Hey folks, Andy here. This is a special month for me because I had an opportunity to work with my favorite short story writer – Gary Raisor. I first read his work in issue #37 of Cemetery Dance magazine. His story, entitled “Cleaning Compulsion,” was a nice mix of horror and dark humor that had me clamoring for more. Since then I’ve done my best to track down as many of his twisted tales as possible. For my money, there’s nobody better.
But it doesn’t stop there. Gary also wrote an acclaimed modern-day vampire novel entitled Less Than Human, as well as Sinister Purposes, a collection of interconnected stories similar to what Stephen King did with Hearts in Atlantis. And let’s not forget about Obsessions, his landmark anthology that collected chilling stories from many of the biggest names in the genre.
What it all boils down to is that you’re going to have a good time when you see Gary’s name attached to a project. That, I can promise you.
Well, it appears my time is running low. I hear the projector has started rattling, signifying this month’s feature is underway. Join me, won’t you, for the debut of Gary Raisor’s “Better Watch Out.” And stick around afterwards as we chat with Gary…you’ll find his opinions on books and movies are just as entertaining as his fiction.
"We got him," the man in the dark suit said. "He's down in holding room four."
The second man, also in a dark suit, smiled as he got to his feet. "You sure? It's Uncle Sam, the real genuine Uncle Sam? I thought we killed him years ago."
The first man smiled back. "Nope, we picked him up in London, peeing on the queen's rose bushes."
"You're sure it's him?"
"Claims he was born on the Fourth of July. Says he's got a Yankee Doodle sweetheart, and she's his Yankee Doodle joy."
"Better run his prints to be sure."
"We already did. Nothing but stars and stripes."
The second man thought for a second. "How's our Yankee Doodle boy look?"
"Come on, let's get this over with." The two men left the gray featureless office and headed down a gray, featureless hallway. Somewhere in the distance came the faint sound of screaming. On the way, the men passed a series of holding rooms, all with unbreakable Plexiglas. Inside each room, several mythological icons were being interrogated by men in dark suits.
Cupid was crying and had soiled his diaper. The Easter Bunny was crapping Easter eggs; they all appeared to be chocolate. Santa didn't look too jolly as the men questioned him about his ho's. "I only got three," Santa kept saying over and over. “Tiger's got fourteen."
The men entered holding room four. There in front of them sat Uncle Sam. He was shackled to a metal table, and he was barely more than a skeleton with skin. His faded stars-and-stripes suit looked five sizes too big. His stovepipe hat was battered and worn and filled with holes. He looked up with his rheumy sad eyes as the two men entered. He smoothed his goatee and tried to summon a few shreds of dignity. "I know my rights. I want a lawyer." He attempted to get up.
The second man pushed Uncle Sam back into his chair. "And people in hell want ice water. Doesn't mean they're going to get it."
The first man slapped a photo on the table. "Looks like when you went to London, you did a little more with the ponies than just ride them, Sammy Boy."
Uncle Sam picked up the photo. He looked at it and turned pale. "It's not what it looks like."
"What's it look like from this angle?" The first man slapped down a second photo. Shaking, Uncle Sam did the technicolor yawn, splattering both men's shoes with red, white, and blue. "Where'd you get this?"
"It's our job. We're in the security business."
"Homeland?" Uncle Sam asked, slumping.
"We didn't say that." The first man stared intently at Uncle Sam.
"That's right," the second man said, "we didn't say that. Just so you know, we're asking the questions."
"And we're giving the orders," the first man added. "Or we leak the photo. We've got a mission for you..." In the adjoining room, Santa was making a break for freedom. He made a chimney appear. Before he could get up it, Santa had three guys with tasers attached to his balls. "...A very important mission."
CHRISTMAS EVE NIGHT
The little girl, no more than five, heard noises coming from the living room. She snuck in and stood quietly by the Christmas tree, watching the man in the red suit as he drilled on their smoke detector.
"Are you Santa Claus?" the little girl asked timidly, creeping forward.
Santa turned and the little girl took several steps back. Santa didn't look well. His beard was thin and kind of yellow, and his red suit was way too big on him. Santa grinned a scary grin and said, "Of course I'm Santa. Who're you, kid?"
"No shit. What'cha doing, Santa?"
"I'm putting in an omni-directional camera and mic. So you'd better watch out, you'd better not cry, you'd better not pout. I'll be watching you. I'll be watching everybody from now on."
And with that, Uncle Sam was on to the next house.
Horror Drive-In: Thanks for joining us at the Drive-In, Gary. We're happy to have you here.
Let's go way back to the beginning. When did you first start writing?
Gary Raisor: Good to be here, Andy. Thanks for asking me to participate.
