Lets get the vitals out of the way –
Name: Ronald Kelly
Birthplace: Nashville, Tennessee
City of Residence: Brush Creek, Tennessee
Marital Status: Married (28 years)
Children: Three (2 daughters, one son)
Pets: An ultra-hyper Jack Russel terrier named Toby
INTO THE MACBRE: When did you first start writing?
RONALD KELLY: I began writing during my junior year in high school. I was heavily into comic books back then and, at first, I had aspirations of being a comic book artist. I collaborated with a fellow classmate, Lowell Cunningham; I did the drawing and he did the writing. Years later he created the Malibu comic Men in Black. Eventually, I started to get the writing bug and began drawing and writing my own comics, featuring my own superheroes. By my senior year of high school, I was dedicated solely to fiction writing and knew that I wanted to be an author someday. It didn’t matter what genre… I just wanted to write for a living.
IM: I just received my personalized copy of THE BUZZARD ZONE today. Thanks, so much.
While I was looking at it, I noticed your doodle on the inside cover and I was amazed at your artistic talent. Not only are you an accomplished writer, but you’re also one hell of an artist.
RK: I love art of any kind, particularly horror art. While some writers see a book cover painting or illustration as an embellishment or a marketing tool, I see it as a work of art; something to be admired and cherished. My favorite artists in the horror genre are dark masters like Alex McVey, Zach McCain, and Keith Minnion, to name a few. I’ve done the paintings for several of my own e-book covers; RESTLESS SHADOWS, MISTER GLOW BONES & OTHER HALLOWEEN TALES, and MIDNIGHT TIDE & OTHER SEASIDE SHIVERS. I’m sure I’ll do more in the future, as well as some interior illustrations.
IM: All great artists. I loved Zach’s work with DarkFuse. How much control did you have over your cover art at Zebra vs now?
RK: I had absolutely no say-so about the Zebra covers. They would send me a cover flat a couple of months before the book hit the stands and that was it. They never gave me a chance to have any creative input about what would be on the front of the book. The worst one was the cover for SOMETHING OUT THERE. Whatever that scaly lizard-thing was crawling over the mountaintop, it wasn’t in my book. They were equally secretive about the back-cover copy. The teaser copy for BLOOD KIN had nothing whatsoever to do with the premise of the book. It was like a copy editor skimmed the entire novel in three minutes, then sat down and wrote it.
Things are totally different with the independent presses I work with. I pretty much have complete creative control over what’s on the cover and I write my own back-cover copy. Having receptive and flexible artists like Alex and Zach is very gratifying and takes a lot of the pressure off. I suggest an idea and they pretty much go with it, adding their own distinct take on it, off course. Alex has done more cover artwork for me than anyone in the business. Counting the covers for MORE SICK STUFF and the upcoming hardcover of THE BUZZARD ZONE, he’s done fourteen of my books in all.
IM: What drew you to horror? What/Who were your inspirations?
RK: I contribute a lot of my interest in horror to my mother. She absolutely loved the stuff! She told me once that she read a stack of old EC horror comics that she found in an attic while she was pregnant with me. While other mothers were reading Dr. Seuss and Curious George to their unborn young’uns, I was getting a steady diet of Tales from the Crypt and Vault of Horror. During my pre-teen years she bought me Aurora monster models and Famous Monsters of Filmland. She took me to horror flicks in the sixties and seventies, too: Willard, Frogs, House of Dark Shadows, and Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, to name a few. I believe the last one we saw together in the theater was Carpenter’s The Thing.
IM: I’m with you on the EC Comics. Those were and still are my favorite. I’m also absolutely jealous that you got to see The Thing in the theater!
RK: There was a certain magic about seeing movies back before the Beta/VHS/DVD/Blu-ray world. If you went to see a movie and you loved it, there was no waiting anxiously for the video release. You went back to the theatre and saw it again and again. I think I watched Raiders of the Lost Ark five times within a two-week period. I saw The Thing twice. My mom wouldn’t go back with me. I believe it was a little too intense for her, especially that scene where the guy’s head breaks off, sprouts spider legs, and skitters across the floor.
