|Photo by Joe McGarity|
This week’s Fantom Penguin story is brought to you by Cal’s Books, Redding’s Oldest Bookstore, Cal’s Books.
Your locally owned bookstores are still best place to find local authors. It was at Cal’s Books on Westside Road in Redding that the Fantom Penguin met local author, Ray Garton.
“My first novel was published in 1984. It had sold the year before and I was about . . . I think I was 20 years old when it sold and since then I’ve done 63 novels, novellas, short story collections. I’ve done movie and TV tie-ins, young adult books under the name Joseph Locke, mostly horror, but some thrillers and crime novels, that sort of thing.”
“I usually answer that question by saying that I was raised a Seventh Day Adventist. I was hooked on horror when I was very little; I started watching Dark Shadows. The first horror movie I ever saw was 13 Ghosts, the original 13 Ghosts. It hooked me early and I’ve stayed hooked. I enjoy stories that are grounded in reality but that have some sort of supernatural or twisted threat or menace. I like horror because it’s a lot like comedy. Originally I wanted to be a comedy writer. My dream when I was a boy was to be Rob Petrie when I grew up, which was the character played by Dick Van Dyke on the Dick Van Dyke Show. He was a comedy writer and wrote jokes for the Alan Brady Show and that’s what I wanted to do, but I ended up writing horror which seems odd but the two aren’t that far apart. They both rely on surprise and shock and they also both rely on the misfortune of others. It’s just that the outcome is different. Comedy laughs at the misfortune of others and horror uses it to frighten you but they’re very similar.”
“I try to set a book in as real and believable a setting as possible. I don’t think horror works unless the characters are believable familiar people that you have met or who are like people you’ve met or know and they need to have real problems, familiar recognizable problems that we all share. And then you throw in something like a werewolf or a vampire or a ghost. I like to make my characters likable and then do terrible things to them.”
“I grew up pretty much in fear. Everything was scary to me because of the religion in which I was raised. It’s a very apocalyptic religion and I lost sleep as a boy over the coming time of trouble and the end of the world and so horror seemed like a relief to me. I was afraid of everything so horror engaged me and it made being frightened fun and that appealed to me because I was frightened most of the time anyway and it wasn’t fun. Horror kind of made it enjoyable.”
“I had met an agent through a girlfriend’s family. A girlfriend of mine, her family knew a guy who was an agent and they introduced me. And I showed him some short stories and he said he couldn’t sell short stories, but did I have a novel? And I said, ‘Yes, I have a novel. I’m half-way done and I’ll send it to you as soon as it’s finished.’ And that was a lie, of course, because I didn’t have a novel at all. So I quickly wrote Seductions, sent it to him and he sold it almost immediately. There were no rejections. There wasn’t the long struggle. But it’s balanced out because things have gotten harder as the years have gone by. It’s harder for me to sell something now than it was back then partly because in 1984 the horror genre was huge. It was very popular in publishing. There were horror novels everywhere. Publishers were buying all the horror they could find. And I was in the right place at the right time and my book sold very easily. Now horror isn’t what it used to be. In publishing they don’t even use the word. So it’s a little harder to sell that genre which is why I’ve been branching out in other genres, but I got lucky very early on and lately I’ve been paying for it.”
“The publishing business has changed so much now with e-books, print-on-demand and it’s not the business it used to be. It’s almost like I woke up one day and I had to start over again from the beginning.”
What other types of books have you written?
“I’ve written some thrillers. My most recent novel is Meds and it’s a thriller about a prescription drug that has deadly side effects that are concealed by the manufacturer, the pharmaceutical company. The book before that was Trailer Park Noir, which is a thriller set in a trailer park. I have a comedy that hasn’t been published yet called Dismissed from the Front and Center about my two years at a Seventh Day Adventist boarding academy. And I’ve written crime novels, noir fiction like Loveless and Murder was my Alibi, Trade Secrets. Those are all thrillers. Sex and Violence in Hollywood, that’s my favorite of all my works and that’s actually a comedy/thriller, sort of a combination of the two. I wrote one science fiction story that I wasn’t fond of. It got published. Science fiction is not my genre, but I’d like to get more humorous. I’d like to do stuff that’s funny and maybe fulfill that Rob Petrie dream of mine.”