Ronald Kelly was born and raised in the hills and hollows of Middle Tennessee. He became interested in horror as a child, watching the local Creature Feature on Saturday nights and The Big Show – a Nashville-based TV show that presented every old monster movie ever made – in the afternoons after school. In high school, his interest turned to horror literature. Originally, he had dreams of becoming a comic book artist and created many of his own super heroes. But during his junior year, the writing bug bit him and he focused his attention on penning short stories and full-length novels.
In the autumn of 1996, the bottom fell out of the horror market and Zebra Books closed down their horror line. Kelly was left without a publisher and, since many mass market publishers had also abandoned the horror genre, he found little prospect of finding one. He grew disillusioned and discouraged, and decided to retire from writing. During the next ten years he returned to the workforce, building a life with his wife and raising two daughters. He also embraced his Christian upbringing and became involved in his local church. For years he believed that his career as a horror writer was a thing of the past and that he would never return to it.
Then, in 2006, concerned fans began to ask about Kelly via the Internet, wondering what had become of him. Before long, a renewed interest in his brand of Southern Horror fiction emerged and new readers began to search for his old novels on eBay and other Internet outlets. Close friends and fans urged him to return to the horror genre and give his writing career another shot. In the summer of 2006, Kelly gave in and, while apprehensive, decided to try his hand at writing once again.
Nearly a year has passed and Kelly's second career as a writer of Southern Horror is gaining momentum. In 2008, his first novel in twelve years – Hell Hollow – will be published, as well as his first short story collection, Midnight Grinding & Other Twilight Terrors. He also has numerous short stories scheduled for publication and some limited edition releases of his previous novels – such as Undertaker's Moon (Moon of the Werewolf) – are now in the works.
He currently lives in Brush Creek, Tennessee with his wife, Joyce, and his two daughters, Reilly and Makenna (Chigger). From those southern environs, Ron generously answered questions for IN.
IN: How did you get started as a writer? What moved you to become a published author?
RK: I reckon I caught the writing bug my junior year in high school. I originally had ambitions of becoming a comic book artist, but my interests seemed to naturally progress from doing the artwork to penning my own scripts. By my senior year, I knew I wanted to be a writer. I began to work on short stories and took classes in creative writing and journalism. Writing articles for the school paper helped build my confidence and began the process of developing my individual style and learning the structure of writing effective prose.
As for the desire to become published, I suppose that's a natural progression for anyone serious about making writing their life's work. After graduating high school, I learned the trade by trial and error. I didn't attend college, so I wrote during my time off from work, polishing my writing skills and searching for the direction I wanted to take. It took a lot of hard work and some soul searching, but eventually I found the path I wanted to follow, in the literary sense.
IN: How did you settle on horror fiction as the right genre for you? Was it your first choice or was it by chance?
RK: I had always had a great interest in creepy and macabre things, particularly books and movies. My mother once told me that she read a whole stack of old EC horror comics while she was pregnant with me, so, who knows, that may have started the ball rolling at a very early age. I was a big fan of the old Universal monster movies when I was a boy and, when I was in high school, I began reading Poe and Lovecraft, as well as some of the staples of horror literature like Stoker's Dracula and Shelley's Frankenstein. Later on, I became a great fan of Stephen King. His work, more than anyone else's, gave me the desire to become a published author.
As for choosing horror as the genre I wanted to pursue . . . no, that didn't happen immediately. First and foremost, I simply wanted to be a writer and so I pursued several different genres, trying to find the one that was right for me. I explored science-fiction, mystery, and men's adventure, and actually was very serious about pursuing the western genre for several years. When those didn't work for me, I turned back to my first true love and began to write horror. Things just seemed to fall into place then, and I began to make sales to small press horror magazines and, eventually, to the mass market.
IN: What does "southern-fried horror fiction" mean, exactly?
RK: Southern-fried horror is fiction with a definite flavor of the American South . . . the darker side of Dixie, so to speak. It can be a combination of things: setting, characters, dialogue, and the mechanics of the plot. But it has to be carried out authentically to ring true. The South is a very down-to-earth and hospitable region, but there has always been a sense that it's a little out-of-kilter and potentially dangerous, especially for outsiders. You can look at photos of its antebellum homes, its wooded hills and hollows, its small towns and bayous, and see beauty. But if you physically stand in those same places, they can sometimes conjure a sensation of unease and an underlying darkness. I try to bring out those emotions in the fiction I write.
