It’s finally October, and this month I want to showcase some of my favorite authors in the horror genre! I’d like to welcome Chad Ryan as my very first Author Spotlight! Chad is the co-founder of fresh-off-the-press indie publishing company, Lost Boys Press with Ashley Hutchison. He’s also the author of the chilling horror novel, Ghost River, released earlier this year.
Ghost River was your debut novel, and I love that you prefaced it with a content warning, a fairly new practice for writers. Do you think there’s a hard line between them being necessary and being overkill?
C.R.: I used to be an Anti-Content Warning Crusader. I thought they gave away too much of the story and if you were reading a genre with expectations like horror, you shouldn’t be surprised by blood and guts (for example) when they show up. Then, I wrote Ghost River and my views changed almost immediately after seeing the bleak landscape that came out of my imagination. It wasn’t just blood and guts and scary monsters. It was a book about trauma, being trapped in a situation you cannot change, and strange ways survivors must learn to love themselves and each other when there is little hope for a better future. TBH, I almost didn’t publish it. The week before my pub date, I just couldn’t justify going so boldly into such traumatic topics without giving my readers (and friends) a heads-up.
So I wrote my first content warning to assuage my moral concerns. “Art should provoke, but not hurt” became my motto, and I tailored a content warning that was fair to my vision and the work. It’s not a book for everybody, and I wanted to make that clear. Survivors of abuse/assault/PTSD may not want to explore those horrific emotions when they read to escape. So, yes, for a project that is balls to the wall horror with an unapologetically savage desire to rattle you, it was necessary. I actually have two versions (one in the book) and an overkill version published on the website for people who want a spoilery specific one. It’s a hard balance for an author, though. I don’t think I’d add a content warning for smoking cigarettes or lightweight stuff like that, but for life-altering, psychologically trauma-triggering topics like assault or domestic violence, I feel it’s my responsibility as the author to protect my readers from walking into an emotional slaughterhouse.
On the subject of Ghost River, was there ever a point where you had to take a step back and say, “Ok, I need to bleach my brain from this brutal world for awhile”?
C.R.: Fuck yes, I tell people “Ghost River may not be a book for the times, but it was written of the times. 2020.” I was in an emotional wasteland during 2019/2020 and I pulled no punches. There’s a lot of anxiety, fear, politics, and feeling generally at the edge of an uncontrollable outcome that was only getting darker that inspired the journey of Orphan Rock. I’m a writer who translates stories through his experiences. I don’t know if I’ll write another book like it, but who knows? I’m still angry as fuck about a lot of things. After almost a year since pubbing it, I’m just starting to get the mental fortitude I need for the awaited follow-up to Ghost River. In some ways, it’s going to be even crazier than its predecessor and I need to be mentally ready for it.
What would you say is the best horror book for new readers to dip their toes into?
C.R.: I grew up reading a lot of King and Barker, and Ghost River is a strange tribute to them. It’s got the macabre fascination with sadism and sex of a Clive Barker story while driving home in a character-driven King-esque, sprawling narrative. I’m an English Literature graduate and sprinkled a lot of other influences in there as well. Steinbeck, Yeats, and some of Poe, for examples. Far as introductory books go, I’d recommend The Books of Blood, The Hellbound Heart (both by Clive Barker) and Cujo (my favorite King book). Also King is a fantastic short story writer. I love Nightmares and Dreamscapes. It’s a great combination of weird and terrifying tales. For a younger audience, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz is a great series. As a child, I found the illustrations and the stories quite creepy. As an aside, I’m excited about the industry leaning toward more female/PoC/LGBTQ+ horror authors. I didn’t have access to many when I was a young reader. I’m digging the trend.
Speaking of the industry, how do you feel about niche-ing down? Do you think it’s necessary for indie and self-published authors for marketability?
