This is Carl's Brain
10 Questions with Ronald Malfi

1.  In Shamrock Alley, the main character is based on your father?  How was that personal experience different from other novels you have written?

Shamrock is quite different than my other books, both in its genre and in the origin of the story.  My father is a retired Secret Service agent who worked a case against an Irish gang known as the Westies in Manhattan back in the late seventies/early eighties.  My father infiltrated their gang by going undercover, trying to flush out not only counterfeit money but several unsolved homicides.  While Shamrock Alley is a novelization of that investigation, its impetus is grounded in truth.  In writing the book, I would work on a few chapters then turn them over to my dad, who would review it and give me notes.  The entire novel progressed in that manner.

2.  What’s the greatest moment in your writing career?

Probably when I saw my book in a bookstore for the first time.  I still like seeing that.

3.  How has being a musician influenced the way you write?

I’m not sure if being a musician has necessarily influenced my writing, or if it is really the other way around.  I’m conscious of beats and rhythms, whether it’s in music or in patterns of language and dialog.  Certain things just sound right while other things don’t.  I used to listen to a lot of music when I wrote—Springsteen, CCR, lots of jazz records—but I’ve come to prefer silence when writing for the last few books I’ve written.

4.  If you could choose from being a rock star or being a New York Times bestseller, what would you choose?

I can sit home with my family and be a bestselling author.  Rock stars travel too much.  I’d pick the Times bestseller.

5. Who is your favorite writer?

Ernest Hemingway.  The Sun Also Rises is probably the greatest American novel ever written.

6.  Is there an overall theme to your writing?

I’ve come to find that authors don’t necessarily choose their themes as their themes choose them.  My work has been described overall as “emotional” or “quiet” horror.  I supposed even the “horror” aspect of it is arguable, depending whom you ask.  I’m okay with it.  For the most part, I’m less interested in writing about the supernatural than I am in writing about people who believe in the supernatural.

7.  Of all your novels, is there one you’re most proud of?

Probably a toss between Floating Staircase and Passenger.  They’re both very different books and I think they’re also both very honest, genuine books.  Quite often a completed manuscript doesn’t resemble the author’s original idea, even though the book itself may be very good.  They say a book is ruined the moment an author touches pen to paper, and I believe that to an extent.  With both Staircase and Passenger, I feel I’ve remained true to the original vision of both books and am happy about that.

8.  You have written horror fiction, thrillers, and literary fiction.  How would you classify yourself as a writer in terms of genre?

I’ve been most warmly embraced by readers as a horror writer.  My primary interest is writing about characters.  Whatever genre those characters happen to fall in, so be it.  My mind tends to lean toward the darker side of things, so much of my work comes out that way in the end.  But every book starts out about the people, the characters.

9.  There have been many ghost stories written.  How does Floating Staircase distinguish itself from the pack?

I love ghosts stories, but the subgenre has been done to death.  It seems most novels about ghosts retell the same story—whether it’s a haunted house, haunted hotel, haunted car, haunted person.  The ghosts are evil…unless they’re actually mistaken for evil and are really there to utilize the protagonist as a conduit for finding the ghost’s killer, or something to that effect.  I wanted to take the classic ghost story and turn it on its head—in fact, at the end of the book, I wanted readers to question whether or not it had even been a ghost story at all.  There is certainly vindication at the end of Staircase, but it is a completely different type of vindication one might expect from a ghost story—an almost anti-vindication.  It’s also a bit of metafiction, kind of tipping its hat to the audience and winking, saying, “Yeah, I know I’m a ghost story, but just wait…just wait…”

10.  How has the digital revolution and the emergence of ebooks affected you as a writer?

It’s thrown the whole industry for a loop.  I don’t own an e-reader and don’t see myself purchasing one anytime soon, though I’m not against ebooks at all.  I’ve seen the shifting paradigm and have seen the money from ebook sales in the form of royalties, so I know it’s a very real medium and it’s here to stay.  I think there arises some confusion more on the part of the consumer—the reader—who is no longer afforded an obvious discrepancy between a professionally edited and published novel and some poorly written, ill-plotted schlock someone uploads to Amazon or wherever.  Those “books” have inundated the industry because of the ebook revolution, and their authors sell them extremely cheap—and sometimes give them away for free—to entice readers.  So readers are enticed, only to find the book—spoiler alert!—poorly written and ill-plotted.  It leaves a bad taste in the reader’s mouth, and maybe they remember that taste and associate it with all ebooks, which isn’t fair even if it’s perfectly understandable.