Damned Interview: Ray Garton
Ray Garton is the author of over fifty books, including the Bram Stoker Award-nominated Live Girls (soon to be a motion picture), five short story collections, and last year’s werewolf novel Ravenous. In 2006, he received the Grand Master of Horror Award from the World Horror Society, putting him in the company of previous recipients such as Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Anne Rice, Clive Barker, Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison and Richard Matheson.
Outside the horror genre, he has written the books Trade Secrets, Biofire, and Sex and Violence in Hollywood. He is the author of several young adult novels and media tie-ins under the name Joseph Locke. His vampire novel Lot Lizards and his short story “Graven Image” are both in the works as movies.
His new novel, Bestial (the sequel to Ravenous), will be in stores April 1 from Leisure Books. His books can also be found at E-Reads. He lives in northern California with his wife Dawn and their many cats.
Ray was recently kind enough to take time from his busy schedule to answer some questions from Damned Connecticut about In A Dark Place, the alleged haunting and, of course, his new novel, Bestial.
Damned Connecticut: What was your experience writing In A Dark Place and working with the Warrens and the Snedekers?
Ray Garton: I was offered the job, and because I used to read of Ed and Lorraine Warren’s exploits in the National Enquirer when I was a kid, I took it. I went to Connecticut and spent time with the Warrens and the Snedekers. When I found that the Snedekers couldn’t keep their individual stories straight, I went to Ed Warren and explained the problem. “They’re crazy,” he said. “All the people who come to us are crazy, that’s why they come to us. Just use what you can and make the rest up. You write scary books, right? Well, make it up and make it scary. That’s why we hired you.”
Damned Connecticut: When in the cycle of events were you brought in?
Ray Garton: I became involved in 1991, years after the alleged events were supposed to have happened.
Damned Connecticut: You’ve publicly questioned the Snedekers’ story — what things in particular don’t you believe? What leads you to question their credibility? Do you have any particular evidence?
Ray Garton: They couldn’t keep their stories straight, for starters. The family was a mess, but their problems were not supernatural and they weren’t going to get the kind of help they needed from the Warrens. At the time I was with them, Carmen Snedeker was running some kind of illegal interstate lottery scam that I don’t think I was supposed to find out about, but when I did, she repeatedly urged me not to mention it in the book and not to tell anyone. Their son, around whom their entire story centered, was nowhere to be found. I never met him. I was allowed to talk to him briefly on the phone, but as soon as he started telling me that the things he “saw” in the house went away after he’d been medicated, Carmen abruptly ended the conversation.
The Warrens repeatedly told me they had videotape of actual supernatural activity shot in the house and they were going to show it to me while I was there, but they never did. They said they couldn’t find the tape. I never saw the inside of the house (the former funeral home in the story) because the people living there at the time wanted absolutely nothing to do with this circus, and they claimed there were no problems at all in the house. The Warrens explained that this was because the house had been cleansed by a priest who had performed an exorcism, but to the best of my knowledge, the Catholic church has absolutely nothing to do with the Warrens in any official way and there are questions about the legitimacy of the priests who work with them.
Since writing the book, I’ve learned a lot that leaves no doubt in my mind about the fraudulence of the Warrens and the Snedekers — not that I had much doubt, anyway. I’ve talked to other writers who’ve been hired to write books for the Warrens — always horror writers, like myself — and their experiences with the Warrens have been almost identical to my own.
The Snedekers claimed they had no idea the house was a former funeral home until after they’d moved in, and from what I’ve learned, that wasn’t the case. It seems nearly everyone in that neighborhood knew it was a former funeral home, it was no secret. I’ve learned that the “supernatural” problems in the house didn’t start until the landlord, frustrated after months of being unable to get rent out of the Snedekers, made moves to have them evicted. Then all of a sudden the house was infested with demons. Carmen Snedeker — now Carmen Reed — is the one who did all the talking when I was gathering information for the book. Al Snedeker said very little. Carmen was running the show. Now she’s selling herself as a “spiritual advisor” and claims she’s always had this “gift,” although it never surfaced while I knew her. Back then, she was just a housewife running an illegal lottery scam. She’s also on the lecture circuit now, which tells me she’s learned a lot from the Warrens and their nephew John Zaffis. Zaffis was around when I was working on the book, but it was made clear to me by Ed and Lorraine that he was not really an investigator, he was just trying to learn the business. Now the story goes that John has always been the “lead investigator” in this case. My story hasn’t changed since 1992, but their story keeps going through all kinds of transformations.