C.R.: I don’t really have an opinion on this. I don’t write my stuff to fit a certain niche. Nor do I chase popular trends. I like blending a lot of things together: Ghost River, for example, is horror and magical realism. The story tells me what it wants to be, and I let it make the choice. Now, if I were purely a fantasy writer, for example, I’d probably pay more attention to marketing trends/keywords and all that. The tools are out there. Me? I just like to write interesting stories. I’m a firm believer that when you do that, the right audience will find it.
You’ve teased us a little bit about your next big project being a dark fairytale-type of book. Is there anything else you can give us? Maybe a release date? A couple of keywords to keep us on the edge of our seats?
C.R.: Yes, 2022 is going to be a busy year for me. I spent most of 2021 working on Lost Boys Press and promoting Ghost River, so I have several projects that are coming down the pipe next year. No hard dates yet as we are still working on the calendar.
One is called Godsrift, which is an epic fantasy that I co-wrote with my business partner and editor, Ashley Hutchison. It follows the story of a haunted soldier that is commissioned to escort a fire goddess to her death. She must die, so the world can live. It’s a story about connection, duty, and that loss of self. Ashley and I each wrote the POVs for the main characters. The world we’ve built is beyond epic and (I think) fresh.
My next solo book is called Witchwood, and it’s a dark and gothic fairytale that follows an orphaned brother and sister as they try to escape an enchanted woods. I have a lot to say about this story and its fantastical characters and creatures, but for now, I’ll say it’s been a challenging write for me that touches on a lot of emotional triggers (personally). After Ghost River, I wanted to write something beautiful and haunting, and Witchwood is both of those things. I’m so excited to share it.
Next fall, the follow-up to Ghost River will be out. I can’t share much yet, but I will say it takes place in the same horrorverse and one of the many themes that will explore is… sex. I’ll leave it at that for now.
This is probably one of the most important questions: Where can we find the best chimichangas?
C.R.: My favorite Mexican restaurant in AZ is Abuelos in Chandler. I lived in New Mexico for a few years and got very spoiled. Truth be told, give me chimis and a gallon of margaritas and I’m a happy-fuckin’ camper.
I’ll have to make the trip, anything for chimis. As writers we tend to find inspiration in unexpected places. What’s the most bizarre food, place, or piece of media that’s ever sparked an idea?
C.R.: It’s hard for me to pinpoint a particular place or inspiration. My head is constantly drifting between the real world and the fantastic ones in my imagination. I can’t really shut it off, nor do I know where my ideas come from. Lots of places. Maybe no place at all. I don’t really know where a story is going until I’m inside of it, poking around.
As the co-founder of Lost Boys Press, you know exactly the amount of blood, sweat, and hexes go into building an indie press from the ground up. What has been the most satisfying part of the process?
C.R.: First off, building a business and writing books at the same time is insane (do not recommend – ha!). There’s a lot to learn, and every day you have to step up your game. You make mistakes, you hit home runs, and some days you just want to quit and curl up with a jug of moonshine. But, you do it because you love it, and you want to make books that are different and special. We believe there’s a market for that. The most satisfying part has been unquestionably the amount of support we’ve received from the writing and reading community. Without our readers, supporters, and peers helping push us into the light, we’d be in a very different place. Don’t get me wrong, we have A LONG WAY to go before we’re considered “big-time payers” but we’re on the hunt at least.
Final question, and I’d like to preface this by saying that we don’t glorify heinous people or crimes; we’re just fascinated. Who is your favorite serial killer?
C.R.: I’m torn between John Wayne Gacy and Ted Bundy. I mean, JWG was a killer birthday clown and that’s been a horror trope forever. Ted Bundy, I find fascinating because he’s like the American Psycho, Patrick Bateman. Charismatic, handsome, and it’s always a weird twist when the people you think of as “put together” are the most fucked up people.
I want to thank Chad Ryan so much for giving such elaborate answers, and allowing me a sneak peek into his brain and future projects. If you’re interested in reading Ghost River or any of the books by Lost Boys Press, click here. They also have some fantastic merch that I’ll be featuring on my blog later – stay tuned!
Turn on notifications for next week’s post with poet/novelist, J.S. Larmore!