Regularly, we feature a different author, publisher or bookseller who has earned the RLK! seal of approval! We will highlight and review their books/company as well as providing author biographies (where available) and publishing information. We hope you enjoy RLK! Spotlight On....

RLK! EXCLUSIVE Author interview:

RLK! is delighted to be able to bring you this exclusive interview with Rain Graves, one of the best up-and-coming horror writers around. We'd like to thank Rain for her time and effort with this interview. Everybody...please make Rain feel at home.

Photo credit: Victor Garrison
Richard Laymon Kills!: G'day Rain, thanks for your time.

To get started, tell the readers of RLK! a little about yourself.

Rain Graves: When people ask me to tell them about myself, I never really know what to say. There is the usual: I was born on October 28th, 1974 in Washington D.C. and moved out to California in 1995 to be a rock star. I became a writer instead. I'm a quadruple Scorpio, which usually sends people running, for good reason. I am addicted to horror. The more bizarre the better.

Aside from writing, I can dance a mean Argentine Tango and I used to play guitar and sing when I lived on the East Coast. My dance partner and I recently won the title "Best American Couple" in a competition last march, and we're going to Argentina all expenses paid, care of the Argentinean government. I don't really play guitar much these days, but I do still sing from time to time.

RLK!: How long have you been writing?

RG: Probably as long as I can remember. It was how I got out of multiple-choice questions in school--taking the essay option. Later, it was my saving grace on exams. It wasn't ever anything I took seriously back then. There was a professor I had in college who took me aside once and told me I should change my major from Broadcasting to English and focus on writing novels. I told him he was crazy--I was going to play guitar in a rock band. The broadcasting thing was just my safety net. I guess he wasn't so crazy after all.

RLK!: Most of your stories are within the horror/dark fantasy genre, why?

RG: I'm not quite sure. I sit down sometimes, and try to write things in a more literary way... Yet, when I get past the first paragraph and begin developing my characters--a brain sucking, flesh-chewing zombie pops up. Or a serial killer. Or a good kid, gone bad. (I loved the movie, The Bad Seed).

I think it's a fascination I've always had with things of a dark nature; I like them. I think about them. I have a morbid sense of humor. I inspect the corpses of my relatives very closely, for the stitching in the lips--where the makeup has gone untouched, trying to understand why they don't look like themselves when they are dead, aside from the soul leaving. It's still the same flesh, right? Then why does it look so different, now that it's empty?

Much to my mother's bewilderment, it's probably her fault. When I was 12 I was allowed to stay up while my parents were out and watch The Exorcist movie for the first time. I slept with a Bible for a month after that, and I wasn't a religious child.

When I was 13 or 14, she gave me my first horror novel outside of the V.C. Andrews FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC series, to read. It was called THE BLACK DAHLIA, by James Ellroy. It terrified me. Mostly because I knew it was based on a true story (like the Exorcist) and a murder that had never been solved. I don't think she would have given me the book if she'd known what was in it. These things fueled my interest and my imagination wildly.

RLK!: Tell us about some of your non-fiction writing.

RG: The nonfiction stuff mostly falls under the category of interviews with other authors for other publications. I also write a lot of horror-oriented poetry. Some articles, too. Occasionally an editor will email me and ask for something out of the ordinary to report on, and I usually enjoy projects like that.

I had the opportunity to write a "true" story for a project Lone Wolf Publications just put out, which included some other wonderful writers like Gary Brandner and Ramsey Campbell. It's called PERSONAL DEMONS. I also love digging up conspiracy theories--like the JFK murder. King Tut's demise. True crime with a mystery has wonderful possibilities and it fascinates me to no end.

I was once asked to look over a manuscript given to me by a musician friend of a photographer friend--who'd been corresponding with a serial killer on death row in Florida. He'd been a fan of hers, and harmless enough behind bars on death row. This inmate has since been executed, but right before hand, he sent this woman his journal. The journal turned out to be an extremely detailed account of every killing he'd ever made... I was actually too chicken to read the manuscript (remembering how I reacted to the Exorcist). Most people would have jumped at the chance. At least, the people I know. Last I heard, Bob Rand--the fellow who wrote on the Menendez Brothers--was going to have a go at editing it for publication. I don't know what ever happened to it.

