Fantasy author Ray Rebmann visits the Plain today for an entertaining interview. MuseItUp Publishing recently e-released his Jersey Devil: The Cursed Unfortunate, a dark fiction/mystery based on an old New Jersey legend. His YA/Children’s e-book, Chalk Town & the World's Bottle Cap Championship of the Universe, is available from Wild Child Publishing.
He is also the author of How Can You Give Up That Adorable Puppy?, which explores the world of raising guide dogs. Ray will be giving away a copy of "Puppy" to one lucky commenter, so be sure to leave your contact information.
Welcome, Ray. Where are you from?
Not originally, but presently, I live near Cape May, New Jersey. We enjoy the best of two worlds, quick access to the beach with the serenity/seclusion of the woods. Mosquitoes are a problem however.What sparked your interest in writing?
NOT school, I can say that for certain. I started life writing left-handed. After my first year under the strict supervision of the nuns, I became an accomplished righthander. Fortunately, the good sisters’ efforts to stifle my active imagination were less successful. I began writing poems and short stories at the ripe age of nine.So you’re a poet too. Impressive. What components, in your opinion, make a great story?
Characters with something to say and a plot that makes you want to read every word through the conclusion which conveys a message. Art must instruct and entertain.How would you generally categorize the books/stories you write?
Fiction, although I also write nonfiction, mostly about my family’s experiences raising puppies to become service dogs. Right now, I seem to be writing for a younger audience which surprises me because that was not my intention. I’d like to think my work defies conventional categorizing but then, I’m guessing a lot of writers think that way. My longer work tends toward the fantasy/fairy tale. I guess that comes from my reading of mythology, fairy tales and fantasy novels (When I was younger, I was a big Tolkien fan.)Do you set your books/stories in your home town, or do you prefer more exotic locations?
I believe in using what you know or have experienced as much as possible. Since I’ve never been to Tibet, I’d feel awkward, if not fraudulent, writing a story with a setting in downtown Lhasa for example. That said, I’ve been lucky to have lived in a variety of settings: beach and mountain, city and country, small town and rural. So I have all that to reference when I create a backdrop for a particular piece. I’m also a big "referencer." I’ve read a lot over the years and if I can incorporate that into my backgrounds without compromising the integrity of what I’m writing I’ll try to do so.
An example of that might be in my Jersey Devil book. There’s a small section in which the main character describes learning how to hunt in the barrens. A lot of that material was inspired by reading of the Tom Brown books. Tom Brown is a wonderful naturalist/tracker who is master of the Pine Barrens.How much of your writing is based on people or events familiar to you?
In some cases, a great deal. I wrote a story called Rewritten Endings based on my father’s long and ultimately unsuccessful battle with cancer. In its original form, it was a very personal father/son story that borrowed settings from one or two of our favorite haunts (pubs) and recounted a fishing trip we actually experienced.What inspired you to write Jersey Devil, The Cursed Unfortunate?
Living in New Jersey, on the edge of the Pine Barrens, I became interested in the area’s history and folklore. Naturally, my interest led me to the Jersey Devil, our state’s official mythical creature. Much like New Jersey’s state bird, the devil doesn’t receive the respect he’s due as a mythological creature. In some quarters, he’s a joke…like the identity of our state bird: No, it’s not the mosquito.
I looked into the existing literature and realized there was plenty of room for more. So I combined a couple of local legends, the devil and the Blue Hole and came up with a time travel story with a character who may or may not be the vicious creature portrayed in the legend.How did you come up with the title?
Jersey Devil was easy and I insisted on getting it into the title to help stimulate reader interest. The Cursed Unfortunate was a phrase I came up with (I think. I don’t recall reading it anywhere else) to describe the title character’s particular burden he carries as he travels through time.What was the hardest part of the story to write?
The middle. Keeping it going without losing control of it. My stories often tend to wander off on tangents, especially if I "discover" something else of interest in whatever particular world I’m visiting.What was the easiest part of the story to write?
