Duncan's a cool dude. I've wanted to interview him for a while but I didn't want to exclusively interview horror authors. The truth is, the horror community is the coolest I've ever known. Another anxiety that isn't discussed enough is that of asking an author for an interview. It's kind of like asking a girl out, but "professional." Anyhow, this interview was worth the wait. Really happy with this one. If you don't know who Duncan Ralston is yet, then you fucking should.
What gave you the idea to write about a sex offender colony?
Ooh! A hardball question, right off the bat. Okay, I'll bite.
The idea of a regular guy going undercover in an encampment of sex offenders to take revenge on the man who abused his child was something that clicked with me right away. I'm not a big fan of real-life vigilantism in general (despite my love of the Batman character), but I'm fascinated with themes of obsession and revenge.
I think the initial concept must have come about while re-reading Stephen King's Dolan's Cadillac from Nightmares & Dreamscapes in 2012. It may have been around the same time I watched season three of Dexter, where the eponymous serial killer of evil men says of a pedophile, "In the land of predators, a lion never fears the jackal." And I'd seen a photo of the "We are not monsters" graffiti under the Tuttle Causeway in Miami during the Bookville era around the same time and it intrigued me enough to do some research. All of this came together in a eureka moment and my novella Where the Monsters Live was born.
I'd written a decent draft by the time I saw Jeremy Saulnier's Blue Ruin (his predecessor to Green Room) and that changed everything for me. It's a damn fine revenge thriller, one of the best in my opinion. It's just come out on audiobook and I'm tinkering with adapting this sucker into a screenplay. It might be a hard sell but I think it would be worth it.
Has offering a free e-book (or six) with a subscription to your website worked out well for you? Have you noticed a spike in traffic or anything?
I have noticed a fair amount of new subscribers--and many daily downloads on Amazon--but it's difficult to tell how that translates to people actually reading my other books. How much do people value free ebooks? Do they just amass them in an endlessly growing collection, hoping they'll be able to read them all before they die?
Out of the blue about two months ago I saw a huge spike in downloads for Where the Monsters Live on Amazon. Almost a thousand in a day, and I have no idea what caused it. So I'm hoping a handful of these folks actually read it, and even feel the urge to review it--whether they love it or hate it--and maybe dive into one of my longer books like Salvage or The Method.
I love some of your book covers (particularly Video Nasties). How much say do you like to have in the designs for your covers.
It depends on if I've got any ideas for the cover initially. I love working with a great artist like Peter Frain (who did the covers for my horror collection, Video Nasties, and my crime thriller Dickens adaptation, Ebenezer), as he seems to have an endless supply of ideas and has created some visually stunning covers for other writers (including the "Dark Minds Novella" series from authors such as Rich Hawkins, Laura Mauro and Chad A. Clark). When I don't have an idea, working with someone you don't know or haven't worked with in the past can be more difficult. It's a lot of direction and "does this look right?" and "can we tweak this?"
My concept for the cover of my first novel, Salvage, worked out pretty well from the get-go. It was the first cover I'd gotten done professionally (via Booktrope, the original publisher), and it was interesting to see the image I'd imagined as envisioned by someone else. With Video Nasties my idea was to do an old VHS cassette cover. Peter offered a ton of different concepts and images and but I think it was pretty quickly we decided to go the cover-within-a-cover route, since the title story is about a horror videotape that's haunted by its director.
What is your proudest moment as a writer?
I've recently placed in a handful of prestigious screenwriting contests, which was nice. I was also very pleased--initially--to get a book contract from Kindle Press via the now-defunct Kindle Scout contest. And having my first foray into extreme horror published by UK writer/director Matt Shaw was pretty great too!
You've written short stories, novellas, novels, and screenplays. Do you have a favorite?
I like aspects of all three, and I like being able to hop back and forth between them. (I think it was Mickey Knox who said "In this day and age a man has to have a little bit of variety.") I like short stories because they can be much easier to write and they pack a punch in a small amount of time. I like writing novels because you can dive much deeper into character and theme. And writing screenplays is something I've done since my teens--I'd just love to see something with my name on it on the big or small screen someday.
On that note, is there a different approach you take with the different lengths/formats you write in?
With short stories I tend to start with the ending in mind. If I know the that, I can tailor the opening paragraph to encapsulate the story, in a way, and work backwards.
With novels, I tend to underwrite the first draft, overwrite the second draft (deepening characters, adding details in the setting, etc), then refine it in subsequent drafts. Woom was a one-draft book, and it's one of my most well received. The novel I've just finished has taken me two years on and off, with multiple drafts and early attempts at getting the first chapter just right.
With screenplays I've started using a seven-act structure that's helped immensely. I found the classic three-act structure to be too restrictive. At the end of each act there's a big moment that changes the direction of the story, just like in television. I find this method helps with plotting out the story as a whole.
What was it like being a "guest author" for the book, The Devil's Guests? That seems like an interesting process.
My story was a bonus short. I was glad to be a part of it but it wasn't involved in the overarching narrative. It's now available in my collection Video Nasties.
I got a lotta flack growing up for being into horror. Does your family have any issue with you writing horror stories?
My family is very supportive. Horror isn't their preferred genre but they read my stuff, even the books they probably shouldn't. But I also write thrillers and crime, which they do read regularly.
You were included in Bah! Humbug! An anthology of Christmas Horror Stories. What's your favorite Christmas horror movie?
Scrooged. I know it's not technically horror but it has horror elements and I feel like most holiday-themed horror movies are shit. I'm a bit of a snob when it comes to movies.
Do you ever have ideas that are too cinematic for a written story or too literary for a screenplay?
I like to think all of my stories are pretty visual, but there are definitely stories that lend themselves more readily to either screenplays (or series) than to prose. I used to have a difficult time deciding which a story should be but now they're pretty clearly delineated in my mind. Although I have adapted my three of my last four books into screenplays, and am currently working on the fourth.
I see your novella, How to Kill a Celebrity has gotten high praise from the likes of George Orwell, L. Ron Hubbard, and Rod Serling. Would you be intimidated or afraid to have any of your idols read your work?
A handful of well-respected writers in the genre whose work I have much admiration for have read one or two of my books. I was very happy to hear it, and especially that they enjoyed them.
You're the second Ginger Nut of Horror I've interviewed. Can you explain that group for the uninitiated?
Ginger Nuts of Horror is an excellent site for horror news and reviews. Jim McLeod has built up a great community of reviewers over time and has been making a bit of a name for himself in the industry lately. I haven't had much time to review for them lately, and I don't feel like I was much of a reviewer anyhow, not with folks like George Daniel Lea, Tony Jones and George Ilett Anderson to contend with.
Is there anything too disturbing that you've encountered and had to shelve or refused to write about?
The places I fear to tread are the places I most want to take the reader.
If you require evidence, read my stories "Cuttings," "Baby Teeth" or Woom.
[Obvious closer question] What's next for Duncan Ralston!?
I'm sending out queries for my latest novel to agents. While I await the inevitable multi-million-dollar, six-book contract with movie rights and points on the back end, I will be writing a new horror novel, and working on the screenplays adaptations of Where the Monsters Live and The Method.
Some links to find Duncan Ralston at:
His official website (with free books):