Q&A With Ray Van Horn, Jr. About His New Book, “Coming of Rage”

I recently reconnected with an old writer friend from my college newspaper days, and we had such a refreshing catch-up leading to a discussion about my book, “Coming of Rage,” coming out soon through Raw Earth Ink.  In my time interviewing bands and film directors, I was fortunate to be on the other end a few times, and now comes this fun opportunity to chat up my work.  Credited to “Terry A.,” this was a total blast and I thank her for her courtesy in letting me gab about “Coming of Rage.”

Where did you come up with the title, “Coming of Rage?”  It kind of gives me the shivers, though the way you describe the collection of short stories, it’s a far different thing altogether.

Right.  The title story, “Coming of Rage,” was the root of the book’s concept and it’s an accurate depiction of an event which happened to me the summer before 7th grade.  I lived in a rough neighborhood where drugs, bullies and vandalism were the norm, and this was the early 1980s.  It wasn’t inner-city, but a suburb that had all the illusions back in 1981 and ’82 of being a desirable middle class townhouse development.  Back then, it was hardly the case.

I went through a lot back then, and after many months of getting bullied and beat up in sixth and seventh grades, I’d hit the point where enough was enough.  The day I trashed five boys at school in response to this long-escalating abuse revealed the ugliest, most violent side of myself I don’t ever care to see again.  For this story’s purposes, “Coming of Rage” is a prequel of sorts, when I was betrayed by a friend I had a crush on and though no fighting occurred against the antagonists involved in the story and for real, it marked my beginning of a point of no return.  The way the story ends in comedic fashion is likewise the way it happened.  It was cathartic and felt every bit as much when I wrote it.

You told me earlier “Coming of Rage” is not a violent book, that the stories within are more concerned with handling adversity.  How so?

Exactly.  The way the world is right now, especially with the younger generations, we’re seeing unprecedented levels of violence, killing, shooting, theft, destruction, reckless driving, hatred, racism, homophobia, keyboard warring, just belligerent disrespect for one another.  This is the most divided our country has been since the American Civil War.  I’ll stop the analogy there, but my purpose to writing my stories here had more to do with challenging my protagonists to see what they’re made of.  To see if they can live by a moral fiber modern society is seriously devoid of.  A lack of empathy for one another is the undoing of our culture.

In one of these stories, “Watching Me Fall,” I have a young woman who’s been raped by a drummer from a high profile rock band who was put away then released later when he’s needed for a cash grab reunion tour.  How does a violated woman react accordingly?  This is what I was most concerned with, and I can say I had no interest in doing “I Spit on Your Grave 18.” 

In “B.L.M.” I wanted to explore the Black Lives Matter movement, but from a different angle.  Many of my stories in this collection are set in my hometown of Baltimore, and with the Freddie Gray case, we saw the horrific fallout which followed.  Protests turning to looting and destruction, racism and strict partisanship amping up around here as much as the rest of our country.  I quietly observed and listened to people’s disparate takes on “B.L.M.” as parties of different races and ideologies began to take an interest.  Does a white person have the right to join the cause if coming from a pure place of support?  That’s my approach to this story.

“Dad’s Notebook” is another personal purge story, only I sent it down a different track when my protagonist, Scott, finds a handwritten journal left to him by his deceased father, whom he’s been at odds with for most of his life.  The secret contained inside the notebook will upend Scott’s life entirely.  I had a delicious time writing Scott and Kate’s playful romance and hope it resonates with people.   “In Search of Dave the Wave” also gave me joy to write and the only way I can describe it without dropping a spoiler is that many people aren’t what they seem, but they can evolve and find new meaning, even when their shady past comes calling.

So what does the flaming guitar on the cover represent if all the stories aren’t about music, per-se?

Well, I can offer that two of my stories, “Chasing the Moon” and “Watching Me Fall” came about through my experiences as a music journalist.  “Chasing the Moon” is a direct tale of one of my nights covering live music, though I send it down an added tube of temptation.  The former part happened, the latter is fiction.  The underlying current is frustration at a failing life exacerbated by mishap.  A number of times I ran into slipshod moments covering bands at a live venue where a tour manager missed putting in my credentials or outright blew me off.  Ask any of my peers who have written about music, they’ll tell you the same.  It challenges your mettle, that’s for sure.

Of course, “Watching Me Fall” is affected by my time in the scene, at least from the point-of-view I present of the rapist drummer and how he’s looking to rebuild a life after his stint in the house of correction.  This, not knowing who and what’s waiting to thwart his re-emergence. 

Each story, however, has a theme of music in some fashion or another.  It’s direct or indirect, but even in the final story, “Comic Con,” about the trials of an independent comic book writer trying to push his work into the scene, there’s a whiff of music.  My editor and cover artist, Tara Caribou, really gets who I am when it comes to my love of music and what I did in the industry back then.  She came up with an engaging cover design which did my heart good.  Sometimes I miss being in the music industry, and this was one way to stay connected.

Is “Coming of Rage” your first published book?

Actually, no.  Many moons ago I wrote a novel I kind of disown, mostly because of the shady publisher which no longer exists.  Also because of the gaudy cover art and hell, I’m not the same guy who wrote it.  It’s called “Mentor.”  I was proud of it then.  I even went down to Savannah, Georgia to start my promotion when I dropped a coin onto the U.S. map to see where it fell.  I was 30 then.  You do goofy stuff between ages 20 and 40.  I was writing in the music and horror industries for 16 years after “Mentor” came out.  I pretty much reinvented myself and moved on from it, you know?

