Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Ronan Cray, author of the horror novel Red Sand, discusses his inspirations and motivations as a writer. Visit his blog, Follow him on Twitter, Like him on Facebook, or Contact him by email

Red Sand is about shipwreck survivors being picked off one by one on a dangrous and mysterious island, often in quite gruesome fashions. Can you tell us about your background as a suspense/horror writer?

Red Sand is my first novel. Prior to this novel, I wrote extensively on non-fiction horror – climate change and war. After I watched the movie The Ring, I became interested in the horror genre, when done right. I despise slasher flicks. I prefer psychological horror/suspense. As for the gruesome deaths in Red Sand, well, I couldn’t have them die in their sleep, now, could I? 

I’ve written a great many short stories but never managed to get them published in my dream publication, Fantasy and Science Fiction. Years went by. The novels built up in my head, begging to get out.  A few years ago, they even wrote me a letter. I thought it was time to set them free. Red Sand was the first because it was the easiest. I’ll challenge myself in the near future.

What was the first idea you had for Red Sand, and how did that grow into a story?

Five years ago, I had a dream about the scene where Emily is running away, only I was the one running away. In the original dream, it was Dumbo, not Angel, chasing me. When a horn blew, Dumbo stopped chasing me, saying, “No! Wait! I can do this. Don’t send them now!” The fate that meets Emily in the book was mine and Dumbo’s.

I often write snippets of my dreams that turn into stories later.

What’s your favorite part about Red Sand? Any scenes you particularly enjoyed writing? Concepts you enjoyed developing? Characters you enjoyed writing about?

Carter's death, without giving it away. I'm fairly certain this is an original death, at least from the point of view. I once read a story about a method of deep frying fish in a special way so that it... well, that's giving things away.

What was the most challenging part about writing Red Sand?

The format. I wanted the reader to quickly realize that whoever the chapter starts with is the next to die. I thought that would be a novel approach. In reality, that was extremely limiting. The story arc had to include each character so that it continued after I killed them off. Since not every character was around during key moments, I found it very challenging to keep up a coherent narrative. It was like creating a mass consciousness. At the same time, I had to keep it interesting for the reader by letting them know more than the characters. That was a slack rope to balance on.

I think this concept will work for my next two books, but after that I’ll use something more traditional.

Although your characters are ultimately victims to the mysterious island, you take the time to flesh out each of their backgrounds. Why did you choose develop them so thoroughly?

I used to write about war and read a lot of war books. I noticed a huge chasm between the reality of war and the perception of it in popular fiction. Namely, in books and movies, we follow the protagonist from the beginning to end, usually knowing they’ll survive or, if they don’t, that their death happens at the very end. This portrays an unrealistic life expectancy we end up carrying as a culture. In reality, when those boys go over the wall, no one knows which will die and which will live.

I thought the most realistic war book would introduce a character, give us deep insight into his/her life, motivations, and life plans, then send them into war. Fifteen pages later, that character gets shot dead. The remaining 200 pages of the book are blank. In a movie, the main character gets killed off fifteen minutes into the film, and the remaining two hours are just darkness. That would be realistic. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be very entertaining.

I’d been playing with the idea for years when I decided the only solution is to use this format with an ensemble cast. Each character gets a chapter to shine in, then dies. We see it from their point of view, because that’s a hell of a lot scarier. We know what they feel, what they think, as they die. We see idiosyncracies as their minds unravel and grasp for meaning in death.

To me, death is the most horrifying prospect of all because it means the end of learning. In Red Sand, Carter’s last act is one of learning because he lacks the capacity for proper emotion.

Thanks to a constant inundation of slasher flicks, crime novels, and murder in nearly every medium, we are inured to the true horror of death. I wanted to try to bring that into play. I hope I succeeded. If not, I’ve got two more tries.

If you were a passenger of the Princess Anne, shipwrecked and left at the mercy of a heirarchical band of survivors, what role would you assume?

Like everyone else, I’d like to assume I’d be the hero, taking charge, showing compassion, beating the bad guys. In Red Sand, I tried to remove that option from all characters. There are no heroes, no bad guys. Every character has a shade of gray.
I would always be one step behind someone who led, trying to retain some form of independence. I would look for a way off the island on my own while supporting others in their quest. I don’t think I wrote that into any of the characters.

I would be Paul. I’m not good at politics, and I’d like it off in Departure Camp on my own. Maybe I wrote him from my own fantasies. I fear, though, that I would be one of the first to die.

Can you tell us a bit about your inspirations?

Orson Scott Card made a big impact on me in my teens. I was amazed at how real his characters seemed and how he delved into their motivations.

Joss Whedon is the king of dialogue. I have a hard time creating realistic dialogue so I try to study his work for clues. He can make a character loveable or hated with one sentence. I still don’t know how he does it.

When it comes to action, Neal Stephenson takes the cake. I love how he crams so much information, colloquial thought, and possibilities into each sentence. It burns the brain as the action explodes.

When it comes to horror, I’ve never read anything so deeply terrifying as Danielewski’s House of Leaves. That book haunted me for months after I read it. I aspire to his greatness.

When it comes to reading, though, I typically pick dead authors. This made it difficult to write a contemporary book. Modern readers don’t tolerate the old language, far superior though it may be. I could never buy into Hemmingway’s “The River Was There,” when I had Conrad, Kafka, Dickens, Poe, and Stevenson illuminating the path.

Red Sand is not a work of literature, and my Great American Novel still collects dust in the chambers of my mind. When the time is right…

Are you working on anything new?

I have ten books to write. After writing one, I’m energized to write the rest. I’m trying to finish the next one by July, a zombie apocalypse book with a twist. Stay tuned!

Red Sand is available at: Amazon US (paperback), Amazon US (Kindle e-book), Amazon UK (paperback), Amazon UK (Kindle e-book), Smashwords (multiple e-formats)

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