Friday, August 30, 2013

After the Burn: Having a Blast with Nuclear Armageddon

When it comes to apocalyptic fiction these days, it's all about zombies. The Walking Dead, World War Z, zombie novels, zombie comics, zombie video games... zombies, zombies, zombies. Not that I have anything against the flesh-eating undead. I'm an equal-opportunity monster lover. Plus, zombie apocalypse fiction is  a very popular and lucrative sub-genre now. It's just not my idea of how the earth is going to kick the bucket, with the dead -- reanimated by a virus or demonic possession -- chasing the survivors around, wanting to turn them into a hot lunch.

I reckon I'm just old-school. When I think of the end of the world, it's nuclear armageddon that comes immediately to mind. I grew up during the Cold War era, when the major super-powers -- the United States and the Soviet Union -- were not the best of friends and had nuclear warheads aimed at one another, and itchy fingers poised above the big red button a time or two. I was a child around the time of the Bay of Pigs and "Duck-and-Cover!" and lived with the fear of the Bomb throughout my grade school and high school years. I was twenty-two when the Berlin Wall came tumbling down and the Cold War pretty much fizzled and went away. But they are still out there... the missiles. They're not as plentiful  as they were back in the 50s, 60s, and 70s,  but they're still nestled in their cozy little silos, slumbering inactively until someone decides to activate them with the flip of a switch and send them skyward. And we have more folks with nuclear capabilities to worry about; China, North Korea, the Middle East, and a half dozen terrorist groups. Not trying to scare anyone... just reminding you that the threat is still there.


In 1990, I wrote "Flesh Welder", a cautionary tale about life following a nuclear holocaust and how one man -- Doctor Rourke, a hybrid of surgeon and arc welder -- does his best to repair and sustain life in a hellhole that was once Houston, Texas, while his nemesis, the infamous General, does his best to tear it down. After FW's publication, my interest in apocalyptic fiction remained, but was put on the back-burner in favor of vampires, werewolves, and nasty little critters that go bump (and bite) in the South. When the now-defunct Croatoan Press did a chapbook of the reprint of Flesh Welder in 2007, I began to think about skinny-dipping in the radio-active pool again and exploring how a nuclear holocaust might effect our world and, in particular, my native Southland.

AFTER THE BURN (Thunderstorm Books Edition)

It took a few years of turning the germs of a few ideas into full-blown stories, but eventually I ended up with exactly what I was aiming for. In 2011. Thunderstorm Books published AFTER THE BURN, my quirky, ultra-extreme collection of post-apocalyptic horror tales. It contained six short stories and two novellas, all chronicling the aftermath of The Burn, a sudden rash of nuclear detonations around the globe that had no purpose or explanation. As society deteriorates and it becomes every man for himself, the dregs of humanity quickly take over; serial killers, child molesters, the criminally insane, rapists, drug dealers, and cannibals. As radiation alters plant and animal life, horrible mutations begin to take place. Not all of the stories are dark and dismal, however. I took the opportunity to balance drama with black humor through the course of ATB, making it more fun than depressing. Creatively, AFTER THE BURN became my version of good folks versus very bad folks in a post-apocalyptic South.


Luckily, readers took to the collection and it became a fan favorite among my catalog of books. My peers enjoyed it, too. As horror author Brian Keene said "AFTER THE BURN is one of my all-time favorites. A classic, seminal masterpiece of post-apocalyptic survival horror!" The Thunderstorm hardcover of ATB sold out within a matter of days and became one of the most successful of the publisher's Black Voltage line. The book fell "out of print" for a year or so, then was published in an affordable trade paperback by Bad Moon Books. ATB is also available as a digital e-book from Crossroad Press and is available in Kindle and Nook versions.


Of all my projects, since returning to writing in 2006, AFTER THE BURN has been one of the most satisfying and most fun to bring to fruition. It will soon become an unabridged audio book and there has been some interest in turning it into a graphic novel. Also, I'm currently brain-storming on the possibility of doing a second ATB, this time as a full-length novel. Some of your favorite ATB characters would be back -- Waco, Zulu Woman, Dr. Rourke, and Popsicle Man, to name a few -- joining forces against an evil band of mauraders led by the notorious General and his army of Clownies, cannibals, and mutants, as they make a cross-country trek for the mythical, non-radio-active Promised Land.

