Ray Garton is a World Horror Convention Grand Master award-winning author with over sixty books and approximately a ton of short stories to his credit — so far. Although I have been hearing about Ray’s work for the past twenty years, I only first got around to reading him earlier this year with his monumental vampire novel, Live Girls. Man, have I been missing out and clearly have much reading to catch up on. Suffice to say the hype is real and if you haven’t read this man’s work yet, do yourself a favor and don’t wait as long as I did.
Most recently, I was lucky enough to get a hold of his werewolf novel, Ravenous. Originally published in 2008, Gauntlet Press is giving it the limited signed hardcover treatment, complete with gorgeous cover artwork by the always outstanding Harry O’Morris. With the same treatment being given to its sequel, Bestial, this is a great time to jump on board the beast train and find out what nightmarish thrills Ray Garton has in store for you.
Get ready to whet your appetite as Ray and I discuss his werewolf novels, revisiting old haunts, the danger of censorship, and so much more.
(Interview conducted by Rick Hipson)
CEMETERY DANCE: Considering all the great books you’ve written and had published over the years, I gotta ask: Why Ravenous? Why bring it back now as a signed limited edition above all the others?
RAY GARTON: The werewolf has always been my favorite of the classic monsters. But compared to vampires or other creatures, the werewolf has been virtually ignored in literature and certainly underrepresented in film. I had long wanted to do something with the werewolf mythology, and when my editor at Leisure, who thought at the time that werewolves were going to be The Next Big Thing, suggested I do a werewolf novel, I took the opportunity. The new hardcover edition exists because Gauntlet was interested in working with me on something and Ravenous and Bestial had never been published in hardcover.
What, for you, made Gauntlet Press the right venue to publish the limited edition?
I’ve known Barry Hoffman for a long time and we’ve worked together before, which is a plus. A lot of people come and go in the horror small press field and not all of them are honorable or trustworthy. I knew that Barry was, and I was delighted to have the books published in hardcover.
Aside from your introduction (and Richard Chizmar’s afterward), did you happen to make any changes, minor or otherwise, from the 2008 Leisure publication?
No, I had no reason to make changes. Nothing had been removed for the initial publication and I was happy with the book.
I understand you got some heat from readers regarding the violent acts of certain sex scenes throughout the novel — so much so that your intro is all but dedicated to acknowledging and addressing the fan-based concerns. Did you find it necessary to offer this as a sort of trigger warning, or was the intro your way of speaking to a larger scope of the topic of censorship in general and your decision to not give in to it for the sake of the story you needed to tell?
I didn’t get any heat from readers, but there was some blowback from a couple of people who never read the book. The problem, as they saw it, was that the werewolves in Ravenous rape some of their victims. The point is made in the book that werewolves are part human, part wild animal, and the wild animal part is concerned only with its immediate needs, like food, shelter, and sex. Being a wild animal in the wolf state, the werewolf does not ask for permission. There are some people who think that if rape occurs in a work of entertainment fiction, then it is somehow being condoned or championed by the author. The simple act of writing about it, according to these people, means that you’re okay with it. That, of course, is nothing less than batshit crazy.
I’ve received similar reactions in the past anytime I write about something that is truly horrible, like rape or child molestation. In those cases, I’ve worked very hard to avoid anything remotely erotic, because there’s nothing erotic or sexual about these violent acts of power. But that makes no difference to those who hold that simply writing about them is a bad thing. They still believe that I am somehow contributing to the problem with my fiction. That’s because they have either lost touch with or never knew about the concept of context. There is absolutely nothing positive about rape in Ravenous. It is depicted as a horrible act of violence.
What happens if we stop writing about rape altogether? Never mention it on any page anywhere? Or, for that matter, racism, or misogyny, or any of the other things that some people believe should be removed from existing shelves and prevented in future works? A movement to do that is well underway. I think it’s extremely misguided and dangerous to the freedom of speech. Covering up the existence of those crimes in fiction and elsewhere will only allow them to continue unchecked in real life. If anything condones those crimes, it’s this wrong-headed attempt to prevent them from being acknowledged and written about. It’s something I feel strongly about and I included it in the introduction.
Was the polarizing ending what you had always envisioned from the beginning, or did it take some waffling and rewrites before arriving where you finally did with it?
That was the plan all along. For a long time, I’ve wanted to write a book in which everyone dies. But at the same time, I didn’t want to cheat the reader. I knew I was going to write a sequel that picked up where the first book left off, so I went ahead and did it.
When you’re preparing an older title to resurface as a new edition, what’s the experience like for you as far as comparing it to your more recent releases, whether it sparks wanting to revise anything or what it’s otherwise like for you to revisit a world you created so long ago?
