Christopher Ransom may be a new
name to many of you, but with four books already under his belt and a
fifth on the way, I thought it was time to hear from the man many are
calling the new King of horror!
What is your earliest memory
The earliest strong memories I have of picking of books on my own and
reading them would be from the book fairs at my elementary school. Wartonís
Christmas Eve Adventure was a favourite. The White Mountains by John
Christopher. Tom Sawyer. I remember disappearing into those.
Are you an avid reader and if
so, what are some of your favourite books/favourite
I call myself a writer, so I guess Iíd better be an avid reader. I canít
sleep without reading for an hour or two every night. I love all of the
giants in the horror field that I grew up on in the Eighties ó King,
Koontz, Barker, McCammon, etc. ó of course, but now that I have written
five of my own horror novels, my reading habits tend to steer away from
the horror field. I read a lot of classics and mid-Century literary
novels, as well as some of the modern masters of suspense and
psychological thrillers: John Fowles (The Magus), Pete Dexter (Train,
Paris Trout), Scott Spencer (Man in the Woods, Endless Love), Peter
Blauner (Slipping into Darkness), Patricia Highsmith (The Tom Ripley
novels). Itís very difficult to find a book that combines writing at a
truly literary level along with a juicy premise, but thatís what I look
for most of the time.
When did you decide you wanted
to become a writer?
When I was around 19 or 20, struggling to find anything else of interest
in college, I found myself ditching biology classes to read novels at
home. I was a bad student in almost every subject except for English
classes. Finally it dawned on me that if I loved living inside of books so
much, writing them must be a pretty good way to spend oneís days. I
respected writing and authors more than anything else, so it seemed like
the right thing for me to attempt.
Writing is hard work! Do you
have any formal writing qualifications or do you simply benefit from
I studied literature in college, but I donít really consider that a
writing qualification. Reading a couple thousand books and apprenticing at
writing on my own for 16 years before I ever published, that would be my
only real qualification. I donít know how to pinpoint natural talent, or
what value to assign it. I donít believe talent means much unless one does
something with it, which means practice, practice, practice. If I have a
natural aptitude for anything that helps me write, itís having an ear for
people, dialogue, interesting characters and events in life, and having a
very good memory. I can remember what so-and-so wore to school the first
day of sixth grade, how this cop spoke to me when I was fourteen, his
exact words, his tone, things like that. Observational skills and memory
may be natural, but the rest is learning.
Christopher: "For me, real suspense doesn't come from far-out shit happening to people, or obvious plot elements.
It comes from the writing".
There is a rule in writing
that you should take your time to tell a story and you do this expertly
well, always keeping your readers in suspense. Who or what are some of
Thank you for saying that. I try to get to know my characters before I
plunge them into too much of a plot gerbil wheel, otherwise I wonít care
what happens to them and neither will my readers. For me, real suspense
doesnít come from far-out shit happening to people, or obvious plot
elements. It comes from the writing. If the characters and their problems
are interesting, if the writing is compelling and the very sentences feel
freighted with everyday dread, unease, curiosity, stress, anxiety and so
on, then the author has me. I like a slow burn that is never boring.
I always feel like a wannabe when I list my ďinfluencesĒ. That feels
presumptuous and I have made a kind of vow with myself to not try and
label what I do or who I sound like on paper. Iím sure I have been
influenced by the writers I grew up on and admire, but my goal at this
stage of my career is to shed all of those influences and evolve my own
voice and style. I value clarity, momentum, nuance, wit, grace, subtlety,
emotion and some form of palpable atmosphere in the prose. I hope I can
bring some of that to my own work.
Some of your ideas are very
dark. Have you always been drawn to the darker things in
I donít feel as though I have been drawn to the darker things in all of
life, but itís true I enjoy a lot of darker fiction, films, and some dark
music. I think what I have found in darker works is an honesty, the
unflinching examination of the entire human spectrum. Stories that take a
hard look at mostly good people doing some bad things ó and the cost of
those choices. We are a beautiful species capable of creating and admiring
beauty, but we are also full of wickedness. Life can be tough, ugly,
messy, dangerous, and terrifying. Love, death, and loss are at the heart
of just about every show, movie, or book that really moves us deeply. In
fiction, the ugly secrets and shames and darker urges are part of the
human heart in conflict with itself, and without that you donít have a
story, you have a Hallmark card, a childish wish for eternal peace and
safety and for everyone to please just be nice. The best authors of
serious fiction, in any genre, help us examine our own frailties and
choices, our strengths and weaknesses. Good horror fiction is a way to see
ourselves clearly and, maybe ironically, without fear.
Your next offering The Orphan
hits UK stores in August. What can you tell us about the new
The Orphan began as a premise I had for my entry into the ďcreepy kidĒ
genre. But as with most of my novels, it quickly evolved into something
else. The central hook is still about the arrival of a mysterious
11-year-old boy who inserts himself into one American familyís lives, a
boy my protagonist (a father and husband, age 43) is convinced is the one
and same boy he bullied and wronged in some terrible fashion when he
himself was 11 or 12. So the mystery fuelling the book is, who is this
kid? How can he be the same boy from 30 years ago? What does he want? What
past sin does this family man have to pay for? Is he a ghost, a
reincarnated spirit in a new body, is this a hoax?
