“Speaking of The Shining…” An Interview with R.J. Cavender by Robert Brouhard

R.J. Cavender is the managing editor of horror at Dark Regions Press, editor-in-chief at Cutting Block Books, and he is an Associate Member of the Horror Writers Association. He is best known for creating and co-editing the Horror Library series of anthologies. R.J. Cavender recently started organizing the Stanley Hotel Writers Retreat which is an author and artists retreat that is held at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado (this year’s will be October 22nd – 25th, 2015). Guests of honor this year include Jack Ketchum, Richard Chizmar, Kealan Patrick Burke, Tom Piccirilli, Michelle Scalise, Josh Malerman, and Trent Zelazny.

The Stanley HotelRobert: R.J., do you prefer to be called “R.J.” or something else?

R.J.: “R.J.” or “Cav” (short for Cavender)…either is fine. I started going by my initials in middle school to clear up any confusion when there were four of us students all with the same first name in one class. And no I won’t tell you what my first name used to be. Haha! I’ve had a legal name change since then and the last living person who called me by my given birth name was my Grandmother and she’s since passed away. But yeah, “R.J.” or “Cav” is fine…–“R.J.” is my actual legal first name.

Robert: I’ve read that your favorite novel is The Shining. Why?

R.J.: It was the first novel I ever read by Stephen King and it made a hell of an impression. It set the bar high, too, I’d say. It’s a modern classic haunted house tale.

Robert: When did you first read The Shining and how many times do you think you’ve picked it up since then?

R.J.: I first read The Shining under strange circumstances, for sure. I was on vacation with my grandparents, driving cross-country in the middle of the summer. I guess I’d left the book splayed open on the dashboard once or twice, as the spine had dried out, the glue cracked…and the pages began falling out as soon as I’d read them. It was like I was in a race to finish the book before it just fell apart in my hands. But I finished it that summer and I read every book that Stephen King put out after that for many years. I don’t really re-read books often, but I did return to scenes in the book and read them before my first visit to the Stanley Hotel last year. I may go back and re-read the entire thing before my second visit, time permitting.

Robert: Was your love for The Shining your main influence for starting your career path?

R.J.: No, I was nine or ten when I first read The Shining on that vacation…so I was just an enthusiastic young reader who was happy to be allowed to finally read horror. Reading Clive Barker’s Books of Blood trilogy on another vacation set the idea in mind that someday I’d like to make books with short stories in them. I loved the cheesy covers with the rubber masks they had on the original US mass market paperbacks. I bought my copies from the check-out isle at Kmart. I’d never seen anything like it before. Made a huge impact on how I choose my own covers for books.

Robert: Okay. Well, was The Shining influential on your starting the Stanley Hotel Writers Retreat?

R.J.: Absolutely. It started with me as a kid thinking, “Someday I’m going to go stay in that hotel from The Shining.” And then only to discover through like Fangoria or something that the hotel doesn’t exactly exist. That the film was shot mostly on a sound stage in UK and that exterior shots are of a hotel in Oregon. So…I sort of scrapped the idea for years. Then years later I’m watching a “Making Of” on The Shining made-for-TV mini-series and they’re talking about the inspiration for the Overlook in The Shining…and about an actual hotel that scared the hell out of Stephen King himself. And it was like that lightbulb went on again, and I thought, “Yeah…that’s the place I want to go to. The place that gave Stephen King nightmares.”

Robert: Tell us a little more about the Stanley Hotel Writers Retreat itself.

R.J.: It’s a four-day writer and artists retreat (but you don’t have to be a writer, fans and readers are more than welcome!) at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado. Our retreat coincides with one of the biggest weekends of the year, with both a Murder Mystery Dinner and the Shining Masquerade Ball taking place over the weekend evenings. It’s a busy weekend, the hotel is sold-out, and there’s a lot of activity and events. And still…you can find plenty of great places to write, to hide away, to enjoy the view and the solitude of the mountains. We’re going to have a reading event at the Stanley Hotel Lodge on Thursday night with our Guest of Honor Authors, and we’re going to have some book sales and panels over at the public library. We’ve got a pre-event trip to one of the largest year-round haunted houses in the nation, The 13th Floor Denver. Field trip to Starbuds in Denver. Convoy into the Rocky Mountain National Park and drive over to Grand Lake for some killer barbeque. Hotel tours. Ghost tours. We’re even going to have our own personalized Paranormal Investigation where we’re going to have two hours of writing time within the haunted Concert Hall at The Stanley Hotel. We’ve got so much going on, 65 guests registered to the event so far…

Registrations Ends on Wednesday February 11th at midnight!