Damned Connecticut: There’s been some speculation to the Snedekers’ son’s illness — you’ve questioned whether he actually had cancer as the family has claimed, and suggest that he may have been wrestling with drug addiction instead. What do you base your conclusions on?
Ray Garton: Like I said, I was never allowed to meet the boy, and my only telephone conversation with him was cut short when he started to say the wrong things. When I was in Connecticut with the Snedekers, what I was told about his illness was odd. They never seemed to be too sure exactly what kind of cancer he had. It was very vague, never pinpointed, never named. I don’t know about you, but if my son had gone through a battle with cancer, I would be very familiar with all the details. There were vague references to drug problems the boy had had, but the Snedekers didn’t seem to be willing to discuss that in any detail.
Since writing the book, I’ve talked to a couple of people who knew the Snedekers when they lived in the house in question, and it seems no one in the neighborhood was aware of the boy having cancer. I’ve been told he was a trouble-maker who had some difficulties with drugs and mental illness, but nothing like the health problems the Snedekers claim. The Snedekers’ story involves an incident in which some young female relatives were fondled and groped in the house by demonic hands, but the boy confessed that he had done the fondling and groping, and that’s why he was removed from the house.
Personally, I have no solid evidence that the boy did not have cancer, and I’ve never said that he didn’t. But the evidence that he did is pretty flimsy, and when you combine that with the other holes in this story and some of the disreputable details about the Snedekers and the Warrens, it’s difficult not to question it. As I said, I’m not claiming the boy did not have cancer. But there are reasons to doubt the claim, and all those reasons are related to the wobbly and ever-changing story told by Carmen Reed.
Damned Connecticut: Did you hear from either the Warrens or the Snedekers after the book was completed? Have you heard from them recently?
Ray Garton: No, I have not been in contact with them since doing the book. Carmen has denounced the book I wrote, saying it wasn’t accurate and that she and her family had little or no involvement in it. That’s a lie. They were very involved. They signed off on the whole thing. I spent a lot of time with them in their home. But they’ve reinvented this story for the movie and the new book that’s being written about it, so it’s important for their presentation that they dismiss the book I wrote. If my book was inaccurate, it’s because I was told to make up whatever I needed to.
I have been telling my story since In A Dark Place was published because my name is on that book, and it disturbed me that it was being sold as “non-fiction.” I wanted to make sure I had a clear conscience, so I’ve given my account at every opportunity, and it’s all over the internet. Over the years, the true believers have accused me of holding some kind of grudge, or “cashing in” on all this by denouncing the book I wrote. That’s nonsense. The Warrens and the Snedekers did nothing to me personally. I hold no grudge toward them. And I haven’t made a penny by telling my story. I’ve done it in the interest of full disclosure.
Damned Connecticut: If you knew the book was fiction, then why did you agree to a non-fiction title?
Ray Garton: I’m not a believer in this sort of thing, but when I took the job, I assumed I’d be dealing with people who sincerely believed they’d had some kind of supernatural experience. That was fine with me and I was willing to tell their story. I’d heard of the Warrens and had enjoyed some of their stories in the past — they were very entertaining. So I signed on. After I learned that the whole thing had been concocted by people looking for a book deal and a possible movie deal, I was locked in. The publisher had no interest in anything I had to say. I was contracted to write this book, and the book was always meant to be “non-fiction.” It wasn’t really my book, I had no control over it. I’d been hired to do a job, and nothing more. The book’s “non-fiction” status was entirely out of my hands.
Damned Connecticut: Did you hear of any other incidents at the house after the exorcism was performed?
Ray Garton: By all the accounts I’ve read and heard, there have been no problems in that house since. I’ve heard that the people who live in that neighborhood are pretty sick of this whole thing, and some of them maintain it was all a hoax. There’s a young family living in that house now, and they love it. The only problem they’re having is with the total strangers who are wandering around the house for a look and annoying them because of all the attention this new movie has attracted.
Damned Connecticut: What’s your take on the movie The Haunting in Connecticut?
Ray Garton: My take is that H.L. Mencken was right when he said, “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”
Damned Connecticut: Do you know how closely it follows In a Dark Place?
Ray Garton: I have no idea. I know nothing about the movie.