RLK!: Which is easier to write, horror or nonfiction?

RG: Poetry is probably the easiest of everything for me. I can do that on the fly, anywhere, anytime. Then would be the horror. Nonfiction is the hardest because it's true. You are taking something out of your own life and putting it on paper for the world to read. With horror--you are making stuff up. You know it's not real; and there is comfort in that. Nonfiction is uncomfortable. Except of course, when writing about events or other people in a third-party way. An article on Sarah Winchester is easy enough, and intriguing to write.

RLK!: Who are some of your influences?

RG: I have a lot of influences. Obviously James Ellroy was a big early one. Charles Bukowsky, Lord Alfred Tennyson--they were big ones for my poetry. Clark Ashton Smith and Ray Bradbury were big ones for my fiction. So was Hans Christian Anderson--those horrid little fairy tales often gave me nightmares as a child. John Saul, Richard Laymon, Stephen King (early stuff), Glen Cook, Neil Gaiman. I spent my later teen-age years buying up Sandman comics like I bought up Spiderman when I was ten. Anything and everyone that made me think--those were my influences.

And then there was Vincent Price. I *loved* Vincent Price. I don't really know why. I only remember being at my grandmother's house as a child, watching Dr. Phibes every summer--which usually came back to back with the movie Frogs, or the Birds. The only reason I ever liked Michael Jackson was because of the song Thriller, and Vincent Price's diatribe. Well, ok--that and the break dancing. Later, his bizarre fascination with doing bad things to his face. His friendship with Liz Taylor... That whole weird Disney thing. I'd love to write his biography.

RLK!: If you could co-write with any author, living or dead, who would it be?

RG: I think I would have liked to write something with Dick Laymon and Gary Brandner I respect their work immensely. Ray Bradbury and Harlan Ellison (just to see if I could actually write that well). Poppy Z. Brite or Clive Barker... I'm not even sure that I'd be up for the challenge--I think it would be more or less that I would hope to some day write something that those persons would have liked, or enjoyed as much as I've enjoyed things they've written.

RLK!: Are you a full-time writer, or do you have other jobs outside the "writing gig?"

RG: I have a day job in computers that's flexible enough for travel and writing related holidays. It pays the rent, and my horror-habit. I also make a little money on the side from the tango dancing--I perform around the Bay Area about once a month. It would be nice to write full-time. The reality of it today is harsher than the 'dream' might allow. Unless you are Dean Koontz or Stephen King, it's impossible to carve out a living writing horror in today's economy.

RLK!: Have you had any luck breaking into the mainstream NY publishing scene?

RG: I haven't really ever tried. I'm terribly bad about sending work out once it's completed. I'm not even sure why. If it wasn't for David N. Wilson, I don't think I would have ever sent out my very first manuscript in 1997... There is a book I'm working on now that will be my first attempt at mainstream, called THE SECRET LIFE. I really don't even know where to begin with it (selling it to New York, that is), so I think I'll just finish it one day and go from there. It's all up in my head, just a matter of getting it out now. Even though it's mainstream, elements of horror keep cropping up with it.

Rain ready to Tango!
RLK!: What are your feelings about the small press establishment?

RG: I love the small press. There are so many gems in it. So many amazing writers like Charlee Jacob, Jack Ketchum, John Pelan, John Shirley and so on. These are the kinds of authors that influence me today--mostly because you evolve as a reader as much as a writer. The more you delve into new and curious things, the more you learn. I've learned a lot about beauty, craft, and terror while reading these writers. I could have never read them without publishers like Gauntlet Press and Necro Publications. They publish quality authors, and quality books.

I would never have been given the opportunities I've had as a writer without the small press either. I owe my career to the industry, and I support it on all levels: As a writer, a reader, and a fan.