My grandmother was a huge influence as a storyteller. I loved sitting with her on her front porch on a summer night, listening to her tell tales of our family history – most of them from the Civil War through the Great Depression – and she was fond of ghost stories and Southern folklore. I found my voice as a Southern storyteller through her and the importance of spinning a tale that would captivate the listener (or reader) until the very end.
IM: For folks that may not be aware, how would you describe Southern gothic style of writing?
RK: Well, it’s sort of hard to describe, to tell the truth. When most folks think of “Southern gothic” they think of deserted mansions and Spanish moss and ghosts. There’s a helluva lot more to it than that. There’s the folklore and history side of it, the regionalism part, and then there’s something that lies beneath it all… sort of an uneasiness or dread, like something ancient and dark that’s been there for as long as anyone can remember. Some of it has to do with how folks talk and act and believe down here. People who aren’t from the South seem to pick up on it faster than those who grew up in the hills and hollows, the bayous and pine groves. I reckon I’m lucky that I can tap into it as easily as I do. I give my grandmother a lot of credit for that.
As for literary influences, I had many. I started out with the classic authors; Harper Lee, John Steinbeck, Edgar Allan Poe, Bram Stoker, and Lovecraft. Then later, Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Manly Wade Wellman, and Stephen King. After I was published, my main inspirations were Joe Lansdale and Robert McCammon, and not just because they were Southern writers, but because they were damn good writers.
IM: It’s interesting that you mention Lansdale and McCammon. I think those two are severely underrated and should be at the same level as King. McCammon is an absolute master at storytelling.
RK: Yes, I think they are both incredible storytellers and are just as good as King. A lot of readers who delve into horror literature, and aren’t dedicated fans like we are, tend to be drawn to the best-seller list and they know King is a dependable read. Stephen King is probably the best thing that ever happened to horror fiction. But in another way, he is also one of the worst, because his body of work almost completely overshadows that of equally talented horror authors. I remember visiting the horror sections of bookstores back when I was writing paperbacks and there would be people standing there, completely focused on the Stephen King section and nothing else. We all admire the guy, but sometimes it’s frustrating, because we know we can’t possibly compete with him.
IM: For me, King was the gateway drug into horror. After cutting my teeth with him, I branched out into other authors. It is frustrating, as a moderator for Horror Aficionados, to see so many people want to read King as a group read instead of trying someone new. As much as we love Stevie, we try hard to open people’s eyes to all the other great horror authors out there, such as yourself.
RK: There are dozens upon dozens of great horror authors writing and publishing today. But for the most part, they’re not getting the respect and popularity that they deserve. And they’re certainly not making a fraction of the money that the best-selling authors are making. That’s one thing that that really pisses me off about the movie industry. All they want to do is remake a classic horror film, when there are thousands of brilliant literary properties that would blow movie-goers out of their socks. Things are getting a little better. Netflix has been putting out some good original horror films and more and more are hitting the theaters. I really thought Bird Box was incredible. I haven’t read Josh Malerman’s novel yet, but I plan to soon.
IM: Describe the process it took for you to become published
RK: It was a long one; about twelve years from the time I told myself “I’m going to be a published author” to the moment that it actually happened. I never went to college and I mostly learned the craft of writing by trial and error. I experimented with several different genres – mystery, science fiction, western, male adventure – but it wasn’t until I turned back to my love of horror and dark fantasy that I began to make some headway. I began submitting work to the little small press horror magazines of the 80’s and sold my first short story in 1986. Then I wrote my first horror novel, HINDSIGHT, and had an agent shop it around to the New York publishers. I reckon he went through every publisher from A to Z, because we ended up with Zebra Books accepting and publishing it.
IM: I think Zebra was vastly underrated. Sure, there were some trashy, pulpy reads on their roster, but there were some great ones too. Besides, how can you not love their covers? I still collect Zebra paperbacks today
If you could turn back the hands of time and go back, what about the publishing process would you do differently?