Damned Connecticut: Were you involved in it at all? Did you receive any compensation related to it?
Ray Garton: I have no involvement whatsoever. I’ve been accused of being angry because I’m not getting any money from this, and that’s why I’m telling my story, but that’s not true. I’ve been telling my story since 1992 and it has absolutely nothing to do with this movie.
Damned Connecticut: Will you see it?
Ray Garton: I’m a big fan of both Virginia Madsen and Elias Koteas and I love to watch them work, but I really have no interest in seeing the movie. I’ve had my fill of this con.
Ray Garton: It’s the sequel to last year’s Ravenous, and both are werewolf tales. I’m the first person to say that they are not true stories and are entirely made up. I’m not too fond of sequels, but I intended to write a sequel to Ravenous from the beginning. Ravenous ended on a sour note and there was a lot more to the story about the goings-on in Big Rock, California. I’ve dropped some of the usual werewolf mythology and added a couple of twists of my own. Usually, the werewolf curse is spread through a bite from a werewolf, but here it’s a sexually transmitted disease. Bestial features private investigators Karen Moffett and Gavin Keoph, who first appeared in Night Life (which was the follow-up to Live Girls), thus linking the four books into a loosely connected series.
I had a lot of fun writing Bestial. It’s pretty common for religion to show up in vampire stories, but I haven’t seen that happen with werewolves. In Bestial, I’ve added the element of religion in a subplot about Bob Berens, a man whose emotional growth has been stifled by his strict Seventh-day Adventist family. Just as the lycanthropes experience a transformation from human being to werewolf, we see the beginning of Bob’s transformation in his efforts to break free of the hold his family’s smothering religious cult has on him.
Damned Connecticut: What compels you to write horror stories?
Ray Garton: I was raised a Seventh-day Adventist, and that’s a pretty dark, frightening religion. They have very bizarre ideas about how the world is going to end. Adventists worship on Saturday, the seventh day, rather than on Sunday, as Christians do. They believe that Sunday worship will become the Mark of the Beast referred to in the book of Revelation. In the “last days,” they claim the Catholic church — which they believe to be the Beast of Revelaton — will gain control of the country and eventually the world, and a “Sunday law” will be passed requiring everyone to worship on Sunday. When the Adventists refuse to do this, they will be hunted down, arrested, imprisoned, tortured, and killed for their belief. I was taught this from infancy onward, and I was taught it could happen at any moment. I lived in fear of it every day of my life while growing up. I literally lived in a state of terror. I didn’t sleep well, I was prone to panic. When a TV show was interrupted by a special news bulletin, I froze with panic, fearing that the announcement was going to be that the Sunday law had been passed and my family and I would have to flee to the mountains and hide in a cave, or something. Among my earliest memories are praying to god to kill me before that time arrived so I wouldn’t have to go through it. This was when I was a very small child — instead of being playful and carefree, I was hoping that death would rescue me from this coming nightmare. Fear was a major part of my life.
I always loved to tell stories, even before I knew how to write — I would draw the stories in comic-book panels. Everything I wrote was always dark. When I wrote, that’s what came out, and I think it’s pretty obvious that the cause was this terrible fear I lived with every day. The horror genre is where my work fit best, so that’s where I ended up. I have other interests, though, and I write other things. But I will always come back to the dark, I think.
Damned Connecticut: Why do you think horror (and damned-type things) continues to be so popular?
Ray Garton: We all have fears, the fear of death chief among them. The horror genre gives us a chance to let those fears come out and play in a safe environment, in a situation that puts us in no real danger. The popularity of horror in film and literature goes through hills and valleys, but it never goes away. There’s always a demand for it in some form because we all like to be frightened without being threatened, and I think that goes all the way back to primitive man telling stories around the campfire while surrounded by the dark of night. Horror remains popular for much the same reason that roller coasters remain popular.
Damned Connecticut: What other projects are you working on?
Ray Garton: Off and on for the last few years, I’ve been working on a novel called Dismissed From the Front and Center, a comedy about my two years at a Seventh-day Adventist boarding academy. I’ve also been working on a multi-generational dark comedy about two competing families in the funeral business. Right now, I’m writing a mainstream thriller. And a publisher is trying to talk me into writing a sequel to my novel The New Neighbor, which I’m considering.
– Again, thanks to Ray for taking the time to answer our questions!