I do wish there was a better way to promote and distribute small press authors. For instance--I learned of Tom Piccirilli's work through his novel SHARDS. Since then, he's gone mass-market with HEXES and the like. How many people can go and find a copy of SHARDS these days? It's not easy. Charlee Jacob is another--I first read her work in the way of a short story in the now defunct magazine Bloodsongs. I became an instant fan... but it was so difficult to find her work outside of going to conventions and buying a book there.

Thank the Gods for Mom and Pop, independent bookstores. They are the only places likely to carry such titles. People should support them first, before buying a book in Borders or Barnes and Noble. Places like Dark Delicacies in Burbank (a horror writer haunt on any given day) keep the small press industry within a reader's reach.

RLK!: How do you view your place within the horror/writing community as a young female writer? Are there advantages...disadvantages?

RG: It's a little weird sometimes. Horror is written predominantly by males. Horror is *read* however, by a 40-50% female audience. I can't say being a woman has helped or hindered me in any way... Though I was greatly intimidated attending my first convention as a writer. I found I was surrounded by men--and I wondered how they would react to my work. Would they think it was weak, because a woman wrote it? It was a silly notion, actually. Everyone I've ever met bases writing on its merit, not the gender of its author.

RLK!: You were invited into BAD NEWS by Richard Laymon. What are your thoughts and memories about Dick?

RG: I remember Dick as an amazingly genuine, kind, funny guy. He was always smiling or laughing--unless he was flinching at something gross. Dick was the kind of person you always hoped existed--the kind that helped people he believed in, unconditionally, for no profit or gain of his own. He offered sound advice, too. He was also a great author--the kind that doesn't concern themselves with how to *be* an author. He concerned himself with how to tell a story, and he always told a damn good one.

He was so unassuming, too. Always eager to have conversations with anyone and everyone. I know a lot of people who had their first encounters with Dick when they had no idea he was the man in the conversation next to them. They'd finish talking, and after Dick wandered off elsewhere, they'd say something like, "That guy was really cool. What was his name? I didn't catch it..." and someone would say, "That was Richard Laymon." And a sudden look of awe and shock would cross their face, growing in to a steady beaming smile.

The first time I met Dick was at World Horror Con in Phoenix, Arizona--I think it was 1998. I had only ever attended one convention before. I had published very little at the time, and I saw so many writers whose work I admired, and this intimidated me. I felt like a little guppie in a great big sea of--well--great big smiling scary whales with beers in hand (harmless enough, but scary all the same). I was introduced to a lot of different people, but didn't know the first thing about how to get them to seek out or read my work.

In the program there was a listing for the "Annual Gross Out Contest," with no note on the judges, and a simple explanation of showing up, signing up, and stepping up to read. The requirements were reading a 5-minute piece of your most visceral work. I didn't know what to expect other than that.

When I showed up, I saw the judges were Jack Ketchum, Dick Laymon, John Pelan, and Ed Lee. I instantly wished I hadn't signed up, but I figured if I my story sucked that badly one way or the other, they might at least remember my name as having given it a shot. I was so nervous. It was also my first public reading. There must have been 50 people in the audience, at most. When I began, I kept my head down and didn't look up. Then, I heard it: that noise a person makes when his skin's crawling--a gulpy flinchy thing. I heard it again, and I began to feel more confident that I was doing well--the noises were coming (along with heckles) from the judges. I have since learned that if you are being heckled by the judges (or they are making that noise), you are doing something right.

When I was done, there was applause and I was grateful. I won second place that night--some "cricket-lick-it" lollypops and packages of Larvets (bar-b-que and cheddar cheese flavored meal worms, which I'm told Ed Lee picked out all by himself). Little did I know that I'd also won the respect of Dick Laymon--who came up to me later and told me he thought it was the "most poetic piece of viscera" he'd heard in a long time. He didn't know it then, but that simple shake of my hand and words of praise encouraged me to take my writing more seriously than ever--and I went home with a new friend, and new desire to not only write, but write *well*.

Rain at Dark Delicacies
RLK!: What are your fond memories of the BAD NEWS experience?

