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Horror Business: Jim Ruland

Horror Business is a novel I that wrote. It’s coming out in February 2015. Horror movies play a huge role in the narrative.

“Horror Business” is a sporadic column where I ask influential/invaluable writers and people of interest the following question: What scene from a movie has scared/troubled/shaken you the most?

Never assume anything about Jim Rulandhe’s a man of surprises.

A couple years ago, when I delivered mail, I would try to find the most quiet and secluded streets to take my breaks. It was such a harried and exhausting job that even a 15 minute moment of quiet felt akin to Buddhist enlightenment, and I always had a paperback on hand.

One of those books happened to be Ruland’s short story collection, Big Lonesome. The copy on the back promised me “hard-boiled” stories, which felt entertaining enough, and perfect for the short bursts of serenity.

During this time, I was delivering mail in a neighborhood in San Diego called Point Loma—a rich part of town that also happens to have some of the most peaceful streets in its upper regions.

I parked the mail truck, cracked Big Lonesome open and landed on a story called “Brains for Bengo,” ready for some hard crime or easily-digestible noirish fare.

That story scared the shit out of me. When I was finished, I looked up and the peaceful environment had become isolating and haunted. The soft breeze now felt menacing. I booked it out of there, eager to be around other people.

Point is: Ruland strikes when you’re not expecting it, and he’s damn good at it. His calm demeanor hides a darkness that bleeds out on the page. This year alone (in his effort to make all other writers [i.e. me] look like lazy wasteoids) he put out Giving the Fingera memoir that he co-wrote—AND Forest of Fortune, his debut novel. Forest of Fortune is a hilarious and haunting book that showcases his unparalleled skill in combining surreal and frightening elements with noir, history, and comedy. I loved it.

What scene from a movie has scared/troubled/shaken you the most?

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JR: Salem’s Lot.

Salem’s Lot was released as a two-part TV miniseries that scared the piss out of me when I was 11 years old. I know what you’re thinking: You were scared of a made-for-television movie? Trust me. This one was different.

The movie was based on a Stephen King novel about a writer who returns to his hometown in Maine (I know, shocker) and discovers that it’s being taken over by vampires.

Most horror movies shown on TV where chopped-up versions of R-rated movies that had the sex, violence and gore clumsily edited out and dubbed over. They weren’t very fun to watch except that if you sat through a movie on TV, getting to see the unedited version later on a friend’s VCR was a secret thrill.

Salem’s Lot was different. Because it was made for TV, the thrills were expressed not with violence and gore but with atmosphere and mood, and it was directed by Tobe Hooper, the same guy who made The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

In the movie, a young boy named Ralphie Glick goes missing. His family thinks he’s been abducted but the audience knows the truth: he’s been turned into a vampire. His brother Danny finds this out the hard way when Ralphie turns up one night, tapping on his bedroom window. Somehow Danny doesn’t notice that Ralphie is fucking floating in the air and opens the window for him.

Now it’s on and these creepy Glick Brothers are tapping on windows all over town and going on a blood-sucking rampage. Danny sets his sights on his friend, Mark Petrie, a horror movie buff with a Luke Skywalker haircut. Mark knows his monster movies and he repels Danny with a cross. You can watch the scene here.

What Hooper does so well with these scenes is make them heavy rather than scary. There are no special effects. No CGI. No gotcha moments to make you jump. Just the Glick brothers in some make-up and creepy contact lenses. We see Danny as Mark wants to see him: as his friend, but as the vampire emerges from the fog it’s clear what has happened to him. In the scene, Mark is crying not because he’s scared – he’s the only one in Salem’s Lot who isn’t losing his shit – but because he knows what’s happened to his friend: he’s dead. Worse than dead, actually. He’s a fucking vampire.

*

When I saw Salem’s Lot, I lived in a house in a tree-lined neighborhood in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. My bedroom was in the basement: dark and cold and far from my parents’ room. After watching Salem’s Lot, I slept on the couch in the living room for the night. One night turned into a week. A week into two. I must have slept out there for over a month. My parents talked to me about it a couple of times but I refused to go back down to the basement. Even though I felt safer in the living room, sleeping up there was no less terrifying.

