Ryan B. Clark had a moment in 2009 when he prematurely thought the full moon was in whatever house it was supposed to be in and the world finally was turning his way.
"I had a real publishing deal with a small publisher," recalls Clark. "I went to the Horrorfind Weekend convention that year in Baltimore. I thought I was Stephen King! I had made it. I thought I had arrived. I get to the show and I see publishers in sweats. It was a swap meet. Everyone is just there peddling shit."
There's nothing like seeing publishers in velour jumpsuits to send one screaming into self-publishing. When it came time to publish Spirits of Jerome, his first book of a proposed trilogy of scary short stories inspired by Arizona places, people, and songs, Clark created Ghost Writer Press. Rather than just start up a boring author website, he conceived the blog Keep the Greasy Side Down, which chronicles his love of Arizona music to draw attention to his larger works.
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Each of the 15 short stories in his latest book, titled Ghost Songs, was inspired by songs from local groups ranging from Harper and The Moths, Fairy Bones, Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers, Banana Gun, and Dead Hot Workshop. None of his stories are a literal retelling of anyone’s lyrics. Clark heard a random line in a song that got him thinking about something else.
Take Ghetto Cowgirl's "Rock Pigs," which morphs into the story "The Rock Pig of Apache Lake."
"There's a line, 'When evolution calls and nobody picks up.' I just spun on that line for a while," Clark explains. "I wanted to do a shape-shifter story that hadn't been done a gazillion times before, so I thought what if I tied it with some urban expansion at Apache Lake and made Rock Pigs into shape-shifting javelinas?"
Knowing how skittish musicians have been about people imposing their interpretation on songs ever since Charles Manson got a song about a playground slide all wrong, Phoenix New Times checked with Marc Norman, the composer of "Rock Pigs" and candidate for Tempe City Council. His answer was characteristically diplomatic.
"I have two answers when someone asks what a song is about," he says. "And they both depend on my mood. One answer is, whatever you want it to be. The other is, none of your business. I don’t want the facts to get in the way of a good story. That being said, I think he hit the nail on the head."
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For the local music fan, Clark has created a story collection with a lot of Easter eggs to find. Some are more on the surface than others. Take the Wyves song "Distractions." Clark concocted a ghost story called "180 Gram Blue Vinyl" because the band pressed their album on the premium wax. He was equally inspired by a weird news item about having cremated ashes put in a vinyl record.
"What if somebody sold such a record to Bookmans and now you've got people wheeling and dealing this dead dude?" he says. "The whole thing is about a haunted death record."
He may not be Stephen King yet, but Clark has possibly spawned a new genre: horror rock fan fiction.
The Ghost Songs book release concert is scheduled at Last Exit