When did I start writing? Let us part the clouds of time... Back to the mid 80's, back to those golden, David Bowie days of yore when MTV and Don Johnson were cool, back to the days when it seemed like a good idea to roll up the sleeves of your suit jacket and smoke at the office. It all started with The Horror Show - edited by Mr. David Silva, and Night Cry - edited by Mr. Alan Rodgers. Both are fondly remembered by me. Two great hard-working guys, two great magazines, open to anything. I sent them each a short-short, that's a story about one page long. To my shock, both editors said, "Come on down!"
So for about five years, I was busily scribbling weird little horror tales with what I hoped were surprise endings. The biggest surprise was both magazines kept buying my little one-pagers. And that's how I got my start in the writing biz. Marty Greenberg, the absolute king of anthology editors, collected quite a few of my early efforts in his 100 Hair Raising Little Horror Stories and 100 Ghastly Little Ghost Stories, if anyone should ever want to read them. It seems a few have stood the test of time. Just recently, Peter Podgursky, a young L.A. director, turned one of them, “The Night Caller,” into a short movie. Twenty-one years after it was written - wow!
HD-I: Both magazines are revered here at the site, so you'll get no argument from us as to how great they were. It must have been an honor to be part of two very special publications.
Did you have any early influences on your writing, either from authors you worked with when you first started or authors you were reading at the time?
GR: It was an honor. I'll always be grateful to Dave Silva and Alan Rodgers. Two of my heroes. They did a lot for other writers too, folks who are now household names.
As for influences... hmmm... early on I'd have to say Rod Serling, Stephen King, and R.C. Matheson. My major influence in short-short fiction days has always been R.C. Matheson. I'd read his “Unknown Drives,” written with his dad, Richard "I Am Legend" Matheson, in an old Charlie Grant anthology. I was blown away. R.C. can heap on the creepiness with fewer words than any writer I know. So I guess you could say I'm the bastard child of Stephen King and Rod Serling, with R.C. Matheson being the doctor who delivered me. Yeah, I know, yuck. But anyway there I was, happily sailing along in Rod's and King's wake, writing my little one-pagers. Don't get me wrong, I love my one-pagers. But I longed for more. To show people I could do more. That's about the time I discovered Joe R. Lansdale. For me, Joe is the man, the guy who pointed the way. His “The Night They Missed the Horror Show” was the burning bush of short stories. All these years later, I can still feel the goosebumps. I'd never seen anything like TNTMTHS. Rude, irreverent, and funny as hell. It made me want to stretch, to go beyond what I had done before as a writer. By then I was lucky enough to know Joe, and he invited me into one of his anthologies, Best of the West, a collection of weird western tales. It was for him that I wrote my first story that went beyond a page. It's a novella called The Sound of Distant Thunder, and it went on to be my first novel, Less Than Human.
HD-I: I have to agree with you there -- Lansdale's "The Night They Missed the Horror Show" is the most disturbing short story I've ever read. I can remember feeling sick the first time I finished it.
That being said, allow me to be a fanboy for a moment: anyone who's read my ramblings on various message boards over the years has seen me state that you're my favorite short story writer. You have a knack for creating tension and then hitting the reader with a nasty twist during the finale. They don't come any better, in my opinion. Based on your output over the years, I would assume you like the short form the most. What is it about short stories that lends itself so well to the tales you tell?
GR: Thanks, Andy, much appreciated.
The short story, and I'm not the first one to come up with this, lends itself to a writer taking more chances. It's a matter of time investment. A short story can take anywhere from twenty minutes to a few months to write. On something like that you can go all-out, balls-to-the-wall. You've lost little if it doesn't work out.
Now a novel can take anywhere from six months to a year or two, sometimes longer, especially if you're T.E.D. Klein. (Sorry, inside joke.) A great many writers don't want to get too far out there on a novel. It's a significant amount of time invested. You get too crazy, you might not be able to sell your masterpiece to the fine folks at the publishing house. If that happens, then the fine folks at the publishing house won't be able to make you rich beyond your wildest dreams of avarice.
HD-I: Is there any chance we'll see a collection of your short stories at some point? It's long overdue.
GR: The closest thing I've had to a short-story collection is a mosaic novel called Sinister Purposes. A mosaic novel, for those who don't know already, is a bunch of short stories that form a novel. It works like this - each short story is a complete tale unto itself, as well as a chapter of the novel. Not easy to do. I still wake up in a cold sweat every time I think back on it. The book was published by Rich Chizmar and Brian Freeman at Cemetery Dance Publications a few years back to reviews that seemed to dwell on the violence and sex. Guess it was a tad too graphic for them. Anyway it sold out, and that appears to be that. But hey, if anyone out there is interested in publishing a Gary Raisor short-story collection, I'm available to talk.