It depends on the book. With Biofire, there were some things I wanted to clean up, so I did an edit before the reprint was published. Others, like Ravenous, are fine as they are. It’s always strange to revisit a work from years ago. It’s very frustrating to read something of mine that’s already been published because inevitably, I want to change things, no matter what the work is. And it always takes me back to the time when I wrote it, so a lot depends on whether the book being reprinted was written in a good time, or a not-so-good time.
Was Ravenous written in a good time?
Yes, Ravenous was definitely written in a good time. And I was happy to be writing a werewolf novel because, as I mentioned before, the werewolf is my favorite of those classic monsters I grew up watching.
It must be such a thrill to watch a rerelease bring in new fans who might have missed a book the first time around. I imagine a lot of first-time readers are shocked to see how much stuff you’ve got out there by the time they discover you. For those fans locking onto your work for the first time via your werewolf tales, what else of your work do you usually suggest a new reader start reading you?
I’ve heard that a lot from readers, that they stumbled on a book of mine — it’s usually Live Girls — and after enjoying that one they look for another, and find that there are a lot to choose from. If someone reads and enjoys Ravenous, I always recommend the sequel, Bestial, and then I suggest following that with Live Girls and Night Life. The reason for that is the books are loosely linked, and I’m about to link them further with the book I’m working on now. It brings the vampires from Live Girls and Night Life together with the werewolves of Ravenous and Bestial in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, I’ve been slowed up by some health problems that have interfered with my ability to work and it’s taking much longer than any other book I’ve written. I usually recommend Sex and Violence in Hollywood, as well, because, although it’s technically not a horror novel, it’s my personal favorite of all my work, so I recommend it whenever possible.
What is it, dare I ask, about Sex and Violence in Hollywood that stands out most favorably to you?
It was the best writing experience I’ve ever had. I started with a vague idea: I wanted to write about the movie business, and I wanted to explore our reaction to violence, both in movies and in real life. I don’t think movies make people violent, or turn them into mass killers, or any of that nonsense. But we are exposed to an enormous amount of violence in entertainment during our lifetimes, and I was wondering how that has effected our attitude toward real-life violence. For example, after witnessing a real violent incident, some people laugh. A friend of mine who’d seen a fight that ended in a fatal gunshot wound said he laughed. He didn’t find it funny, but that’s what came out. And then he said, “It didn’t look real.” That’s because it never looks the way it does in the movies.
That’s what was going through my head when I first sat down to write Sex and Violence in Hollywood, and the book flowed out of me with an ease I’d never experienced before and haven’t since. The ending throws some people, but it’s the ultimate expression of that idea: people react in some strange ways to violence. And I think that has at least been influenced by everything we’ve seen and continue to see in movies and on TV.
Thankfully, the fur continues to fly in the sequel to Ravenous, Bestial. What can you tell us about the new limited edition treatment of Bestial without giving too much away?
To be honest, I don’t know anything about it yet. All I know about Bestial is that the cover will be done, once again, by Harry O. Morris, who has been among my favorite artists in the genre for almost forty years. I’ve been extremely lucky when it comes to covers over the years, there have been some beauties done by talented artists. But to have a couple of covers by Morris — somehow, that makes me feel like I’ve arrived, you know? I was very happy with what he did with Ravenous, and I know Bestial will have a cover that’s just as good.
As you did with vampires in your ‘87 cult classic novel, Live Girls, you made sure to steer away with most mythological stereotypes with your werewolves. Sure, you gave them a human edge, but kept them as close to nature’s feral intentions as possible. What would you say was the more challenging to portray as the mindless killer: your werewolves or the vampires? Which was more fun?
The vampire is in complete control when he preys on his victims. The werewolf, though, is not. He has lost his mind, which is eclipsed by the animal he becomes. I think that’s the main reason that vampire fiction is everywhere while werewolf novels are much rarer. The vampire retains control of himself, which allows him to be sexy and suave, and to accumulate the cache he has with readers now. The werewolf, on the other hand, is a ravenous wild animal that is not at all sexy or appealing. It’s not surprising that the vampire has remained as popular as it is, even today.
As well as Bestial coming out next year, what else might you have in the pipeline for us fans to look forward to?
The work in progress that I mentioned earlier is called ForeverBlood, and I wish I could tell you when it’ll be done, but I can’t. I’m working on it, though.
Rick Hipson is a Canadian genre journalist living in Kitchener Ontario with his partner in crime, young spawn and two cats who insist they aren’t vying for world domination. For over twenty years Rick has written for a variety of small press publications in print and online which no longer exist through, assumably, no fault of his own. He continues to share his love for dark culture entertainment through his film and book reviews, interviews and articles, which can be found through Rue Morgue Magazine, Cemetery Dance and Hell Notes.