If you're looking for something different as far as apocalyptic horror is concerned, you might want to check out AFTER THE BURN. This is Ol' Ron's most extreme work to date and I guarantee that you'll get your fair share of goosebumps and belly laughs. Just sit back in your favorite armchair, turn the page, and wait for the flash and Burn!


Friday, August 23, 2013

Spinning Tales: Upcoming Writing Projects

Last year had its ups and downs, but 2013 seems to be progressing smoothly, particularly from a creative aspect. Here are some upcoming writing projects that I hope to complete by the time the Christmas tree comes down and the party hats and hooters (those little noise-makers you blow, not the other ones!) herald the beginning of 2014.

RESTLESS SHADOWS: I just finished the final edit of RESTLESS SHADOWS, the long-awaited sequel to my first novel, HINDSIGHT. RS was one of two novels that Zebra Books had scheduled for publication before they decided to pull the plug on their horror line in 1996 (the other one being HELL HOLLOW). This previously unpublished novel will soon be released as an economically-priced hardcover edition from Thunderstorm Books, hopefully sometime this autumn. RESTLESS SHADOWS continues the story of HINDSIGHT seventy-seven years after the Great Depression. Cindy Ann is an elderly woman now and comes out of retirement every now and then to lend her psychic abilities to the local police, solving murder cases. When a triple murder almost identical to the one she revealed back in 1936 takes place in her hometown of Coleman, Cindy must return to the old tobacco barn with her granddaughter, Beth, who also possesses the gift of second sight. Together, they attempt to determine exactly who committed the murders. Is it a copy cat reliving history... or is it the evil spirit of Bully Hanson in action once again?

CEMETERY DANCE PROJECTS: During the next few weeks, I'll be finishing up some projects for Cemetery Dance Publications. One will be a short story for an upcoming Halloween anthology. The other will be a Signature Series book with the tentative title of WHITE LIGHTNING, BLACK MASS! It will be a rip-roaring tale of moonshiners and devil worshippers with the feel of an old grindhouse movie. Some of you have asked about the status of A DARK & BLOODY GROUND, an upcoming novel from CD. Alas, the manuscript -- nearly three-quarters done -- is still floating around in crashed hard-drive limbo. As soon as I find someone with the expertise to liberate AD&BG from its imprisonment, I'll finish that sucker up and send it out to Rich, Brian, and the rest of the folks at CD.

ESSENTIAL RONALD KELLY COLLECTION, VOLUMES #5 & 6: In September and October, I'll be doing final revisions and edits on the next two Essentials: PITFALL and TWELVE GAUGE (formerly FATHER'S LITTLE HELPER). I'll also be writing the two companion novellas for the books. PITFALL's will be titled "The Last of the Chupacabra", while the one in TWELVE GAUGE will be titled "Killing Time". I hope to have the finished manuscripts to Thunderstorm Books in time for a late December or early 2014 release.

UNDERTAKER'S MOON & FEAR: I've turned in the manuscripts to Roy Robbins at Bad Moon Books for the softcover trade editions of UNDERTAKER'S MOON & FEAR. These books, with new covers by Keith Minnion, will be similar to what the Essentials have to offer, except without the "Writing of" feature. We're hoping to have both of these out before the end of 2013.

As I gain momentum with the completion of these projects, I'm hoping for a productive 2014. Among other things, I'll be working on sequels to FEAR and AFTER THE BURN (this time a full-length novel!), short stories for upcoming anthologies, and I'll be finishing  up the Essential collection with Volumes #7 & 8: BLOOD KIN and BURNT MAGNOLIA. On the heels of those projects, I'll be writing a five-volume horror-western serial titled DEAD-EYE, followed by DEAD OLD MEN, the first book of the Grandpa Kelly mystery series that I have in the work.

Be sure to check in regularly here at Southern-Fried & Horrified and for updates and news on these and other forthcoming projects!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Zombie Bites! Talking Appalachian Undead, Zombie Apocalypse, and More at Apex Books

Head on over to Apex Books for Zombie Bites : a feature showcasing the contributors of Appalachian Undead, an anthology of horror tales that take place in the rugged hills and hollows of the Appalachian Mountains. Today it's Ol' Ron's turn.

