June 23, 2015

Burgeoning Monsters: an interview (and giveaway) with Ronald Malfi, author of "Little Girls"

Ronald Malfi is an award-winning author of many novels and novellas in the horror, mystery, and thriller categories from various publishers, including Little Girls, this summer’s 2015 release from Kensington.

In 2009, his crime drama, Shamrock Alley, won a Silver IPPY Award. In 2011, his ghost story/mystery novel, Floating Staircase, was a finalist for the Horror Writers Association Bram Stoker Award for best novel, a Gold IPPY Award for best horror novel, and the Vincent Preis International Horror Award. His novel Cradle Lake garnered him the Benjamin Franklin Independent Book Award (silver) in 2014. December Park, his epic childhood story, won the Beverly Hills International Book Award for suspense in 2015.

Most recognized for his haunting, literary style and memorable characters, Malfi's dark fiction has gained acceptance among readers of all genres. 

He was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1977, and eventually relocated to the Chesapeake Bay area, where he currently resides with his wife and two children.

Gef: What was the impetus behind Little Girls?

Ronald: I wanted to address the notion that secrets can be dark, ugly things that manifest into monsters, whether they’re figurative or literal. Taking it a step further, I wanted to explore how those secrets—those burgeoning monsters—might affect a relationship, a marriage, or a child-parent relationship that is already troubled. In many ways, Little Girls is a domestic drama. There’s a lot of heavy familial stuff in there—between Laurie and her husband, between Laurie and her father, between Laurie and her relationship with her daughter. I knew that in telling this story, my goal from the beginning was to be as subtle as possible, letting the atmosphere carry a portion of the story. My writer-brain harkened back to old slow-burn novels like Rosemary’s Baby, Peter Straub’s Julia, and even The Exorcist. Those are all really slow-burning, domestic novels. There’s a sense of everyday-ness in each of those books, and I really wanted to capture that in Little Girls.

Gef: What was it about this book, if anything, that you approached differently from the previous titles?

Ronald: My work is often described as “atmospheric” or “quiet” horror, and I think this book is about as far as I can go in that direction. It’s also one of the few things I’ve written where the main protagonist is female. Because of that, it’s a very tumultuous novel, mainly because Laurie is a tumultuous character, but I also think that women tend to be more internally complex than men. Men tend to think in straight lines; Laurie’s character tends to be more contradictory, self-reflective, self-doubting. In writing about her, there were times I applauded her bravery and times when I felt angered by her weakness.

Gef: Folks will bemoan how long zombies and vampires have populated horror fiction, but no one says that about ghosts and haunted houses. Why do you suppose that is?

Ronald: Because “ghosts” can really be anything, and can take on unlimited forms. Zombies are zombies and vampires will always be vampires, but there is some universal truth that exists in ghosts stories, and I think that’s because they’re somehow more believable and even, to a degree, a reflection of ourselves. We’re all haunted by something, aren’t we? It’s the universal truth. Some of the first stories in recorded history were ghost stories. The world’s religions are all ghosts stories, to some degree.

Gef: When it comes to psychological horror, how much of a balancing act is there, both in the brainstorming and in the actual writing, between including aspects of the supernatural and the mundane?

Ronald: There’s very little brainstorming, very little pre-planning, and about zero outlining or note-taking. For me, I think those subtle, strange, inexplicable things that just crop up in the middle of something ordinary are always the most disturbing. The more outlandish things become, the less I’m able to buy into it, and I feel that if there’s too much craziness going on, you’re selling your characters short, and cheapening all the time you’ve spent molding and creating these characters into realistic people. So often, supernatural elements in horror fiction or in the movies can be picked apart until the threads of their realism come apart. If Jason Voorhees never dies, what happens if you chop him up and put all the individual pieces in separate jars? Gremlins can’t eat after midnight...but isn’t it always after midnight? And the biology of someone actually turning into a werewolf...these things beg not to be scrutinized too closely. And while I’ve written my share of these whoppers—my novel Snow immediately comes to mind—I tend to err on the side of more subdued, believable, perhaps even comprehensible horror. That’s the stuff I most enjoy reading and the stuff I’ve always gravitated toward writing.