Our living room had these big ass windows that any passing vampire could float right up to. Even worse, right outside the window was an oak tree whose branches would scrape the window at the slightest breeze. The wind would blow, the branches would go skittering across the glass, and I’d expect to see Danny fucking Glick inviting me out for a bite. It’s a miracle I didn’t have a nervous breakdown.

*

Salem’s Lot is still a heavy movie for me. My cousin, who was also named Mark, was a lot like Mark Petrie: a guy who was obsessed with monster movies. My cousin grew up idolizing the people who made horror movies and when he grew up he made good on his childhood dream by becoming a screenwriter. If you’re still reading this, there’s a good chance you’ve seen his movie Pumpkinhead.

Looking back it’s easy to see how Salem’s Lot might have influenced Mark’s first movie Neon Maniacs, which also features a girl who loves monster movies. (She was a he in the original screenplay, but whatever.) There aren’t any vampires in Mark’s movie and Neon Maniacs isn’t nearly as nuanced as Salem’s Lot (it’s a low-budget ‘80s slasher flick) but I love how the kid’s knowledge of the secret lore of monster movies allows her to put her fears aside and beat back the demons who are making her life hell.

Sadly, my cousin’s career was cut short by mental illness. In the weeks before his death, I remember feeling a lot like Mark Petrie, helplessly watching as my cousin’s illness transformed him into something unrecognizable, something dangerously un-Mark. The knowledge that saved the day in the movies, couldn’t save my cousin in real life.

*

It’s been 35 years since I first saw Salem’s Lot and I’m still haunted by the Glick Brothers. The damage has been done. It’s part of who I am. The fear has been encoded into my DNA.

But if you come over to my house someday, and you catch me napping on the sofa in the living room, whatever you do, don’t start tapping on the window and calling my name.

One of us might not live to regret it.

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Please buy Black Candies or my entire life will turn out to be a sham

bcseethroughcoverI’ve been working on this anthology—Black Candies: See Through—for the better half of 2013. Really proud of it. Feels like a lot of blood has gone into it.

It’s weird because, even though I don’t have any writing in this one, it feels very personal. I will call myself a horror fan, but I find the “horror” tag pretty reductive in general. When people think of “horror” they think genre, blood and guts, vampires, monsters, whatever. The stories in “See Through” represent my favorite kind of writing—haunting, funny, weird, dark, lyrical. One of my favorite things about editing these books is soliciting writers who aren’t necessarily known for dark writing and letting them loose. We all have it in us, and those that can indulge in “genre” (even though that’s not really as defined or stigmatized anymore) are my kind of people.

(Click here for list of contributors)

Also, this year marks a turn in Black Candies that I’m particularly proud of: we have more women writers than men. As I’ve said before, I don’t want that to a point of diplomacy or a shallow attempt at political correctness, but more of a correction to my personal reading habits. I would love for Black Candies to correct the trajectory of male-dominated lit journals, and that we’re a horror anthology—a genre where women are notoriously underrepresented—that’s incredibly exciting. I have to give a big shout-out to Roxane Gay, who helped me get some really great women writers, writers that I can now count among my favorites.

Finally, I would love to give a shout out to Justin Hudnall and So Say We All, the literary organization here in San Diego that I’ve been involved with for the past three years. I’m proud of what organizations like ours do for the quality and demographic inclusiveness of our art in contrast to profit-minded publishers. And with these Black Candies books, Justin provides unquestioning support. Not everyone can publish books without having to resort to Kickstarter or Indiegogo (which is not meant as a dig at crowd-funding or anyone who uses it—I just feel they create a lot of extra work)—I feel lucky to have the circumstances where we can create and produce without having to rely on too much outside assistance. Thank you, Justin.