I'll be discussing my story "Company's Coming", my personal zombie apocalypse survival plan (every respectable redneck family should have one!), the proper use of steel-toed boots, and more. While you're there, you might as well pick yourself up a copy of Appalachian Undead ... the best collection of zombie stories to come down the pike in a month of Sundays. (Cortney Skinner's down-home zombie cover is worth the price of the book alone, if you ask me!)

And if you're still hankering for zombie fiction, check out my story "The Day UPS Brought Zombies" at Ronald It's chocked full of dark humor and re-animated flesh: zombies, demonic books, chainsaw-slinging grannies, evil dolls, a Zuni warrior straight out of Trilogy of Terror, and a special cameo appearance by Brian Keene!

So slip on your steel-toed clod-hoppers and get to kicking those brains... in a literary sense, that is. And, as always... enjoy!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Walking the Fence Rail: Balancing Faith and Horror Writing

When I was a young boy, I would walk the fence on Grandpa Kelly's farm. On one side there would be green grass and soft clover; on the other, thistle and blackberry bramble, with plenty of sharp rocks hidden underneath. It wouldn't have taken much at all to have lost my balance and fallen one way or the other, but I never did. Mostly it was due to my own youthful balancing act, but sometimes it was because Grandpa held my hand while I walked the rail.

Sometimes that's how it feels when it comes to my faith and my horror writing career. On one side there is all goodness and light, while on the other there are sharp thorns, dangerous shadows, and the potential for a disastrous fall. You may think it is an unlikely and incompatible combination that was doomed to failure from the beginning. But you would be wrong. There are more Christian horror writers out there than you would think. I've talked to quite a few and, amid our discussions, found that we all hold the same doubts and fears. We definitely have questions about what we're doing from time to time. Some of them are of our own making, while others come from fans or members of our spiritual niche. The following are some issues that we are forced to address -- for ourselves as well as for others -- every now and then.

Am I compromising my faith by choosing to write this particular genre of fiction?  No, I don't think so. As a Christian, I believe that God has a hand in all aspects of my life, both personal and professional, and that includes my talent and desire to write. I developed a strong interest in monsters and the macabre at an early age (one that my mother shared and reinforced) so you might say that I was "predestined" to write and create this sort of stuff later in life. Believe me, I've tried my best to specialize in other genres over the years; science fiction, mystery, western, children's literature, even inpirational. But horror was the only one I was actually successful (or happy) with. I'm relatively good at it, seem to know how to press readers' emotional buttons, and I have something of a warped and dark sense of humor. I see this as more of a blessing than a fluke or coincidence. People are always referring to someone's "God-given talent" in an off-hand way, but I believe there is more truth to that than folks realize.

Is it sinful to write horror fiction?  Whenever someone asks me this question, I can't help but think of a hundred cartoons I've seen in my lifetime: the well-meaning guy with an angel perched on one shoulder and a devil on the other, persuading him to do either right or wrong. I don't know about other horror authors, but that isn't how it is with me. For the most part, I don't feel conflicted while writing horror fiction; it seems to flow naturally, with no mental shifting between "good and bad" taking place. Sure, there are some instances when I feel like I've stepped past my comfort zone, but that's what gives horror its edge... the author's willingness to go a step further and take the reader into realms they would, in life, hesitate to tread. As for the horror genre being evil? Only those who don't read it or aren't familiar with it seem to hold that opinion. I've actually had several people -- some of them family members -- call me a "devil worshiper" because I write this stuff. There's a misconception among a small minority of people (mostly radical religious groups) that writers and film directors of horror-related material are actually in league with the Devil. Of course, thinking in such a way is both ignorant and preposterous. I've  met hundreds of horror authors since I began writing in the genre in 1986 and 99% of them were some of the nicest and most wholesome people I've ever met. Some have been fellow Christians, some atheists and agnostics, some straight, some gay... which proves what a diverse body of wordsmiths the horror genre boasts compared to, say, the romance and western genres.

