4/28/11

Interview with the Legend, Ray Garton

Ray Garton is the author of over 60 books, his latest being Trailer Park Noir, 'Nids, and Loveless.  He's mostly the author of breakneck thrillers, but he also has some non-horror books under his incredibly shiny, well earned belt.  I asked him some writing advice, and hopefully you'll find it as informative as I have.  Thanks again Ray.

1) You've sometimes described writing as an escape from real life for yourself as well as your readers, where do you attribute this "need" to write as coming from? Do you think writers are "driven" by hardship?
It definitely was an escape for me for most of my life.  But I didn't realize it at the time.  As with so many things in our lives, that only became clear in retrospect.  I simply had to write, from the time that I was able to write.  I was always writing while growing up.  I think if I had been prevented from writing for some reason, I would have gone barking mad.  But all I knew at the time was that I loved to write, that I had to write.  I didn't know why and never gave it a thought.  Now, in middle age, all of the things I was escaping back then are gone.  I was miserable in those days.  I'm not miserable anymore, I'm quite happy.  Consequently, writing has become harder.  It has become, for the first time in my life, something I sometimes have to make myself do.  I enjoy my life now and I've become happy with the person I am, and I no longer have anything to escape.  I don't love writing any less, but I sometimes find myself wanting to spend more time enjoying life -- something I was incapable of doing back then -- rather than sitting in my office writing.  I've had to find a balance.  I also sometimes find myself over thinking what I'm writing.  In the past, I never gave my writing much thought.  I would just start writing and it would all come out.  It was so comforting to immerse myself in whatever world I was creating that I craved it and would dive in without an instant of hesitation.  Now that I don't have that need to escape my life, I sometimes stop and wonder if I'm taking the right approach to whatever I'm working on, or if it's going to work for the reader, if anyone will want to publish it.  That can be a distraction.
I'm sure there are many writers who are driven to write by hardship, by the need to escape their lives, just as many people are driven to read their work and lose themselves in a book.  I'm not going to say that's the case for all writers because I simply don't know and I'm sure that would be a wildly inaccurate generalization.  But for me, writing, creating a world populated with characters of my own invention provided a sense of control at a time when I had no control over my life.  I grew up in an abusive household under the weight of an oppressive and truly frightening religion, and along with giving me an escape from all that, I think writing was a way of releasing the tremendous fear and anxiety that was always building up inside me.
2) In your opinion how important is a college education to professional writing? How important is it to have a "backup plan?" Do you regret not finishing college?
Yes, I regret not finishing college.  Often.  But it didn't keep me from writing.  It didn't even slow me down.  However, I cannot possibly overstate the importance of having something to do besides write.  Go to college, get a degree or two, learn a trade, learn things that will always be there as backup, because it's highly unlikely that writing will provide any kind of reliable income.  Find something that interests you besides writing, or learn how to use your writing talents in ways that can provide you with a steady income.  It is an immeasurable mistake to think that you can get by on writing alone.  During an interview back in the '80s, I said, "Writing is not something you go to school to learn, it's something you drop out of school to do."  That remark has haunted me.  For years, it was frequently quoted.  Too frequently.  It sounded like I was sneering at a college education and that wasn't the case at all.  I meant that college is not necessary to be a writer.  You either can write or you can't.  It's something that's very hard to learn.  But education is enormously important for life in general.  There's more to life than writing.  I didn't see that back in my misplaced youth.  That was a mistake.  The economy has hit my wife and me pretty hard and I've had to do things besides write.  At 48, with no job experience at all, nobody wants to hire me, so I've been doing writing-related things like critiquing manuscripts for people or editing, proofreading, that sort of thing.  And there have been other dry spells in the past when I've had nothing to fall back on.  So the first piece of advice I give anyone who wants to pursue some kind of career in writing is find a way to support yourself before you devote your time and energy to professional writing.
3) When did you first know that you were "good" at writing? Do you think of the characters or the story first, and how has your writing process matured over time?