I also happen to collect some vintage goods and I am
very attached to certain things from my youth (bikes, records, shoes,
etc.). I became fascinated with the questions of why we hold onto these
things, why people collect anything, what emotions and memories are quite
literally contained in these relics from our past. So, along the way of
writing this book, I explored a lot of these themes having to do with the
past coming back to bite you in the ass. The Orphan is indeed a creepy kid
book, but itís also (hopefully) a lot more than that.
Why do you think UK audiences
have taken to your books in such a big way?
Thatís a good question. My answer is, who cares, Iím just happy someone
has! No, in all seriousness, I really donít know. Some of this has to do
with how the horror genre is perceived and promoted in various markets and
countries. Horror is a tough sell here in the US, unless your last name is
Hill or King or the book is just exceptional and captures some mega-trend
(vampires). But if you donít fit into those niches, itís a very tricky
thing to find an audience for.
The UK market, on the other hand, seems to allow horror
titles to take up a little more shelf space alongside ďmainstreamĒ
fiction. Maybe it is the great history the country has with ghost stories.
Maybe readers in the UK are simply more open-minded. Most of my novels
tend to straddle a fine line between traditional horror (paranormal /
supernatural) and something we might think of as a little more mainstream
suspense or the psychological thriller. In the UK, that seems to have
helped me find a good amount of readers. In the US, itís a marketing
The artwork for your book
jackets is always amazing Ė do you have any input in this?
Thank you for the compliment. I am very fortunate to have had a great team
behind me at Little, Brown. Theyíve done a terrific job coming up with
captivating covers for my books. They always welcome my input, but at the
end of the day I try to embrace the covers they believe in most strongly.
I am a foreigner, after all, and what sometimes looks a little off to me
might actually be a smash hit in a European market. So, they are the
experts at that. The new cover for The Orphan is, I think, one of the best
weíve put together. It looks to me like a vintage 80s horror-thriller,
borderline over the top and cheesy but in a retro-cool way. This is
perfect for the book I have written, because it deals with
retro-obsessions, the past, the 80s, and has some of those core elements
from the horror novels that were all the rage back then. Itís all been
packaged (and written) in a new way, of course, but I canít wait to see
how readers respond, because frankly I love it.
market of quality books has been diluted by the presence of what used to
be consigned to the slush pile".
What are your thoughts on the
current state of booksellers and libraries?
I hate to sound like everyone else who has weighed in on the subject, but
itís truly a frightening time in publishing and retailing books. Itís a
great time to be a self-publisher, but is this good for readers? The
market of quality books has been diluted by the presence of what used to
be consigned to the slush pile. At the same time, here in the US, we lost
an entire chain (Borders) of stores, so now if you are trying to play on
that brick retail field and the buyer for Barnes & Noble doesnít like your
book, you could be sunk by one retailerís decision with what to do, or not
do, with your novel.
On the positive side, Iíve seen some news stories
reporting that indie bookstores are thriving again and that e-books have
sort of plateaued or slowed their astonishing growth. Evidence suggests
people still want print books. And they still want quality writing within
a compelling story. How many times will readers get burned by downloading
a terrible novel for 99 cents before they want someone to play the
gatekeeper? As has been the case throughout history, authors still have to
elevate their craft and build a readership through word of mouth and
excellence or go the way of the dodo.
What have you been reading
The Agony and the Ecstasy, Irving Stoneís biographical novel of
Michelangelo. Deliverance by James Dickey. Wish You Were Here by Stewart OíNan.
These are a few of the novels I am reading or have recently read or
re-read that knocked me on my ass.
Do you like horror movies and
if so, what are some of your favourites?
I love a good horror movie, but after watching them for 30 years, I find
it increasingly difficult to find one that really gets me. I saw a
Filipino film called The Road recently that was pretty scary. I love the
South Korean film, A Tale of Two Sisters. That one was smart and beautiful
and incredibly scary. Asian cinema really tends to get the horror genre
and I love what comes from a different cultureís collective fears, which
are usually very similar to our fears but handled and expressed in an
entirely new way. The Japanese film The Pulse was very strange and sad and
lacked certain production values, but it also featured probably the best
ghost scene I have ever encountered. When I saw that film, one or two
particular scenes, my blood ran cold and I though, Jesus, yes, thatís
exactly what it would be like to see a ghost. Exactly.
Finally, do you have any
advice for aspiring writers?
Avoid self-publishing until you have found some serious validation and
been published elsewhere first. Have a little more patience and be
prepared to spend a decade or two writing and learning the craft before
asking people who work hard for their money to pay you for the privilege
of reading your book. Sure, you might be able to pound out 80,000 words,
throw that online and make a few hundred bucks and tell your friends and
family you are a Writer, but is there really meaning in that? Arenít there
better ways to make some money and feel important? Would you run around
calling yourself a doctor if you had never completed med school or been
board certified and all the rest?
Stories matter. Writing well is a sacred calling, not a
hobby. Iíve been doing this for 20 years and I still feel like I am only
beginning. But the study of writing and the pleasure of serious reading
has changed my life in uncountable ways. Being published after 16 years of
aspiring and learning and growing, getting one YES after receiving 450
rejection letters ó that was the battle and victory of my lifetime. I feel
sorry for people donít understand that, or want to cheat themselves out of
a life-changing quest.
If it doesnít push you to accomplish something
remarkable, whatís the point?
"Thank you ever so much for taking part in this interview
And we wish you the very best of luck in the
'The Orphan' will be released here in the UK on 15 August.