This interview has a tragic aspect to it. Ray Rexer had done dozens of
interviews with the top horror authors of the 80's and early 90's for
the Overlook Connection catalog, and when he contacted me about doing
one, I was quite honored. We corresponded for several months, and I found
Ray to be a humorous guy who really loved the horror genre and held a
great appreciation for its fiction and the ones who wrote it.
About a month or so after we did this interview, I received a letter
informing me that Officer Ray Rexer had died in the line of duty in Bay
City, Michigan... ambushed while he and his partner were investigating a
domestic call. Needless to say, I was shocked and saddened. Not only had
I lost a new acquaintance, but I had no earthly idea that Ray had been a
police officer. Sometimes we in the horror genre are so engrossed in
discussing the aspects of our chosen field of interest, that we neglect
to ask simple questions like what do you do for a living, are you
married, and do you have any children? After Ray's death, I vowed to ask
such questions and view my peers as flesh-and-blood folks, rather than
merely reviewers or fellow writers.
This interview was the last thing that Ray Rexer worked on before his
tragic death on April 26th, 1991. He hadn't quite finished it, thus the
lack of a working title. It was the most extensive and, in my opinion,
one of the best interviews I ever had the pleasure of being involved
"CLEVER TITLE HERE"
An Interview with Ronald Kelly by Ray Rexer
Ray: First off, did you know that you can rearrange the letters
in your name to spell out "Narly Old Elk"? It's true,
try it. Ronald Kelly/ Narly Old Elk. Coincidence or hidden message?
RK: It could be a coincidence, but given my roots, who knows? It
could be a mysterious anagram for a long dead Indian ancestor (I do have
Cherokee blood on both sides of my family). Or it could possibly
originate from my Irish heritage. Maybe it's derogatory in nature. You
know, something like "Get out of me sight, ye narly old elk!"
Ray: So how did a narly old elk like yourself come to be a writer?
RK: I became interested in writing in high school. I read a lot
of comic books and classic horror and science fiction, mostly Poe,
Lovecraft, Bradbury, and early King. I also enjoyed the paperback
reprints of Doc Savage and the Avenger. I tried every genre imaginable
when I started out: science fiction, mystery, macho-adventure, and
western. Then I tried my hand at the genre I've loved since I was
knee-high to a grasshopper, and it just sort of clicked.
Ray: Are there any other writers in the Kelly family?
RK: No other writers, but a lot of great storytellers. My late
grandmother on my mother's side was a master when it came to telling
creepy tall-tales and ghost stories. She could put goosebumps on the
inside of you with some of those gruesome yarns she used to spin. And
she claimed that all of them were absolutely true. After her death, her
children and grandchildren just seemed to naturally take up the
tradition. I'm the only one of the bunch who puts them down on paper,
Ray: The book you've got coming out in December (Moon of the
Werewolf) will be your fourth published novel in just two years. I'm
guessin' this is getting to be a full time job for you.
RK: Yes, I've been writing professionally for about two years now,
thanks to Zebra. I used to go at it pretty fast, getting out about two
novels and twenty or thirty short stories a year. But I just recently
got married, and I've decided to relax a little and start enjoying
myself. I'll be doing one novel and about half as many short stories in
Ray: What type of writing schedule do you keep... or does it keep you?
RK: I've become pretty disciplined as far as my writing is concerned. I
used to write day or night, weekday or weekend. Now I write about eight
hours a day and leave it at that, unless I have a deadline to meet.
Ray: What's the first thing you remember writing?
RK: I guess it would be a short story I wrote in creative writing class
during my sophomore year. I can't recall the title of it, but it was a
nasty little tale about an escaped convict who hides beneath a
ramshackle house and gets bitten by dozens of poisonous blue-tailed
lizards, which doesn't kill him, but turns him into some kind of
paralyzed zombie; sort of a living dead man. Not much of a plot there,
but it did give my teacher the creeps. I believe she gave me a B+ for
Ray: How about the first thing you ever got published?
RK: I had a few non-fiction pieces published in my high school
paper, but my first, honest-to-goodness published work appeared in
Terror Time Again #1. It was a story titled "Breakfast
Serial" about a friendly serial killer who privately plots the
massacre of a farm family over the breakfast table and ends up getting
the wrong end of the knife when he tries to make his move.
