Name Duncan Ralston
Where are you from?
Born in Toronto, spent my teens in smalltown Ontario, returned to Toronto after college. I worked in television as a Master Control Operator for 12 years after school. I’m currently writing while I try to find new work, possibly in a different industry.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
You can find my latest short stories in the anthologies Easter Eggs & Bunny Boilers (Matt Shaw Publications), and Death By Chocolate (KnightWatch Press). My new novella, Every Part of the Animal, the first in a series of novellas about the dark side of love, will be out by the beginning of June. My first foray into “extreme horror,” Woom (Matt Shaw Publications), should arrive some time in August.
Along with all of this great stuff, along with fellow horror writers Thomas S. Flowers and Jeffery X. Martin, I will be hosting a biweekly (twice a month, not twice a week) podcast called Screen Kings, in which we shoot the shit about all of the Stephen King adaptations from Carrie to current. The first episode should be coming out soon.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I was 15 when I read Clive Barker’s Books of Blood, and I loved it so much I thought I’d try my own monster story. The first story I wrote (that wasn’t a school assignment) was about a psychic forced to open a doorway into another “realm,” who begins to bond with the demon. The second story was about a hired killer who falls in love with his victim. It was a weird little S&M story with some cool twists and turns. It was the title story for collection I never finished called The Blood Letters, but aside from one or two more, I never finished any of the other stories. I really wish I’d pushed myself to finish them, but instead I kept starting new novels and never finishing them for years. I had no idea how to go about publishing something back then, aside from vanity press, and I never really thought of it as something I could do as a “job,” so I got into TV.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
When I won a pitch contest in 2011 for my TV pilot, The Valley. I started to take it seriously then, and felt like it was something I could potentially do. In 2014, when I self-published my debut collection of short horror, Gristle & Bone, and I started to get some positive reviews, that sealed it for me.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
A friend at the time convinced me to keep writing, and asked for regular updates. It was a good kick in the pants to keep on working through to the end and not give up. The book is 90,000 words of shit, but it had some decent moments. I’ll most likely rewrite it sometime in the next couple of years.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
If it’s a thriller there won’t be as much in-depth character stuff, but I tend toward character-heavy stories, rather than plot-heavy. The style itself is dictated by the characters (in first person), or the type of story I’m telling.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
For Salvage, it was a play on words. The main character follows in his sister’s footsteps after she drowns in a lake up north, trying to put the pieces of his life back together. He also salvage dives in the same lake. It also sounds like “salvation,” and with a religious cult involved, I thought it worked nicely.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
It’s likely pretty obvious when you read the book, but forgiveness is important to me.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
I used to have a cottage on a lake up north, and snorkeled a lot. I guess the original kernel of the story came from not knowing my biological father, and how that was a bit of a struggle growing up (though not as much as it might have been if I didn’t have a great dad who stepped in to fill those shoes), especially since I supposedly look just like him. Other than that, it’s all fiction. I mean, there are towns that have been flooded for dams and whatnot, but I’ve never been to one.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most? A mentor?
Stephen King’s On Writing is a book that, without having read it, I likely wouldn’t be published now.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest and who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
Stephen King is my favorite writer of all time. I love how in-depth he gets with his characters. His stories are about how real people deal with terrifying events.
I’ve recently read Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and absolutely loved it, so I’ll be reading more of her, and had a fun time reading Blake Crouch’s Pines.
Among folks I know in the horror community, I’ve been very impressed by the books coming out from The Sinister Horror Company, Grey Matter Press, and Crystal Lake Publishing, along with stuff from Jasper Bark, Matt Shaw, Thomas S. Flowers and Jeffery X. Martin. There are many others but I’ll just be typing names all day long.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
The horror community, particularly some kind folks in the UK, embraced me pretty early on. The gents at The Sinister Horror Company. D.K. Ryan and the Dead as Hell Horror Podcast. The Ginger Nuts of Horror. Jeffery X. Martin, Thomas S. Flowers, Jeffrey Goff and Dawn Cano. Confessions of a Reviewer. The folks at Booktrope (who published my first two books under their Forsaken imprint). Chris Hall at DLS Reviews. And a ton of bloggers and readers, who if I mentioned them all by name it would take forever. Most recently, THE Matt Shaw has been a big supporter, and I’ll be publishing with him soon.
