[Editor’s Note: You have 12 hours to pledge to the Stanley Hotel Writer’s Retreat! So go pledge! It will be the event for horror authors and readers to attend!-TMW]
I stood facing the corner near the end of the hallway. I felt a heaviness pushing me down, but it was also pulling me. I slid into the seat of my Big Wheel, grabbed the high-fly handlebars and took a deep breath. I wanted to turn around and go the opposite direction but I couldn’t. So I hit the pedals. The rear wheels spun on the carpet before throwing me back into the seat. I reached the corner, banked hard to the left and there they were. I stopped cold.
The Twins looked at me longingly. A sinister heaviness shone in their eyes. It was as much a warning as it was a pleading for me to join them. There was a man with them. Darkness flowed from him. He stood behind the Twins with an axe. Loneliness, evil, and apprehension consumed the space between us.
The Twins wanted me.
And so did the man.
The man smiled and the scene changed. The Twins had been butchered. They lay corrected in their torn blue dresses on the blood-stained carpet in the hallway. “Please, stay. And do forgive me,” RJ said while staring into my eyes. “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than to ask permission.”
I nodded, became one with the scene and slowly stepped out of the Big Wheel, “It’s time for our interview.”
“Yes, I know,” RJ said. “Please keep in mind: I’ve always been the editor here…”
I’m honored and touched for this opportunity to interview RJ Cavender. This is definitely a man to watch. He has a great sense of humor, is genuine, his finger is firmly on the pulse of horror and he is determined to feed the genre. RJ is a visionary that has not only worked to make his dreams come true, he also works hard to make the dreams of many others come true, too. He is helping people discover themselves and to discover that their dreams are worth living. You may ask how RJ is doing all of this. Let me tell you: RJ lives the philosophy that there is no greater purpose than service to others. He puts himself out there. It’s a privilege to be a part of this interview with him.
RJ Cavender is a publishing consultant and Managing Editor of Dark Regions Press Horror; is an Associate Member of the Horror Writers Association and the thrice Bram Stoker Award® nominated editor of the Horror Library anthology series and co-editor of Horror For Good: A Charitable Anthology which includes stories by Bram Stoker winning authors Jack Ketchum, Ray Garton, Ramsey Campbell, and Benjamin Kane Ethridge, both from Cutting Block Press. He has worked closely with some of the most talented authors in the horror genre. Horror Library IV (co-edited with Boyd E. Harris) won the 2010 reader’s choice Black Quill Award from Dark Scribe Magazine in the Best Dark Genre Anthology category. He is the editor-in-chief at the new Cutting Block Books, acquisitions editor at Blood Bound Books, pitch session coordinator for World Horror Convention, and the founder of The Stanley Hotel Writers Retreat and the Tucson Dia de los Muertos Writers Retreat at the Hotel Congress in downtown Tucson.
RJ lives in Tucson, Arizona. His favorite book is The Shining.
Without further ado, let us commence with the interview…
RD: Thank you so much, RJ. I’m really excited for this interview. It’s an honor to be here. Let’s call down a few things into the confines of the Triangle that you haven’t shared before, frightening and enlightening your fans, supporters and readers alike. Let’s give them something to talk about and get started with our first question: What first piqued your interest in being involved with writing, horror writers and in editing the works of horror? What do you consider to be your first professional editorial debut?
RJ: My editorial debut would be Horror Library Vol. 1 that Boyd E. Harris and I co-edited as our first project for Cutting Block Press. It was my first reading of Books of Blood by Clive Barker that got me interested in short story collections and putting together one someday. I’d ready Night Shift by Stephen King and I’d also read all the Poe and other ‘assorted scary story’ collections that I could get my hands on…and they all made me want to write. But it wasn’t until Books of Blood that I started thinking about the anthology process, and what it might be like someday (since I’ve always been surrounded by talented people) to get a bunch of stories together and publish them. It wasn’t until years later that this seed of an idea turned into a writers workshop as an offspring of Zoetrope, then it turned into The Horror Library as a website in the early 2000s. Then the website spawned a series of books. Horror Library Vol. 5 was nominated for a Bram Stoker award last year and we’re going to start work in on Horror Library Vol. 6 after World Horror Convention Atlanta. We’ll have some surprises to unveil there, as well.
RD: Currently, who are your top five favorite authors?
RJ: I don’t like to list authors. I’d rather just send anyone interested in great horror writers over to the Horror Writers Association website at: horror.org The best horror authors writing today are members of the HWA.