RK: Well, there are a couple of things. First, I would have never put all my eggs in one basket, publishing-wise. Back in the early 90s, I dedicated all writing projects to Zebra, except for anthology stories, and that hurt me when they closed their horror line down in 1996. I really had no one else to turn to. Also, I never should have stopped writing for ten years after that happened. My agent at the time told me to “Write anything but horror” and I took that way too much to heart. If I’d only stuck it out, my stalled career would have eventually picked up speed again when horror fiction got its second wind in the early 2000’s.
IM: Why is it that you think horror has gotten such a bad rap? I mean, Stephen King didn’t do too bad on The NY Times Bestseller list all those years. Why don’t you think other publishers saw that and wanted their own “Stephen King”?
RK: As a rule, the mainstream publishers are focusing on the end result: money. A lot of them don’t give a damn about the genre they’re involved with; they just want the profits that a popular genre can net. I saw a lot of that when I was with Zebra. Thankfully, we have independent publishers these days that embrace the horror genre and it shows in the books they publish and how they promote their authors.
IM: Yeah, I don’t get that philosophy. It seems like you’d want to recruit for talent and build and nurture it to become the next Stephen King. I guess they’re looking for the quick buck instead of planting seeds for a future bumper crop harvest.
IM: They say it’s not about what you know but who you know. Would you agree with this statement? Who helped you along the way and what did they do?
RK: Yes, I agree that it certainly helps to have contact with solid people in the industry. Back when I first started publishing stories, folks like Richard Chizmar and Joe Lansdale were a huge help. Rich was just starting Cemetery Dance magazine and published my work in the first three or four issues, and every now and then afterward, when I began concentrating on novel-writing. Joe was invaluable with advice on writing and the inner workings of the publishing industry. When I came back to writing in 2006, Rich published my first two books, Hell Hollow and Midnight Grinding. These days my go-to guys are Paul Goblirsch of Thunderstorm Books and David Niall Wilson of Crossroad Press. They keep my Southern-fried storytelling out there for the reading public, in hardcover, paperback, e-book, and audiobook.
IM: What do you think of ebooks and audiobooks? Are you a fan or are you still old school with the paperbacks?
RK: I do prefer paperbacks and hardcovers, but my eyes aren’t as reliable as they once were, so reading digitally has been a godsend. I can crank that font up to billboard size if I want and I don’t get a headache halfway through the third chapter. Plus, you can fit a whole library of books into your phone. I’m not being traitorous or anything… I’m just stating facts. Besides, I make my bread and butter off ebooks and audiobooks now. If I sell any hardcovers, they’re usually limited editions.
IM: My introduction to your work was many years ago during the Zebra Horror days and the various heavy-hitting anthologies, in which you were featured. Zebra was so prolific with their horror line. What can you tell me about those days and why did they shut the doors on horror?
RK: Writing for Zebra was sort of a mixed bag of blessings and curses. They did present my work well – I narrowly escaped those garish skeleton covers of the 80s – and their distribution was fantastic; your books were everywhere… in the brick-and-mortar stores, as well as in the airports and retail stores like Walmart and Target. Unfortunately, Zebra was always pegged as something of a lesser publisher as far as respect was concerned; it was considered the red-headed stepchild of horror and its authors were considered hacks by the majority of the horror community at that time, something that was grossly unfair in my opinion. Also Zebra wasn’t very big on editing. In my case, my novels were pretty much published as they were written. I’m sure most of the earlier ones could have used a healthy dose of solid editing and polishing. The royalty checks were good and I did make a living writing for them for nearly seven years, so I reckon I really can’t complain.
IM: As I’ve mentioned, I, for one, am a huge fan of those covers. They were fun and didn’t take themselves too seriously. As a kid, I gravitated towards them like a magnet. I love cover art that pulls you in, where you can stare at it all day, much like an album cover. I do agree that editing was a problem then and still is today, especially with all the self-publishing out there. What’s been your relationship with editors? Is it a love/hate? Do you have issues with them altering the story too much past your vision?