I'm still not entirely convinced that I'm good at it.  Hardly a day goes by that I don't wish I were a much better writer.  I think I'm a good storyteller -- there's a difference.  I never gave much thought to whether or not I was good at it.  I started telling stories before I could write.  I'd draw the stories in panels, like in a comic book, until I learned how to write and could do it that way.  I was always trying to get better at it and I still am, every day.  I read constantly while growing up, not only as a writer, but as a student of writing.  I was always trying to figure out how the writer I was reading accomplished whatever it was he or she accomplished.  When it comes to writing, by the way, there is no better education than reading.  It's essential.  Read everything, not just the genre in which you write.  Read everything and everyone.  I don't know how many times I've talked to people who say they want to write and when I ask them what they read, they say, "Oh, I just don't have time to read."  When they say that, I laugh.  Loudly.  Anyone who says that, who thinks that, has his or her head lodged firmly in his or her colon.  That's like saying you want to be an auto mechanic but you've never driven a car.  It's ludicrous and reveals a cluelessness so deep that, at that point, I usually find a way to end the conversation as soon as possible.

My writing process has changed over the decades.  I wrote my first several books and stories on a typewriter.  The computer was a revelation.  It saved so much time when it came to editing and eliminated all that retyping, which is enough to drive anyone nuts.  Early on, I was told so often by other writers that I should outline everything that I began to think I was going about it all wrong, because I never outlined.  So I tried that.  I found that if I took the time to outline an entire novel, by the time was done, I felt like I'd written the book, lost interest and was ready to move on to the next project.  I also found that, no matter how hard I tried, I simply could not stick to an outline.  As I write, I find that characters often take on their own lives and have their own motivations, and they frequently surprise me by doing things that don't stick to my plans.  When that happens, I always follow it, because it usually leads to good things.  But it makes it impossible to stick to an outline.  I came to see that outlining just doesn't work for me. Sometimes I start with a plot idea, sometimes I start with a character, and then I start writing.  I prefer to discover the stories and characters as they unfold before me.  That hasn't changed, I still write that way.  I've found that I make more notes than I used to.  It's nothing as formal as an outline, but I'll make notes about a character's backstory or about a plot development or a snatch of dialogue as they occur to me.  On very rare occasions, an entire story will drop into my head intact, in one solid piece.  When that happens, it's usually not a good idea to be anywhere in the area between me and the nearest writing instrument or keyboard.  I love it when that happens.  It's happened for me with short stories and novellas on occasion, and a couple of times with books.  Live Girls happened that way.
4) Raw talent vs. hard work, what's the ratio? Is there any hope for writers who just don't seem to have what it takes, or will hard work and dedication ultimately overcome?
No matter how talented you are, if you aren't willing to do the hard work, nothing is going to happen.  Talent and work are two entirely different things, but any kind of talent requires work.  For example, you may have a flair for writing.  It might be something that naturally comes easily to you.  That's a talent.  But no one, no matter how talented, starts out being great at anything, including writing.  It takes work, dedication, and like anything else, practice.  The people who have to write, who just can't help themselves, naturally get better at it because they're always writing.  Those who don't have that compulsion but are still determined to write have to be more disciplined.  They have to make themselves write whenever possible.  It's the only way you can get good at it, and then better.  And better.  I know a guy who is a brilliantly talented sculptor.  He can take a small rock from a creek bed and carve it into a thing of beauty.  But he very seldom does it.  I've urged him to do more, but he just shrugs and says, "It's hard.  It's a lot of work."  Well, of course it's a lot of work because anything is a lot of work.  But he'd rather smoke a joint and go bowling.  He has this jaw-dropping talent, but no interest in doing anything with it.  It makes me angry.

5) What was it like for you getting your first books published, and what changes have you noted in the industry?