HD-I: I've maintained it'll be the first project I attempt if I ever start a press (something that seems more and more daunting as I watch publishers drop like flies, but I digress).
I recently went back and read through Obsessions, a landmark anthology you edited back in the early 90’s. I don't recall where the authors were in their careers at that point, but looking at the table of contents, it reads like a who's-who of the genre's best writers. Tell us about putting the anthology together. Also, do you think you'll ever edit another one?
GR: Obsessions was done before I knew any better. If I had known beforehand what I was getting into, I would have run screaming into the night. I made one serious mistake - I did an anthology. Then I made an even more serious mistake – I opened it up to anyone who could afford stamps and paper. I should have specified it had to be typing paper. That meant I had to plow through a lot of bad stories. A LOT of bad stories, some hand-written. And then I got trunk stories from the "pros," lesser efforts they tried to pawn off on a new editor. Then there were the phone calls where I had to ask for story changes, and the screaming on the other end of the line. But on the plus side, there were some wonderful stories and wonderful people to go with them. Obsessions had the Stoker winner for that year from Nancy Holder. Kevin J. Anderson, Bill Crider, Dan Simmons, F. Paul Wilson, Joe Lansdale, Dean Koontz, Al Sarrantonio, all gave me great stories. My personal favorite is "The Second Most Beautiful Girl in the World" by A.R. Morlan. Just a wonderful, amazing story.
Would I do another anthology? Not if you held a gun on me!
HD-I: Awhile back one of your tales was adapted for Cemetery Dance's Grave Tales comic book (I think it was one of the stories from the aforementioned Sinister Purposes, if I'm remembering correctly?). Were you pleased with how it turned out, and do you have plans to do additional stories in that format?
GR: It's called “The Right Thing” and that baby got some serious miles on it. It showed up in Cemetery Dance magazine, The Best of Cemetery Dance, Sinister Purposes, and finally Grave Tales. Rich Chizmar and Brian Freeman have been very kind to me over the years. And patient. They've been like family, actually. Being the nice guys they are, they decided to surprise me with the Grave Tales version of “The Right Thing” - and I'm afraid I was a little less than gracious at the outcome. Can we say ungrateful and cranky? Artist Will Renfro did a masterful job of adapting the story, of laying it out, but I didn't particularly care for his artwork. It was very stylized. My reaction was just a personal preference, nothing against Will. Will is cool. So Will, if you're out there, thanks for your hard work, buddy, and I apologize if I came across in any way negative.
I would love to do more comics work, but finding an artist has proven difficult. I wonder why? Hah! But recently I found a young up-and-comer by the name of Doug Draper - who just illustrated my story here at The Horror Drive-In - so we'll see...
HD-I: As you mentioned earlier, you also wrote a novel entitled Less Than Human, a book that has attained a "cult-classic" status in the genre. How was the book received upon its release? Also, is there any chance it'll come back in print? I tracked down a used copy way-back-when, but I keep hoping a new version will come out so that others have a chance to experience it.
GR: Hardbacks from the online bookstore "The Overlook Connection" are still available, but they're not exactly cheap.
A re-issue of Less Than Human is unlikely. But man oh man, would I love to see it get another printing and show up in paperback at my local Barnes & Noble. Maybe Stephen King's recent snake-like vampires of American Vampire will get my snake-like vampires, Steven and Earl, a second chance. Hope springs eternal.
LTH was actually extremely well-received upon its initial release. At least by the readers. It sold out its ten thousand copy print-run, which is almost unheard of for a first novel from a relatively unknown writer. The problem is that Berkley Books, the original publisher, had little to no faith in the book. They didn't understand it, so they quietly dumped it. It should have died right there. But it didn't. Word of mouth from fans, who got the book, who loved the book, helped sell it. Then another strange thing happened -- it got nominated for the Bram Stoker. Then another strange thing happened -- Dave Hinchberger at The Overlook Connection put out a really nice hardback of it. That was seventeen years ago. After all this time, the book is on all kinds of lists out there on the ‘net, and still sells to this day.
Lately I've been trying to get a LTH graphic novel, as well as a movie, off the ground. All I can say at this point is both projects are showing promise. Whether anything comes of either, only time will tell.
HD-I: Hopefully one or both of those projects will see the light of day!
Any possibility of a second novel in your future?
GR: I've been kicking around a few ideas. But nothing's split the uprights yet.
HD-I: I'd be remiss if I didn't ask you a couple movie questions before I let you go. Are you a movie buff?