RK: The only problem I ever had with editors was when I was with Zebra. Sometimes they didn’t understand the Southern dialect and want to change it, which would have totally erased what I was intending to do. I love my independent publishers – Rich Chizmar, Paul Goblirsch, David Wilson. I’ve never had any problems with what they’ve suggested. I guess it’s because I know they genuinely enjoy and respect my work. For the New York publishers, I was just that day’s work before they punched the timeclock and went home.
As for why Zebra did away with their horror line, I believe it was due to an oversaturation of horror fiction in the industry, plus a lot of bad writing that should have never seen the printed page. Readers simply got tired of horror and stopped buying it for a while, and sales plummeted. Truthfully, I didn’t know anything was wrong until my agent called and informed me that Zebra was closing down their horror line and that I was out of a job. I remember that afternoon well. It was October the 6th, 1996 at 3:30… my own personal 9/11. It was a hard and bitter pill to swallow.
IM: I think that whole mid-90s was a rough time for horror, in general. If you look back, there really weren’t many great horror movies in that time. Stephen King was shifting away and toning down his stuff with Lisey’s Story or going the fantasy route with the Dark Tower series. Horror was down. In fact, anything that was horror had to call themselves thrillers or dark fiction to get sold. Like Se7en or The Sixth Sense. Those are straight up horror movies and I hate that some movie mogul that doesn’t understand the genre feels that they have to label them thrillers.
RK: Yes, there was a definite, deliberate aversion to horror ownership by many of the publishers and filmmakers back then. Zebra dumped their horror line and their stable of authors and kept their romance line rolling without a hitch. It sort of made us feel like we were spoiled goods, like we’d put all this effort into writing the best horror fiction we could possibly write and it was all for nothing. I was down and depressed about it for a long time. I reckon that’s why I grew so bitter about writing and publishing like I did.
IM: Do you feel that the tide has changed for horror at all? In one breath you have THE WALKING DEAD, STEPHEN KING’s IT, SAW franchise, CONJURING franchise just doing amazing numbers at the box office and weekly viewers. Then you have the DarkFuse and Samhain Horror presses going belly up. Where do you feel the state of horror is today?
RK: I’m afraid the majority of today’s horror-loving public are watchers and not readers. To current generations of horror fans – and this began in the 80s and 90s – visual presentation is everything. Folks would rather sit and be spoon-fed their shivers and scares, rather than pick up a book and dust off their imagination and let the written word paint the picture for them. I know a lot of folks like that nowadays; they love horror movies but they cringe at the very thought of picking up a horror novel and allowing it to take them on a dark journey.
IM: I agree. The world needs to be producing more readers!
RK: Amen to that, brother.
IM: What would you say are the biggest challenges you face today as a writer versus the 1980s and 90s?
RK: I guess it would be the competition. There are five-times more published horror authors now than there was back in the 80s and 90s. A lot of it is due to the ease of self-publishing your work in e-book and there are a lot of wanna-be writers who choose to take that route and bypass conventional publishing avenues. I may be old school, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a good thing. Also, it’s harder for an old dog like me to get noticed. As every new generation of horror reader comes along, they seem to focus on only new and present authors, and pretty much ignore what came before. When I started reading horror, I enjoyed the elder masters as well as the newly published. Except for Stephen King, today’s horror reader doesn’t seem to be indulging in classic horror as much as we did back in my day.
IM: I wonder how much of that is the packaging and getting it dropped in the lap of the fans? Being a moderator of the largest horror community (shameless plug) on the net, I see a clamor for good horror, but in this sea of noise, the cream isn’t necessarily rising to the top. It seems that it’s who can get on the front search page of Amazon or the author that knows how to promote themselves regardless of their writing ability are the ones that are getting purchased.
