Ray Garton is an American author whose horror stories have been scaring the pants off readers since 1984. His stories are genuinely frightening (I remember having to read The Loveliest Dead all the way through because if I didn’t, the ghosts would get me) and he’s one of the few who can take a worn out convention (eg. vampires) and pump fresh blood into it (laugh, darn it, I thought long and hard about that pun). If you’ve seen my page in Fully Booked’s ongoing Moleskine Asia Passions exhibit, I talk about his vampire novel Live Girls in my book journal. In interviews, he credits his overactive imagination to his strict Seventh Day Adventist upbringing and aside from writing novels, likes to watch movies and make fun of, well, just about everything.
His latest novel is Scissors, of which he says, ” I wanted to write something about how our memories affect our emotions and vice versa. Scissors kind of grew up out of that. When I started writing, I had very little idea of exactly what I was writing. I actually enjoy writing like that, without much of a plan in mind. It’s fun to discover a book in the same way the reader will.”
I am very happy and honored to have him here. This interview was actually longer, but I’m writing about him for another publication and will be using the first part there. I’ll let you know when it comes out.
And without further ado, Ray Garton.
Do you believe in ghosts?
I have never had any kind of supernatural experience. I have a very open mind and I’m willing to adapt to new information, but that information has to be good. It has to be reliable, solid and it must include proof. While the paranormal has always fascinated me, I’ve seen nothing that even vaguely resembles proof. I’ve seen a lot of wishful thinking, and even more outright fraud, but not proof. Since I wrote In A Dark Place: The Story of A True Haunting, which was a complete and total fraud, I’ve looked at this subject with an even more critical eye. After my experience with Ed and Lorraine Warren and the family at the center of that book, I’ve learned a lot about how fraud works in the paranormal and it’s really pretty angering. I don’t like seeing people exploited — especially children — and I don’t like seeing people lied to and fooled with an aim toward selling more copies of a book or a movie or increasing the number of one’s lucrative public speaking engagements.
Like I said, my mind remains open. I’m not saying the supernatural does not exist. I’m saying I haven’t been convinced. I’ve had experiences that initially have had no apparent explanation — I think we all have. But I tend to go over all the more mundane explanations long before I even consider supernatural causes. So far, it hasn’t been necessary to consider anything supernatural because there’s usually a pretty mundane explanation for everything if you stop to look for it and don’t leap to otherworldly conclusions.
What’s the scariest place you’ve been to?
It was scary because the god everyone had come to worship, the all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful creator of the universe — would invariably need some money because he’s always short a few bucks, and a plate would be passed around so all of the non-all-powerful people there, so many of whom were having trouble supporting their families and getting by financially, would be expected to contribute and would be brow-beaten if they didn’t. It was scary because of the reason two groups of people were attending.
One group was filled with guilt and fear and self-loathing because their religious belief had convinced them — many of them totally innocent small children in the process of having their personalities and self-images shaped — that they were, by nature, sinful and evil and worthless in the eyes of god and always would be unless they accepted the particular belief system being offered by that church, and even then there was avery good chance they would receive a fiery, agonizing and tormenting cosmic punishment from a loving, merciful god who deeply cares about them.
The other group was there because being there made them feel morally superior to everyone else — even though their behavior revealed them to be anything but — and allowed them to stand in judgment of others with the smug certainty that they had the all-powerful creator of the universe backing them up. It was also scary because the stated reason for everyone being there was nothing more than a ruse to cover up the real reason they were there, which usually was to rate and cast judgment on everyone else’s clothes.
Do you plan to go back?
What’s the scariest ghost story you’ve heard?
I’ve tried to remember some ghost stories I’ve heard, but I can’t. As a boy, I used to love getting together with friends — especially at night and in the dark — and telling ghost stories to each other until we scared the piss out of ourselves. But I can’t remember any of those stories. However, some of my favorite movies and books about ghosts spring immediately to mind.
Richard Matheson’s haunted house novel Hell House is a favorite of mine, and I also love the British movie adaptation, The Legend of Hell House. Poltergeist still gives me chills. Guillermo Del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone is a beautiful and frightening ghost story. Shirley Jackson’s Hill House has not lost any of its impact over the years, and neither has Robert Wise’s movie adaptation, The Haunting. One of my favorite novels of any kind is Peter Straub’s Ghost Story, which isn’t really a ghost story but uses ghost stories in the telling. It’s a powerful novel that, in my opinion, remains one of the greatest ever written in the genre. I also enjoyed his novel Julia. One of my favorite ghost story movies is Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners, which successfully blends humor and horror in just the right amounts. But my all-time favorite ghost story, bar none, is Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. That’s one of the most enduring stories ever written and will be readapted and retold and reinvented long after you and I are dust.
How has your supernatural experiences influenced your work?
It would be impossible to tell precisely how much my work has been influenced by stories of the paranormal, but I can say that influence has been big. When I wrote The Loveliest Dead, which so far is my only ghost story novel (but probably not my last), I think I was both consciously and subconsciously drawing on every ghost story I’d ever heard, read or seen. It would be impossible to write a ghost story without that happening. It’s a rich and beloved genre. It has a wealth of tradition but leaves room for innovation and surprises. It’s beloved because we all would like to believe that there’s something more for us beyond death. So far, though, we have nothing but theories. But imagining what a next level of existence might by can produce anything from whimsy to sadness to terror.
Any advice for someone who comes face to face with the supernatural?
Get solid proof and call me immediately.