The Spooky Six with Willow Croft and Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Joining me for tea today is veteran journalist and speculative fiction writer, Ray Van Horn, Jr.!

Ray Van Horn, Jr. is a veteran journalist and photographer and author of the short story collection, Coming of Rage, released in 2022 through Raw Earth Ink. He spent 16 years covering music and film for outlets such as Blabbermouth, AMP, Pit, Dee Snider’s House of Hair, Music Dish, DVD Review, Horror, Fangoria Musick, Metal Maniacs, Noisecreep, Unrestrained, Impose, Caustic Truths, Pitriff, and many others. In this time, Ray interviewed more than 300 musician, actor, and horror director personalities and he wrote more than a thousand media reviews. Ray contributed essays to Neil Daniels’ music biographies on Iron Maiden and ZZ Top. Ray’s former blog, “The Metal Minute” won Metal Hammer magazine’s “Best Personal Blog” award.

Ray also wrote NHL game analysis for The Hockey Nut and other sports articles for Kid Shtick. He was a beat reporter and photographer for The Emmitsburg Dispatch and The Northern News. He was the host of the forum “Comic Books” at ReadWave and the 1999 winner of Quantum Muse’s fiction contest. Ray wrote serialized superhero fiction for Cyber Age Adventures from 1999 to 2001. His fiction and essays have appeared at Akashic Books, Atomic Flyswatter, The Rubbertop Review, Story Bytes, and New Noise, plus the horror anthologies Axes of Evil and Axes of Evil II.

Ray spent three years on the open mike poetry scene in his native state of Maryland and was featured guest numerous times. When he’s not writing, Ray is an avid fitness junkie, runner and traveler. He is often found on a hiking trail with his fiancée and fellow author, TJ Perkins. To date, Ray’s favorite journalism assignment was getting to visit and write about the campsite and its adjacent film locations in Blairstown, NJ for the original Friday the 13th. This was followed by an interview with Mama Voorhees herself, the late Betsy Palmer, a career highlight.

Ray is author of the blog, “Roads Lesser Traveled” and he has completed a new novel, Revolution Calling. He is currently at work on a short story sequel to Coming of Rage, titled Turning the Page.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. can be contacted via the following:

Email: rvanhornjr7 [at] gmail [dot] com
Twitter: @rvanhornjr


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Willow Croft: “Hey, look at that derelict Victorian mansion . . . let’s go explore it!” What’s the most unusual setting you’ve read about in a horror/thriller book, or included in your own creative works?

Ray Van Horn, Jr.: I’m a major Stephen King fan and he is the reason I became a writer, much less one interested in writing about horror. Though The Shining is my favorite of his works, I would consider Cujo one of the most unusual yet genuinely effective settings in horror ever conceived. It’s so realistic what King came up with, pitting an unfaithful wife with her young son inside a broken down Ford Pinto at a farm with its owner on vacation against a rabid dog.

You know King was playing the karma card inside of his plot, and that resonated with me, even at age 12 when I read it. You see, I was obsessed with not being old enough to see The Shining and Blade Runner in the movies back in the early 1980s since I was fully aware of what I’d been reading in sci-fi, comic books and horror. Cujo terrified me far more than Pet Sematary, which many Stephen King fans cite as his scariest work. At face value, Cujo seems improbable, but I find it one of King’s most viable works; Twilight Zone-ish to a point, but oh, so harrowing in concept.

Imagine being caught inside of a vehicle with a starter, battery, or other car engine problem with no human help at-hand, held in check by an infected St. Bernard. The book and movie came long before the concept of a cell phone, which makes it legitimately mortifying. Younger generations just cannot comprehend what like was like without a portable phone in your pocket when you get in trouble. In my day, you broke down, you walked miles to the nearest store or gas station to use a pay phone, or worse, having to rely on the goodwill of strangers in their homes. Being stuck in a succession of sweltering summer days, nobody home to help, subsiding on your own urine, a working rotary phone well outside reach inside of a stranger’s home, and that poor, lovable dog turned evil through no fault of its own . . .

I myself had a St. Bernard as a child, and he actually chased a would-be robber out of the basement of our house when I was a kid. He also snagged a friend of mine by the shirt and pulled him out of the way of oncoming traffic. “Bernie,” my childhood dog, was considered our neighborhood hero. I felt a very real sense of safety with Bernie, so much I threatened to run away with him when my parents made the difficult decision to divorce.

