Monday, April 23, 2012
Ray Garton drops by
Probably what I appreciate the most about Ray Garton is his way with words, and that's exactly why I'm suitably piqued to go read his novels after I first encountered him having his say on his blog. Today I welcome this very prolific author to my world.
ND: You're one of the rare breed who boasts being a full-time writer. This is no mean feat. What does your day entail and what sort of writing puts bread on the table and a roof over your head?
RG: I know a lot of writers say they have a schedule they stick to each day, and I'm sure a lot of them do, but I've been writing my whole life, long before I ever sold anything, ever since I was a little kid, and writing has always been such a basic part of my life that I've never had to set up a schedule to follow.
If I don't write every day for a little while, I start getting awfully cranky. Back in the '80s, Stephen King was asked what his writing schedule was like, and he answered by saying he wrote X number of hours every day except on a few holidays and his birthday. Decades later, he said that answer was bullshit, that he wrote when it came, and it didn't always come, and sometimes when it did come, it wasn't very good. That sounds a lot more authentic to me. Full-time writers don't have time to indulge in things like "writer's block" for extended periods of time, but there are days when the writing is easier than others, and some when it's harder than others.
These days, I divide my time between writing and self-promotion, something I've never been terribly comfortable with or good at, but I've gotten better in recent years. I was out of commission for the better part of a decade (from 1999 almost to 2008) with a bad hip that required a few operations and endless medical procedures. When I came out of that, I found that publishing was not the same business I'd entered back in the 1980s, and I've been adjusting ever since.
For the past year, I've been doing a little of everything. I'm working on a new novel, but I've also sold a lot of short stories and novellas. I have a new collection coming out called Wailing and Gnashing of Teeth, a book of horror stories about religion. My novella Threesome was published last year, and I have a new novella coming later this year called Dereliction, which is kind of a departure for me --- I suppose it qualifies as horror, but it's not the kind I typically write because it has none of the usual violence or sex and is much more emotional and psychological.
ND: 60 novels and novellas. Can you tell us a little about your chosen genres? The road to getting published... Was it bumpy? Which route did you follow?
RG: I think I'm up to 63 now, or something like that. I've had a unique experience in publishing in that getting published was really quite easy. Staying published hasn't always been a breeze, though. I was spoiled in the beginning, I think. In 1983, I found an agent who showed some interest in my work. I sent him a few stories, but he said he couldn't sell stories very easily--did I have a novel he could see? I told him I was halfway through a novel and would send it to him as soon as it was finished. I lied.
I did not have a book in the works at the time, and none of the novels I'd written up to that point were good enough to show to anyone. I had to come up with something new. The result was a horror novel called Seductions, which I wrote quickly, in a matter of weeks. I sent it to the agent, he said it was pretty good and he'd shop it around. That was during the horror boom of the 1980s, when publishers were snatching up all the horror they could find. A few weeks later, he called and told me he'd sold the novel and it would be published the following year.
I was 20 at the time. I stupidly thought to myself, I've found my career. This is what I'll do with my life. And I never looked back . That was not a wise decision. I had dropped out of college the year before and all I knew how to do was write, because I'd been doing it my whole life. So the reason I write full time is that I can't do anything else! It's been really tough at times, with plenty of dry spells. I never expected to get rich, and I haven't. But I still love what I do and consider myself enormously fortunate. I was in the right place at the right time in 1983--something that plays a much bigger role in our lives than we care to admit, I think. I wrote horror fiction at a time when it was terribly popular, and that got me in. And since then, I've simply refused to go away.
In addition to horror novels, I've written some more mainstream thrillers (Trade Secrets, Sex and Violence in Hollywood, Loveless, Murder was My Alibi, and my most recent novels, Trailer Park Noir and Meds), several short story collections (Methods of Madness, Pieces of Hate, Slivers of Bone, The Girl in the Basement and Other Stories, The Disappeared and Other Stories, etc.) and in the 1990s, I wrote a number of young adult novels under the name Joseph Locke (Kill the Teacher's Pet, Petrified, Game Over, Vengeance, etc.).
I was afraid if I used my real name, the young readers for whom my YA novels were intended might seek out my other books, which definitely aren't for young readers, so I decided to use a pen name. I've also written a number of movie novelizations (Invaders from Mars, Warlock, Can't Hardly Wait, etc.) and TV tie-ins for young adults and children (Sabrina the Teenage Witch, The Secret World of Alex Mack, Buffy the Vampire Slayer).
And I wrote one book that was published as nonfiction called In A Dark Place: The Story of A True Haunting, which covers the story that later became known as The Haunting in Connecticut. But it wasn't nonfiction, it was all a very cynical hoax and I was told to make it up. Don't believe everything you read. In fact, don't believe anything, period, unless you can check it out yourself.