IN: What keeps you motivated and directed to write in this specific category?
RK: I guess it's just the challenge of seeing whether I can scare folks or not. That's the main objective with horror fiction and, if you can't push their fright buttons, then you'd best try tackling another genre. It is difficult sometimes; readers of dark fiction have become so jaded by horror novels and movies in the past thirty years or so, that it takes some extra effort to pull it off successfully. I, personally, take a normal situation and inject some abnormal elements into it, giving the reader an eerie sense that things aren't quite right and that they could become even worse as the story progresses. At least, that's what I'm shooting for.
IN: What were some of your first projects, and what was the time between beginning your first piece of fiction and its publication?
RK: I suppose my first projects as far as short fiction is concerned, were the stories I wrote for the small press back in the late-eighties. There were dozens of fledgling horror magazines back then . . . ones with low circulation, but with reputations for cutting-edge fiction. They allowed me to test the waters and get my feet wet in the beginning; to hone my craft and make the obvious mistakes that a beginner is sure to make. My first short story was a little piece called Breakfast Serial and it appeared in a publication called Terror Time Again. I believe I got $20 for it, but it felt like someone had handed me a million, just seeing my work in print for the first time.
The first horror novel I wrote was titled Hindsight. It was tale about a nine-year-old girl with second sight during the Great Depression, as well as a heinous triple-murder that her psychic gift brings to light. This novel was a very personal work of fiction for me, since it was loosely based on my own family history. My mother was involved in a similar situation when she was a child and there was a true murder case, in which three teenaged boys were brutally killed in an abandoned barn. I just took the dark elements from those two incidents and embellished them a bit.
I believe it took me between six to eight months to write Hindsight, and my agent a good two and a half years to finally place it with a publisher, so success didn't come swiftly. Afterward, however, things seemed to move forward rather smoothly.
IN: What approaches or methods do you use to write horror fiction?
RK: Actually, I rely more on storytelling to conjure the sort of fiction I write, more than anything else. When I was a boy, I grew up hearing my grandmother spin tall tales and pass on family history vocally. She had a knack for telling stories for long stretches of time – an hour or so – and could keep you on the edge of your seat just by the way she told them. I try to incorporate that sense of old-fashioned storytelling with my fiction. You know, sort of like sitting around a campfire or on a front porch at night, spinning spooky tales and ghost stories.
IN: What really gets your writing cranking?
RK: Sometimes an idea for a story will hit me out of the blue and I'll sort of get an adrenalin rush, the details of the plot begin to fall into place so quickly. It's kind of like a literary buzz. If I'm away from the keyboard, it becomes almost maddening and I have to jot down notes in order to retain some of the key phrases and turn of events. By the time I get home, I have a pocket full of paper. Then I begin the process of constructing the story from all the bits and pieces.
As far as what inspires me during the act of writing itself, I'm a great believer that music can be used as catalyst for creativity. I listen to a lot of classic rock, mostly Southern stuff like Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers. It seems to set the pace for the writing process. Some authors choose to work in complete silence, but I do much better if I have some music to pace myself with.
IN: How do you get your manuscript into the hands of potential publishers?
RK: I used an agent out of New York back in the mid-eighties and nineties, when I was first starting out, particularly when submitting my novels. But since coming back to writing after a ten year absence, I've been submitting my work myself. I guess I learned enough about the submitting and marketing business of writing that I feel confident in handling it myself now. The small press publishers seem to be especially receptive to working with an author without going through a middle man.
IN: Over the length of your career, have you noticed a change in the publishing industry, and if so, how has it changed?
RK: As far as the horror genre is concerned, it seems much healthier now than it did years ago. Back when my former publisher, Zebra Books, shut down their horror line in 1996, the publishing industry was making a deliberate effort to distance itself from dark fiction because of flagging sales and a growing disinterest from readers. Now it seems like the fans are back and both mass market and small press publishers are taking advantage of this renewed interest.
IN: What do you see as today's greatest challenges new writers must face on the road to success?
RK: Most of all, the competition is fierce, in all genres. It seems that in the past twenty years, the amount of potential authors has tripled. All of them are hungry to be published, so the publishers tend to be a lot more selective than they once were. That makes it tougher for new writers to get their foot in the door, but, quality-wise, it provides better fiction for the readers. Also there are much more online fiction sites since the Internet has taken off, so a larger amount of writers have access to a variety of markets.
