Nathan Robinson: So Mr Garton, welcome to Snakebite, first question. Favourite Film, Favourite Book, Favourite Band? Just so we can to get to know you a little better.
Ray Garton: I’ve given up trying to answer “favorite” questions. Because a half hour after I do, I change my mind. I find it difficult to pick favorites. There are so many books and movies and writers and filmmakers and musicians who’s work I’ve loved, and whose work has influenced me in ways big and small, that I just can’t pick a favorite. I used to try, just for the sake of the interview, but I’ve given up.
N.R: Are there any writers in particular that you’d name who first left an impression on you as a reader, not just as an author.
R.G: As a reader, I look for a writer who can make me forget I’m reading, and there’s no shortage of those, fortunately. I never tire of the writing of Charles Dickens, Robert Heinlein, Angela Carter, John Irving, Elmore Leonard, David Martin, Ken Follet, Steven Spruill, James Newman, Sidney Sheldon, Oscar Wilde — the list goes on and on, which is why it’s so hard from me to pick a favorite.
As a writer, Richard Matheson was a huge influence and probably set me on the path to being a writer. Stephen King’s early novels taught me that horror stories can be as real and believable as a stroll through town. Richard Laymon taught me there really aren’t any barriers or taboos. Cornell Woolrich taught me the importance of making my readers suffer as much as possible. But the fact is, everything I read influences me as a writer in one direction or another.
N.R: Describe the first time you came across horror as a genre, be it book/film etc. And what sort of effect did it have on you?
R.G:My first memory of it is catching William Castle’s 13 Ghosts on TV when I was about four years old or so. It scared the hell out of me, but it was a fun and safe way to be scared and I was hooked. After that, I moved on to Dark Shadows, the popular gothic horror daytime soap opera of the late 1960s, and Twilight Zone and Night Gallery and Outer Limits and anything and everything I could find that fell within the genre. Then in 1971, Creature Features premiered on KTVU in San Francisco with host Bob Wilkins casting aspersions on his first movie, The Horror of Party Beach. After that, Creature Features became an astonishingly important part of my life. Two horror movies every Saturday night, usually as bad as the host warned us they would be — then I’d spend a few days mulling over what I’d seen, and the rest of the week anticipating the two movies coming up on Saturday night. Even the worst movies fired up my imagination. They were all new and fresh to me, so I didn’t always agree with Bob that they were bad. To me, it was this big buffet, and some of the dishes tasted a lot better than others, but it was always a good meal. And as a result of Creature Features, there are bad movies that I love to this day. I know they’re bad, but the attachment is sentimental. These days, I’m much pickier about the movies I watch, but even so, I can still watch movies like Blood and Lace, starring Gloria Grahame and Vic Tayback, or Tower of Evil (aka Horror of Snape Island), or any number of silly monster movies and just enjoy the hell out of them.
My first exposure to horror fiction was the bible. I also have an early memory of my mother reading a book to me that we’d gotten at the library, from the children’s section. I was very small at the time, but this is a pretty vivid memory. The book was about a haunted orchard and it had beautiful illustrations. One of them scared the piss out of me. As I remember it, it was a picture of the orchard at night with creepy ghosts floating around in it. I don’t know why, but that really messed me up — so much that Mom didn’t finish reading it and took it back to the library right away. I wish I could remember the name of the book, but I can’t, and neither can she. If anyone has any guesses about what that book might have been, please pass them on to me!
N.R: If you could have written any novel, what would it be and why?
R.G: There’s no end to the novels I wish I’d written. In the horror genre, there are two in particular: Stephen King’s The Shining and Peter Straub’s Ghost Story. I think those books are as strong now as they ever were, and they’re not just great horror novels, they’re simply great American novels, period. Someone who normally doesn’t read horror fiction, or even avoids it, could enjoy those novels in spite of their aversion to the genre.
N.R: So far I’ve only managed to read Trailer Park Noir and The New Neighbor, enjoying both immensely. You show us the dark side of the American Dream, the deceit, the lying, the murder. What inspires you to come up with such seedy storylines?
R.G: Just about everything around me. I never cease to be astounded by the things people are willing to do each other — and themselves — to obtain some money, or some sex, or some power, or some drugs if they’re addicts, or to avenge some wrong, whether real or imagined, or any number of reasons. I go through periods where I have to avoid any kind of news — on TV, on the radio, online — just because it gets overwhelming. A man kills his wife because he’s tired of her runny eggs for breakfast, or some woman puts her baby in the oven, or a couple tortures the foster children they’re supposed to be caring for — it’s endless. We don’t need vampires or werewolves. We have enough monsters.
The New Neighbor has a supernatural element, and the characters are compelled to do horrifying things to each other. Trailer Park Noir, however, does not, and the characters do horrifying things to each other for all the human reasons people normally do them. I find that stuff more disturbing because it happens all the time. We don’t have to worry too much about a succubus moving in across the street, but the kind of people you encounter in Trailer Park Noir are all around us.
N.R: It’s the end of the world; Aliens/Biblical Floods/Psycho Mutant Lesbian Rednecks are outside your front door so you have to leave in a hurry and one take one thing with you; what is it?
N.R: Any advice for any would-be-writers getting ready to tout their first novel?
R.G:Develop a thick skin if you don’t have one already. Learn to listen to editors or readers or critics when they’re critical and be honest with yourself. If the criticism is useful, apply it and remember it in the future. If it’s not, accept it with a smile. Praise feels good, but good criticism is useful and extremely valuable because you can learn from it and get better. But if you’re too sensitive or thin-skinned to listen, it does you no good. Don’t whine about a bad review — keep in mind that you are being reviewed. As Oscar Wilde wrote, “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”
N.R: If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing for a living?
R.G:I’ve often wondered that. Writing is, and always has been, such an integral part of my life that, if I weren’t a writer, I probably would be a radically different person. I might have ended up the psychologist that I thought, for a brief time in college, I wanted to be. Then again, I might have done something wildly different and gone into some kind of business. I just cannot imagine myself doing that. But if you took out the part of me that’s a writer, you’d rip out big chunks of all the other parts, as well, so like I said, I would be a very different person.
My website: RayGartonOnline.com