I've never said this out loud before, but from the time I was a little kid, I never had any doubt that I would be published.  I guess I just had this sense that it was the reason I existed, the only thing I was good at, the only way I could justify my consumption of oxygen.  I just took it for granted.  As I was growing up, people told me again and again to give it up, forget about it, that it was so hard just to get your foot in the door and it probably would never happen.  I just ignored them because I felt differently.  I didn't know how to feel the way they did.  I just knew it was what I was going to do.  What really shocked me was that it happened so soon.  I was 20 when I sold my first novel.  Although I had not allowed myself to be discouraged by the constant claim that it would be next to impossible for me to get published, I had absorbed some of what I was told over the years, so I was shocked when I sold a book so soon.  And I was thrilled beyond description.  It remains one of the high points of my life.  And that thrill has never gone away.  My first sight of each new book takes my breath away and I've done over 60 at this point, so if that hasn't changed by now, I don't think it ever will.

The industry hasn't just changed, it's an entirely different business.  I was very, very lucky -- and don't let anyone bullshit you, luck plays a huge role in every success, in writing or anything else.  In the early '80s, when I sold my first novel, there was a tremendous surge in the popularity of the horror genre.  It was riding high.  Publishers were buying up just about any horror that came along.  That's part of what killed the genre later because they bought a lot of really bad stuff and readers soured on it and it walked away.  The genre was so popular that writers who knew nothing about it told themselves that it was hot at the time, so they'd take a shot at that.  There were a lot of editors who knew nothing about the genre, too, beyond the fact that it was very popular.  The genre writers who are still around from those days are the ones who wrote in that genre because they knew it, loved it, understood it and had respect for it.  But I digress.  The publishing industry is in a panic right now.  It's being run in a very similar way to Hollywood.  Good writing doesn't mean much, if anything.  What they're looking for are people who have a "platform" -- a built-in audience that can be exploited immediately.  So if you're a TV or radio personality or if you've committed a famous crime or you've had sex with everyone in the music business or if you're just famous for being obnoxious and vile, you're a shoo-in.  That means you've already got an audience that will run out and buy your book.  This is why Snooki, for fuck's sake, was paid seven figures for her book, which she did not write and probably hasn't even read.  If you're brand new and have no publishing record and you've got a book that can be heavily marketed, you've got a chance.  If you're already the author of a string of blockbuster bestsellers, you're pretty well set.  If you've got a long publishing history but you're a mid-list writer who's never produced a blockbuster bestseller -- like yours truly -- you're in trouble.  After nearly 30 years and a long publishing history, I'm having a hard time getting arrested in traditional publishing right now.  Fortunately, though, traditional publishing is no longer the only game in town, and that's one of the reasons the industry is in such a panic.  There are independent publishers, digital publishers, there's self-publishing, which used to be the last resort of the desperate and untalented, but thanks to new technology has become a viable and respectable alternative.  My new publisher is E-Reads, one of the earliest digital publishers.  It was started by Richard Curtis (who also happens to be my longtime agent), who was snickered at when he first began.  It was "Richard's Folly."  Now it's flourishing and is one of the most successful ebook and print-on-demand publishers around.  It's a completely different business these days, but that's not all bad.  It's only bad if you had your heart set on being published by one of the traditional New York publishers, which have kind of lost their minds.
6) Do you have any particular advice for aspiring writers, perhaps something you'd wish you had known?
When it comes to writing, I think there are two different kinds of people.  The first group is pretty common and I encounter them a lot.  When they learn that I'm a writer, they usually say something like, "I've often thought of writing."  No amount of encouragement will make any difference to them because, provided they ever get around to actually writing -- and they usually don't -- they find that it's *much* harder to do than they expected.  In fact, it's not at all what they expected.  This is because they haven't been actually writing, they've been thinking about writing.  Once they do it, they find that everything is important:  characters with histories and personalities, plots that work, locations that must be described with some accuracy, research that needs to be done and things like punctuation and grammar and knowing when to end one paragraph and start another, things that are not, as they may have thought, left to editors but are vital parts of a writer's job and absolutely necessary if you want to be taken seriously for so much as one second by anybody.  Once discovered, these things are usually pretty daunting.  And they are things they should know already because they should have been writing all along.  Writers write.  They don't think about writing or like the idea of it, they actually do it.
