20 Questions with... Robert Ragan
Updated: Dec 13, 2022
Robert Ragan, from Lillington NC, has been nominated for both The Pushcart Prize and Best Of The Net. You can find his work at Vext magazine, Synchronized Chaos, Punk Noir Magazine, Yellow Mama Webzine, Close To The Bone, Switchblade Magazine and Bristol Noir. He also has two story collections Mannequin Legs And Other Tales and It's Only Art both published by Alien Buddha Press.
Please introduce yourself. Where are you from? What was your life like growing up?
My name is Robert Ragan, I'm from Lillington, NC. My life, growing up, was okay, except for seeing my mom deal with schizophrenia and have to be in and out of hospitals a lot. My dad had to work all the time so when my mom was gone, my grandma would take care of me during the day until my dad got off work. Despite her problems, my mom loved me and made sure I was taken care of too.
Did you always want to be a writer? If you also work, what do you do / did you do?
Growing up, I won a few essay contests at school. Including the Dare essay contest. At that point I didn't think much about it or take it seriously. At 19, I started writing poetry and I've tried to write every day ever since then. As far as work goes, I've had a lot of jobs. I’ve worked in factories, warehouses, and helped put up fences. My longest job was industrial painting for almost 5 years. Right now, I've been working at a nursery for almost a year now, and trying my best to learn about plants, trees and flowers.
Tell us about your most recently published work in a sentence.
I have new stuff with Dumpster Fire Press and Rust Belt Press. But I believe the most recent publication is my story 'Demons Possessed By Me' in the Alien Buddha Press House Of Horrors #5.
What are you working on right now?
Just submitted a crime fiction story called 'Come Outside' for a neo-noir anthology which I'm dying to make it into. I'm on pins and needles about that.
I'm still working on my first poetry collection called 'Nothing Is Sacred.' I've been talking about it for months and now I wish I'd stayed quiet about it longer. At least until it was closer to being done. The book has been completed, but I continue writing new poetry and opening doors for other possibilities with it.
Do you have a writing routine, and if so what is it?
Mostly, I just get an idea and dwell on it and then when the time comes I sit down, smoke some weed and begin to write. I've dealt with abusing other substances that helped my process but I had to let them go.
Where do you write – always in the same space, or different places? Can you write ‘on the move’?
I mainly write at home, but I can really do it anywhere if I'm inspired enough. First thing in the morning, I wake up in a really sad emotional state for some reason. So, I smoke and listen to music while getting ready for work. Lots of times I've ended up writing poetry on my phone during the ride.
What advice do you have for other authors who are starting out? What is the best advice you’ve heard?
I would tell them to do it because you love writing and for no other reason.
William S Burroughs had one of my favorite quotes when he said, “You know, they ask me if I were on a desert island and I knew nobody would ever see what I wrote, would I go on writing. My answer is most emphatically, yes. I would go on writing for company. Because I’m creating an imaginary—it’s always imaginary—world in which I would like to live.” I love that quote, as far as the best advice I've heard it's basically the same. Just stick with it and do what you love. I've been writing for almost 22 years, and for a lot of that time there was no chance of getting published or having anyone read my stuff except friends. So many times I wanted to hang it up and quit for good. But it's what I love and I can never stay away from it for long.
Do you enjoy doing live readings or are they a necessary evil – or somewhere in between?
I used to love going to open mic and reading my poetry in front of people. I haven't been anywhere to do spoken word in forever. Hopefully, that changes in the near future.
Are there recurring themes in your work? Where do you feel these emanate from if so?
In poetry, I'd say suicide and self-abuse are the recurring themes. Probably from seeing my mom hurt herself and attempt suicide. But I don't blame her for anything. I've been a cutter and attempted suicide myself so I understand why she did those things.
In crime fiction, recurring themes have to be drugs, robberies, and dealing with jail time and prison. I've actually gone through those things in my life. Also, did quite a bit of fighting at times, so like I said in my last interview, the only thing really made up or fictional is the murders I write about.
Should writers have a moral purpose? What is the purpose of a writer in today’s society?
I struggle with that question. A lot of times I do feel like I have a moral purpose. Like, I'm writing all this horrible criminal stuff but I also need to explain where that life will lead you to. Most times, I try to write without a conscience and end up going too far.
The purpose of a writer in today's society? I would say it is to entertain people, and give them something cool to read, so they can get their minds off their problems. Another purpose would be to better inform people about what is really going on out here.
Do you write between genres or not?
When I first started writing fiction I had my heart set on being strictly a horror writer. I still love horror and write in that genre from time to time, but crime fiction is the genre I write best in. Probably from being a criminal myself in the past, and being around other criminals.
Now, I've kinda decided to stick with those two genres as well as writing poetry on the side. In the past though, I wrote comedy and romance stories. Even some erotica.
Which living writers do you most admire?
I have to say Chuck Palahniuk and Jordan Harper. I wouldn't say he's an influence on any of my writing but definitely have to add Stephen King. I've enjoyed a lot of his books and movies over the years.
Which dead writers do you most admire?
William S Burroughs, Kurt Vonneget, Jim Thompson, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Jack Kerouac and Charles Bukowski. I'm sure once I read a little more from Hubert Selby Jr, he will definitely be added to this list of excellent writers and poets.
What’s the book you wish you’d written?
Wow! That's almost impossible to narrow down to one book. Right now though, hands down I have to say it would be “The Getaway” by Jim Thompson.Gritty, raw, violent crime mixed with a lot of psychological elements. The book is twisted and awesome.
What other external influences do you have: nature/place, music etc?
Music is a major influence on my poetry. As far as fiction, I think everyday conversations with people have helped me a great deal in coming up with story ideas.
Do you suffer from ‘writer’s block’ and how do you overcome it if so?
I've gone through it, had times where I just couldn't write anything that I thought was good at all. So, I'd stop for a while. Eventually, I'd become inspired by something and it would just go away. So, I really wouldn't want to try to tell anyone how they can beat it, other than to wait out the storm. Inspiration is coming.
What’s been your favourite reaction to your writing?
Having a really successful writer like Martin Olson say some very nice things about my story, “The First One To Break Me”. It was just a comment but what he said gave me a ton of hope as far as going on with my writing.
How do your family and friends feel about your writing?
My mom and dad are both deceased now, but coming up my dad hated me being a writer. He just felt like I was wasting my time. I often wish he was around to see that I've become somewhat successful. Though he wouldn't agree that it's successful because there's no money involved. I've never cared about money when it came to writing. I work in horticulture to make money. I write because it's what I love to do.
As far as my friends go? Most of them aren't readers but they still want to see me accomplish all my goals.
Do you have a favourite bookshop?
Can't say I have a favorite, right now I wish I could find a good comic book shop. I never got into superhero comics, but crime and horror comics I absolutely love. Speaking of that, I should have mentioned Ed Brubaker in the question about the living writers I admire. That man is a crime fiction genius.
How do you see the future of writing? Will we become more or less dependent on Amazon?
I think as long as the world keeps going, there will always be writers out there putting out their work. As far as Amazon goes, I think the best thing is whatever keeps actual physical copies of books going. I think digital books are great but will still always be biased towards paperback and hardcover books.