The horror community as a whole has its share of ups and downs, but for the most part it’s filled with helpful, encouraging people who are genuine fans of the genre and want to see it continue to thrive.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Some day, with luck!
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
No. Once it’s out in the world, it’s not my book anymore. It belongs to the readers. Not that I’m comparing my book to da Vinci by any means, but you don’t go back and paint eyebrows on the Mona Lisa once its already hung in a gallery.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
I’ve always enjoyed writing. The first story I can remember was a picture book I made for grade six class about the monster who lived under my basement stairs. Turned out he was just misunderstood. I’ve always had a little sympathy for monsters.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
I’m finishing up the novella, Every Part of the Animal. It’s a thriller about a hunter and her ten-yer-old son who live in the wilds of Alaska, and the young popstar, in town protesting the wolf cull, who turns their life upside down. The idea was inspired by true events, but that happens after the actual protest is made up. It gets pretty dark.
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Not repeating myself. I also have trouble with names. I find I end up typing “popular names [year]” into Google a lot. Other than that, the challenge is to keep writing better stuff rather than stagnating.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
I don’t travel for my writing, but my traveling always inspires stories. One of my first short stories, “Fat of the Land” from Gristle & Bone, was inspired by a trip to a rich town on the California coast where it seemed like everyone who lived in the big expensive houses was white and all the workers were hispanic. Watching this elderly hispanic woman dressing a silver-haired white man with a paunch in his wetsuit is where the idea for “Fat of the Land” initially arose, a story about a small rich California town where when the help gets out of line, they’re put on the menu.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
Gristle & Bone was designed by the most excellent Scott Deyett. Salvage was done by Yocla Designs.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
For Salvage it was a lot of research into the Bible, and diving. There’s a part where a mentally ill religious figure recites his alternate explanation of the story of Job. Figuring that part out was probably the hardest part.
Usually the hardest part is the research, especially when it involves looking at the dark corners of the internet. That thing Nietzsche said about when you look long into an abyss, the abyss looks into you? I’m pretty sure the internet was what he meant when he wrote that. Also, I’m pretty squeamish.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
I learned a lot about who begat who.
Fiona: If any of your books was made into a film who would you like to play the lead?
I’m not going to get that far ahead of myself!
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Practice first. Don’t just self-publish the first thing you write. Also, don’t expect to make a ton of cash right out the gate. It’s a long, slow journey, but if you enjoy it, stick with it. If you don’t, get out while you’re still young.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
“Have a good time all the time.” – Viv Savage, Spinal Tap drummer
But seriously, in that spirit: read a lot, live a lot, love a lot.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
I’m reading a beta of Chad Clark’s Behind Our Walls, a bleak post-apocalyptic thriller. Prior to that, I read Gone Girl. I’m trying to catch up on some of the mainstream and classic books I missed in between betas and books from writers I know who I’ve been meaning to read for a while.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
Ever? No. Probably one of the Sesame Street books. The first non-children’s book I remember reading was Stephen King’s Night Shift. Everything before that just led me to his stuff.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
I love to laugh. I laugh lot. What makes me cry is a good story told well, particularly something with an excellent twist.
Fiona: Is there one person past or present you would meet and why?
Not really. They always say “don’t meet your heroes,” because they’ll most likely disappoint you.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone and why?
Here lies Duncan Ralston. He had a full life.
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies?
Hiking, reading, playing video games, cross-country skiing, swimming. I used to love to snorkel, and I’d like to learn to dive.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
I’m a huge fan of The Leftovers right now. And season two of Fargo was one of the best seasons of TV ever. Al-time favorites are: Seinfeld, Lost, Six Feet Under, Oz, Twin Peaks.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music
That’s tough, I like so many foods! I like a good stiry fry, pork schnitzel with lemon, spaghetti, salad with oil and vinegar dressing. Pretty boring. Cheese is my favorite thing to eat. And bacon.
No favorite colors. At least not since I was a kid.
Favorite bands: Radiohead, Genesis, RHCP, Afghan Whigs, Faith No More.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
Build houses. I like architecture, but I don’t have the discipline to study it.
Or psychotherapy. I’m interested in the mind and how/why it works the way it does. Plus I like to help people.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?