Do you inject your religious beliefs into your stories and novels?   No, not consciously. I consider my faith a personal matter and prefer not to inject it into my fiction, lest it be considered as "preachy". Besides, trying to fuse religion with horror (as in "Christian horror", a strange and seemingly contrary sub-genre to be sure) very rarely works. It's like mixing oil with water. Sometimes religious themes, characters, or settings surface in my books, but I'm not sure if I've done it with the intention of actually sharing my faith. After the Burn had a definite undercurrent of religion throughout and, I suppose, the last story in the collection, "The Paradise Pill", even gave the reader a glimpse of a heaven which may or may not be. The mass murder from my novel Father's Little Helper (soon to be re-released as Twelve Gauge in the Essential Collection) took place in a country church at Christmas time, and of course Grandpappy Craven from Blood Kin had been a mountain preacherman before vampirism caused him to trade his Bible and cross for a hankering for blood. So, perhaps, subconsciously, I do let my faith show through a little in plots and characters.

Am I expressing a hidden side of myself when I write about evil or ungodly characters?   This is where a lot of writers of horror fiction experience the most friction. When family, co-workers, or even members of one's church, discover that they write "those awful horror stories", then perceptions begin to alter and the author is suddenly regarded in a different, less favorable light. Most "regular" folks (and by that I mean those who don't possess a love for the macabre) believe that surely something must be mentally or morally wrong with someone who would write about monsters or serial killers and, in turn, derive pleasure from doing it. Writing horror doesn't make you an unstable person, a devil worshipper (there's that enigma again), a weirdo, or a child molester. As I said before, most of the time it's the normal folks who specialize in the horror, suspense, and mystery fields... and I could add science-fiction and fantasy to that grouping as well. To tell the truth, it would be the full-blown romance writer, especially the ones who fill their books with ultra-explicit sex and wanton debauchery who I would be wondering about. Actually, there are some Christians (and I've been told this myself by fellow believers) who think that is morally wrong to write about vampires, werewolves, demons, zombies, and ghosts because they are of "Satan's dominion" and it is sinful to "glorify" such creatures. I, myself, don't believe that such monsters exist, maybe with the exception of demons, whose presence is apparent every day in countless news stories about terrorists, child murderers, and those who commit crimes too horrible to even comprehend. Writing about evil characters (the antagonist) or terrible, unthinkable situations or plot twists, doesn't mean that your Dr. Jekyll is unleashing its Mr. Hyde. A person can write about both good and evil without actually being one or the other; that's the gift of a good writer... they can wear many hats convincingly. Being a horror writer no more makes you a carbon copy of your most fiendish character than wearing mouse ears makes you Mickey Mouse or sporting a dab of a mustache on your upper lip makes you Adolf Hitler. Prose is a creative action, like painting or playing music. If a writer's story is about an axe murderer, that doesn't mean he or she is going to take up a hatchet and chase you gleefully around your front lawn. It is simply an exercise in imagination that takes a darker path than other genres take.

Why would God approve of or even want you to write horror fiction?   This is the number one question that horror writers of the Christian faith ask themselves from time to time. The very nature of being a person of faith is to question things that do not involve goodness and benevolence. Philippians 4:8 says "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, and if there by any praise, think on these things." Basically, that means almost everything that horror is not. Truthfully, I believe in everything in the Bible, from Genesis to Revelations. But I've always had an aversion to Philippians 4:8, simply because it condemns a person's interest in things dark and mysterious, which is not only a major pastime of mine, but, frankly, my bread and butter. I've actually had fellow Christians throw this scripture in my face when I suggested that they read one of my novels or stories.

I had a huge problem with this question following the implosion of the Zebra horror line back in 1996 and the sudden loss of my first career as a novelist. Having recently "found religion", as the old-timers call it, I became convinced that God had taken away my writing career because He didn't want me to write horror. That might sound silly to you, but to a believer, whose faith dictates that God is instrumental in all things, it is practically logical. So I gave it up... for ten years. It was a long journey of self-doubt and denial, and it took a long time for me to realize that I was downright miserable because of my self-imposed hiatus. It was only when I returned to the genre in 2006, that I was truly happy creatively again. I originally intended to tone my tales down considerably, but discovered that you simply couldn't do that with horror fiction. True, I'm not as "in-your-face" as other horror authors, but I do use a little profanity (never the F-bomb or the Lord's name in vain) and include occasional sexual situations; I just don't go overboard for the sake of offending or grossing my readership out.