RG: Probably the shock of having been invited to write for it. Dick tracked me down through an ex-boyfriend's best friend--a year after I'd done that first reading at World Horror. All I saw was an email address in my inbox I didn't recognize, with the subject line "Bad News". I opened it up only to find amazingly good news. Someone I regarded is a better writer than Stephen King, had taken an interest to invite me to write for him.

In the same moment of glee, I was terrified of writing a bad story. I put on some Nina Simone (the story was originally titled Lilac Wine, and contained lyrics from it--but her publishing company wanted too much for the licensing of use) and wrote "Lila Came A Walkin'" in a night or two. Sent it off to Dick, and within a week he'd accepted it. I think I did a snoopy dance around my living room when I got his letter.

RLK!: Briefly describe how you write a story - its genesis, etc. What do you feel are the crucial elements that are essential to any story - is mood more important than character or...?

RG: It usually begins as an idea. The light hitting something a certain way...A weird thought I get, from a weird feeling as I'm walking by a place that gives me the heebie-jeebies. I roll it over in my head a few times. The "what ifs" come into play, and my imagination runs with them. What if that spooky homeless guy that just grabbed my arm and mumbled, "I knew your mother when she was Kali..." really *did* know some little boy's mother, and what if she really *was* the incarnation of the goddess of birth and destruction.

What if the church the homeless man lived under had a secret sept somewhere in the basement--walled with old turn of the century brick and the bones of priests had been ground up in the mortar. What if they whispered the name "kali" as you walked by--what IF... At that point you have to start writing it down, lest it get away from you.

I think the crucial elements of a story are the characters and their ability to be real for other people. You can't feel anything from a story, if you can't feel the characters and what they are going through. Mood certainly is important, but your characters can set the mood. A good setting adds to it. Events add to the setting and the mood, while the characters enact them. You can always begin a story with mood alone--most often that's what writing for anthologies tends to be like. I prefer to have the people in mind first, though. It's the people you wind up loving or hating, in the end.

RLK!: Do you consider yourself part of a "Goth" community / lifestyle? If so, what does "Goth" mean to you and how do you feel it influences your writing?

RG: I consider myself a part of a lot of things. By day, I'm corporate. A Goth might not see a person dressed in a corporate way--black or no black--as a Goth. On Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays--I'm a Tanguera--a tango dancer. A Goth might see the vintage aspects of that, but not necessarily come to the assumption that it's Goth. I suppose the answer to your question is yes--but it's not always my lifestyle at any given moment, as my lifestyle is diverse.

Goth is a very tricky thing to define. I see Goths on newsgroups and e-lists trying to do this all the time--there are so many definitions. Is it a mentality? Is it a fashion statement? Is it the music? Are they all murderers and weirdoes who do mean things to puppies? There are Perki Goths, Rivet Head Goths, Punk Goths, Gothier Than Thou Goths, Vintage Goths, Corporate Goths, Nerd Goths, Not-A-Goths, Mopey Goths, Vampire Goths, and just...well...Goths.

There are labels for everything, I would imagine. I would define it as a place where people go when they don't particularly fit into any group or class, and they enjoy wearing different shades of black, maybe think out of the norm of things, and enjoy a morbid sense of humor. Quite frankly, a Goth could be you or your daughter or your grandfather. With a little creepy clothing, and some black lipstick--maybe some Switchblade Symphony, VNV Nation, or Sisters of Mercy in the CD changer...

I'm involved in the San Francisco Goth community very much. I used to edit fiction for the SFgoth.com webzine ERRATA--which was devised by a DJ named Perki, who did all the art and music features, while I took care of fiction and interviews. It began as a service to the community--something for intelligent people who loved dark fiction to read. It grew much larger than we could keep up with eventually, which is why we had to shut it down. Two people cannot possibly maintain a website that has grown into a hairy monster. You never have time to pee.

Now, I edit poetry for Gothic.net -- which I'm very happy about. I've been a long time fan of the webzine.

RLK!: If you weren't a writer (or rock star), what job would you have chosen?

RG: I think I'd be a scientist. Science has always fascinated me. That, or an Egyptologist. I haven't ruled out the latter yet.