Ray: What scares Ron Kelly?
RK: I'm petrified of heights; have been since I was a kid. I loath
spiders and snakes intensely. And wasps... man, I hate wasps worse than
anything, especially if they're inside the house. I've run into some
walls trying to get away from angry wasps.
Ray: Have you ever written outside the horror genre? Maybe some sort of
bizarre western, or something?
RK: It's funny you've mentioned that, because I'm working on a
proposal for a series of horror/westerns titled Dead-Eye right
now. It's about a zombie gunfighter and a Cajun mojo man who pursue a
dandified vampire and his outlaw band through the post-war South and the
Old West. It's only in the planning stages now, but I hope to get a
publisher interested in it eventually. I also have a straight-forward
western novel that my agent is attempting to market for me.
Ray: What do you do when you're not writing? What's a typical day for
RK: I spend my spare time reading and watching movies, and
visiting some of the Civil War battlefields and historical sites around
Tennessee when I get the chance. I reckon a typical day for me would be
something like this: I eat breakfast, take my wife to work, write from
nine to twelve, eat lunch and watch Andy Griffith on cable, write three
or four hours more, then go pick up the little lady around five.
Ray: Someone told me you used to draw... cartoons and sketches that
would make Clive Barker blush with envy. Any truth to that, and if so,
can we expect to see some original Kelly illustrations in a future book?
RK: As a matter of fact, I did have aspirations of being an artist
before I set my sights on writing. I drew my own comic books in high
school and gained a modest following among the students and teachers. I
kind of drifted away from the artwork when my fiction began to sell, and
I'm a little rusty now. But I'm toying with the idea of getting back to
it soon. Maybe I'll illustrate a collection of my short fiction in a
year or two, if one of the specialty presses show interest in such a
Ray: And speaking of books, what are you reading right now? If I were to
peek at your shelves (nothing personal), what books would I see there?
RK: I'm halfway through Bentley Little's The Mailman right
now. Great stuff, very suspenseful. I'm planning on starting on Koontz's
Cold Fire next. My shelves are full of King, Barker, Koontz,
McCammon, and Lansdale, along with plenty of anthologies. I've also got
slipcovered collections of the old EC horror reprints, like Tales
from the Crypt and Vault of Horror.
Ray: Recommend a good movie for me, will you? And while we're at it,
point me to a good restaurant and, what the hell, how about lending me
RK: Good movie? The Silence of the Lambs; Hopkins was brilliantly
Good restaurant? The Perfect Pig Barbecue & Grill in White Bluff,
Tennessee. And will I lend you twenty bucks? Fat chance.
Ray: In Pitfall (page 87) there's a small homage to a
certain east Texas writer. I'm guessin' he's someone you admire and he's
been something of an influence on you, right? Name some other authors
you've grown to know and love.
RK: Yes, Mr. Lansdale has made quite a lasting impression on this
Southern boy. Joe is a fantastically diverse and powerful writer, and a
helluva nice guy to boot. Did you know that he sounds just like Charlie
Daniels over the phone? I think Joe has done a great service for writers
of Southern horror. In a way he's told us that, yes, it is okay to write
about the gritty, dark side of Dixie and that we can draw on our
Southern heritage without guilt. Other writers I admire, both
professionally and personally, are Chet Williamson, Charlie Grant, and
Ray: What less-than-well-known writers are Americans missing out on?
RK: I think Bentley Little is going to make a huge splash in the
near future. His fiction has a nasty and disturbing twist to it; just
read his novels or his stories in The Horror Show or Cemetery
Dance and you'll find out. I think talents like Wayne Sallee, Jeff
Osier, and Sidney Williams are overlooked, but hopefully not for long.
There are a couple of Tennessee writers whose work I really enjoy---Jack
Hunter Daves and Jeremy Forsyth. I just wish that they would write more
frequently than they do.
Ray: What do you write on... no, forget that, just describe the top of
your work desk to me in all of its gory detail. I'm told someone once
found an entire family of ground squirrels nesting within the clutter.
Could this be true, and if so, wouldn't it make a great horror story?