RD: What are your thoughts about authors writing under a name other than their own?
RJ: It only becomes an issue if they make me start calling them a different name 10 years into a working relationship or something. Other than that I don’t see any issues with pseudonyms.
RD: Do you prefer to work with short stories or novels? Have you done any work with screenplays?
RJ: I just enjoy working with the written word. I’ve worked on every sort of project imaginable.
RD: I didn’t want to lead off at the outset of this interview with a question or comment about the Stanley Hotel Writers Retreat because I know of late there has already been plenty of thrilling discussion through interviews on this topic – but you must admit – it is timely and certainly worth a bit more discussion with the tremendous excitement and success you have already experienced with this event. It has proven to be a great idea showcasing some of the best talent in the industry. How many times did you see The Shining and read The Shining before you found yourself standing in the center of the hedge maze saying to yourself, “I want to do this forever – and ever – and ever? Tell us about that first amazing year! And all about the brainstorming and the planning for this second year!
RJ: Well, first off…there was no hedge maze. Timely enough, though— there will be a hedge maze when we return. The Stanley Hotel just had an international contest to design a hedge maze for their grand lawn and it will be built and operational by the time we return in October.
But to address the first part of the question— I’ve watched Kubrick’s version of The Shining more times than I’ve read the book. I’m not a big re-reader. My eyes have about nine hours of reading time per-day, and most of that is reserved for editing purposes, so my free reading time is generally devoted to new stuff. I skimmed some of my favorite scenes before the first trip. I’ll probably read more or maybe move on to Doctor Sleep before I return again this October.
As for this second year, we’ve added so much…it’s kind of crazy!
As with last year, our retreat coincides with one of the biggest weekends of the year, with both a Murder Mystery Dinner and The Shining Masquerade Ball taking place over the weekend evenings. It’s a busy weekend, the hotel is sold-out, and there’s a lot of activity and events. And still…you can find plenty of great places to write, to hide away, to enjoy the view and the solitude of the mountains. We’re going to have a reading event at The Stanley Hotel Lodge on Thursday night with our Guest of Honor Authors, we’re going to have some book sales and panels over at the public library. We’ve got a pre-event trip to one of the largest year-round haunted houses in the nation, The 13th Floor Denver. Field trip to Starbuds in Denver. Convoy into the Rocky Mountain National Park and drive over to Grand Lake for some killer barbeque. Hotel tours, ghost tours, we’re even going to have our own personalized Paranormal Investigation where we’re going to have two hours of writing time within the haunted Concert Hall at The Stanley Hotel. We’ve got so much going on, 65 guests registered to the event so far…
RD: It totally hooked me! I can’t wait for this October. There are so many amazing people that are going to be there that I love in so many ways and that I’ve read and respected for years – writers, publishers, editors. I’m going to get to hang out with my good friend: Trent Zelazny; I’m going to get to meet, for the first time, someone I never fail to be impressed with on the deepest levels on a daily basis: Richard Chizmar. Jack Ketchum is going to be there – winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Horror Writers Association! It’s tremendous! Tom Piccirilli & Michelle Scalise; Josh Malerman; Kealan Patrick Burke; I’m going to be in an altered state of consciousness from the moment I recognize the drive up that mountain!”
RJ: I really wanted authors of all different levels of experience and accomplishment to be able to mingle and learn together this year. I think panels and workshops help us energize, rethink, reconsider something that some of us have been doing one way for quite some time. I like the idea of this retreat offering enough programming to keep anyone busy, but not too much, as I want our guests to get a chance to write instead of feeling perpetually obligated to go do some activity or another. I mean, the choice is always there…there’s always something going on. Get inspired, get happy, make new friends…then go and write. My favorite events have always been ones that inspired me creatively, and that has as much to do as with your physical location as it does to those who surround you. Last year we tested the waters and I took any little learning lesson I could and turned it into changes for this year’s event. I think people are going to be happy. I’m working hard to make it the best event for everyone’s hard-earned time and money!
RD: RJ, you were born on the 8th of June in 1972. That was on a Thursday. “Thursday’s child has far to go…” I would say you have already gone far. Do you feel these lines from the nursery rhyme accurately describe you and your life? Does it figure in with your plans?
RJ: Not really.