GR: Does Roman Polanski like underage girls? I friggin' looooovvvvveee movies. There's not enough "o-v-e's" in love to describe my life-long obsession with the cinema. So what'cha wanna know, Andy?
HD-I: Ha! We'll get the obvious one out of the way: which films are your favorites?
GR: We don't have the space to list them all. I do want to say my current favorite is a little Swedish Silence of the Lambs thing called The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I highly recommend it.
A few others, in no particular order: Pretty much anything that had Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee or Vincent Price in it. That was also about the time I saw Invasion of the Body Snatchers (like the '78 version too). The '56 one rocked my tender little world. Man, to this day I don't trust cauliflower, it looks like a malformed brain, you know it does, don't lie. Forbidden Planet, Curse of the Demon with Dana Andrews, Cat People, Beauty and the Beast (Cocteau version), Creature from the Black Lagoon (best rubber suit of all time in my opinion). I pulled hard for the creature to get the girl. Then there was an obscure vampire western, Curse of the Undead (yes, it influenced my Less Than Human). I love westerns, but don't get me started on that. I also love Robert Mitchum in Night of the Hunter. It's a horror movie. I think trying to kill kids more than qualifies it. The next ones to take my attention off my popcorn were Romero's Night of the Living Dead and Tobe Hooper's Texas Chainsaw Massacre. All pretty standard answers from someone of my gen. Then it was on to Jaws, Halloween, The Thing, Alien, Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula (because of Gary Oldman's over-the-top performance. Can anyone forget him licking Keanu Reeves’ bloody razor?), Tremors, House of a Thousand Corpses and Devil's Rejects (Rob Zombie, Sid Haig, and Bill Mosely, baby, that's all you need to say), Dusk till Dawn, Razor Blade Smile, Blade, May, Hostel, Cabin Fever, Shaun of the Dead, Bubba Ho-Tep, Paranormal Activity. Guess I'd better stop here or this will never end.
HD-I: It'd be hard to argue with many of the movies on your list. They're some of the all-time classics of the genre. However, I don't see many recent movies on your list. What's your take on the current state of horror movies? While there are still some original movies coming out, the majority of the releases seem to be remakes or torture porn (which doesn't do much for me).
GR: The recent slate of Hollywood horror movies isn't doing much for me, either. Not to go on a rant, well maybe a little... but as a matter of fact most of them make me want to cry, or vomit. Good-looking snooze-fests without any real understanding of the genre, the history of horror, or even what's scary. But damn, do they ever look good. The technology of moviemaking has gotten so much better while the stories have gotten so much worse. The remake of Carpenter's The Fog comes to mind. Slick with good special effects, good acting, but not logical. And definitely not scary. Guys like Carpenter were able to generate chills on a budget 1/10th of what a lot of today's directors work with.
I absolutely agree with you, Andy, torture porn isn't scary, hell it's not even interesting. It might make you squirm a bit at something gross. That doesn't make a story, it doesn't linger in your mind long after the lights come up.
All I can say about the current state of moviemaking - is grow a set, Hollywood! Grow a set and give the remakes a rest. I understand some actual effort might be involved, some imagination, but it can be done. On the positive side, it's not all total crap out there. Somehow, someway, good movies still get made. Sadly though, they're fewer and farther between these days.
HD-I: Which segues nicely to my next question: have you ever done any screenwriting? Or worked in any other capacity in the moviemaking process?
GR: Screenplays, yup. Me and ten million other people. I hear you can't move to L. A. these days without one. They check you at the city limits. No screenplay, no entry.
The first screenplay I did is based on my novel Less Than Human. The other on a novella of mine called Graven Images. So I'm good to go to L. A., right? Also I've got a short story, “The Night Caller,” being filmed by Peter Podgursky out in LA. It's in the editing stages right now. I think that means I can take a friend with me to L. A.
Jake West, director of Doghouse (battle of the sexes with zombies), as well as Razor Blade Smile (hot female vampire "hitman"), is trying to dig up financing to make Less Than Human into a movie. Even if it doesn't happen, I'm thrilled the director of one of my favorite low-budget movies, Razor Blade Smile, liked my script.
HD-I: Last questions: Were you a fan of drive-ins? If so, do you have any memories you can share with us?
GR: Absolutely adore drive-ins. Still do. I have lots of wonderful memories, but unfortunately I can't share them with you good folks. They involve scantily clad young ladies and steamed-up car windows.
Well, I can see it's time to go. All the other cars are leaving, the beer has grown warm, and the popcorn cold. I'm putting my car seat back in the upright position and my speaker back on the post. It's been a real pleasure, Andy. Enjoyed our little talk here at the Horror Drive-In. Hope you folks out there enjoyed my little cartoon “Better Watch Out.” That's all, Folks!