Ronald Kelly is a natural-born Southern storyteller. Lucky for us in October Country, he leans a little to the dark side. He’s been a busy man as of late and has a slew of work coming out, including new novels and a couple of short story collections. He’s also joining forces with Thunderstorm Books to release The Essential Ronald Kelly, a series reprinting his ’90s-era horror novels originally published by Zebra. Leading the collection off is Undertaker’s Moon, a werewolf novel with a long and difficult path to limited edition status. Kelly takes us through that path in the following interview, and shares a little about writing the tale along the way.
RK: Undertaker’s Moon involves an Irish family, headed by the stern and stately Squire McManus, who takes ownership of a funeral parlor in the rural town of Old Hickory, Tennessee. Soon, several of the townfolk discover that the new proprietors are not what they appear to be; that they are a coven of werewolves who use their undertaking business as a means to discreetly acquire food during the cycle of the full moon. It is only when the arrogant young son of the family, Devon O’Shea, craves something more satisfying than cold flesh that all hell breaks loose and Old Hickory and its citizens find themselves under siege.
What inspired the story?
The idea for the novel happened one night after a long, grueling writing session. Everyone in the house was asleep, so I stepped out onto the porch to unwind and breathe in some fresh country air. As I was sitting on the steps, I heard a long, bestial cry echo from a ridge of dark hills a mile or so away. At first I thought it was a dog, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it sounded like no dog I’d ever heard before. That frightening howl caused the old imagination wheels to start turning and, before long, I had a southern-fried werewolf story evolving in the back of my mind. The following night, I abandoned the novel I had originally been working on and began writing Undertaker’s Moon.
This book originally came out as a Zebra paperback called Moon of the Werewolf back in 1991. Now it’s being released by Thunderstorm Books as the first volume in a series of limited editions called the Essential Ronald Kelly. Did you take this re-release as an opportunity to revise the book at all?
I did do a thorough editing on Undertaker’s Moon – my original title for the book – but actually I didn’t change anything at all… just sharpened up the prose a bit. This was my fourth published novel and I was in the process of learning my craft back then, mostly by trial and error. I’d had creative writing and journalism classes in high school, but never went to college. So I worked nine-to-five jobs in the factories, while I wrote at night. UM was one of my favorite novels from that period.
Will there be any additional material in this edition?
Yes, there will be two extra features in the limited edition; a brand-new novella and a feature on the writing of the novel. The novella is titled “The Spawn of Arget Bethir” and is actually a prequel of sorts, delving into a dark period of history when McManus the Beast, or Arget Bethir, roamed the countryside of ancient Irelandwith an army of savage lycanthropes at his command.
You joked in a recent Facebook post that a limited edition of Moon of the Werewolf had become something of an “urban legend,” having previously been set up at publishers Nocturne, then Croatoan, and then Full Moon Press. Those editions all fell through – how does it feel to finally see this as a reality?
It’s extremely satisfying to see this special edition of Undertaker’s Moon finally coming to completion after so many failed attempts. I always thought this werewolf novel didn’t quite get the respect and attention it deserved; Zebra released it with a lack-luster title and cover – the disembodied head of a werewolf hovering over a graveyard, for heaven’s sake! – and it just sort of fizzled after its initial release. Now it’s being released in a very lush and polished edition, with first-rate production values and excellent cover and spine artwork by Alex McVey, and I couldn’t be happier. I’m hoping the fans, both old and new, will feel the same way.
I couldn’t be more pleased with this partnership (with Thunderstorm Books). Paul Goblirsch is a first-rate publisher, extremely trustworthy with a keen eye for detail and marketing, and he’s been a joy to work with, first on my mini-collection of extreme horror tales, The Sick Stuff, and now the Essentials. The release date for Volume One, Undertaker’s Moon, will be this coming August.
Can you tell us what other books readers can look forward to in the Essential Ronald Kelly series?
The Essentials will include all eight novels published by Zebra Books between 1990 and 1996: Hindsight, Pitfall, The Dark’un (Something Out There), Undertaker’s Moon, Twelve Gauge (Father’s Little Helper), Burnt Magnolia (The Possession). Fear, and Blood Kin. Incidentally, Fear, my epic novel of dark rural horror, will be the second in the Essential line-up and will be released shortly after UM. All will contain bonus novellas or extra-long short stories and “The Writing of” features.
Outside of Undertaker’s Moon, what else do you have coming up?
Actually I have three books coming out in May. The first is a collection of extreme post-apocalyptic stories called After the Burn, which will be Book Number 8 in Thunderstorm’s Black Voltage series. Close on ATB’s heels will be my second full-fledged short story collection, Cumberland Furnace & Other Fear-Forged Fables, and my first honest-to-goodness western novel, Timber Gray. Both will be released in trade paperback editions by Bad Moon Books. And I’m currently starting on a new novel; a historical conspiracy type horror novel called A Dark & Bloody Ground. Cemetery Dance will be the publisher of that one, probably sometime in 2012. And, of course, I’ll have short tales of Southern-fried horror out in several magazines, online publications, and anthologies in between it all.