RK: My work area looks like a cross between a CPA's desk and a mad
scientist's lab table. On the very top shelf, there is a
glow-in-the-dark model of a human skull, a baby rattlesnake
(taxidermied, of course), collector's editions of horror books, and
copies of my own novels. The rest of my desk sports my word processor,
writing supplies, a small stone gargoyle, a genuine Texas scorpion
suspended in plastic, an Amazon piranha fish (also quite dead), and a
very realistic-looking severed finger in a pool of blood. I got rid of
the family of ground squirrels when they finally died and decomposed.
Dry fur and dusty bones can play havoc with computer equipment, you
Ray: If you could collaborate on a story with any writer in the world,
who'd it be?
RK: Stephen King would be the obvious answer of course, so I
won't say that. I'd have to say either Joe Lansdale or Rick McCammon,
since their styles of storytelling are so similar to mine. If I had a
time machine to travel in, I'd probably say Poe, Lovecraft, or Manly
Ray: I thought your first book, Hindsight, was a lot of
fun. You once said it was written on a whim (in lieu of a typewriter?).
What did you mean by that?
RK: I guess you could say Hindsight was a turning point
for me, mainly because it renewed my interest in writing and kept me
afloat after ten years of failure and disappointment. I'd tried my hand
at other genres, but when I decided to explore the horror field, I was
at a loss at what sort of theme to pursue. Then my mother told me about
a grisly murder that took place in a farming community only a hoot and
holler away. Surprisingly enough, I also found out that some of my
distant relatives were both victims and perpetrators of the crime. That
opening of the family skeleton closet got my imagination rolling, and I
combined that with my mother's psychic experiences as a child to create
Hindsight. I put a lot of heart and soul into that book; the type
of personal insight and gut emotion that I probably won't ever quite
Ray: Some authors seem to fall into a rut, simply rewriting their
own books, just changing the titles and boring the hell out of their
readers. It looks to me like you're consciously avoiding this trap.
Hindsight was about a young girl with terrifying visions.
Pitfall is about some vicious little sharp-toothed creatures and
the havoc they reap on a small town, and Something Out There
involves a whole bunch of strange albinos---from monster bats to naked
RK: Yes, I consciously try to vary the type of subjects I explore
from one novel to the next. I do this for myself, as much as I do it for
my readers. I'd be bored to tears if I had to write seven or eight
"evil children" books in a row. I owe a debt of gratitude to
Wendy McCurdy at Zebra for allowing me the freedom to write anything I
want to. I try to do the same with my short fiction. Horror readers want
variety; they don't want to be spoon-fed the same sort of crap time
after time. That sort of fiction only stagnates the genre and
perpetuates those annoying rumors of the "forthcoming death of
Ray: I know you attended the World Horror Convention in your home
state of Tennessee this past February, and you met some crazy people
there (yeah, I'm talking about Hinchberger). Was this your first
convention? What do you think of these things?
RK: World Horror was my first convention, and I had a blast! I
went with a feeling of suspicion and guarded expectation. I'd heard
about some of these horror/fantasy conventions with their Spock-eared
geeks and Beauty and the Beast fanatics. But I was pleasantly pleased.
Everyone was incredibly nice, and I ended up having a lot of fun. I'm
looking forward to next year.
Ray: Before we go, tell me a bit about your next book,
Undertaker's Moon (the title is now Moon of the Werewolf)
and anything else you've got coming up.
RK:Undertaker's Moon is about a clan of Irish werewolves
who move to a rural Tennessee town and use their undertaking business as
an inconspicuous front for acquiring fodder for their nocturnal feasts.
I'm currently working on my fifth novel, tentatively titled Twelve
Gauge. It will be a horror/suspense book about a disturbed teenager
who is initiated into the ways of murder by the specter of his
recently-executed father, a mass murderer who killed a dozen people in
a Tennessee church house on Christmas morning. And I'll have short
stories appearing in upcoming anthologies like Shock Rock,
Dark at Heart, and Borderlands 3.
Ray: One final question. If I read a Ron Kelly book backwards, what sort
of strange message will I get?
RK: Probably "The South is gonna rise again!" Either
that or a recipe for collard greens, black-eyed peas, and chitlins'.
Ya'll know what chitlins' are, don't you? Well, you see, they slit open
a hog's belly, yank out the innards, and... what's the matter, bubba?
You know, I've never quite seen that shade of grayish-green before,
except maybe in one of those George Romero zombie movies. Anyway, you
cook them buddies up nice and crispy and add a dash of Louisiana hot