Cujo effed up all sense of reality for me and it broke the heart of my father (who loved St. Bernards more than most humans), who could only cringe and cry at the thought of a murderous St. Bernard. True story. Also true, I owned a 1978 Pinto hatchback of my own and could thoroughly relate to Donna and Tad Trenton’s suffering in the back end of that roach-shaped motor vehicle. Finally, I have my late father’s ceramic St. Bernard inside my office and you probably guess his name.

As far as my own works go, my story, “Widow,” published in the Axes of Evil II anthology, probably sticks in my mind as the most unusual story I’ve written to-date, in which I take my experiences as a music journalist and thrust a heavy metal writer into a hotel room interview with a band vocalist whose nihilistic tattoos represent the many fatal crimes she’s committed. Ch-ch-check it ouuuuuut . . .

Willow Croft: “It was a dark and stormy night . . .” What are your go-to comfort foods, drinks, or other ways to wind down after a long day (or night) of writing?

Ray Van Horn, Jr.: A dark and stormy night of writing includes spirits of some kind, usually beer and/or whiskey. I am very fond of bourbon and Irish whiskey during an intense creative process or dark beers like Guinness Foreign Stout, Sweet Baby Jesus, Spaten Optimator, Yards Washington Porter and the like. I consume while writing without getting full-on messed up, or that which ruins the integrity of the output.

I know Poe was fond of absinthe while writing, and I have only had absinthe while going to dinner with my fiancée a few times. Absinthe is fantastic, if expensive, and it used to be illegal for sale. I am curious about writing while drinking absinthe, just to see what Poe was so giddy about and if the writing is proven by its effects. I will advise all writers that drinking while creating does open certain inhibitions you may be prohibiting yourself from while fully lucid but do make sure to edit your final draft at least three times to make sure you haven’t made a complete fool of yourself from inebriation. I have purged some absolute garbage when allowing myself to imbibe too much while writing. I know of some functioning drunk authors who have had unimaginable success, but the norm dictates otherwise.

The truly best writing sessions is when you limit yourself to 2-3 drinks maximum while writing, playing music which opens creativity and if you have a pet, letting your fur baby sit in with you on your session. Your animals wish to assist and comfort you, so let them. Our kittens are climbing all over me as we conduct this interview, lol…

Post-writing, I never drink or eat afterwards. I tend to consult my fiancée after a deep writing session as she does with me. Marry a fellow writer if you’re serious about the craft, point! Let your significant other (if you have one) rather than booze be your gauge to good writing. I can’t stress enough to your readership; find the one who gets you and vice-versa.

Willow Croft: “Did you hear that noise?” Everyone, even us horror writers have our night terrors. What is it that frightens you the most?

Ray Van Horn, Jr.: Honestly, my biggest fear is failure. As a father, as a future husband, as an employee, as a writer. I have faced much in the way of adversity including multiple layoffs, rejection, divorce, hatred cast toward me, success and spite within the horror and music industries and a rambunctious, know-it-all teenager. You learn to steel yourself against the intangible and even the direct tangible and focus on what brings you security and self-worth.

The uncontrollable is what I fear most, like most humans. If we cannot grasp that which prevents insecurity, we are frightened to death. I have the best family, the best friends, the best future wife, adopted son and stepchildren to nurture my nucleus. Yet, I will always fear what I cannot control. Layoffs in my main industry of mortgaging and the demise of print media forcibly forfeiting a lot of freelance work has taught me to be self-reliant. Build and more importantly, foster your network.

After that diatribe, I used to have a fear of drowning. I love the ocean, yet I respect its power as a natural force. I give love and offerings to the goddess Yemaya and the lord of the ocean, Poseidon, as a lover of the beach, yet I was once terrorized by a potential of drowning. I love being in an ocean and letting the high tide pick my body up in a faint rip curl which sets me back down upon the coastal floor, yet there’s a certain line I won’t cross in the waters, knowing the might of the goddess and god and the pull of the current, which can suck you right on out to your aquatic death. Back to Stephen King, the segment “One to Tide You Over” from the original Creepshow (the movie and the illustrated novel) gives me the willies in the fact some sadistic bastard can hold you at gunpoint to bury yourself in the sand up to your head and leave your fate to the incoming tides. That dynamic messed with my head, big-time, and it’s one reason I have a framed poster of the 1982 Creepshow hanging in my office overtop my writing space. It’s on purpose, I assure you.

