Author Interview: Ronan Cray on Writing Horror

Red Sand CoverI’ll freely admit that when it comes to scary books and movies, I’m a giant chicken. I’m the reader who skips to the end of the book to see who dies so that I don’t get too attached, but then ends up having nightmares for the next two weeks anyway. So Ronan Cray’s horror novel, Red Sand, is not a book that I would normally try. But I’m glad I did, because it is a quick read with a unique twist – every chapter is written from the perspective of a different character.

In this interview, Ronan talks about what inspires him to write horror and how he crafted Red Sand, which landed him on the “Top 10 New Horror Authors” by Horror Novel Reviews.

Tell us a little about yourself.

It starts with a lie. I am a fictional character, a pseudonymous projection of all that is cool in the actual author with none of the geeky quantities. That amounts to about 1.05% of the original. Still, that exciting reality exists, as it does in all of you, albeit heavily diluted by day jobs, boredom, and mundane responsibilities. My makeup derives largely from annual and weekend travel – tours through the dry husk of the Forbidden City in Beijing, tastings of clear whisky at the Oban distillery, cold drafts in a St. Petersburg apartment, the cool autumn deaths of Pennsylvania flora. I am the memories of a drowning man. After a near-death experience, when you say, “My life flashed before my eyes,” you don’t see that wait at the DMV, the TPS report at work, the bus ride home. No. You see Ronan Cray.

What was the original inspiration for your horror novel, Red Sand?

Red Sand came from a dream. A big fellow chased me over the dunes and volcanic rocks of a desert island. A conch horn blew in the distance. “No!” he said, in fear. “It’s too soon! I could have done it!” It was too late. Hunter became hunted. They unleashed the creatures. They swarmed over us, vegetable Isz, tubers and vines destroying our flesh before I woke. That scene, slightly modified, started the book. The rest followed.

One of the most powerful aspects of your story was how each chapter was written from a different character’s perspective. How did you come up with that idea?

We’re surrounded by voices and stories, all of them valid, all of them interesting. I don’t believe in main characters. Who is the main character in a family, in a marriage? Most of the ills of this life derive from our solipsistic worldview, each person believing themselves to be the main character in their lives, waiting for everyone else to recognize this. But far more powerful characters frequently intervene. I’m fascinated by everyone’s agenda, and how those agendas inadvertently intersect and conflict with everyone else’s. That’s where drama comes from. I wanted the reader to experience omniscience, knowing the trajectories of characters bound to collide yet helpless to stop it. So I decided to explore the same story from the point of view of many. Out of dozens available, I chose only eight. Or rather, they chose me.

What was the hardest part about writing Red Sand, and how did you overcome it?

Of course, the multiple points of view turned out to be the hardest part. I often wrote myself into a roadblock. I’d give a character special knowledge, revealed only to her and the reader, then kill her off. (The character, not the reader). With that knowledge lost, how could the other characters continue the plot? Interweaving the plot between multiple characters meant fastidious tracking of facts and careful placement of actors on the stage. I couldn’t comb out a linear story, like first person novels can. I had to braid it. Rope is stronger than its individual strands. I think a story told by multiple characters is stronger in the telling.

Red Sand put you on the “Top 10 New Horror Authors” by Horror Novel Reviews. Besides great writing, how did you land your book on this list?

I didn’t actively promote myself as some great author. I was just as surprised and delighted as the other authors on the list. But that honor has made me more careful. I want my next novel to live up to, even exceed the first. I think it has.

Many of the readers of this blog are self published. Do you have any advice or marketing tips that have worked well for you?

Three words: think long term. Does a painter throw a show with one painting? Does a band get on stage with one song? Many authors get discouraged after they see their first book turn transparent right before their eyes. The public is a fickle, hurried bunch (see question 3) and don’t have time to discover your greatness immediately. A self-published author is a desert mirage attempting to build itself from particles of sand.  It takes time. And lots of sand.

What are some books and authors that have inspired your writing?