If the Lord has a purpose for my writing this stuff, I'd have to say it would be the perpetuation of "good versus evil" storytelling. There was a time in horror literature (any literature, to tell the truth) when the good guys always won and the bad guys got their just dues. These days, fiction isn't as black and white as it once was. More often than not, it is a battle between evil and a lesser or greater evil. I reckon I'm just old-school, because this approach irks me alot. In my way of thinking, if you don't have a clearcut protagonist and antagonist, then it is simply not horror fiction... or at least not the kind that I enjoy and write.

In the horror genre, there are all kinds. I just happen to be one of the choir boys of the bunch. If you don't agree with what I've said, remember, this is simply my opinion and how I feel concerning these particular questions. You may believe or disbelieve; that's your God-given right. As for me, I definitely believe that there is something more than talent and luck involved in the success of my writing career and I know precisely who to give all the glory to for that. And if I need a Fatherly hand to keep me balanced on the literary fence rail, then I'll gladly hold onto it.


Monday, August 5, 2013

Two New Audio Books: The Dark'Un & Unhinged!

The folks at Crossroads Press have been hard at work bringing my work to audio. Some of the best voice talents in the business have been gathered, each with their own unique performance and genuine Southern twang. As a result, we now have seven full-length, unabridged audio books available for your IPod or MP3 player. They include Dark Dixie: Tales of Southern Horror, Flesh Welder, Cumberland Furnace, Timber Gray, Twilight Hankerings, The Dark’Un, and Unhinged: Tales of Darkness & Depravity.

The two newest offerings are now available directly from Unhinged: Tales of Darkness & Depravity is a collection of my serial killer and mass murderer stories gathered from various horror publications and anthologies over the years. It also includes several previously unpublished stories. The Dark'Un is my full-length novel (eleven hours worth of audio in all!) dealing with a Tennessee mountain under seige by a ruthless corporation and the shadowy changling, the Dark'Un, who takes on hired guns and mercanaries, in every shape and form imaginable... and with absolutely no mercy whatsoever.

Stick a little Southern-fried horror in your ears... at Audible!

Friday, August 2, 2013

A Word from the Shlocky, Pulp-Writing, Zebra-Striped, Retro-90s Horror Hack

Recently, I've been reading some fan reviews of my novels on Goodreads and other online websites, and I've come to a sobering realization. For the most part, folks enjoy my work... but they don't take it very seriously.

Does this bother me? Maybe a little. I suppose every writer starts out a new novel or short story putting everything they have into it and hoping that their work will gain respect and touch someone in a creative and emotional way. But I reckon when it come down to pleasing horror fans and critics, you can either go in one of two directions. Do you want to be a serious, high-browed author of the macabre or an old-fashioned writer of pulp horror and spooky tall-tales? Do you want to impress readers with your English degree and wow them with your intellectual prose... or do you simply want to have some fun and tell a good story?

According to the majority of those who've read my brand of Southern-fried horror, I fit into the latter catagory.

From a review of my novel, Fear, J.B. says: Every so often, I crave something dumb in my entertainment diet. Not dumb like a Michael Bay movie or "Twilight" or network TV. I said dumb, not worthless. I mean something creatively dumb. Something that lets me give my mind a rest but that doesn't insult my intelligence. I mean dumb as in an all-nite flying saucer movie marathon, an old-school Mack Bolan, or meathead metal. I mean dumb as in early '90s cheap horror paperbacks.

Dumb? This worried me a bit. Is this fella saying that my books are dumb? Worse, is he saying that I'm dumb? That old Irish temper of mine wasn't quite at a boil, but it was starting a slow simmer. Then I continued reading...

About 15-20 years ago, publishing outfits such as Zebra, Leisure, and Pinnacle were the kings of supermarket book racks, carpet-bombing their aisles with goofy vampires, werewolves, demon children, etc. who glared with glowing eyes off foil, cut-out covers that tore nanoseconds after purchase. I bought armloads of the things, along with a big bag of picante Cornquistos (greatest snack food EVAH!) to go along with the junkfood prose. Among the better purveyors of this kind of pulp was Ronald Kelly, the Zebra poor man's version of Joe Lansdale.