Persistence and a tough skin are the keys to making it to the printed page. A new writer can expect more than their share of criticism and rejection, but it's important to set those things into the proper perspective and use them as tools for improvement, rather than a pillow to cry on. Those who have the talent – as well as the strength and tenacity – will eventually find an audience for their work.
IN: When dealing with agents and publicists, what suggestions or warnings can you pass along to about-to-be authors?
RK: For new writers, particularly those who have full-length novels to pitch, it's important to have a good agent working for you. Most mass market publishers won't even consider looking at your stuff if it isn't submitted by a literary agency. Finding a reputable agent, however, is another story. There are more bogus literary agencies on the Internet now than you could shake a stick at. A lot of them are just out to victimize writers who have the desire to be published and have never sold their first book. Research the agent thoroughly before choosing the right one. There are several watchdog sites that identify the rotten apples. It may seem frustrating, but writers should take their time and locate a legitimate agency with a good track record.
Also, be wary of excessive fees and charges. Most agencies work off a ten to fifteen percent commission, but there are others that tend to charge writers excessively for manuscript copying, editing, and postage to submit the work to publishers. A true agent is mostly satisfied with the agreed-upon commission, while shady ones want to bleed an inexperienced writer dry. Avoid agencies that seem more interested in padding their bank accounts than working to establish you as a published author.
IN: What ways do you find prove most effective when promoting a new novel?
RK: When I was writing novels back in the nineties, my publisher did very little to promote my work, so I pretty much had to do it myself. I would buy ads in some of the smaller horror magazines and mention upcoming novels in interviews and newsletters. One thing I did was make my own bookmarks and tuck them in some of my previous releases in the local bookstores. I also left bookmarks and flyers for potential readers at libraries and at writing conventions. Sometimes it got to the point where it felt like I was spending more time promoting than actually writing.
Now, with the Internet, the possibilities for promoting your work are nearly limitless. Websites, MySpace pages, and discussion forums devoted to a particular genre can reach thousands upon thousands of potential readers. There are also a lot of online booksellers that will help with promotion and marketing, if they enjoy and respect your work.
IN: You have your own website at http://www.ronaldkelly.com/. How important is it for authors to have a website and what are some of the biggest benefits you've gained from yours?
RK: My website has proven to be an incredible tool for promoting my work and keeping my fans informed about upcoming releases, as well as book signings and convention appearances. For those visiting the site, I have bios, a complete bibliography, and even a sample of my fiction to give them a taste of what I have to offer. I also have a discussion forum, where fans and friends can discuss my work, as well as that of other authors. So far, it has been a completely positive experience and I couldn't be happier with the results that I've been getting.
Anyone who is serious about promoting their work should consider investing the time and effort in setting one up. Most of the time the expense is minimal and, if you can find someone who is knowledgeable at site-building and computer programming, you can end up with an exceptional website. I certainly got lucky in that respect. You don't have to have the most polished and extravagant site on the net in the beginning. You can start with the basics and build from there. All in all, it can boost the potential for your work tremendously.
IN: What advice do you offer writers about the merits or pitfalls of taking writing classes and attending writing conferences or seminars?
RK: I haven't attended many writing classes or conferences, but the few I have been involved with have certainly proved helpful in the long run. For the novice writer, they help with the actual mechanics of the craft, as well as offer some creative tips and exercises that can lead to salable work.
I'd say to check out a class or conference beforehand, just to make sure they're what they claim to be and that they actually have a working knowledge of what they're teaching. Some writing conferences are made up of published authors, literary agents, and book and magazine editors. The tips and insight they can give can be invaluable to an aspiring writer.
IN: What writing and promotional projects are on your horizon?
RK: I have quite a few publications coming out in 2008 . . . sort of my comeback tour, you might say. Croatoan Publications, a new independent press, will be releasing a special limited edition of my novel, Undertaker's Moon, as well as Flesh-Welder, a combination chapbook and audiodisc release. Both of these will see print in the first half of the year.
Toward the latter half of 2008, Cemetery Dance Publications should be releasing my novel, Hell Hollow and my first short story collection, Midnight Grinding & Other Twilight Terrors. I'll also have several other chapbooks, short stories, and interviews sprinkled in-between. In the meantime, I'm working to pitch my fiction to the mass market publishers once again.