I’m inspired by the old greats – Stevenson, Dickens, Kafka, Hugo, and especially Conrad. In the old days, horror was implied. There is nothing implied in Red Sand, and my prose can’t compare, but that is the foundation I build my books on. Horror is a result of understanding. Events only have meaning when perceived.  Who perceives it is the story. The old masters understood this. They spent a great deal of time showing the reader the character, developing the context. Only when the reader fully lived in that world did they reveal the conflict. Modern books tend to skip to the action (myself included), in part because we are all more educated, less naïve, but also because we are less patient. I still prefer old books to modern ones, with apologies to my contemporaries.

Is there anything else you’d like us to know about you?

I’m fortunate to have a video game company turning my next book, Dust Eaters, into a video game. We’re running a Kickstarter through November 1st to raise funds. I do hope you’ll support me.

On Retitling My Novel After Publication

shutterstock_152047091My writing kryptonite is naming and titling people and things. From titling my book to naming my villian, I always have to go through an excruciating process that takes hours. I comb through the thesaurus, look up historical references, and poll family and friends. I’ll even admit to carrying around a scrap of paper on my purse full of scratched out titles. What sounds good to me one day sounds cheesy three days later. All that is to say that I’ve decided to retitle the first book in The Conjurors Series from Into the Dark to The Society of Imaginary Friends.

After I wrote the first book in The Conjurors Series, I never gave any thought to self publishing and promoting my novel. I put it on Amazon for the cheapest price they allowed so that my friends and family could read it if they wanted to. Then I promptly forgot about it and moved on with my writing. But after being inspired to finish my series and explore self publishing, I decided it needed a new title. There are roughly 1 billion books titled Into the Dark, and it was no surprise that mine didn’t make the first page of books listed in a search on Amazon or Google. Or the second.

It was time for a title change. This time, I put some real thought into the titles that made sense for my series. Guilds, where people can study various magical professions in the world I created, play a key role in connecting the story from book to book. It made sense to name each book in The Conjurors Series after the guild that played the primary role in that story. Because the Guild called The Society of Imaginary Friends kicks off my heroine’s adventure, it made sense as the title of the first book.

In addition to a new title, I have also invested in professional cover art and made some significant edits to The Society of Imaginary Friends, because my writing has come a long way in the two years since I wrote it. In the next couple of weeks I’ll unveil a new cover, and in November the updated novel and cover will go live.

Have you ever retitled or re-released one of your novels? If so, how did the process turn out for you?

I’m Cheating on my Protagonist

shutterstock_69810904I have a confession. I’m in a long-term, committed writing relationship with the current protagonist of The Conjurors Series, Valerie Diaz. She’s great – loyal, smart and filled with integrity. I’m not ready to end our affair – we’re only two books in to a four-book series. But I can’t stop thinking about someone else. While I should be plotting Valerie’s next move, I’m fantasizing about the heroine that I’m going to write about next.

I’m afraid that if I don’t get a grip, I’ll lose the momentum I need to finish my current series, which is planned to be completed at the end of 2014. By that estimate, I really shouldn’t be daydreaming about other heroines at least until book four is drafted. But it’s tempting. My favorite part of the writing process is creating characters and planning plots. All of the characters and plots in The Conjurors Series have been developed, at least at a high level. What’s left is the execution, which I also love, but doesn’t have the same thrilling joy that only giving characters life can bring.

Then, of course, come the comparisons. Valerie’s much nicer than my next heroine, but I think I actually like the new one more. In real life we could totally hang out, whereas with Valerie I’d have to be on my best behavior. Which naturally makes me feel more guilty. They’re both my creations – shouldn’t I love them equally? Of course, I’m aware that the new heroine and I are still in the honeymoon phase of our relationship. I’ve yet to become bogged down in the day-to-day grind of hurtling her into strange and painful situations and then carefully extricating her.

How do you stay focused on your current project when the next is luring you with its siren call? Do you give in and cheat, or stay the course until your current writing project is completely finished?