This interview by Shannon Riley appeared in DEATHREALM #17 in
DEATHREALM published many of my short stories in the early days,
including such tales as "The Web of La Sanguinaire", "Papa's Exile",
"Oh, Sordid Shame!", and "Depravity Road".
A GRAVESIDE CHAT / Interview with Ronald Kelly
By Shannon Riley
Ronald Kelly, a prolific young writer who lives in Antioch, Tennessee,
began his career in the small press and quickly gained professional
status with the publication of his first novel, Hindsight. Since then,
he has signed a three-book contract with Zebra, seen the publication of
three more novels, Pitfall, Something Out There, and
Moon of the Werewolf. Ronald Kelly's unique voice and dark action tales have made
him the undisputed master of southern horror. I interviewed him
recently, just after he completed work on his fifth novel.
- Shannon Riley.
SR: When did you first become interested in writing?
RK: I guess it started in high school. Around about my junior year I
became very interested in comic books and started writing and drawing my
own. Everyone thought I was destined to become an artist, because my
interests had always leaned in that direction. But during my senior
year, I read a lot of Poe, Lovecraft, and Bradbury and began to
experiment with writing. It started out with short stories, then led to
full-length novels. For nearly twelve years after I graduated, I tried
my hand at about every genre you could name: mystery, crime-detective,
macho-adventure, and western. I finally ended up writing horror and it
just sort of took off.
SR: Was there any one person who was a special source of inspiration or
RK: Yes, my late mother. During the difficult years, when I was
struggling to become a writer, my mother was the one who supported me
the most and kept telling me to keep it up no matter how pointless it
seemed. Also the plot behind my first novel, Hindsight,
was based on my mother's psychic experiences as a child and a mass
murder that happened during the Depression years.
I lost my mother to cancer in '89, but I recently found someone else
to fill the void. My wife, Joyce, is the best cheerleader a guy could
have. She and I are even thinking about working together on a series of
children's books sometime in the near future.
SR: Did growing up in the conservative and fundamental religious
environment of the Deep South influence your work in any way?
RK: Yes, I am sure that it did. I've found that most Southern horror
writers come from very strict religious backgrounds. Maybe those years
of fire and brimstone sermons---as well as the numerous restrictions
that accompany an upbringing in the church---gives us an edge to our
fiction. I know that it was quite a few years before I overcame my
religious inhibitions and reached the point where I could write
effective and successful horror fiction. A writer must be outrageous and
brutal when he writes about mass murderers and monsters, and he must be
willing to break a few taboos as well. I finally reached the point where
I was able to do that comfortably, without any guilt about offending
SR: Did you sell your first novel to your publisher without the
assistance of a literary agent? And do you feel that you received a fair
RK: I did have an agent when I sold Hindsight. It was the Scott
Meredith Agency, and they still represent me. I think it is important
for a writer just starting out in the business to find a good agent they
can trust; one that will go to bat for them and get the best deal
possible. I certainly have no complaints about the deals I've made with
Zebra. They bought my first two books within six months of each other,
then immediately offered me a three-book contract. My association with
Zebra enabled me to quit my job as a blue-collar welder and write for a
SR: You are a prolific writer and with your fifth novel completed, short
fiction in numerous publications, and now a collection of short stories
on audio cassette. How do you organize your time to accomplish so much?
RK: It's difficult sometimes, but I try to treat it like a regular
eight-hour-a-day job. I try to put in at least six hours of writing a
day, from Monday to Friday, allowing myself a couple hours for
correspondence and reading. I switch up between working on novels and
writing short stories for anthologies and magazines like Cemetery Dance.
I crank up Lynyrd Skynyrd and ZZ Top on the stereo, turn on my word
processor, and put this warped imagination of mine to work.
SR: Fictional audio cassettes are breaking new ground in the horror
industry. Tell us something about your work with Spine-Tingling Press
and your collection of stories entitled Dark Dixie: Tales of Southern
RK: The audio tape is something new for me and I'm very pleased with how
it turned out. To tell the truth, I was a little surprised when Richard
Sutphen at Spine-Tingling contacted me about doing the project. The tape
is ninety minutes in length, has 3-D sound effects, and includes some of
my best stories, mainly from the Cold Blood anthology and past issues of
Cemetery Dance, After Hours, and Noctulpa. I think horror has a very big
future in audio. More and more horror fiction is finding its way onto
audio books. Thanks to Spine-Tingling there are some good horror
writers being presented, including small press alumni like Bentley
Little and David B. Silva.