The beginning and the ending. I never seem to have problems starting or finishing.
For the Jersey Devil story, I did some reading about New Jersey in pre-Revolutionary times. I also read as much about the devil as I could find. But I can’t honestly say I had to hit the books for hours on end.
For Chalk Town, no. That story was all in my head…some head.Some head indeed! Your imagination is quite vivid. Is there a message in your story you want readers to grasp?
Reality isn’t what it always seems, our perceptions and prejudices influence what we see. Pre-conceived notions are limiting to the possibilities for personal experience and growth. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
And always take along your dog when traveling through the Pine Barrens.Good advice. What do you feel is your biggest strength as a writer?
A willingness to keep going helps. I’m not a young man and I waited a long time for the chance to pursue this dream of mine. After so many hundred false starts on various pieces and so many rejections of finished pieces, it would have been easy for me to say, "Okay you tried this and it didn’t work out for you. Time’s a-wasting. Try something else."When your first started writing, did anything about the writing process surprise you?
It’s not enough to have a clever idea. It’s not enough to have a terrific character. It’s not enough to have witty, funny and/or insightful dialogue. There’s a mechanical process in fitting it all together into a workable form that’s actually quite difficult to master. I continue to work at it.Do you celebrate when you finish a story, and if so, how?
Yes. Usually by putting it away for a while and doing something else totally unrelated to writing. Walk the dog. Go for a swim.Do you have a set writing routine?
That depends on where I am in a particular story. When I’m starting out, I like to write until I stop. Then I might move on to another project and see what kind of mischief I can get into. If I’m really into the project, I’ll write until I stop and then go back to check over what I’ve done, looking for inconsistencies with what I’d done previously etc. I prefer to work in the morning. I’m usually distracted by more "worldly" concerns by mid afternoon.Do you listen to music when you write?
Classical or jazz. Music only. I don’t like to hear vocals because hearing someone else’s voice saying words distracts me from what hearing my own voice might be trying to tell me.What do you like least about writing?
Giving up a character or scene that I thought was really great and relevant to the story only to find that it’s an unnecessary distraction impeding the flow of the narrative.Give us a mini-tour of your writing space.
Which one? You don’t want to tour the "space" inside my head. It’s very cluttered and there are dark corners that I myself haven’t visited in years. The good news is that I have been extensively renovating that space in recent years. It’s funny, there’s so much talk about "uncluttering" one’s self of unneeded and unused physical possessions as one gets older, I think that valuable process should also apply to mental possessions.
For example, thanks to a work in process called Wild Birds of a Feather I’ve been able to clear my "usable" memory of information I’d obtained about the process of fracking to get natural gas from deep layers of shale underlying much of the Appalachian mountains in Pennsylvania.
I’m guessing though that your question refers to my "office." I’m lucky in that I have a large comfortable room where I can sit at an old wooden desk with my laptop and coffee cups and scribbled-over notebooks and plug away. When the weather is nice, I take all that stuff out onto the screen porch and alternate between staring at the hummingbirds in the garden and the ones that slip onto the page I’m writing…there goes a ruby-throated right now.I saw him. Which authors do you feel have influenced your writing most?
I don’t know if it shows in my work but I can tell you which ones I’ve enjoyed the most over the years. Mark Twain. Kurt Vonnegut. John Gardner. Thomas Pynchon. Neil Gaiman. Then there’s those guys everybody refers to by one name: Dickens, Shakespeare, Hemingway.Name a few titles I’d find if I browsed through your personal home library.
Complete Sherlock Holmes, Huckleberry Finn, Player Piano, Grendel, Sometimes a Great Notion, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Bullfinch’s Mythology. Some nonfiction too. Small Is Beautiful, Silent Spring. And lots of Civil War stuff. Last but surely not least, perhaps the best reference of all, the Bible.If you could go back in time, what author would you most like to invite to share a chat and a bottle of wine?
