The horror continues with another Keeper of the Crypt, Ronald Malfi, author of the recently released book, The Narrows, stopping by to chat. If you want to get a quick peek at the terrors that are waiting for the citizens of Stillwater, you can read The Boy in the Lot for free. It’s sort of like a prologue to The Narrows. Make sure you have your night-light on.
Thanks for stopping by, Ron.
1. You just recently released your latest novel, “The Narrows.” Could you tell us a little bit about it?
The Narrows focuses on a select group of individuals in a rural Maryland town called Stillwater who are thrust together to fight a horrific creature who has been brought to the town by a great flood. It is parts mystery, part thriller, and wholly a horror novel. Having become known for atmospheric horror over “shock” or gory horror, The Narrows follows this trend, focusing primarily on the characters at the center of the conflict, and the metaphor of a small farming town slowly dying beneath the shadow of today’s harsh economy.
2. Your short story, The Boy in the Lot, offers us a brief peek at the creatures tormenting the town of Stillwater in “The Narrows.” What prompted you to write this introductory piece? Did you plan it that way from the beginning or was there enough interest from readers to inspire this little prologue after the fact?
No, I hadn’t planned it; it was suggested by my editor at Samhain, Don D’Auria, that I write something as a promotional piece for the novel. I didn’t have to think about it very long before I came up with the story for “The Boy in the Lot,” which focuses on action that actually takes place prior to the beginning of The Narrows. I was happy to do it, and thought offering this sort-of prologue for free online was a unique way to promote the book, and it really shows what currently publishing technologies allow authors and publishers to do.
3. Horror is a genre that many authors shy away from because it seems to be an incredibly limited niche, yet you’ve shattered the barriers by having many refer to your writing as literary horror. Did you start out with a plan to redefine the genre?
I suppose I would find it to be incredibly limiting writing in any genre if I were unable to continually push myself—and the genre’s boundaries—with each book. I never set out to do this deliberately…and, in truth, I never set out to be a horror writer deliberately, either. My body of work certainly consists of books in various genres—Shamrock Alley is a crime drama based on a true story; The Ascent is a thriller; Via Dolorosa is, at least in my eyes, more mainstream in tone—and I don’t feel obligated to write in one specific, say, subgenre. I couldn’t be a “zombie” author or a “vampire” author; I just don’t think I’d be able to write in such a restrictive capacity while keeping the material fresh. I don’t have that talent. So instead, it’s all about the story—if I come up with a story and want to write it, I do, and don’t worry so much how neatly it fits in with genre restrictions.
I think the label “literary horror” comes from my penchant for placing story and characters over plot. I find plot-driven novels to read too formulaic, and I lose interest. If you’ve got a good story and interesting, sympathetic characters, the plot will unfold on its own.
4. Characters and locations are so finely detailed in your work that the story seems to come to life while reading. How much research goes into a book? Is there a real Stillwater somewhere?
I’m a terribly lazy researcher, so I try to write books that require as little research as possible. Of course, sometimes this is unavoidable. With The Ascent, which concerns a murderous plot atop a mountain range in Nepal, I had to read countless books on mountaineering. It was a sport beautifully alien to me, though I was fascinated by the stories I read while doing the research. Critically, the book did well, although I had received emails from avid mountain-climbers stringently criticizing many of the details throughout the book. My belief is that you can really do all the research in the world, but it doesn’t prepare you like actually undertaking a task and experiencing it firsthand. That old adage about writing what you know? It’s an old adage for a reason.
Stillwater exists in part, though I have taken liberties with the area, including the fictional town itself. The real Narrows is actually the Cumberland Narrows, in Allegheny County, Maryland. Some of the topography, to include the mountains and the old plastics factory mentioned in the novel, also exist, although I have manipulated these things to better suit the story.
5. Do you outline or let the story unfold as you write?
I never, never outline. In fact, I usually begin writing with on a rudimentary idea of the plot and usually without any idea how it will end. I find this to be the best way to ensure I continue writing—I approach it as a reader, and want to find out what happens, so in that sense, I am really the book’s first reader, reading as it is created. In the past, I have learned that if I take too many notes on a story, or if I know how it will end and all the beats in between, it becomes next to impossible for me to write that story. I already know how it will end, so what’s the point? I become bored and want to explore other tales. Of course, this doesn’t work for everyone—I know plenty of authors who must outline and know every detail of their story before they actually begin to put pen to manuscript page—but that’s what works for me.
6. This is one of those completely irrelevant questions that have no bearing on anything, but inquiring minds want to know. Your earlier works have your name listed as Ronald Damien Malfi, but the middle name got dropped later on. Why the name change?
I get asked this a lot! Basically, the middle name was dropped at the suggestion of an editor after I went from small press novels to mass market. I was told that authors with three names are more difficult to market than those with two. Why is this? Do bookstore clerks have a difficult time alphabetizing three-named authors on a bookstore shelf? Do two names all the design folks to make the author’s name bigger, and thus more eye-catching, on the cover? I don’t know the reason, but I went along with it. It made sense, and I like the brevity of the two names better. Although “Damien” does sound sinister, doesn’t it?
7. Are you currently working on anything new?
Always. I’m currently editing a manuscript under contract and due out in 2014, while working on the first draft of a new novel. I’ve recently signed with an agent—something I was loath to do for much of my career, but find it necessary now—so she and I are gearing up to send a new manuscript to publishers. And 2013 will see the publication of my novel Cradle Lake in paperback and ebook.
8. What advice would you give to aspiring writers that want to break into horror writing?
If you want to write horror, you must read horror…and then read plenty of non-horror, too. You must write every day, and realize that an excuse for not writing is one more roadblock standing between you and publication. Understand why some books work and some books don’t. Talk to fellow authors, and learn from them. Also, it never hurts to buy an editor a drink.
1. Favorite childhood, or adulthood, Halloween costume? My mom once made a two-headed-monster costume for my friend and me—a big furry suit we shared, with two holes for our heads, two arms, and four feet. Impossible to walk around in without straining the fabric, and it was hot as hell inside, but it was fantastic nonetheless.
2. Would you stay in a house that has a reputation of being haunted? Of course. Who wouldn’t?
3. Psychological horror or blood and guts? Psychological horror.
4. Favorite Halloween candy? Can I defer to a bologna sandwich? I’m not big on candy.
5. Tricks or Treats? Which do you prefer? Treats if I’m receiving; tricks if I’m giving.
About the Author
Ronald Malfi is the award-winning author of the novels Floating Staircase, Snow, Passenger, and several others. Most recognized for his haunting, literary style and memorable characters, Malfi’s dark fiction has gained acceptance among readers of all genres.
He currently lives along the Chesapeake Bay where he is at work on his next book.