Then there are those who have to write.  They can't help themselves.  It's just in them, and it has to come out.  For those people, no amount of discouragement will make a bit of difference.  It would be like someone discouraging you from breathing, or from blinking your eyes.  They're just going to ignore whatever anyone says to them and keep writing.  This group comes in varying degrees of obsession, compulsion and passion, but those things are present in everyone who falls into this group.  I think the best thing to do is figure out which group you're in as early as possible and then proceed accordingly.
Along with the changes in the publishing business that I covered earlier, there's a new requirement of writers:  the ability to promote yourself.  I hate to say this -- you have no idea how much I hate to say it -- but self-promotion has become so important in this business that how you look is actually factor in whether or not a publisher buys your book.  This is due in part to the fact that our culture is circling the fucking drain.  This really should mean absolutely nothing.  But if you're pretty, if you're handsome, if you're sexy, your chances of getting your book published increase.  If you're not, they decline.  This is perhaps the ugliest reality of publishing right now and one that not many people talk about.  In any case, self-promotion is extremely important.  When I started in this business, publishers promoted the books they published.  Some books got promoted a lot more than others, but the publisher did most of the promoting.  Any promotion you could provide was welcome, but it wasn't nearly as necessary as it is now.  These days, publishers hardly promote at all because it's expensive.  So it's up to you.  Having a flair for hype is a big plus and it will help you go far in this business.  If you don't have that, you'd better develop it fast.  I suck at self-promotion, but I'm forcing myself to learn and get better at it.  There are a lot more avenues of self-promotion available these days, but you have to be willing to explore them and use them.
If you have weaknesses like spelling or grammar or punctuation, working hard on them.  Take classes, read books on the subject, do whatever you can to strengthen your writing.  Do not believe anyone who says that's what editors are for.  The cleaner your manuscript is when you turn it in -- with all the spelling and punctuating done correctly, the grammar as it should be -- the better your chance of getting the attention of editors.  I can't stress this enough.  You wouldn't try to build a house if you didn't know how to use a hammer or saw.  You can't expect to be taken seriously as a writer if you haven't mastered the mechanics of writing.
I taught a college creative writing course for a while back in the late '80s and early '90s.  It wasn't a great experience for me.  That's probably because I don't live in a very literary part of California, and this was at the local community college.  I live in far northern California where, instead of "What are you reading?"  you're more likely to be asked, "Why are you reading?"  I went into it excited and eager to share what I'd learned, hoping to spread my enthusiasm for writing.  But I found that the people who took the class were interested only in being told that they were the next Stephen King or Tom Clancy.  When I didn't do that, some of them became quite angry.  This was exacerbated by the fact that I was in my twenties and some of them were considerably older than I and they didn't appreciate being criticized by some punk.  I've taken a couple of creative writing classes in the past.  Some are better than others, but the most important part of any of them is what you bring to them.  If you bring a certainty that you are a brilliant writer and become angry when your teacher disagrees, you're going to get nothing out of the class.  In fact, in or out of a creative writing class, that attitude will only hold you back.  An absolute necessity for any writer is the ability to take constructive criticism.  It's the only way you will ever improve.  It's difficult to give criticism, so if someone cares enough to offer some, listen to it.  If it's good criticism, use it.  But you won't recognize good criticism unless you're thoroughly honest with yourself, and that honesty must include the recognition that you are not a perfect writer and you will always, always be able to improve.  Not all criticism is good.  Some of it is utter crap.  There is no shortage of people who enjoy sitting back and tearing down people who actually do things, as opposed to what they do, which is mostly sitting back and tearing down people who actually do things.  These days, you will find these people in great numbers on what is now their playground -- the internet.  You can probably recognize them when you see them.  It is safe to ignore them.  But when someone offers serious criticism, listen to it.  You may not agree with it, but at least consider it, and try to do so honestly.  While you can benefit from a good creative writing class, I am of the opinion that critique groups are not only a waste of time that could be better spent writing, but they can be harmful to your growth as a writer.  When you join one of these groups something will happen, and you might not even be aware of it.  At some point, you will start tailoring your writing to satisfy the most vocal and critical member of the group.  This is a big mistake and a waste of your time, unless that person happens to be a publisher.  You should be writing for yourself.  If you can satisfy that reader, if you can make yourself feel fear, sadness, suspense or joy, there's a very good chance your readers will feel those things, too.  Readers -- plural.  Not that person in the critique group.  You would be better off staying home and spending that time writing.  And if you want a critical opinion, you'd be better off hiring a professional to give you an assessment of what you've written.  There are a lot of professional writers and editors who do that and that probably would be much more beneficial than a critique group.