RK: I hate to say it, but a lot of successful horror fiction these days has absolutely nothing to do with talent or whether the premise of the story is actually good or not. To some folks it’s all about presentation and promotion and how far up on the best-seller lists they can get. I don’t want to down self-publishing, but it has become so prevalent now, especially because of Amazon, that anyone can wake up in the morning, tell themselves “Hey, I’m a writer!”, conjure something out of their head, and publish it in e-book in a matter of days. That’s not what becoming a writer all is about. It’s about cutting your teeth and learning your craft, surviving rejection slip after rejection slip, and paying your dues. A lot of today’s writers don’t want to do that. They want to brand themselves an “author” and go directly to the end result. I’m sure some people would disagree with me, but that’s just the way I see it. I guess I’m just old school when it comes to the writing and publishing process.
IM: Everyone gets a participation ribbon. No, I agree. I’d love to see the horror community, possibly HWA or Fangoria or some yet undeveloped entity, come up with a Seal of Approval to be put on books that are actually worth, to help the fans wade through the sea of garbage to find a book that is worthy of their hard-earned cash. Good Housekeeping Award, anyone?
RK: Really, it was a lot like that when I started writing and publishing. You knew that almost everything in the horror section of the bookstores was the real deal and would end up scaring the crap out of you. You could pick up McCammon or Lansdale or Chet Williamson or Dan Simmons and there was no question about it. You were in for a good, solid read that would make an impact and stick with you for a while.
IM: You came up through the tail end of the horror boon of the 1980s and early 90s. You were also a part of some great horror anthologies – SHOCK ROCK, Cemetery Dance, Borderlands, Shivers, etc. What are your memories of being featured with a pretty impressive company of horror writers? I know this was the age before the internet, but did you create friendships with those other writers in the genre?
RK: It was a fun time to be a horror author back in the 90s and it was a blast being part of anthologies like Shock Rock and Hot Blood. The horror community was great back then; everyone honestly respected one another’s work and there wasn’t a lot of drama or ego involved. It was great going to a convention and rubbing elbows with Charles Grant or Karl Edward Wagner or Robert Bloch. The internet was in its infancy back then, but a lot of us did communicate by phone or snail-mail.
IM: I can’t even imagine! It seems like so many of my heroes have passed – Charles Grant, Jack Ketchum, Michael McDowell, Tom Piccirilli, James Herbert, J.N. Williamson, Robert Bloch, etc. Do you have a story that you can share about those days with the masters?
RK: Oh, I have a ton of stories, but there are particular things that stand out; memories of encountering greatness and discovering that they were just as human and down-to-earth as we were. Riding in the elevator to an early morning discussion panel with Charlie Grant and Karl Wagner, and them talking about my books. Meeting my childhood idol Forrest J. Ackerman and telling him how much Famous Monsters meant to me. Sitting next to Robert Bloch at a signing event… now that was just freaking surreal. I felt like Pee Wee Herman sitting next to God.
IM: Yeah, I’d totally be geeking out!
RK: I tell you, hoss, the one person I totally lost it over was Richard Matheson. He was at a World Horror Convention I was attending, and he had a signing after a panel. I think I took I Am Legend, The Shrinking Man, and Hell House. I had every intention of talking to him intelligently and telling him what a great influence he was. But all I could do was stammer and stutter and sound like Patrick the star fish on Quaaludes, wanting to get those books signed and crawl back under my rock.
IM: Many readers are introduced to new authors through sites such as Goodreads. I know you’ve explored Goodreads, particularly the Horror Aficionados group. What would you say is your level of interaction is on there? Are you able to gauge how much sites like GR help in introducing you to new readers and generate sales? Are there any other groups that have been beneficial?
RK: I have been participating and communicating more through sites like Goodreads and BookBub lately. I post a lot on Facebook and Twitter, and my own website RonaldKelly.com. I think all these places help spread the word and introduce my brand of Southern-fried horror to new readers. The internet and social media have become invaluable tools for promotion and communication between authors and fans. Back in my Zebra days, the writing and promotion process was extremely isolated. You rarely heard from your fans or knew exactly how well your books were selling.
IM: Does it ever get overwhelming to try and keep up with the technology, the constant promotion, and how far we’ve come?