Would you ever consider sending it elsewhere to publish or even rewrite it if you’re unsatisfied with it?  Seems like a lot of time to invest in a body of work you distance yourself from.

True, Terry, you have a point.  My fiancée, TJ, has suggested a few times that I revisit “Mentor” and rewrite it.  Maybe, but not right now.  I have a lot of other projects going on and future works I’m fleshing out.  As the song goes, I have higggghhhh hopes…

Tell me about these other projects.

I appreciate you asking.  I am on the fifth draft of a novel I wrote titled “Revolution Calling.”  It’s largely autobiographical with some elaboration here and there and it reaches a point of destruction that’s all fiction.  I call it an Outsiders for Gen X, heavy metal style.  It’s deeply personal for the most part, and since Netflix has seemed to have taken a liking toward metal culture these days with the “Metal Lords” film and Eddie from Stranger Things Season 4 becoming an immediate pop icon already, now’s the time for this.

You’re right about Eddie and The Hellfire Club.  What do you make of all this love for Eddie?  I knew you back when you still had all that metal gear on you.  The guy I see now…

Is now an old man jock-nerd, ha!  Yeah, I mean, wow, right as the first block of Season 4 of Stranger Things episodes came, my son kept telling me on our drives to school that metal wasn’t cool and metalheads in middle school were persecuted as much as they were in my day.  Granted, in high school, I managed to overcome the heckling and harassment and it was a combination of taking weightlifting for three years and branching out to kids from all walks of life.  I consider myself an exception to the metal true norm, though I certainly have my scruples when it comes to the music itself. 

Look, headbangers are people too, which is my founding principle to “Revolution Calling.”  Eddie in Stranger Things just gave metal an “it” factor we never had back then.  We were “grits” unless we fawned over our style to lure the ladies like Jon Bon Jovi.  When I first saw Eddie’s character on the show, I thought he was a bit over-the-top and controlling as the Hellfire Club Dungeon Master.  I didn’t see much other than looks to bridge him to my generation of metal.  However, as the show progressed, he turned into this underdog you couldn’t help but root for, and once he summoned his personal strength to stand up for what’s right, how can you not like the guy?  Kudos, Netflix, well-played.  Funny how it all turns out, though.  My son is now Eddie-obsessed and he even plays “Master of Puppets” to impress me and TJ.  Win!

What was the last thing you ate?

Funny enough, I finished a bowl of Mediterranean from Mezeh before we spoke.  Mezah’s my jam.  Chicken shawarma with arugula, spinach, Turkish salad, Lebanese tabbouleh, spicy hummus, couscous, feta, cranberries, baba ganoush, sumac cucumbers, lemon mint carrots with tzatziki and s’hug.  It’s bank.

Are you a drinker?  If so, are you a beer, whiskey or wine guy?

Umm, yes, please?

You told me you’d like to write for comic books.  If you could write any character, which one would it be?

Just to be asked to write any comic book would be an honor and I might go have a private cry if that happens.  Given my recent parody I wrote for my site, “Roads Lesser Traveled” titled “When Moon Knight Cheated on Khonshu With Sekhmet,” and given my pantheon is heavily Egyptian, Moon Knight would be de facto.

What do you like to do outside of writing?

Fitness is my biggest passion outside of writing and reading.  I hit the gym 3 to 4 days a week, though that’s down from 5 when I was pretty gym obsessed.  From last December through April of this year, I had multiple injuries which I had to overcome and gnaw through.  Happily, my chiropractor and massage therapist put me right for a Spartan event I recently completed.  Never give up on yourself, but as you get older, listen to what you’re body’s telling you!  I do a lot of hiking, especially with TJ, one of our many common interests. 

I love sports, particularly baseball, football and hockey.  I did NHL game analysis for a year back in 1999, but don’t put me on a pair of skates these days; it’d be a complete train wreck!  Comic books, yeah.  Anyone who knows me knows I’m a total comic dweeb and have been immersed in them since 1978.  Music, that goes without saying.  I love the beach, art galleries, history, horror, sci-fi, movies, traveling.  Yeah, traveling and meeting friends in different states.  2018 was an absolute blast as I took many trips by myself and met so many of my comrades and pals in the music industry, a lot being first time face-to-face.   Oh, and coming up with obscure cartoon references and impersonations with TJ.  She is more than my match there.

You’ve had a lot of interesting experiences over the years based on our conversation earlier.  Is there anything you regret at this point in your life?

I try not to push negative energy in that direction since life is challenging enough without dwelling on any past regrets or wishes for do-overs.  My life has changed greatly in the past couple years and almost all of it’s to the good.  I’m blessed to have a woman who loves me enough to do all she’s done to bring me and my son into her life, and to give me complete happiness.  If I do regret anything, it’s any and all mistakes I’ve made which may have hurt others, even when it was for the good.  I wish I’d stuck with drumming since I was mediocre at best and twice sold my Gretsch kits.  I kinda wish I’d gotten started with Spartan earlier than I did, since I’m not sure I’ll ever complete a Trifecta.  I take what my body gives me.  We’ll see.

I’m more thankful than the opposite for the way my life has gone.  It’s been valleys and peaks and I’ve enjoyed varying degrees of success.  Nothing gives you more of a strut in your instep than collecting your credentials at Will Call and hearing “Blabbermouth’s in the house!” make its way through the venue.  Writing for them was a summit. I’ll never undercut or oversell how that feels, but it is a rush, for certain.  Mostly, I’m grateful to all my friends, family and readers of my work.  The valleys are fewer than before and I see a lot of mountains in my view ready to ascend.

Coming of Rage will be released August 1, 2022 through Raw Earth Ink.

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