RLK!: Have you ever thought of teaming up with a few other horror writers to form the world's first horror writer rock band? What would you call the band?

RG: Haha! No, I've never thought of that. How about, "Chucky?" No wait--we'd get into trademark trouble there. "The Traveling Vampire Show," would be perfect if Dick hadn't thought of it first. Maybe just "Twisted Sicker." Yes, that would do nicely.

RLK!: So, tell us about your future projects?

RG: I'm notorious for having my hands in too many fig baskets--starting things and never finding the time to complete them because I've started too many of them at once. I do eventually finish everything, but it's slow going.

THE MOSIQIOUS is my first foot forward in full-length fiction. I'm courting publishing interest now that the first three chapters are complete, and I'm plowing away on the rest. It's horror and dark fantasy with a weird biological twist, mostly about history repeating itself and humanity's inability to be...humane. It's depressing, gory, and strangely uplifting in the latter parts. Its secrets are its charm.

THE SECRET LIFE is a mainstream romantic tragedy about the dark life of Argentine Tango. It's NOT romance--though I wouldn't mind making a romance writer's salary on it. Essentially, it's the story of the mysterious lifestyle of Tango, and how it sucks people up and they become obsessed. It's not autobiographical, but it's based a lot on my experiences and travels. One can't write about tango without learning to dance it, nor can they learn to dance it without going to Buenos Aires to understand how it began.

THE GODS OF GODS is a book that's all John Pelan's fault. It's a Lovecraftian novel, currently on hold as I've no time to work on it. No one knows anything about it yet. I've used points of true history to explain Lovecraftian mythos and monsters in a story-like fashion. It began as a short story idea, really, for John Pelan's CHILDREN OF CTHULHU book--but he urged me to make it into a novel. So I did (and he was right--it's more a book than a story).
Rain and Gak

The artist Gak and I work on a lot of things together. MODERN MONSTERS is one of them -- a graphic novel in which "heroes are ordinary people." Sort of a modern day Antony and Cleopatra with a cyberpunk nasty edge. It was originally called Danger Boy and Lightning Girl as a joke...until a certain Sandman writer explained very gently that people wouldn't get it. The people who read old school comic heroes would pick up the book and expect a Wonder Twins type thing. They'd be disappointed when they read the first few pages and realized it was a dark, brooding, adult-oriented comic about oppression, corruption, and greed in modern societies. Likewise, the audience we'd hoped would read it would be put off at the get-go from the name. We heeded his suggestion and changed the name. We're very excited about it.

Dark Delicacies has the first (probably not any left) print we did of the main characters.

I'm also in a sampler that Gauntlet is putting out sometime this November. Clive Barker, R.C. Matheson, Richard Matheson, Barry Hoffman and others will be involved as well. This is probably the collection I'm most excited about right now.

RLK!: Graphic novels have carved out a new niche in the publishing world over the past few years, do you find writing comics easier than straight fiction? Can you "go further" in graphic novels with subject matter that you may have held back in normal fiction?

RG: Not necessarily. What holds me back in comics is the format they must be presented in--the comic scripting process. What holds me back in fiction is often how to end something, or how to twist what hasn't yet been twisted without ruining it, or the fact that I'm excessively long-winded. With a graphic novel, there is so much you can do with your characters, in so little dialogue. With a full-length fiction novel, you are locked into certain things that might be open to interpretation otherwise.

RLK!: Which do you prefer: short stories, nonfiction, novels or graphic novels?

RG: I like them all best.

RLK!: Your website is wonderful to visit. Do you find you spend a lot of time online updating pages and answering emails?

RG: Thank you! I don't really find a lot of time to update it as often as I should. I do spend a lot of time answering emails I get from it. It takes me a while, but I do answer all my mail.

RLK!: Dancing is another passion of yours. Tell us more about dancing the tango with Jack Ketchum. That must have been some dance!

RG: We never actually danced the tango. Jack taught me how to waltz, however. As a matter of fact, it was at a horror convention in Atlanta, where there was dancing one night as part of the convention's offerings. I was horrible at it, but he was stubborn about having me get it right--which I'm thankful for. It certainly helped me later with the tango version of a waltz and I'm quite certain he takes full credit for having given me my first dancing lesson.

