Ronald Kelly has been spinning his throwback style of horror since the early 1990s, blending the no-holds-barred sensibilities of Jack Ketchum with the quiet dread of Charles L. Grant. He’s recently dropped a themed collection, The Halloween Store and Other Tales of All Hallows’ Eve, just in time for our favorite holiday. With these stories (plus a couple of nonfiction essays), Kelly aims to invoke those wind-swept October nights when freedom and fear walked hand-in-hand.
Kelly, who has a long history with Cemetery Dance that he touches on briefly in this interview, was kind enough to answer a few questions about these new stories and more.
(Interview conducted by Blu Gilliand)
CEMETERY DANCE: Before we get into your new collection, I wanted to talk a little about your career in general. You took some time away from writing a while back, but now you’re not only back, but in a very prolific phase of your career. Where’d you go, and what brought you back?
RONALD KELLY: When Zebra Books shut down their mass market horror line in 1996, I found myself without a publisher. Times were hard for the horror writer back in the mid-’90s. The horror market was oversaturated with substandard work and fans became gun shy, having been burnt too many times by bad book purchases. In turn, the publishers lost money and had to cut their losses… which meant canceling publishing lines and abandoning authors. I grew bitter and disillusioned, and decided to completely quite writing — or reading — horror fiction. So, I was back to working, 9 to 5, in the factories for ten years. Then, in 2006, folks like Richard Chizmar, Brian Keene, and James Newman influenced and persuaded me to give horror writing another shot. I did and I’ve been writing and publishing tales of Southern-fried horror ever since.
You’ve spoken openly and often about your Christian beliefs. How has your faith impacted your work? How do you answer those that say writing horror fiction and living as a Christian can’t coexist?
Truthfully, it has been a struggle, trying to balance my faith and my horror writing. As a Christian, you always wonder if what you create is pleasing to the God you believe in and, considering some of the extreme horror tales I’ve penned over the years, I’m not always certain about that. But I believe I was granted the ability to write creepy, visceral stories and novels for a reason, if only to perpetuate the traditional narrative of good versus evil. Right now, I’m pretty much embracing the type of fiction I love to write and not worrying about it like I once did.
Okay, let’s talk about The Halloween Store and Other Tales of All Hallows’ Eve. I know there are seven stories and two essays — is this all new material?
There are five brand new stories and two old RK favorites, one being a Halloween version of a story that originally appeared in Cemetery Dance #3. One of the essays appeared in October Dreams 2 a few years ago, while the other one is new.
Tell us a little about the stories, and the inspiration behind them.
The Halloween Store is a book I’ve been wanting to do since I put out my first Halloween collection, Mister-Glow Bones & Other Halloween Tales back in 2014. Of course, I had to pick the year 2020 to finally sit down and do it. I figured everyone was sick and tired of focusing on COVID-19, social unrest, and the worst political rivalry in the history of our country, so I decided to write some old-fashioned, EC horror flavored stories to take folks back to simpler times, when Halloween was the sole focus of our Octobers and the troubles of the world paled in comparison to picking out a cool and creepy costume, decorating our rooms, and Trick-or-Treating on the 31st.
What is it about this season — Autumn as a whole, and Halloween itself — that inspires you?
Autumn is my favorite season of the year. The change from sweltering summer to crisp, cool fall, the turning of the leaves, as well as Halloween itself is very satisfying and comforting to my soul. It has always been my seasonal happy place.
I’ve noticed that a lot of Halloween fiction involves coming-of-age or rite-of-passage type stories. What is it about the holiday that invites that approach?
I think it’s the pure nostalgia of Halloweens past that conjures inspiration and a great love of the coming-of-age subgenre. If you’re going to write about children or preteens going on a life-changing journey against horrifying odds, what better time of year reflects that than October and Halloween? It’s the month that belongs to kids, especially those with a love and fascination for horror and the macabre. I know it was special to me for those reasons.
What’s your favorite Halloween memory?
It was an incident that inspired my story “Clown Treats” in The Halloween Store. I was trick-or-treating with my little brother and my cousin on the year of my twelfth — and last practicing — Halloween, when we stopped at one last house. We were invited in by a woman and shown into the living room, where a rotund man dressed as clown sat in a huge leather armchair. To say he was slightly drunk would have been an understatement. He laughed and giggled sinisterly and tossed popcorn balls into our Halloween bags. We left that house at a run, laughing our heads off, but totally creeped out deep down inside. Considering how dangerous and perverted some folks are these days, I cringe at the thought of how trusting we were of adults back then.
Do you have any particular Halloween books or movies that you like to revisit each year?
I love to read old favorites like Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes and The Halloween Tree every October or so, as well as books like Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot and Robert McCammon’s Usher’s Passing. As for movies, I prefer the traditional ones over the slasher movies of the ’80s and ’90s; the old Universal Monster movies and haunted house flicks like Robert Wise’s original The Haunting and the film adaptation of Richard Matheson’s Hell House. But I am a huge fan of Carpenter’s The Thing, too.
What are you working on now?
My collection of extreme splatterpunk stories, The Essential Sick Stuff, was just released by Silver Shamrock on the same week as The Halloween Store. Currently, I’m working on a small collection of Christmas horror stories called Season’s Creepings: Tales of Holiday Horror for this December. After that, I’m beginning a horror-western serial of five volumes called The Saga of Dead-Eye for Thunderstorm Books. The first book will be titled Vampires, Zombies, & Mojo Men. I’m also toying with the idea of writing Fear Eternal, the sequel to my coming-of-age horror novel, Fear, sometime in 2021.