Willow Croft: “I’m sure it was nothing. But I’ll just go outside and check, anyway. Alone. With no weapons.” Have you ever gotten writers’ block? If so, how do you combat it? Do you have certain rituals or practices that help get you into the writing (or creating) mindset?

Ray Van Horn, Jr.: I have to say once I’m dialed in to a writing session, I have no problem pounding out 3-5 pages of material, if not more, depending on whether I’m interrupted or not. It’s getting to my home office desk these days, which is more the problem than the output. I have a new dynamic to my life, even since publishing my short story collection, Coming of Rage, a few months ago. I took the time I needed to finish that and another manuscript without a ton of interference, yet that was short-lived. I have written numerous stories since that publication, yet I am more concerned with breaking away for the necessary time to write, since time is the most valuable commodity to a professional author. I wake before the break of dawn and most of the time, I am at the gym stupid early to get my workout in before the household rises, but in the critical time needed to complete these two manuscripts, I rose early, fired up the coffeepot and took the quietude of my sleeping household to write instead. It’s a tough balance; I am a gym rat and do my best to grind the gym and stay fit at age 52. You do what you have to.

To answer this question, though, when I hit writers’ block, I read comic books or novels, to reinvigorate. I READ, even in the digital platform. To read others’ work is to stoke your own fire. When you hit writers’ block, rather than wallow in misery, find that which inspires you and let it prompt the grinding wheel. I can’t say enough how often reading my week’s load of comic books or watching a couple of horror movies has piqued me to elevate myself. Never be envious of others’ success; go get yours!

Willow Croft: “Don’t go into the basement!” Are you an impulsive pantser or a plotter with outlines galore? What other writing/industry advice would you share with your fellow writers & creators?

Ray Van Horn, Jr.: I would say I go with the flow and let an idea fester than carry me onward. Granted, I always approach a new story idea first with a fleshed-out concept in my head and on paper. I tend to jot down ideas and plot anecdotes on Post-It notes and integrate those ideas into the manuscript while I am concocting the first draft. Please know that every a-ha! idea you have may not make the final cut, but always scribble down or record on your cell phone whatever you feel may be relevant, even if you reject it all in the last draft. All part of the process. NEVER give up on yourself but have the good sense to evolve and learn from others. Realize and accept your first draft is not your final. Unless your name appears on the New York Times best-seller list, you always have work to do before the final is ready for a literary agent to review.

Learn your market and where your story fits best. Be ready to pitch your story as if you were caught in an elevator next to a literary agent who can help you but only has 6 floors to hear your spiel. Also, be a scholar, not a mere connoisseur of horror. Know the casts, dig into the directors and film crews. Seek the authors and read all you can of their works. I once met horror author supreme Joe R. Lansdale (i.e. Bubba Ho-Tep) who took the time to listen to me and autograph my comics and novels I bought of his. A super-encouraging professional who gave me the time of day because I knew his work and bought what I didn’t have to support him. It will make you sound like a literati instead of a wannabe.

Willow Croft: “Ring ring!” It’s the middle of the night and the phone mysteriously rings. Which notable writer, or person from history, would be on the other end of the line?

Ray Van Horn, Jr.: I’m thinking Vincent Price is on the other end, thanking me and my fiancée for our reverence, idolatry and respect. October is usually my month of devotion to all that is horror, but a barely invested teenager and a woman who likes only certain dynamics to the genre makes it double hard for me to offer alms of devotion to the genre during the autumnal. I know Price is aware of me and my devotion to his masterful contributions to the horror genre, but I feel this year, he calls to thank me for making my woman watch Fall of the House of Usher, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Haunted Palace, Lair of the White Worm, and Theater of Blood in his name. Vincent also thanks me for being a fan of the Dr. Phibes films and he tells me he is proud to be a part of Michael Jackson’s legacy yet wishes he’d done the same for Iron Maiden. \m/

(Disclaimer: Please note that the interview responses are the opinion(s) of the interviewee and may not be directly representative of The Horror Tree, its staff, and/or its guest contributors.)

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