In California, Bakersfield is the most conservative city in the whole state and is ranked the 9th most conservative city in the U.S., which means it’s pretty darn conservative. Bakersfield is hotter than hell in the summers, which probably explains why it’s the home of the world’s largest ice cream plant. It’s also the home of King Ray Raven, author of 5 Poppin 6 Droppin.
The interior of King Ray Raven’s home, located in a trailer park, contains a big-ass flat screen TV, two computers, a stereo system, a couch, and row upon row of gewgaws. He collects things like Zippo lighters, angels, and black and white photos.
I’m seated on the couch amidst this organized clutter because he agreed to an interview. He sits at his desk, half obscured by a computer monitor. An unlit cigarette dangles from his lips.
“Let’s do it,” he says.
Me: There’s a rumor about you that maintains you write fiction, too. Is that just gossip or is it true?
King: (Laughs) Yeah. Once upon a time, I wrote romance novels, under a pseudonym, of course. Can’t have someone named King Raven writing romance.
King: Don’t be a snob, now. Romance literature is heady stuff, if done well. And much of it is done quite well. Critics think it’s sappy, but it’s not. Rather, it’s sentimental because it’s all about love. There’s nothing wrong with sentimentality or love. In the end, everything revolves around love. Something the contemporary world has forgotten.
Me: How does one go from writing romance to turning out true crime? Seems like an about-face.
King: Perhaps. But when you come right down to it, both genres deal with the passions that motivate individuals to pursue a course of action. Motivations like love, revenge, greed, and hate. Of the two, in my opinion, true crime is the easier, because you’re reporting what took place. You don’t have to create scenes or situations and hope they come across as realistic. Fiction is difficult because it’s so creative; non-fiction depends on structure more than anything. Great novelists are artists, floating above the earth like butterflies. Writers of non-fiction are common laborers stumping along in steel-toed work boots, looking to raise a scaffold.
Me: But doesn’t non-fiction require a lot of research?
King: (Waves a dismissive hand) Research is easy enough, what with computers and online databases. The fun part is interviewing people, getting out there and talking to someone face to face. Then you just sit down and write it. And writing is little more than disciplining yourself to turn out a certain number of pages or words on a daily basis.
Me: If it’s that simple, why are some non-fiction writers so much better than others?
King: Granted, it does necessitate ability, but it’s more of a knack than a talent. And a knack that most can attain if they put their minds to it.
King: Simplest thing in the world. Just read a lot of good non-fiction. Voluminous reading is the foundation of writing. These people who take creative writing courses or enter MFA programs are kidding themselves. You learn to write by reading.
Me: How about some recommendations?
King: David Foster Wallace was an outstanding non-fiction writer. Robert Graves’ books on mythology; Erik Larson is wonderful; one of my personal favorites is Anne Applebaum’s Gulag. Essentially, there are too many to list. Oh, one more: what’s his name, the publisher at Vanity Fair magazine has assembled some excellent writers.
Me: What are you working on now?
King: Gangs of the West Coast.
Me: You mean Crips and Bloods, right?
Me: Why? Why not, say, the Mafia?
King: Probably because of the degree of overcompensation exhibited by West Coast gangs. Their territoriality is unprecedented and fascinating, especially in California, where people don’t hesitate to jump in their car and drive 200 miles for an afternoon outing.
Me: I look forward to reading it. And let me say that I thoroughly enjoyed 5 Poppin 6 Droppin.
King: I am gratified to hear that.
Me: Prior to the interview, I discovered you’re not on Facebook or Instagram or any other form of social media. What’s up with that?
King: I have a theory about Facebook. It goes like this: Facebook is nothing more or less than a mutual admiration society, where one connects with like-minded people. And everyone’s happy because all their friends agree with them about politics or religion or the fact that kittens are cute. Antithetical opinions and/or beliefs and/or insights are not allowed. And, if they happen to occur, the opinion or belief is belittled, ridiculed and generally verbally savaged, along with the person espousing the opinion. This results in insular thinking and the promotion of narrow-mindedness. People lose the ability to think. I find the whole concept frightening. Basically, Facebook is aiding and abetting the dumbing down of individuals all over the world.
Me: Wow! That’s quite an indictment. So you see no advantages to social media?
King: Of course, there are advantages. You can engage with people in other societies, people from other cultures. You can share hobbies and passions and ideas, in theory. But I don’t see much intellectual discussion taking place. Instead, I see people posting pictures of their lunch, their dogs, their aquariums, their trips, even their health issues. It’s like Alice in Wonderland – the nuts come out of the woodwork. Rather than being social, it’s narcissistic – competitive narcissism, where people score points by collecting more Likes or Shares than others. Everyone is seeking attention. I prefer not to participate.
Me. A lot of authors and musicians use social media to promote their works. Do you have a problem with that?
King: No, not at all. The current state of publishing demands artists engage in self-promotion. But I believe there’s a vast difference between marketing a book or a song and self-aggrandizing narcissism. The latter is personified in someone like Kim Kardashian, who is famous for being famous. She’s the Dorian Gray of modern society. By comparison, when James Patterson advertises his latest book, he’s promoting his art, not just himself. Patterson is famous for what he has produced, the outpouring of his creativity. No one cares about the size of his pectoral muscles. Granted, the difference is somewhat subtle, but to my mind there is a difference.
Me: Well, you have to admit that Kim is entertaining, right?
King: (Laughs, lights his cigarette) Yes, indeed she is. But she is not an entertainer. She’s entertaining because she’s so in love with herself.
Me: Okay, well let’s move on. No need to dwell here. What are you reading right now?
King: Springsteen’s memoir, Born To Run. Ronald White’s American Ulysses. Tolkein’s The Fellowship of the Ring, which I am embarrassed to say I’ve never read before.
Me: Do you go to the movies? If so, what have you seen lately?
King: Oh yes, I love movies. I recently saw Arrival, which I enjoyed. But I found it difficult to follow, probably because of the flash-forwards, which I mistakenly interpreted as flash-backs.
Me: What question would you ask King Raven, if our roles were reversed?
King: What motivates you?
Me: What motivates you?
King: Years ago, when I was young, it was the usual suspects of money and fame. I never achieved either. Now that I’m old, my motivation is that I have nothing else to do. So I write because it gives me pleasure to string words into sentences.