Saturday, 19 December 2015

Inspiring Writers: Guest Blogging with Ray Garton

My first and most recent experiences with Ray Garton's writing could not be more different. As a child (and as a young adult - shh!), I read all of the Sabrina the Teenage Witch novellas, some of which were penned by Ray Garton - might I introduce you to All that Glitters? And then there's Scissors, a more adult tale of traumatising medical procedures and sharp, threatening nightmares. Although the two approaches are very different - one full of magic and teenagers, and the other comprising very vivid descriptions of blood droplets from male genitalia - Garton's writing is continuously thrilling, and so I'm delighted to introduce him for the first post in my new Inspiring Writers series. I give you author and my guest blogger Ray Garton!


Most of what passes for “inspirational” these days does not inspire me. It usually makes me throw up in my mouth a little. For example, Deepak Chopra has gotten very rich by dispensing what many embrace as inspirational wisdom, but I think it would be perfectly at home in a fortune cookie or a Hallmark card. Motivational speaker and real-life fairy-tale giant Tony Robbins has had a long and successful career inspiring people by having them walk over hot coals with bare feet. Sorry, I just don’t get it. But, hey, it’s worked for Mr. Robbins, who’s worth $480 million, according to Forbes, and who doesn’t give a happy damn what I think of his methods.

I’m not inspired by prepackaged, mass-produced inspiration, but there are things I do find inspiring. It’s difficult to write about them because more often than not they are surprises that pop up unexpectedly. What I find inspiring may best be defined by paraphrasing the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s description of pornography: I can’t describe it to you but I know it when I see it. In spite of that, I will do my best to make a list, in no particular order, of things that I find inspiring, and another of books that have inspired me.

Things That Inspire Me

1.) I recently met someone who has a ten-year-old son who likes old Universal horror movies from the ‘30s and ‘40s. Most kids that age won’t sit still for something in black and white with such inferior special effects and sound quality. I grew up mesmerized by those silver-screen images and they helped shape me as a writer, but that was more than forty years ago when those movies were only a few decades old. Now they’re ancient. I found it inspiring to know that there are still kids who see the magic in those movies and the stories they tell.

2.) Good writing is always inspiring. It doesn’t matter what it is — a work of fiction, a news article, a letter — if it’s well written, if it clearly and concisely conveys an idea or describes something or tells a story in such a way as to create a mental picture or evoke an emotional response, I find it inspiring. It’s no accident that an important part of writing is spelling, because when it’s done well, writing can cast a spell over the reader. Reading good writing always makes me want to be a better writer.

3.) A story or book is always the result of a creative spark. It’s difficult to describe this spark, but it’s something that always inspires me to start writing.

The creative spark that resulted in my novel Live Girls happened during a visit to a peepshow in New York’s Times Square in the mid-1980s. I was in my early 20s, the product of a carefully sheltered upbringing in a fundamentalist Christian family, and I found Times Square, as it existed at the time (not anymore), to be fascinating, frightening, and overwhelming. I went into a peepshow, entered a booth, dropped a token in the box, and a panel rose to reveal an emaciated, naked dancer on the other side. The token box had a small sign above it that read “Insert tip through slot.” The slot it referred to was just beneath the window and looked like a mail slot, but it opened up in the center into a crude circle. I looked closer and saw that the rounded edges had ridges on them, almost as if the slot had been chewed open in the center. And the instant that sentence unrolled in my mind — It looks like somebody chewed this thing open — that spark occurred and Live Girls dropped into my head in one piece. I hurried out of the peepshow and rushed to the nearest typewriter to begin writing.

It happened again recently. A friend sent me a documentary about the late Bob Wilkins, who used to host Creature Features on a San Francisco station when I was a boy. Every Saturday night, Bob showed two horror or science fiction movies and I never missed it. Thanks to Bob, who died in 2012 of Alzheimer’s disease, I cut my horror teeth on alien monsters, vampires, psycho killers, werewolves, ghosts, and staggering zombies and mummies in old, low-budget, drive-in movies, some of which were so bad that the host himself told us to watch something else or go to bed. As I watched the documentary, which included interviews and movie clips I hadn’t seen in more than forty years, I was filled with a pleasant sense of nostalgia — until the spark occurred with an almost audible pop! inside my head. I started making some notes immediately. The result was the novel I’m currently writing, Monster Show.

That spark, whatever it is and wherever it comes from, is unquestionably the biggest inspiration behind my writing.

4.) Rain. I love rainy weather. I’m one of those people Gordon Lightfoot sang about.

5.) My wife, Dawn. For more than eight years, I was laid up with a bad hip that required three operations, two of which were replacements on the same hip. During those years, I was in constant pain even though I was full of painkillers, I was grouchy, in a narcotic fog, and my medical bills were so devastating, we still haven’t recovered financially. She didn’t breathe a word of complaint during all those years. The pain was so intense that the idea of taking all of my painkillers and going to bed was appealing at times, but I couldn’t do that to her. She kept me going then and she keeps me going now.

Books That Have Inspired Me

1.) Carrie by Stephen King — This was the first horror novel I ever read that made me feel something other than fear or tension. It actually made me cry. I lived in an oppressive religious environment at the time, which made the book even more vivid to me. It made me realize that horror should be about more than just horror.

2.) Catch-22 by Joseph Heller — Laughter is always inspiring, and no book makes me laugh as much or as consistently as this one.

3.) The Cellar by Richard Laymon — Reading this book made me understand that there really are no boundaries to horror, no written-in-stone rules, and it broadened my creative approach to writing in the genre.

4.) Prometheus Rising by Robert Anton Wilson — This book inspired me to start changing the way I think and see the world.

5.) Medication Madness: A Psychiatrist Exposes the Dangers of Mood-Altering Medications by Dr. Peter Breggin, M.D. — This is the scariest book I’ve eve read because it’s nonfiction, and it, in part, inspired me to write my novel Meds.

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