There is no right way to write.  Every writer you talk to will have a different method, a different process.  Find what works for you and stick to it.  This will be different from the methods of virtually every other writer you meet.  Some of them will insist you're doing it wrong.  Ignore them.
7) How much have your anti-theist views influenced your writing? You've had a book in the works that addresses religious issues, any luck getting it published? Religion is a sensitive issue, aren't you worried about offending some of your fans?
Religion is a sensitive issue, and I think that's a big problem that has allowed a lot of damage to be done by religion.  For a long, long time, we have not been allowed to question or criticize religion.  We can say whatever we like on the subjects of sports, art, literature, television, politics, and just about anything else, but unless we want to praise it or agree with it, we've been convinced that we must keep our feelings about religion to ourselves.  We've been told that we absolutely must respect religion.  While we have been doing this, religion in the United States has been going about the business of taking over the government and attempting to limit rights and freedoms, legislate religious law and turn this into a Christian theocracy, and in other parts of the world, it has been chopping off heads, stoning women to death for committing the crime of being raped, amassing bombs and other weapons and, only ten years ago, flying planes into buildings.  And if we stay silent long enough, this country will become the United States of Jesus and engage in a massive religious war that just might wipe us all off the map.  I can't stay silent any longer.  I can't go on pretending to respect something for which I have no respect at all.  We need to tear down that unwritten law that says we can't criticize religion.  Yes, it's going to offend some people, but hey, I'm offended by something every day, and it's often by religion, which permeates every facet of our lives whether we like it or not.  I'm not a religious person and have no interest whatsoever in religion.  But every time I turn on the TV, there are 57 religious channels and commercials for churches and prayer and getting to know god on all the channels; churches can't just exist, they have to have marquees in front sporting slogans that are nothing but smug, arrogant condemnation disguised as inspirational messages; and even though I don't go to church, every other weekend, somebody brings their religion to my door and tries to tell me what an incomplete person I am unless I live and think and believe exactly as they.  This is a nation with a secular government, with no established religion, and I should be able to get through my day without being accosted by religion, but that's not the case.  I live with this all the time and I don't get angry, I don't picket, I don't get in anyone's face, I don't tell religious people that they should think as I do.  In fact, I am a passionate supporter of America's freedom of religion.  But that freedom is being abused.  Every time I point this out, someone accuses me of trampling on their religious rights or of hating Christians.  Many Christians deliberately propagate the idea that atheists have no morality, that they're bad people who believe in absolutely nothing.  They work hard to limit the rights of women and homosexuals, and they do repulsive things like actively oppose the introduction of anti-bullying programs in public schools because those programs promote the idea that gay people should be shown the same respect and treated with the same dignity that we afford everyone else.  And yet, American Christianity continues to cry that it is being oppressed and persecuted.  There's a huge imbalance there.
I talk to people who live in other countries and they are horrified by the way Christians behave in the United States.  They don't understand how a nation that claims to uphold the separation of church and state can be so religiously fanatical and religiously arrogant.  They see this as a nation of religious loons.  And I don't blame them.  Religious Americans -- and that mostly boils down to Christians -- need to get a grip on themselves and get acquainted with what the Constitution says, what it doesn't say, and what the men who wrote it also wrote about the dangers of religious government and the rights of everyone in this country to believe and worship -- or not believe and worship -- as they see fit.  The only way that's going to happen is if people are free to speak out and criticize religion.  Thomas Jefferson wrote, "Ridicule is the only weapon that can be used against unintelligible propositions."  He was referring to the Christian concept of the trinity at the time, which he claimed was just nonsense that no one could understand fabricated by priests to make their guidance necessary to the people who couldn't understand it.  But it also applies to the kind of behavior being exhibited by so many Christians in America today who are trying to rewrite American history and make this into a Christian nation founded by Christians for Christians, instead of the secular nation that welcomes people of all religions and no religion that it is.