RLK!: Rain, thanks for your time. We hope you'll visit Australia one of these days. If so, dinner is on me!

RG: Why, thank-you very much! I promise not to gross you out with talk of roaches and intestines, and the possibility of them laying eggs in human flesh. At least, not while you're eating.



Published Works:

Here's a complete list of works by Rain Graves:

BOOKS

BLOOD OF A BLACK BIRD: A Collection of Dark Wings & Wise Tales, introduction by John Shirley, illustrated by Gak. Forthcoming in 2002, under new publisher--formerly MystyquePress.
THE GOSSAMER EYE, co-written with Mark McLaughlin and David N. Wilson, Tentative release planned for September 2002, Meisha Merlin Press.

2000-01 ANTHOLOGIES:

BAD NEWS edited by Richard Laymon, Cemetery Dance Publications
OUTSIDE IT'S CAGE edited by Matt Johnson, Obsidian Press
DAUGHTER OF DANGEROUS DAMES edited by Tina Jens, TwilightTales
BEDLAM: MEMOIRS FROM A PADDED CELL, edited by ZuZu Cypher, Firedance Literary Press
DARKNESS RISING edited by Mick Sims & Len Maynard, Cosmo Books (this story is CO-written with Mark McLaughlin)
HOURS OF DARKNESS edited by Lorelei Shannon & Marti McKenna, Scorpius Digital Publishing (ebook anthology, Microsoft Reader format) http://www.scorpiusdigital.com
RED, RED, ROBIN PROJECT audio anthology, edited by Brian A. Hopkins, LoneWolf Publications (collaborative round robin with 6 authors)
NOIROTICA 4, edited by Thomas Roche
SPECULATIVE MICRO FICTION, (fantasy section) edited by David Kopaska-Merkel
PERSONAL DEMONS CD-ROM anthology edited by Garrett Peck, LoneWolf Publications
EXCITABLE BOYS, edited by Kelly Laymon, FreakPress (Nightshade Books)

CHAPBOOKS:

BLOOD OF A BLACKBIRD special Advance Edition Chapbook, MystyquePress (2000)
"Gauntlet Press Sampler" special release of fiction/poetry by Gauntlet Press authors, Gauntlet Press (fall 2001)!

MAGAZINES:

The Urbanite, #11
Nasty Piece of Work, #14 (UK)
Gauntlet #18, 20
Blackpetals Fall, Winter 1999
Amethyst #4

NONFICTION:

Interviews with Neil Gaiman, John Shirley, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Poppy Z. Brite, Barry Hoffman, Michael Marano, Terry Pratchett, Jack Ketchum (Errata, Hellnotes, Gauntlet website)
Work and Horror, JobsInHell Newsletter (2000)
My Ra, Storm Constantine's Lady of the Flame Iseum website (Late Dec. 2000)
The Dark Side of Hollywood, JobsInHell Newsletter #58
Neil Gaiman: The JIH Profile (co-written with Michael McCarty), JobsInHell #73
Investigative Report: storyXchange, Hellnotes (last week of April, first of May 2001)

AS EDITOR:

Fiction Editor, SFgoth.com's ERRATA 1999-2001 - http://www.sfgoth.com/errata
Poetry Editor, Gothic.Net October 1999-Present - http://www.gothic.net

WEBZINES:

Bloodfetish #2
TwilightTales Author of the Month, Dec. 1999, Domestic U.S.
ChiZine (Chiaroscuro Webzine) #2, #4, Forthcoming issue 2001
The Cabinet of Dr. Casey--Tales from the Internet, story CO-written with David N. Wilson, issue #1
Bad Dreams: Online Journal of the Dark, #5
Lost Ages Chronicle Webzine October 2000
Horrorfind.com November 2000



Websites:

Rain's official website can be found at:
http://www.sfgoth.com/~rain/.


Where to buy:

Availability:

For those who order online, try:

Amazon UK!   Buy Laymon & Others Here!   




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