ND: If someone approached you out of the blue and asked you to recommend three of your works that best represent you, which would they be and why?
RG: I would recommend my 1987 novel Live Girls, which is still my most famous. It's an erotic vampire novel that doesn't bear any resemblance to what vampires have become in fiction these days (it was followed by a sequel, Night Life, in 2005). I think it represents a lot of what I've tried to do in the horror genre, which is blend some of the traditional aspects of the genre--like vampires--with a more modern sensibility that's very urban, sexually charged and a rather twisted sense of humor.
I would also recommend my darkly comic thriller, Sex and Violence in Hollywood, which is my personal favorite of all my work. I always wanted to be a writer, but as a boy, I wanted to be a comedy writer when I grew up. Somehow, I ended up being primarily a horror writer. When I told that to stand-up comic Emo Philips, he said, "Thank you for taking comedy writing to its logical conclusion!" Sex and Violence in Hollywood gave me a chance to cut loose a little and be funny--but it's a dark funny. It also gave me a chance to write about movies, which I love.
Thirdly, I would recommend something that's representative of the directions I'm taking now--like my latest novel Meds, a thriller, or my upcoming novella Dereliction.
ND: Some sound advice for those who dream to be full-time writers? With the explosion in social media, what in your mind are the more effective ways in which authors can promote themselves?
RG: The best advice I could give would be to approach it realistically. It's okay to work toward writing full-time as a goal, but don't just fall face-first into it the way I did. Get an education, have another field in which you can work successfully, something that will provide a steady income. With that, work toward writing full time. I honestly wish I had done that. Don't do as I do, dammit, do as I say!
I'm still learning how to promote myself, but I've learned quite a bit. A lot of writers throw themselves into self-promotion and kind of become promotion machines. That's all they do. That's fine, but I don't think it's enough. If all you do is promote your book, people are going to get tired of it. I think it's important to show readers that there's a person behind what you write.
Make yourself as accessible as possible to your readers and don't be afraid to be yourself. I was afraid of that. I couldn't imagine doing nothing but promoting myself online, but at the same time, I couldn't imagine that anyone would have any interest in anything I'd have to say, or in me personally.
That was wrong. I've found that readers love interacting with the writers they read, and I think they enjoy it when they find out who that person is. I've set aside a little time each day, for example, to interact with people on my Facebook page. When I finally started a Facebook account and started posting, I was kind of surprised that so many people had been reading my work!
Locked up in an office writing for so much of my life, it's easy to forget that people read the work, as silly as that might sound. Not only has the internet allowed me to connect with readers, I've attracted a lot of new readers, and I've met some wonderful people. Some of my readers have become "real life" friends.
Use every tool the internet provides. Social networks, blogs, anything you can find. Get a decent website. I waited a long time on that, but I have one now:
A writer should never say no to an interview (or, for that matter, to free food). Watch out for trendy traps. Book trailers have been popular for a while, but I've found no evidence that they help sell books, and keep in mind that a trailer is not going to appeal toeveryone, no matter how good it is, and will even turn some people off--people who very well may have liked your book had they read it.
You want to succeed (or fail, as the case may be) based on how good your book is, not your book trailer. Book trailers don't seem to be as popular now as they were for a while, but some other trendy form of self-promotion will come along, followed by another. I'm not saying trailers don't work at all, but I don't think they've lived up to the hype that's surrounded them.
If you write for free to get started, expect to write for free for the rest of your life. As the old saying goes, nobody's going to buy the cow if they can get the milk for free. If you don't think your work is worth payment, neither will anyone else. I just wrote a blog about that, in fact.
ND: Are there any of your current projects you'd care to spill the beans about?
RG: Just the usual--a new novel, a thriller in the same vein as Sex and Violence in Hollywood. I do hope everyone will check out my latest novels, Meds and Trailer Park Noir. Meds is a book that sprang from a personal experience of mine, and what I learned while researching it has made me approach my own healthcare very differently. I wrote a blog about the story behind the book.
Both novels are available from E-Reads, my current publisher. They're releasing much of my backlist as well as publishing my new work. Like all my other titles, it's available as a trade paperback, or for Kindle from Amazon, for Nook from Barnes and Noble, and it's available in several ebook formats from Fictionwise.com.
Design your ultimate killer milkshake
Chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate. Dark, darker and darkest.
What song would you put on repeat and sing along with loudly when you think no one's listening?
Frank Sinatra's recording of New York, New York.
Dream holiday destination?
If you weren't a writer, what would you do?
I would probably be something that's just as financially insecure as a writer--like a stand-up comic, or something.
Your all-time favourite movie?
It's a toss-up between Citizen Kane and The Wizard of Oz.
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E-Reads page: http://ereads.com/ecms/authorname/Ray-Garton