You made the mistake of handing me a soapbox, Malachi, and I'm afraid I jumped on it.  I apologize for getting off track.  My attitude toward religion has always influenced my writing.  Whenever someone asks me why I write horror fiction, I always reply, "Because I was raised a Seventh-day Adventist."  And I'm not joking when I say that.  I grew up in abject terror of the last days and god's judgment.  I don't think I got a good night's sleep until I was at least 22.  This is why I enjoyed horror, I think, because it made sense to me -- because of the Seventh-day Adventist cult, my life was horror.  The amount of psychological and emotional abuse that goes on in that religion, and in all religion, is astonishing, but because it wears the label of religion, it meets with most people's approval.  It's no accident that so much of horror fiction is religious in nature.  My first exposure to horror fiction was the bible.  Seventh-day Adventists -- or, as I prefer to call them, Sadventists -- believe that fiction is bad.  When my first novel was published in 1984, I was living in the Sadventist community of Angwin in California's Napa Valley.  I was surrounded by a lot of friends I'd known my entire life because they attended the Sadventist college there.  When my book came out, they stopped talking to me.  People I'd grown up with suddenly believed I was a Satanist simply because I'd written a horror novel that had been published.  My property was vandalized, threats were made on my life, and finally someone took a couple of shots at me with a gun.  When I told my parents about this, my mother essentially said that I'd brought it on myself because I'd always enjoyed reading novels and comic books and watching horror movies.  The combination of my frightening upbringing and that devastating experience in Angwin influenced my writing a great deal and made me realize just how harmful religion is.  I knew these people who turned on me, some of them very well.  They were otherwise reasonable, sane people.  But when it came to their religious beliefs, they were batshit crazy.  Some were crazier than others, but their behavior was awful across the board.  Without the influence of religion, I'm not sure they would have done any of the things they did.  And while religion does all these horrible things to people, it gets a free pass because we're not supposed to criticize it, we're supposed to respect it no matter what.  I call bullshit on that.
I do take a lot of flak for this.  The most common reaction I get is this question:  "Why do you hate Christians?"  That's like asking someone how long he's been beating his wife.  I do not hate Christians.  I don't hate anyone.  I have friends who are Christians and we get along just fine.  They know how I feel about religion but they also know that my feelings are just that -- about religion, not about individual people.  I feel the way I do about religion because it harms people.  It instills in them guilt and shame and self-loathing that is totally unnecessary and deeply scarring.  Those who criticize me for my attitude toward religion, which is often reflected in my fiction, conveniently ignore my positive portrayal of Christians in some of my fiction.  For example, my novels Dark Channel and Shackled feature characters who are Christians and who are good and decent people.  I've known many good and decent people who are Christians.  But they are not good and decent people because they are Christians, they are good and decent people simply because they are good and decent people.  Very often they are good decent people in spite of the fact that they are Christians.
I've written a nonfiction book -- my first -- called The United States of Jesus, which is a collection of humorous and rather cantankerous essays on the attempt to turn America into a "Christian nation" in violation of the Constitution.  My agent said he agreed with everything in the book but didn't want to represent it because he was nervous about the controversy it would stir up.  Now, in the publishing business, controversy is a good thing.  It sells books.  But my agent, who has been in this business for more than 30 years and is very respected, is afraid of the controversy that would surround this particular book because it would stir anger from religious groups and individuals.  Think about that.  It should frighten anyone who values the freedoms America is supposed to provide.  That should tell people that it's dangerous to remain silent about this because if we do, the fear my agent feels about representing this book -- even at a time when books by prominent atheists are doing so well -- will spread and the situation will only get worse.
I haven't been afraid of offending people for a long time.  My horror fiction has always been a bit extreme and has been offending people for years.  It seems I can't get out of bed in the morning without offending someone.  So I'm not too worried about offending religious people, who always seem to be offended by something, anyway.  The people most offended tend to be those who misunderstand -- or worse, mischaracterize -- what I write and say about religion.  I can't keep quiet just because I'm afraid I'll offend some people, or because I'm afraid some people will decide not to buy my books because of my opinions.  I can't live that way.  That's just not me.