Gef: How much emphasis do you place on setting as character?

Ronald: Setting is huge. I often feel like the locations in some of my books are their own characters, like the town of Harting Farms in December Park. That novel would not have the same character, the same feel, if it happened anywhere other than that small bayside city. The setting should compliment the story and engage the character in a choreography, a discourse, a back-and-forth. Despite all this—or maybe because of it—I very often don’t consciously choose my settings or locations, but rather those settings just seem to come natural with whatever story I’m planning to tell.

Gef: What do you consider to be the saving grace of the horror genre?

Ronald: It seems horror fiction is making a comeback now, and that’s wonderful. So many authors are writing so many different subgenres of horror that it’s really heartening and fulfilling to be a part of it. Moreover, mainstream fiction has become more accepting of the elements of the genre, which is a big statement. Novels like David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks, which is a beautifully and wondrous novel, are saviors of this genre, in my opinion, even though they aren’t necessarily part of the genre at all.

Gef: What's the worst piece of writing advice you ever received? Or what piece of writing advice do you wish would just go away?

Ronald: There’s a ton of shitty advice out there. I think the biggest misconception is that people can be “taught” to be good writers. I don’t believe that’s true. Someone might be able to learn, but that doesn’t mean they can be taught. Conversely, the best writing advice is universal: read a lot, write a lot. Period.

Gef: Do you have any kind of guilty pleasures when it comes to books or movies or whatnot?

Ronald: Not sure if I should feel guilty about it, but I love Hemingway and have reread several of his books with the giddy elation of a young kid happening upon a stash of candy. Just soaking in the language. As for films, I’m not embarrassed to say that early Spielberg movies are among some of my absolute favorites. No matter how many times I’ve seen them, I’ll always stop to watch Raiders of the Lost Ark or Jaws whenever they’re on TV.

Gef: What projects are you cooking up that folks can expect in the near future, and how can folks keep up with your shenanigans?

Ronald: Little Girls will be followed by a novel called The Night Parade, about a father and his daughter on the run from the government while an incurable disease is in the final stages of wiping out much of humanity. It’s a dark and emotional tale, though it’s paced much quicker than a novel like Little Girls. I’m very excited about it. As for where you can hunt me down, I’m on Facebook, Twitter @RonaldMalfi, and maintain a very outdated and visually unappealing website, www.ronmalfi.com.

From Bram Stoker Award nominee Ronald Malfi comes a brilliantly chilling novel of childhood revisited, memories resurrected, and fears reborn…

When Laurie was a little girl, she was forbidden to enter the room at the top of the stairs. It was one of many rules imposed by her cold, distant father. Now, in a final act of desperation, her father has exorcised his demons. But when Laurie returns to claim the estate with her husband and ten-year-old daughter, it’s as if the past refuses to die. She feels it lurking in the broken moldings, sees it staring from an empty picture frame, and hears it laughing in the moldy greenhouse deep in the woods…

At first, Laurie thinks she’s imagining things. But when she meets her daughter’s new playmate, Abigail, she can’t help but notice her uncanny resemblance to another little girl who used to live next door. Who died next door. With each passing day, Laurie’s uneasiness grows stronger, her thoughts more disturbing. Like her father, is she slowly losing her mind? Or is something truly unspeakable happening to those sweet little girls?

Praise for Ronald Malfi and his novels

“One cannot help but think of writers like Peter Straub and Stephen King.”

"Malfi is a skillful storyteller."—
New York Journal of Books

"A complex and chilling tale….terrifying."—Robert McCammon

"Malfi’s lyrical prose creates an atmosphere of eerie claustrophobia…haunting."—
Publishers Weekly

"A thrilling, edge-of-your-seat ride that should not be missed."—
Suspense Magazine

Order it via Amazon or Barnes & Noble or pick up or ask to order at your local independent bookstore or anywhere e-formats are sold!

Or use the Rafflecopter form below to enter for your chance to win a copy. Good luck!

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