Mark Twain. He was not only a great writer but a formidable public speaker, a self-created character and a man who succeeded in spite of being an abysmal businessman.You’re marooned on a desert island. What’s the one book you’d want with you, and why?
How to Build a Functioning Boat Using Salt Water, Sand, and Whatever the Tide Washes Up - I'd want to get away from there as soon as possible because, contrary to whatever you might have heard about writers being solitude craving creatures, we need people, places, and things near at hand to stir our thought processes.Have any new authors caught your interest?
Tough question. I’d be lying if I said yes but that’s only because I really haven’t looked. I’m still wading through the "old" ones. I know that I shouldn’t insulate myself that way so if anyone reading this has any suggestions about "new" authors, I promise to check them out. What constitutes a "new author, by the way?New for you or new to the writing world. What’s next for you? Can we look forward to a new story in the near future?
Yes. Sequels to the Jersey Devil story and another book about puppy raising…this one more geared to younger readers. I’m also putting together a collection of Christmas stories featuring a character I created named Bells the Elf.Sounds like fun. Who supports your writing activities most?
My pension fund…no, seriously. My strongest supporter would be my wife and since I promised her I wouldn’t include any corny henpecking wife jokes, I’ll leave it at that.
My daughters think it’s great and are always promoting me on social media about which I am almost totally ignorant.What advice would you give an aspiring author?
Do it. If you really want to write, just do it. That easy part being said, be prepared to make a living doing something else (at least for a while). For me, "a while" was almost 40 years. I hope none of you have to wait that long…which brings me back to the first comment.Name a few of your favorite non-writing activities.
Walking/training dogs (strictly an amateur as a trainer although I’m an avid fan of Cesar Millan, as well as the Monks of New Skete) Gardening, beer making, cooking, swimming, fishing, bird watching, wood carving. I plan to add to the list once I enter my "retirement" years. I also count writing as a hobby…I’ve never looked upon it as a job.Let's sample this hobby of yours. How about a look at Jersey Devil?
Locked away to die in the basement of his mother’s tavern, an infant thrives in darkness, becoming the very nightmare dreaded by settlers in colonial Leadestown, deep in the mysterious Pine Barrens of New Jersey.
Freeing himself from his prison, this special child grows into a dreadful apparition terrorizing the night until he encounters a witch who knows his dark secret. Their fates bound together, she teaches him the ways of the wilderness revealing even the secret of how to travel through time.
A savage conflict with the settler forces him to flee into one of the magic holes that carries him into the future. There he meets one who binds herself to him, heart and soul and he dares to imagine that he is capable of loving a human being.
Is he man or beast? Angel or devil?
Because of this curse …someone innocent, someone I love will die," I howled the words. I gritted my teeth in frustration. Was there no way out for me? I had actually started to believe I could somehow live in this world. When I was with Donna, I felt like I could be a part of this world instead of relying on an elusive dream place to escape into. I had begun to feel alive in a good way. There had to be a way to spare Donna.
"If I must die to save Donna, that’s fine with me."
"That’s good," the witch noted. "Come to us now if you think you’re ready to be a hero."
Then she vanished altogether.
I ran away from the circus, oblivious to the commotion erupting around me on the boardwalk as the humans reacted to my presence. I followed Donna’s scent along with a second, much stronger scent. The wolf.
I caught up with them at the end of the wooden walk, near the tunnel I’d traveled through to reach this place.
I wondered why none of the humans noticed the wolf with Donna. There she stood, plain as day, hovering around Donna, their shapes intermingling and becoming one, then blurring before becoming two distinct forms again.
Nearby, humans strolled by, eating ice cream cones like it was nothing unusual for a wolf to be smothering a human girl on the boardwalk.
"What’s wrong with you?" I shouted. "Do something to protect her. Why don’t you help her?"
"We exist in a bubble of another time. I’ve used a great deal of my strength to create this and it will only last a short while. Long enough for us to meet like this, probably for the last time in this life. Only you can see us as we are," the wolf replied.
"They see a boy and a girl kissing one another."
