discussing your reading life with me. Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did!
RG: Thank you! It was a fun interview. You really made me think.
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