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Arcade Block


An Interview with Christopher Ransom


Christopher: "I can't sleep without reading for an hour or two every night".

Christopher Ransom
Interview conducted by Phil Davies Brown
19 June 2013

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 of reading?
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 authors?
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 natural talent?
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 your influences?
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 life?
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 book?
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 departmentís nightmare.

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.


Christopher: "The 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 lately?
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 Christopher.
And we wish you the very best of luck in the future."

'The Orphan' will be released here in the UK on 15 August.



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