RK: Sometimes I do feel like I’m a little over my head. The way that we write and submit and get published has changed so much since the way it was twenty or thirty years ago. Instead of typing and printing and mailing and waiting for a response that might take weeks or months or maybe even a year, you can submit your novel or story through email and get an acceptance – or rejection – in hours or even minutes. Social media gives the writer the power and opportunity to be their own best salesman, as far as promotion is concerned. So, in that respect, technology has given writers a huge advantage over what we could accomplish back in the 80s and 90s.
IM: We’ll be doing a group read with your novel, FEAR, here in March. It seems to be the novel that many people recognize you by. What can you tell us about how it came about?
RK: FEAR was one of those rare novels that just seemed to come out of the blue; one that practically wrote itself. I had written a coming-of-age novel with HINDSIGHT, but wanted to do another on a grander scale with a young male protagonist. I had also wanted to do another period piece. This time it would be the post-WWII 1940s. When I started writing FEAR, it flowed almost effortlessly and it was fun to include every nightmarish menace that I could conjure. Out of all of my novels, FEAR is my favorite and it sold the most copies. It had several successful runs, first in 1994 and again in 2001 when it was rereleased under the Pinnacle imprint.
IM: Are you a history buff? How much research goes into a piece like that?
RK: I am a huge history buff! I love Old West and Civil War history, and love to incorporate it into my novels and stories every now and then. And I do a lot of research, to make sure everything is accurate and feels right to the reader. Again, today’s technology makes it so much easier. Before all I had was a set of encyclopedias or the local library. Now the internet puts a wealth of information in front of you with a click of the mouse.
Also, I’ve been traveling the country a lot in the past few years… Washington DC, the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone… just soaking up the history and the physical and emotional presence of just being there. We have a great and incredible country and a rich history. I wish more folks could see that, instead of dwelling on all of the political crap that overshadows America right now.
IM: We sure do. I’m a huge traveller and we’ve introduced the kids to it. We’ve been doing a different National Park every year. Last year was Acadia. This year will be Sequoia N.P. Does your family like to travel or do they look at you like Clark Griswold dragging his family all over? Also, what do they think of their dad and husband being a horror author? Are they into horror or are you the lone wolf in the house?
RK: No, everyone in my family loves to hit the road. We’re terminal Disney fans and I think we’ve been to Disney World at least twenty or twenty-five times. As for what they think of my horror writing, it’s really something they take for granted. They’re accustomed to the books on the bookshelf with my name on them, and Dad sitting up in the dead of night, typing away like a madman. They’ve never known anything different. My oldest daughter, Reilly, is a huge horror fan… more cinema than fiction. But my son, Ryan – or Bubba, as we call him – is a voracious reader and lover of the macabre. He suffers from high-functioning autism and ADHD, but he’s a fifth grader who reads at a ninth-grade level. He’s already read all the Harry Potter books and Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit. He wants to read my books, but I told him he’s going to have to wait a few years before he can dig into one of mine. Besides, his mom would likely bury me in an unmarked grave, alive, if he got ahold of TWELVE GAUGE or BLOOD KIN.
IM: Some authors seem to struggle with the length of a short story, where others like yourself, seem to thrive with the format. Do you have a preference to writing one over the other?
RK: I’ve always had a great love for short stories… both reading and writing them. I started my career with them and I still like to do one every now and then, when a good idea hits me. They’re almost like a mini-novel, except that the characters aren’t as fully developed and the ending is usually left unresolved, for twist or shock value. A lot of readers now days don’t like to read them for that reason; they want everything neatly
tied up at the end, and, personally, I just can’t do that with short fiction. There still has to be some suggestion of impending menace in the very last sentence. I put out a new collection of short fiction every few years. My newest, MORE SICK STUFF, a sibling of the original THE SICK STUFF, is being released in hardcover by Thunderstorm in April.
IM: Where do you think many authors go wrong when they attempt to write short stories?