I hope my fans – and those who haven't had the opportunity to read my brand of Southern horror before – enjoy what I have to offer. I'll certainly do my best to both entertain and horrify them. Many happy nightmares, ya'll!
Read Ronald Kelly's excerpt from Undertaker's Moon.
Breakfast Serial / Terror Time Again / 1988
Peacemaker / Fright Depot / 1988
Uncle Cyrus / Noctulpa / 1988
The Web Of La Sanguinaire / Deathrealm / 1988
Miss Abigail’s Delicate Condition / Noctulpa / 1988
Papa’s Exile / Deathrealm / 1988
Forever Angels / Cemetery Dance / 1988
Buella’s Pride / Witness To The Bizarre/ 1988
Better Than Breadcrumbs / Cemetery Dance / 1989
The Skating Pond / Terror Time Again / 1989
Black Harvest / After Hours / 1989
The Dark Tribe / Tri-State Fantasist / 1989
The Hatchling / Tri-State Fantasist / 1989
Consumption / Thin Ice / 1989
Dust Devils / 2AM Magazine / 1989
The Boxcar / After Hours / 1989
Old Hacker / New Blood / 1990
Diary / Cemetery Dance / 1990
The Cistern / Cemetery Dance / 1990
Flesh-Welder / Noctulpa / 1990
Negative Attitude / The Dark Side / 1990
King Cong / House Carfax / 1990
Oh, Sordid Shame! / Deathrealm / 1990
The Winds Within / Cemetery Dance/ 1990
Little Bastard / Eldritch Tales / 1990
Dead Skin / Grue Magazine / 1990
Yea, Though I Drive / Cold Blood / 1991
Housewarming / Eldritch Tales / 1991
The Cerebral Passion / Eldritch Tales / 1991
Depravity Road / Deathrealm / 1991
Bookmarks / Gauntlet / 1991
Blood Suede Shoes / Shock Rock / 1992
Thinning The Herd / 2AM Magazine / 1992
Beneath Black Bayou / Dark At Heart / 1992
Midnight Grinding / Borderlands 3 / 1992
Tyrophex-Fourteen / The Earth Strikes Back / 1994
Scream Queen / Hot Blood: Seeds Of Fear / 1995
Romicide / Cemetery Dance / 1996
Exit 85 / Cemetery Dance / 1996
Hindsight / Zebra Books / 1990
Pitfall / Zebra Books / 1990
Something Out There / Zebra Books / 1991
Moon Of The Werewolf / Zebra Books / 1991
Father’s Little Helper / Zebra Books / 1992
The Possession / Zebra Books / 1993
Fear / Zebra Books / 1994
Fear / Pinnacle Books (Reprint) / 2000
Blood Kin / Zebra Books / 1996
Blood Kin / Pinnacle Books (Reprint) / 2000
Slocum & The Nightriders / Berkley / 1994
Slocum & The Gold Slaves / Berkley / 1994
Dark Dixie: Tales Of Southern Horror / Spine-Tingling Press / 1991
Insight On Hindsight / Mystery Scene / 1990
Writing Something Out There / After Hours / 1991
A Tribute To Ray Rexer / Overlook Connection #15 / 1991
Confessions Of A Religious Horror Writer / Gauntlet / 1991
Writing Moon Of The Werewolf / Mystery Scene / 1992
Introduction To Firefly… Burning Bright / 1996
Upcoming Publications (2008-2009)
Flesh Welder / Croatoan Publications / 2008
Undertaker’s Moon/ Croatoan Publications / 2008
Tanglewood / Cemetery Dance Publications / 2008
Grandma’s Favorite Recipe / Cemetery Dance Magazine / 2008
Hell Hollow / Cemetery Dance Publications / 2008-2009
Midnight Grinding & Other Twilight Terrors / Cemetery Dance Publications / 2008-2009
Julie A. Pierce
Inkwell Newswatch (IN)
Rowdy Rhodes is the Site Manager of The Freelance Writing Organization International and General Manager of Inkwell Newswatch (IN). He is also known to freelance an article or two when the fancy strikes him. If you are looking for written content for your website, ezine, or print publication, drop him a line at email@example.com. He'll get back to you as soon as possible.