SR: What is your favorite horror novel and your favorite horror movie?
RK: Regarding the first part of that question, I don't actually have one
particular novel that's my favorite. I believe the first horror novel
that I ever read was Bram Stoker's Dracula, and it really left a lasting
impression on me. I have my favorite Stephen King novels---The Dead Zone
and Misery to name a couple. And I enjoy just about everything that Joe
Lansdale, Robert McCammon, or Chet Williamson write. As for my favorite
movie, there's really no contest. The Haunting is definitely the
scariest movie I ever watched. Not a drop of blood was shed, but there
was such an atmosphere of gothic horror and foreboding dread that it
really gave me the creeps. It still does.
SR: Do you feel that some of today's little-known writers may become
important names in the industry in years ahead? If so, who?
RK: There are a lot of very talented writers coming out of the small
press these days; folks who are writing some damn fine horror fiction. I
reckon two of my favorites are Bentley Little and Wayne Allen Sallee.
Their stuff is just twisted enough to be a cut above a lot of horror
being published these days. They put a subtle sense of unease into their
fiction that really grabs a reader and makes him take notice.
SR: Some analysts define the current slump in the horror market as a
signal that horror is on its way out. Others say that the genre is only
redefining itself and changing direction. What are your views on the
future of horror fiction?
RK: Frankly, I don't believe those doomsayers who claim that the horror
genre is dead. I simply don't see that happening, and I'm disturbed that
such an idea is being perpetuated. True, the state of horror and dark
fantasy isn't as healthy as it has been in the past, but then that goes
for other genres as well. But I still see plenty people gathered at the
horror section at B.Dalton's and Waldenbooks. As for the genre
redefining itself, I believe that it's dividing instead. You basically
have two types of horror now: the supernatural kind
(vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and so on) and the crime-suspense kind
(mass murderers and serial killers). It really isn't anything new or
groundbreaking. Robert Bloch wrote
Psycho over thirty years ago. But it is true that crime-related horror
is on the upswing.
With sickos like Jeffrey Dahmer in the news lately, it seems to be
particularly on the mark.
SR: Tell us a little about Ronald Kelly, the man: your likes and
dislikes, pet peeves, favorite things, and so on.
RK: Well, let's see. My interests include things like good books and
movies, Civil War
and Old West history, and digital audio ( I'm heavily into compact
discs). I love the state
of Tennessee. I couldn't think of anywhere else I'd rather live in the
world. I like good, honest, down-home folks. I dislike snobbish, lazy,
arrogant people and try to stay away from them as much as possible. My
favorite things these days are spending time with my wife and writing
for a living; especially being my own boss.
SR: What are some of your future projects?
RK: I have just recently finished my fifth novel, a horror-suspense
book tentatively titled Twelve Gauge. I've got short stories coming up
in anthologies like Pocket's
Shock Rock, Dark Harvest's Dark at Heart, and Borderlands 3. I have a
western novel that's making the rounds with the publishers now, and I'm
seriously thinking about putting together a collection of my short
stories, preferably to be released in hardcover.
SR: What do you feel should be a writer's most important considerations,
and what advice would you offer to anyone aspiring to a career in
RK: In my opinion, the most important thing for a writer is to be him or
herself as much as possible. Write about what you know and the region
you live in. If you're from rural Alabama and you base your stories in
New York City or Los Angeles, there's a good chance that your readers
will pick up on your unfamiliarity with those places and be
disappointed. Also try to create your own personal style of writing, not
one that mirrors Stephen King or Clive Barker.
And most of all, don't ever give up. Patience and a very thick skin
is essential as far as becoming a professional writer is concerned. Try
not to get discouraged. Treat every rejection slip as a valuable
learning experience. It might take five or ten years---twelve in my
case---before you sell that first short story or novel, but when you do, the
feeling of accomplishment is incredible. You'll find out that all the
frustration and hard work were worth it in the long run.