Robert: I’ve got goose bumps! How did last year’s Stanley Hotel Writers Retreat turn out and what do you think will be different this year?

R.J.: Last year went swimmingly well for the first year of an event. I even polled people, asked them what I could do to improve things, any sort of input I could garner to improve. And I listened. Some of the new stuff this year like the Paranormal Investigation with writing time came directly from author suggestions on what we could improve upon for the trip. We’ll be doing a program this year, too…since there’s so much going on and we don’t want anyone to miss anything. An end of event party…lots of little surprises. Heck, I’m doing this every year myself…I want to mix it up and do and add new things each year. Over a dozen of our guests from last year are returning, so I’m always keeping in mind new and fun things we can offer for our guests.

Robert: It sounds like a great escape, relaxing and fun! Is the plan to do it annually?
R.J.: Yes, I believe we’ve made a good impression last year and so far the offer is for us to come back each year. And I plan to do just that…

Robert: So now we know that the Stanley Hotel itself is the beautiful 140-room hotel in Estes Park, Colorado that inspired Stephen King’s The Shining (and the 1997 mini-series based on the book was filmed there).  Having been there, can you see why it inspired Mr. King?

R.J.: Oh yeah, she’s a grand old building. Creepy and gorgeous. I wandered the hallways, drink in hand, wondering what Mr. King saw here, and everywhere I looked there was inspiration. Little doorways that got my mind wondering where they went to. Strange creaks and thumps in the night. Wavering reflections at the end of the hallway that you realize is just your own…but does it just sort of look doubled at this distance? It’s a gorgeous, creepy-ass old hotel.

Robert: Stephen King stayed in room 217, the same room number featured in the book, right? I was reading on your Indiegogo site that your October 2015 retreat involves room 217 in some way. Can you tell us about that?

R.J.: Room 217 is our headquarters for the weekend. It’s where I’m staying the night, but it’s also a room I wanted to share with our authors, and several have signed up for editing packages that include a block of time to write undisturbed at the desk in Room 217. It’s a great space to write in, be inspired by, or even just watch scary movies in as one guest did last year. We’re also going to have an end-of-event party in Room 217, as I want everyone who attends our event to be able to check it out and be able to see the infamous bathroom (which is nearly identical to the way it’s described in the book.) Room 217 also has tours passing by every hour or so, and I’ve encouraged my guests to go ahead and scare the tour group if they like (scratching sounds from the inside of Room 217? People RUN!) and if any souls are brave enough to stick around…let them come on in and check the room out. Room 217 isn’t a part of the hotel tour, so most guests who visit the hotel never get to see the inside unless they rent it themselves. Last year, with guests and tours alike, I probably showed at least 100 people the inside of Room 217. It was my Halloween gift to the people. I just get to scare them first. Haha!

Robert: Has the Stanley Hotel done anything special with Room 217 that sets it apart from the other rooms?

R.J.: Yes, they have a great little Stephen King library there in the room’s bookshelf. It’s not every book he wrote, but it’s a good selection with a few unexpected choices. I think we’ll likely add to it this year…I know this publisher that works with Stephen King. Hmmmm.

Robert: For the Kubrickians: Is there a Room 237 at the Stanley Hotel? Maybe it has a little yellow rubber ball in there for guests?

R.J.: Oddly enough, I think it’s the mirror-image of Room 217. It’s not the same grand suite, but it’s down the opposite hall, the placement being the same but on the other side of the ballroom downstairs.

Robert: Do you believe the Stanley Hotel is haunted and have you experienced evidence of the paranormal inside of it?
R.J.: Well, I’ll say this much…Room 217 wasn’t a great room to try to sleep in. I kept waking up, the feeling of someone sitting down behind me on the side of the bed. It happened three times on three different nights, then the third morning I felt that same feeling…someone sitting down— then they scooted closer! I shot out of bed, got up and dressed, and drank coffee in the lobby until the restaurant opened at 7am for breakfast. Haha! 