RK: I think they try too hard and think too much. They want to overanalyze the premise and turn it into a miniature novel, with fully-developed characters and everything. A short story isn’t supposed to be like that. It’s a slice of pie… just as good as the whole pie, but easier to digest and, in a lot of ways, more satisfying. When I write a short story, I just let it flow and don’t worry about very many details. You should treat it as a fictional episode, the way a character deals with a particular situation and how he or she survives – or doesn’t survive – the climactic end. I believe some writers dodge short fiction because they’re afraid they can’t pull it off successfully.
IM: Your latest story, THE BUZZARD ZONE looks like it’s going to be too much fun to read. What can you tell us about its creation and what went into writing it?
RK: I’ve worked on TBZ for several years, on and off, as the mysterious Secret Writing Project that I’ve teased about in podcasts and interviews since 2015. It’s a Southern-fried zombie novel set in the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina. It adds several fresh twists to the zombie apocalypse theme, so it’s not just another zombie story. I really had fun writing this one and got to include some familiar horror writers as characters, like James Newman and the Sisters of Slaughter, Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason. I’m even planning a sequel to TBZ, maybe even turn it into a series, if reader response is favorable.
IM: Who did the artwork for TBZ?
RK: Lissanne Lake did the wraparound cover artwork for THE BUZZARD ZONE. It was the first time I had actually seen her work, but I’m a big fan now.
IM: James Newman is one of my absolute favorite authors. He’s also one hell of a nice guy. I had dinner with him last year and it took hours to get through dinner. He loves his horror and we talked about it all night. Do you do your own podcasts?
RK: James is like a brother to me. We met at a Nashville convention and our friendship continued after that. My family and I drove to North Carolina and spent some time with James and Glenda and the boys after his accident a few years ago. Reading MIDNIGHT RAIN was one of the things that pushed me toward returning to writing back in 2006. As for doing podcasts, I’ve never broadcast one myself; I tend to get tongue-tied during things like that. But I’ve guested on few horror ones. I was on Mark Justice’s Pod of Horror several times before his death. I miss Mark… he was a great guy and a ton of fun to talk to. Brian Keene wants to have me on The Horror Show… we just haven’t worked out the time and place yet.
IM: You’ve racked up an impressive catalogue, with all the short stories, novellas and novels. I know it’s like asking which one of your children is your favorite, so I’ll try to do it in a different way. Which story of yours do you recommend to someone that has never read your work and why?
RK: Again, the book that pretty much sums me up, as a writer and a Southern storyteller is FEAR. It’s the novel I recommend to anyone who wants to read my work for the first time. As far as short fiction is concerned, I suggest they start with MIDNIGHT GRINDING & OTHER TWILIGHT TERRORS, which offers a broad selection of my dark Dixie tales, from the mountains of Tennessee to the bayous of Louisiana.
IM: Some writers have to follow a strict routine and can only create while writing in their special designated area on a set schedule. Others drag a laptop around with them and take advantage of any free moment their day may present. Give me a breakdown of your day and how you create the next Ronald Kelly masterpiece.
RK: Well, since I still work a full-time job, I pretty much grab a moment to write whenever it’s available. I write some in the afternoon after work and quite a bit on the weekends. I’ve sort of conditioned myself to write on demand. I’m planning on retiring in a few years and then I’ll be able to get back to writing full-time. As for what I prefer to write on, I started out with legal pads, graduated to manual and electric typewriters, moved on to word processers (remember them?) and finally entered the modern age with a desktop system. When the kids are in bed and I turn off the lights, it’s kind of like sitting around a cyber-campfire, telling ghost stories.
IM: Do you find that you write better in the morning, during the day, or at night?
RK: At night. I find the nocturnal hours to be more inspiring when writing about things that go bump – or bite – in the night. I’m more productive in the late night to early morning hours. I put in my earbuds, crank up some Lynyrd Skynyrd or Guns N Roses or Metallica, and get to writing. Sometimes I write something particularly creepy and I end up scaring myself. I have to get up, turn on the lights, and make sure the doors are locked, before getting back to work.
IM: Nice taste in music. A man after my own heart.