Donna barely breathed.
"Well, I’m here now," I snapped. "Take me and let her go."
"This human really means something to you, beyond mere kindness," she said, genuinely interested.
"I love her," I said quickly.
"Love! What do you know about love?"
I edged closer, hoping that if I kept her talking, I’d be able to get Donna away.
"I know enough about it to know that I’ll do whatever you want because I don’t want her to die. She has a full life ahead of her…what do I have?"
"That isn’t love." The wolf sneered. "What you really mean is: look at me giving myself to save her but feel sorry for me too."
"Have it your way." I was close now. "Only let’s get this over with."
"Not so fast. You have no idea how long I’ve waited." She eyed me slyly. "So you think you know what love is."
"I’m trying to understand."
"Listen to yourself. ‘trying to understand’," she mocked me in my own voice.
"Take me instead," I insisted. "I’m not afraid to die. Let her live and you would get what you want."
"Oh I’ll get what I want in any event. This makes it more interesting. I want it to be more satisfying than just killing you and that’s that. I want you to know the full extent of the suffering I’ve endured."
I heard the dogs again.
"And they too have waited a long time to exact their own bloody vengeance for what was done to them."
The wolf glanced at me with clever eyes and ordered me to step back.
"Let them decide your fate," she said. "Do you understand?"
"I don’t think you do."
"Do I have a choice?"
"You always have a choice. You can turn and run. Find the hole you first came through to reach this place. It will take you away from here. They will be thwarted for now but you can never stop running."
"Of course, you will lose the girl forever," she said.
Those eyes glowed wickedly. "I see you hesitate. I will help you make up your mind. The girl will die a slow agonizing death. That is just. After all, love for love. Hate for hate. Life and death for life and death."
As she spat out the word "death", the witch calmly clamped her teeth into Donna’s throat. That innocent girl writhed in pain and reached out, only to grasp nothing. I could not reach back to touch her.
I cried. I screamed. I roared with rage. And this time, when I changed into the monster, I believed that I would never again be anything else.
"Why. Sad. Blood want. Revenge." I croaked.
The witch vanished as the wind picked up, moaning and howling all around us and I helplessly crouched over Donna’s body, which then vanished as well.
Then I heard the dogs calling wildly over the wind as they sped my way, their bestial challenge ringing in my ears. I responded with a roar of my own.
Why had I hesitated? If I took the coward’s way and ran from the dogs, Donna would be lost to me forever. The chance was slim but perhaps I could still save her life if I defeated these dogs.
Then I would take Donna through the hole and escape to another time. There would be no reason for the witch to hold Donna then. We would leave these dammed barrens and seek my dream place.
I ran. I ran but not away. This time, I ran to save my beloved. If the witch wanted me, she’d have to come and get me.
I smelled them coming, an ancient, powerful smell, unlike any dogs that ever walked this world. This time, the cursed dogs would find me and we would settle this…but on my terms, in my place of choosing for our combat.
* * * * *About Ray Rebmann:
Retiree Ray Rebmann keeps busy raising Biscuit, the family’s guide puppy in training, when he isn’t writing fiction. His latest, Chalk Town, is an e-book recently published by Wild Child Publishing. Ray is also the author of How Can You Give Up That Adorable Puppy (Unlimited Publishing). MuseItUp Publishing just released his novel, Jersey Devil, The Cursed Unfortunate, on May 18.
Ray lives in the wilds of New Jersey with Alicia, his wife of 27 years. He has two grown children, who’ve gone off into the world, and one puppy at home… until he has to give her up.
His home is situated near the bogs of the Jersey Pine Barrens, and on nights of the full moon, he can hear the devil moving about in search of his water hole.
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Jersey Devil, The Cursed Unfortunate / Available from
Chalk Town & the World's Bottle Cap Championship of the Universe
Available from Wild Child Publishing
How Can You Give Up That Adorable Puppy?
Available from Unlimited Publishing, LLC
Available from Unlimited Publishing, LLC