RD: One of the things I love the most about you, RJ, is your sense of humor. I must say, you are one of the most animated editors I’ve ever seen. I think that is great. To me, that’s a sign that you’re comfortable with who you are. Have you found that having this attitude has attracted people to you and what you do? Is that something you learned at home or was it something you picked up later in life?
RJ: My parents are both pretty funny in their own way. My grandparents, too…and they’re the ones who got me into horror fiction and true crime, so I’d say that’s at least where the darker parts of my sense of humor come from. One of my first jobs was at an Italian restaurant that had a comedy club in the back. Even though I wasn’t technically old enough to watch the show in the big room, the owner trusted me and said if I didn’t try to drink he’d let me sit in on the comedy shows and drink sodas at any empty tables in the back of the house. I saw a lot of touring acts back in the day. Learned a lot about comedy timing and a live audience, too. If I weren’t working in horror, I’d love to work in comedy. I’ve often had that debate with people— which is harder: making people afraid or making people laugh? I’m not sure I have an answer, but I’m just as passionate about stand-up comedy and comedy writing as I am about horror. Comedy-horror on the other hand…real hit-or-miss with me. A couple people do it really well, other authors could learn from them.
RD: I know you’ve already said that you don’t believe in ghosts. But to the best of my memory, that was before you stayed all night in Room 217. What was your overnight experience like in Room 217? Do you think if you changed your mind and decided to believe in ghosts that changing your belief system would also change your experience? The mind is a powerful thing.
RJ: Well, I’ll say this much…Room 217 wasn’t a great room to try to sleep in. I kept waking up, the feeling of someone sitting down behind me on the side of the bed. It happened three times on three different nights, then the third morning I felt that same feeling…someone sitting down— then they scooted closer! I shot out of bed, got up and dressed, and drank coffee in the lobby until the restaurant opened at 7am for breakfast. Haha!
Here’s the thing…I don’t actually believe in ghosts. I mean, I’m willing to be proven wrong…but mostly, I don’t believe in anything unless I can see it in motion and with my own eyes.
And still, I know what happened. Part of me thinks it way just my own brain, playing tricks on me. But there’s that other little seed of doubt, where I honestly can still feel someone plopping down on the end of the bed. And no one was there. It chills me still.
So…I guess I kinda believe in ghosts now. I spent a good deal of the weekend walking the halls, looking in dark corners, being alone in places in the hotel that freaked me out (like the roof.) It’s easy to creep yourself out in The Stanley…it’s a creepy old place. Doesn’t feel inhospitable, though. I mean…it’s a hotel. I’m glad it’s okay with guests staying there…not teaming with evil spirits that want to chase people out. Haha!
RD: During your life, have you ever experienced anything that you might consider paranormal? And have you had the opportunity to spend any time – alone – in the Stanley Hotel – besides overnight in Room 217?
RJ: I walked the hallways of The Stanley late, late at night when everyone else was asleep. I walked the grounds, took a trip to the concert hall, the basement and roof. It’s got a very intense vibe about it, I guess you’d say. I’ve had similar feeling in other old buildings, and I always explained it away since there was no incident that accompanied those feelings. Again I’m sure a lot of it could be explained away. Odd angles, creaky floorboards, the warped mirrors at the end of the hallways. But one thing I absolutely felt when I was there is alive…I felt very alert and very at peace. Maybe like I belonged there? Maybe…maybe so.
RD: What is the strangest thing that has ever happened to you at a retreat or convention?
RJ: Oh I can’t even say…it’d incriminate too many people.
RD: What are your religious and philosophical beliefs? Do you believe in destiny or fate? Do you think there is an afterlife? What about free-will and karma? What are your thoughts?
RJ: I don’t believe in anything, but I’m open to being wrong.
RD: Have you ever struggled with alcohol or Margaritas?
RJ: Never struggled, but I do make a mean lime Margarita…
R. J. Cavender lives in Tucson and can be found online at: https://www.facebook.com/cuttingblock.net, https://www.linkedin.com/pub/r-j-cavender/1b/2a6/577 and http://www.darkregions.com/pages/Submit.html (Think HORROR) or you can email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org
This is Robin’s gift:
Millions of scabrous black shards impatiently wait to deeply embed themselves into the tender flesh of your susceptible mind. They lay concealed like bloodthirsty parasites - wearing unnatural faces of the evil in your long forgotten, worst nightmares. Preparing to reveal to your conscious mind the horrors your subconscious mind never want you to know – about your true self – about your disease – if you but dare look…