RK: I am a classic rock junkie! From what I listen to, you’d think I was Super-glued to the 70s and 80s. I’ve always loved Southern rock – Skynyrd, ZZ Top, the Allmans – and have a fondness for some of the progressive groups like Jethro Tull and Steely Dan. Of course, living in Tennessee, I have a generous dose of countryfied-music on my playlist. Johnny Cash and Waylon and Hank Williams Sr.
IM: Stephen King has the spooky house in Bangor surrounded by the wrought iron fence with gargoyles on it. Do you have anything crazy at your house that makes your neighbors clutch their children when they see you coming?
RK: No, sorry to disappoint you, but all I have to boast is a plain ol’ double-wide on a backwoods country road. I’d love to have a haunted-looking house, and there are more than a few around these parts, but mine is pretty darned normal. Folks drive on by without any inkling of the kind of horrors being conjured inside.
IM: How about your writing area? Anything spooky there, besides what’s on the screen?
RK: There are a few things on my desk that are out of the ordinary. A rattlesnake head in a crystal ball, a large scorpion suspended in a block of acrylic, my collection of old Universal monster movies, and favorite horror books. There are a few spooky things from my childhood; a wind-up coffin bank, a rubber severed finger in a pool of blood, and a wooden Haunted Mansion puzzle box I got at Disney World when I was twelve.
IM: That’s more like it. Incognito on the outside, but a heart of sinister black on the inside.
RK: A lot of folks I work with or attend church with know that I write, but they’re oblivious to exactly what I write. Others know the kind of subject matter I specialize in, but don’t care and don’t bring it up around the Sunday school table. A few of them have even read a book or two. Not anything really intense, like AFTER THE BURN or THE SICK STUFF. Heaven forbid they get ahold of some of my really raw, nasty stuff.
IM: What are you reading these days?
RK: I’m still reading whatever King puts out, which is plentiful these days. I read a lot of Brian Keene, James Newman, Jonathan Janz, and Kealan Patrick Burke. And I’ve been reading whatever Garza and Lason put out. Of course, I’ve been a big supporter of their work since before they were published. The Sisters are a rare occurrence in the horror genre; not just collaborators, but two individuals who can truly pen a seamless story without shifting from one viewpoint to another. I think the fact that they’re siblings make them an even more powerful writing duo.
IM: Your Top 5 horror movies?
RK: 1. The Creature from the Black Lagoon
2. The Haunting (the original one)
3. The Shining
4. The Sixth Sense
5. The Thing
IM: No arguments there from me.
Do you do horror conventions? What’s your thoughts on those?
RK: I’ve done them in the past, but not recently. I’ve enjoyed the ones I’ve attended. It’s always great to meet fans and fellow writers whose work you admire and enjoy. I’d like to attend the Stokers sometime. I’ve never had the opportunity to do that.
IM: I just found out that StokerCon is going to be in my neck of the woods, Grand Rapids. AND Robert McCammon is supposed to be there! We really need to go!
RK: that would be great. I haven’t seen Rick since the early 90s, so that would be fun. It always seems to hit on one of my family vacation weeks, though, so I’m probably out of luck… again.
IM: Do the publishers ever fund you going to the conventions or is that all on the writer to do?
RK: I have had publishers do that before, but mostly I foot the bill. That’s probably why I don’t go to as many as I would like. I’d rather spend my money on a family vacation than do a weekend convention on my own. I’m something of a home-body… I miss my wife and young’uns something terrible when I’m away for a day or two.
IM: What can we fans expect coming down the pike in 2019 and beyond?
RK: I mentioned MORE SICK STUFF earlier, which will be out in a limited from Thunderstorm, followed by the e-book from Crossroads. Then Thunderstorm will be doing a hardcover of THE BUZZARD ZONE in the summer. After that I’ll be working on AFTER THE BURN: EXODUS, a novel using many of the same characters from the short story collection, as well as the sequel to TBZ, which is tentatively titled BLACK ARROW. I also have a weird western serial in mind and I’m always happy to write another short story or two, if I’m invited to contribute to an anthology.
IM: Stay tuned there, folks 😉
I really appreciate you letting me grill you for my blog and look forward to chatting with you in the future. Take care, my friend.