8) Other professional writers have had problems with drug abuse, either as a part of their writing process or to cope with the writing lifestyle, have you ever used drugs as an "aid" for writing? What do you think of the growing influence of marijuana in mainstream culture?
I went through an extended period of severe inebriation that I like to call the 1980s.  I wasn't a party drunk or the kind of drunk who hangs out in bars.  I drank at home while I worked.  I didn't get falling-down drunk, but I maintained a level of inebriation that kept me numb to my feelings, none of which were good back then.  I drank all the time.  Nearly all of the people who knew me well were totally unaware that I had a drinking problem, and yet by the late 1980s, I was consuming more than two liters of straight vodka every day.  My doctor finally told me if I kept it up, I would never live to see middle age, and then he outlined in great detail exactly how I would die.  He scared the piss out of me.  I've been sober for more than 18 years.  I also did some drugs, including prescription painkillers, especially from 1999 to 2007, when I had a problem with my hip that caused me constant pain and required three major operations, including two replacements (on the same hip).  I became addicted to narcotic painkillers.  During that time, I also used marijuana.  It was far more effective as a painkiller, had none of the side effects of the prescription drugs and best of all, it was not addictive.  People who say marijuana is addictive either don't know what they're talking about or they're deliberately lying to serve a particular agenda.  I'm an addict, I know when something's addictive because if I use it, I will become addicted to it.  That's what addicts do.  I've used marijuana on and off my entire adult life.  The important part of that sentence is the phrase "on and off."  I never experienced a single withdrawal symptom from marijuana.  And I know withdrawals.  When I first stopped drinking cold turkey, I experienced DTs so bad, I was rushed to the emergency room projectile vomiting blood and certain I was going to die.  When I stopped using narcotic painkillers, I nearly ripped through my own skin and melted into a bubbling puddle on the floor.  Nothing even remotely like that -- not by the furthest stretch of the imagination -- ever happened to me in relation to marijuana.  I've been totally drug-free ever since my hip finally recovered, and I've never felt better in my life.  But if I were so inclined, I wouldn't hesitate to smoke or eat marijuana because I know it's not going to have the terrible effects on me that drugs and alcohol have had.  The worst thing marijuana ever did to me was make me crave junk food that was probably far worse for me than the marijuana.  The fact that it's still illegal and that people are in jails and prisons because of it is a crime.
I would like to say that during the years when I was drinking, my ability to write was impaired and my productivity plunged.  But that's not the case.  I was very prolific and wrote like crazy.  But I was also miserable.  I can see now that one of the reasons I was so miserable was that I was drinking so damned much.  I've heard and read that alcohol and drugs interfere with the quality and productivity of the work that creative people do.  I think that's a big generalization and in some cases, an untruth propagated by people who are just trying to get others off of alcohol and drugs, which is an admirable motivation.  I'm certainly not advocating the use of alcohol or drugs in the service of creativity, I'm just pointing out that it's wrong to say those things damage creativity in all people.  If that were true, much of the music we've all grown to love over the last fifty years or so would never have been written or performed.  Much of the literature we love never would have been written.  The problem with alcohol and drugs is that they can kill you.  The lifestyle of full-time writers -- keeping their own hours, working at home, not having the responsibility of going to a job at a specific time each day and working effectively -- makes the abuse of alcohol and drugs extremely tempting and troublingly easy.  The problem isn't whether or not those things disrupt one's ability to write -- or paint, or create music, or do anything else creative or artistic -- the problem is that those addictions can destroy your life and end it early.
 *A little shout out to Jamie Fox for making this all possible.  Wonderful woman.*  

**In addition to giving advice to the uninitiated Ray has taken on the hobby of doctoring books and manuscripts, for a fee of course, so if you have something you think has potential don't be afraid to contact him. He's a cool dude, but he will rip you a new one - in a good way - just prepare yourself.**

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