Okay, I'll agree with that. The guy knows of what he speaks. Mass market paperback houses such as Pinnacle and Zebra (of which I was sort of an indentured servant of the literary type) did over-saturate the book racks with horror novels, both good and bad, and around the mid-90s, caused an implosion that knocked quite a few writers offf their feet and out of a job... me included. That I was considered to be one of the "better purveyors" of paperback horror during that period is a compliment and anytime I'm compared to Joe Lansdale in any manner, positive or negative, it is a good thing in my book.

Most Zebra writers didn't require a repeat visit. A lot of the books that publisher put out were just plain garbage and contributed to the sinking of the horror market a few years later. Turns out that saturating the shelves with crap was not a good long-term business strategy. But I liked Kelly's books. They were unpretentious, solidly constructed, meat 'n' taters, good 'n' evil horror stories. Kelly isn't likely to win any prizes for his glittering sentences  or his eye-opening insight into the nature of man, but he knows how to tell a story. Too damn many "serious" authors haven't clue No. 1 about the mechanics of plot. I bought all the Kelly books and stashed em away until I'd get my next craving for good dumb popcorn fun.

Okay, this is where the unshakable stigma of being a "Zebra Hack" comes in. Even before the Big Z accepted my first novel, Hindsight, for publication in 1989, they had a shoddy reputation. For two years my agent submitted the book to almost every paperback house in New York City and, after running the course from A to Z, it was finally accepted at Zebra. The acceptance was bittersweet. I was overjoyed  to finally have a publisher, but not so happy that it was Zebra. During the first leg of my horror writing career (I'm currently on the second one) I always felt like horror aficionados and my horror-writing peers regarded me as second-string (or less) because I wrote for Zebra. At the first World Horror Convention, I even had Charles Grant ask me point-blank "Why the hell are you tied up with Zebra? You could do so much better than them!"

I reckon it just came down to this: everyone has to start out somewhere. You do as well as you can with what you have at that particular point in time... and at that point in my wet-behind-the-ears writing career, my only chance at mass market publication was the dreaded Z. So I stuck with them and tried to buck the traditonal Zebra formula. Instead of writing five or six evil child/doll novels in a row, I wrote something different every time. And I fought to retain my Southern identity, even though the folks at Zebra accused me of being too "rural" more times than I could shake a stick at.  I wrote 8 books under the Zebra imprint before the bottom dropped out and they shut down their horror line. I always did my best to be a cut-above the average Zebra author (the way the late, great Rick Hautala did) and, acccording to this particular review, I managed to accomplish that.

J.B. makes another good point here, too. When it all comes down to it, it's all about "telling the story". You can have the most brilliant plot in the history of literary fiction, but if you don't know how to tell the story -- how to invent characters that you genuinely care about and develop situations that are reasonably credible and fun to read -- then your book will have no soul and it will fall flat on its face. I've read a number of books since coming back to the horror genre in 2006 and, for the most part, they were good, solid stories. But more than a few had all the pizzazz and appeal of a techical manual for a toaster, Whenever someone reviews one of my books and uses the term "throwback to the pulp paperback days of the '80s and '90s horror boom", I take it as a compliment. Because that was when the genre was at its pinnacle, in my opinion. That was when everyone involved had an individual voice and style, from Stephen King himself to the lowliest horror hack. And no one seemed to be particularly concerned about sales or popularity. Most of us were just having to much dadblamed fun to care.

In another review, L.W. says: If Stephen King's fiction, by his own admission, is the equivalent of a Big Mac and fries, then Kelly's is most certainly an RC Cola and a Moon Pie.

This classification of "junk food literature" in comparison to, say, "steak & lobster literature" seems to be a recurring theme here. If King is part of that common-man fraternity, then so am I. If fast-paced, adventurous fiction that leans more toward fun and fright than grim intellectualism and unsettling dread, is your cup of tea (or sweet tea, in my case), then I'm your man. More than likely, I won't ever win any major awards for my down-home horror (as of yet, the Stoker folks have neglected to bless me with one of those spooky, little outhouses), but I really don't care. The reward is writing what I want, how I want, and having readers derive some enjoyment from the end result. And, if I accomplish that by using shivers and smiles, then I can punch the ol' literary time clock and feel good about it at the end of the day.