Other thanks: all the writers and artists who donated their work. It’s always difficult to ask for writing without offering pay, and I completely understand those who didn’t submit stories due to that fact. But those who did: you’re making my dreams come true.

Thank you Jay Wertzler: my writing partner and co-editor. I’ve never worked so well with anyone before. If you don’t have someone who will read your stuff and provide as much quality feedback as Jay, I’m sorry.

And of course, Adam Vieyra. He creates and designs beautiful books. I would be stuck in zine land, probably still using Chiller font, if it wasn’t for him. He did the majority of “See Through” in one day—I was there. Watching him work is like watching a beautiful time-lapse.

blackcandiesprogression(Progression from stapled zine to current issue)

Anyway, enough of the sentimental stuff. I hope you enjoy it!

And please add on Goodreads.

xo
Ryan

Two books with one stone: Black Candies and Last Night on Earth

Over the last two months, my friends and I have been at work putting together two books, and this morning, we can finally put the nail in both of them. It’s quite an accomplishment, really, and I want to tell you about them.

First off: Black Candies – a journal of literary horror.

Black Candies has been a passion project of mine to get some of my favorite literary writers to indulge their most horrific writing. This year, I got five great writers to write on the theme of “Post Apocalypse” (a concept I’ve been obsessed with over the last year); with some really great variations on said theme. The line-up for these authors goes:

Oh and the thing has art too. Some really great art, in fact. I really don’t want to show it to you cuz that would give it all away. Here are the artists:

So yeah, the stories in here are scary. Perfect time to get your spooks on!

Next book is Last Night on Earth.
If you’ve been reading my blog, you’ll know that I’ve talked about this book here before, and there are really too many authors to call out, but it’s so, so great. My constant collaborator/friend/partner in crime (also Black Candies contributor) Jay Wertzler did the book design on this one. When I woke up to find his finished pdf in my inbox, I had to stand up and walk away from my computer. It’s just so breathtaking to see something you’ve been working on for so long finally be real. It has a face now – a glorious, immaculate face. Again, I can’t thank him enough for his hard work.

And of course, none of these would’ve been possible without Justin Hudnall, a true frontiersman. His constant encouragement and belief has made both these projects not only possible, but bigger and greater than anything I could’ve accomplished on my own.

I’ll keep you posted on when/where to get them.

The Dangerous Children

Don’t you just love making theoretical book covers to your unpublished works? I do. So yeah, in the near future (hopefully by 2012), I’ll have this ready. After reading Jim Ruland’s excellent Big Lonesome, I asked his advice about getting a short-story collection published and he wrote back:

What would I do differently? That’s easy. I would make a strong link between all the stories. The trouble with short story collections is that they’re not “about” anything. And a collection that dabbles in multiple genres exacerbates this problem. (Please note that when I say problem or trouble I mean as they pertain to marketing, publicity, and sales.) If I had it to do again, I’d probably make it a collection of stories that riff on pop culture icons. Or a collection of historical fiction. Or a collection of stories set in Southern California. You get the idea. What I’ve come to understand is that everyone from book buyers to librarians, movie producers to book reviewers, need a hook that serves as an entry point for a conversation about the book. Obviously there are exceptions. Alice Munro and George Saunders don’t need a hook. Their hook is they’re Alice Munro and George Saunders. Short stories are what they do. A hook for people like us would be a collection of stories about being a mail carrier or a novel set in an Indian casino, because that’s what we “do”, and that’s precisely what I’ve done.

I always tend to come back to the theme of well… (read title). It’s not that I’m attracted to the idea of evil, Damien-esque children per se (although there might be a couple included in the book), but more of the accidental horror children are capable of, without mature notions of right or wrong, and I think I have enough material to justify a “hook”.

Anyway… cover too much? I’m torn about the scribbles over the face, seeing as the stories aren’t ALL horror, but I also want something to pull the eyes out of your skull.

Read Big Lonesome.

Edit: Another piece of conceptual art. I think I like this one better. The other one seems a little Dark Knight-ish.