Robert: Eeep!

R.J.: Here’s the thing…I don’t actually believe in ghosts. I mean, I’m willing to be proven wrong…but mostly, I don’t believe in anything unless I can see it in motion and with my own eyes.

And still, I know what happened. Part of me thinks it way just my own brain, playing tricks on me. But there’s that other little seed of doubt, where I honestly can still feel someone plopping down on the end of the bed. And no one was there. It chills me still.

So…I guess I kinda believe in ghosts now. I spent a good deal of the weekend walking the halls, looking in dark corners, being alone in places in the hotel that freaked me out (like the roof). It’s easy to creep yourself out in the Stanley…it’s a creepy old place. Doesn’t feel inhospitable, though. I mean…it’s a hotel. I’m glad it’s okay with guests staying there…not teaming with evil spirits that want to chase people out. Haha!

Robert: Who are the guests of honor this year at the Stanley Hotel Writers Retreat and how did you choose them?

R.J.: First and foremost, I knew I wanted to have Jack Ketchum out to the retreat. The announcement has just been made that he’s going to be receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award from The Horror Writers Association this May at World Horror in Atlanta. I’ve been at several events where Jack has been a GOH and he’s always so much fun to have around…hell, he brings the party. So I asked Jack first. Then it all sort of fell into place. Folks started contacting me or we’d be working on or talking about something else, and then the retreat would come up. I’m so excited that so many great authors want to come out and take part in this retreat. The Guest of Honor Author Line-up for 2015 includes: Jack Ketchum, Tom Piccirilli, Michelle Scalise, Josh Malerman, Trent Zelazny, Kealan Patrick Burke, and Richard Chizmar.

Robert: Speaking of Mr. Chizmar, are you re-reading along with Richard Chizmar on Stephen King Revisited?

R.J.: No way could I keep up. I’m a slow reader, editing in my head all the way…

Robert: I can understand that. I do the same thing. I know I’m psyched about the Cemetery Dance Publications’ Stephen King Doubleday Years collection which will include a Deluxe Special Edition of The Shining. Do you collect Stephen King special editions, and are you excited about this new edition of your favorite book?

R.J.: I’m not a collector; I’m but a humble editor. I did, however, go back recently and buy an identical copy of the paperback of The Shining that fell apart on me during that first read. It’s the silver one, with the face. I have that on my bookshelf now. It’s the copy I read from last year getting ready for the first retreat.

Robert: Hopefully, you’ll get a chance to fully revisit it before this year’s retreat. When is the last day to sign up for the Stanley Hotel Writers Retreat again?

R.J.: Wednesday, February 11thgot to get that registration in before midnight Pacific Time.

Robert: Yikes! That’s tomorrow (at the time of this interview). If people miss it this year, it looks like it will be back in 2016. Hopefully, the Stanley Hotel Writers Retreat will be the place to go every year – if you don’t mind me quoting the film – “Forever and ever and ever…”

R.J.: That’s actually our motto… 

Robert: Ha! R.J., Thank you very much for your time.

Robert Brouhard is a freelance writer, proofreader, Copyeditor, Assistant Editor, husband, and father. His poetry has appeared in Death in Common: Poems from Unlikely Victims edited by Rich Ristow, and his fiction has appeared in Holiday Horrors from Cemetery Dance Publications.

R.J. Cavender is an Associate Member of the Horror Writers Association and the thrice Bram Stoker Award®-nominated editor of the +Horror Library+ anthology series from Cutting Block Press. Horror Library IV (co-edited with Boyd E. Harris) won the 2010 reader’s choice Black Quill Award from Dark Scribe Magazine in the Best Dark Genre Anthology category.

R.J. is also a publishing consultant and co-editor of the Bram Stoker Award-nominated Horror For Good: A Charitable Anthology, which includes stories from award-winning authors Jack Ketchum, Ray Garton, Ramsey Campbell, and Benjamin Kane Ethridge. His latest project for Dark Regions Press is The Midnight Meat Train: Special Definitive Edition by Clive Barker.

R.J. Is the managing editor of horror at Dark Regions Press, editor-in-chief at the new Cutting Block Books, an acquisitions editor at Blood Bound Books, and pitch sessions coordinator for World Horror Convention.

R.J. lives in Tucson, Arizona. His favorite novel is The Shining.


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