Saturday, July 9, 2016

Hell Hollow: A Case of Literary Death & Ressurection

There was a weeping and a wailing and a gnashing of teeth...

That was me back in 1996.

Oh, the year didn't exactly start out that way. In fact, my literary career seemed extremely healthy and productive and destined to continue for years to come, without a hitch. I would net multi-book contract after contract and write dozens of mid-list horror novels for that red-headed stepchild of genre publishers, Zebra Books. But then, sometimes, a writer turns a blind eye to bad omens and secretive whisperings in the publishing industry. Sometimes they fool themselves into thinking every thing is just fine and continue onward, spinning their tales, their eyes on a hazy future that could be reality or a clever mirage.

I was one of those unfortunate mass market paperback writers. Yes, I'd heard the news, knew the declining state of the genre I had invested so much time and effort (and imagination) into. Authors were being cut by the publishing houses by the dozens. Publishing houses were abandoning their horror lines because the market was oversaturated with horror fiction, alot of it substandard and just plain bad. The boom of the late 80s had past. Publishers like Tor and Berkley, Pocket and Pinnacle, and the big Z had force fed readers horror pabulum until they were sick and tired of it. Readers stopped buying the mid-list books and, in turn, publishers began to make drastic cuts to keep afloat. And when they couldn't salvage their horror line and it began to sink like a haunted house of a Titanic, they simply gave up. And put dozens of talented horror authors out of a job.

But it wouldn't happen to me, I told myself. Everything was looking great on my end. Several months before, I had sold two novels to Zebra (which would have been my 9th and 10th with the publisher); Hell Hollow and Restless Shadows, and they were even scheduled for publication. So I cooked up two or three new novel ideas and submitted them, expecting a third multi-book contract to keep my productive career afloat. But I didn't get it. They rejected the story ideas -- perfectly good ideas -- without explanation. I asked my agent what was going on and, at that time, he had no answers. Or he knew the answers and hesitated to break the sad and sober news to me.

So I came up with a few more solid horror novel ideas. And they were rejected, too. It was then that the cold and dark shadow of professional dread descended upon me. My wife and I hit a financial brick wall due to me being unable to sell Zebra on another multi-book contract and her losing her job due to sickness. We left Nashville with everything we owned packed in my Camaro and in the back of my father-in-law's SUV and headed for the country. That was April of 1996. We struggled through the summer and hoped for a better autumn. Fall finally came with a dry blanket of fallen leaves and the bitter smell of woodsmoke in the cool, Tennessee air. But still, Zebra was silent and stubborn, and I was stuck in literary limbo.

Then it came. The 9th of October. My own personal 9/11. The call came from my agent in New York. Zebra had ditched their horror line. I was suddenly without a publisher I had depended on for nearly 7 years; the key reason I was able to retire from factory work and write full-time. And, what was worse, both Hell Hollow and Restless Shadows would no longer be published. They would be returned to me to do as a please and, by the way, you can keep the advance money, per the stipulations of the contract signed for the two.

The rest is Ron Kelly history. I grew discouraged and depressed and tried desperately to continue my writing career. It didn't happen. Those who had written for the horror genre and lost their publishers were shunned and ignored... treated like pure poison. My agent's advice? "Write anything but horror." And, unfortunately, I took his advice to heart. I tried to write in other genres, even children's fiction, but none of it took. I was a horror writer, pure and simple, and no one wanted me or what I had to offer. After four months of trying every publishing venue imaginable with no results, I simply gave up. I stuck the two unpublished books back in the bottom drawer of my filing cabinet, laced up my steel-toed boots, and went back to the factories that I had escaped back in 1989.

And that was the way it was for ten long years. Working the day shift, first at an electric motor assembly plant, and then at an automotive electro-coating company (where I am still currently employed). There were good times, of course; I grew closer to my wife, Joyce, than I had been when I was spending 90% of my days and nights in front of a keyboard and, together, we began to raise a family. I gave my life to Christ and became a Christian, which put further distance between me and the secular life of a horror author. But despite the peaceful, uneventful life that I lived, I simply wasn't happy. That nagging need to write was still there, deep down inside, wanting to escape from the crypt of my self-imposed exile. But I was stubborn and unwilling to chance it. I ignored the horror genre and anything related to it. I'd had my chance and I blew it. My novels were lost in a past that was painful and tragic, at least in my mind. Everyone had completely forgotten that mid-list Zebra hack named Ronald Kelly.

Or so I thought.

Then in 2006 something strange happened. Folks on the horror forums began to talk about me and my old books began to sell briskly on eBay. Old writing pals and past fans began to contact me, urging me to return to the genre I had abandoned a decade ago. "Things are better now," they told me. "The genre is healthy and booming again." And, with a growing flame of excitement and hopefulness, I began to believe them. What cinched it was a phone call from an old friend, Richard Chizmar, from Cemetery Dance Publications. He wanted to publish me again. We talked and agreed on two projects: a short story collection, which would become Midnight Grinding & Other Twilight Terrors, and a novel. And that novel turned out to be the long dead and buried Hell Hollow.

Hell Hollow was published in hardcover in 2009 to rave reviews and steady sales that would result in it selling out. After that, my writing career was back on track and I published numerous books with numerous publishers: Cemetery Dance, Thunderstorm Books, Bad Moon Books, Crossroad Press, etc. After several potential publishers had folded, the Essential Ronald Kelly Collection (all 8 Zebra novels, plus bonus features, published in beautiful hardcover editions) finally found a home at Thunderstorm Books, much to the delight of my fans, both old and new.

But what about the subject of this blog post, you ask? What about Hell Hollow? What about that creepy, Southern-fried horror novel about four kids who battle the hellish evil of the soul-harvester Doctor Augustus Leech; a serial killer possessed by the demonic presence of a murdered medicine show man nearly a century before? An agent of Satan who operated both in our world and in a world of his own, a world of wondrous dreams that could turn into hellish nightmares for the owners of the special playing cards he dealt to his unaware victims?

Well, Hell Hollow enjoyed a year or two of popularity, then sort of faded into the background. The CD edition sold out and was unavailable for purchase. It was offered as an e-book for a while and then an audio book (which is still available through For several years it was totally unavailable in print form. That is, until now. Thanks to the good folks at Sinister Grin Press, Hell Hollow and two other RK novels, Undertaker's Moon and Fear have been resurrected to live among the annals of horrordom once again. The trade paperback edition of Hell Hollow  is now available for purchase at for only $17.59. You can order your copy of HH here. 

Here's your chance to read the RK novel that almost remained unpublished due to the implosion of the horror genre back in the mid-90s. A novel that may have been entombed in the dusty darkness of a filing cabinet drawer, dead and buried, if it hadn't been for your interest and support back in 2006. Thanks for letting me come back to entertain you with my particular brand of Southern-fried horror. I hope you enjoy the evil antics of the sinister Doctor Leech in shadowy, backwoods wilderness known to locals as Hell Hollow.

No comments: