Ray Van Horn, Jr. is a veteran entertainment journalist whose writing and live photography has been featured in Blabbermouth.net, Dee Snider’s House of Hair Online, Fangoria.com, Horror News.net, About.com Heavy Metal, MetalManiacs, New Noise, Music Dish, AMP, Hails & Horns, Unrestrained,Noisecreep, Impose, Pit, The Big Takeover.com, Rough Edge.com, Pitriff and others. His blog The Metal Minute won a “Best Personal Blog” award in 2009 from Metal Hammer magazine and he wrote and produced his own hard rock e-zine, Retaliate.

He has contributed essays to UK author Neil Daniels’ Iron Maiden and ZZ Top biographies. Ray’s fiction has been published in various periodicals and anthologies, including his flash fiction piece “Off the Record” for Akashic Books’ “Mondays Are Murder” noir series. His recent short stories “Before the Ball” and “Widow” were featured in subsequent editions of Alex S. Johnson’s Axes of Evil anthologies. Ray wrote serialized original superhero fiction for Cyber Age Adventures and five of those stories appear in the anthology Playing Solitaire. He was the winner of Quantum Muse’s fiction contest in 1999.

Ray is a former NHL game analyst for The Hockey Nut and one-time host of the forum “Comic Books” at ReadWave. He has done beat reporting, photography and lifestyle articles for Metromix, an affiliate of The Baltimore Sun, Carroll Magazine, The Northern News and The Emmitsburg Dispatch.

Friday, December 30, 2011

End of Year Thank Yous and a New Year's Mantra

I'm not going to droll on how rough 2011 was for me on a personal level. That's not why you're here visiting this site. I've found myself thanking God on a near-nightly basis for surviving a year such as this and the few preceding it simply because. I pray for those whose struggles supercede mine and I pay homage to the soldiers on behalf of our country for facing the daily horrors most of us are fortunate enough to avoid. I took my stepfather to the Vietnam Memorial this year and if we weren't already bound as father and son, this further cemented the deal. My stepfather survived The Rock Pile near Khe Sanh, site of some of the most intense action of the Vietnam conflict. Watching him confront his gory past in front of the wall and walking away with a profound sense of pride and relief was to me, inspirational.

Thus when my 69 year old stepfather took a face-first fall down the driveway into the street yesterday and came out with nothing but a chewed-up face, I admit I was shaken to pieces last night. A scary end-of-year finale to a dreadful 2011, but Lord, that guy is a tank. I love that man, and once again I find inspiration in my stepfather's capacity to defy the odds and come out of such a nasty spill on the better end.

When you keep it all in perspective, you learn to shake a stick at the bad and embrace the good when it graces you.

2012 has a big question mark above my head. Already my mother-in-law is hanging on by threads as cancer destroys her body, but she's put up a glorious fight. We may not have had the closest of relationships, but I respect her courage and her will to hang tough. It too reminds me to do likewise while I'm still reasonably healthy and in control of my destiny. I have numerous responsibilities, priority one being my son and wife, and the new year brings its own set of challenges that will wear me down as in years past.

However, I'm feeling more of a steeled resolve. In my professional life I deal with arrogance, pettiness, belligerence, crass conduct and greed. After years of it, I've had to adopt a stronger mode of perseverence and to push past the day-to-day nonsense I'm faced with on the job. I'm happy to say my journalism and writing life is hardly filled with the same drama as my day job and it provides me the opportunity to breathe and to be. I feel most like myself when I'm here at the computer, letting words spill. I've become fond of my quiet time to write when my family's asleep as I am when they get out of the door ahead of me in the mornings so I can kick on the tunes while I write. It's a natural feeling of freedom I can't begin to express, but if you write, you know what I'm talking about.

Writers are faced with greater odds than ever with triple the global population and technological advances both dummying down and entrenching the process. Yes, the internet provides a broader hub audience-wise and I'm absolutely grateful to all of those who've found me through the web and vice-versa. I remember the old days as a teenager and in my early twenties, pecking away on a typewriter and sending out stacks of query letters and short stories by snail mail. Same as when I tape traded with pen pals from around the world. The time it took to correspond with the world back then would seem interminable now, but there was joy in the mailbox when a literary agent or magazine editor responded (even if much of it was the same canned rejection lines you see today in email form) as there was when a package of cassettes came from overseas buddies in France, Finland and Japan, stuffed with bands I'd never heard of before. I still marvel at some of those distant never-were groups who popped into my world from someone else's country. Even when rejection letters made me feel "skunked again" like Ralphie and his elusive Little Orphan Annie decoder in A Christmas Story, all of it was the best of times, truly.

It's harder as an up-and-coming writer in the 21st century to break out (much as it is for bands, filmmakers, actors and visual artists) because the quality control that exists now is tougher than it ever was since there's very little quality control policing the digital frontier. Anyone can be a writer now and I hope the majority of those who come to the craft with noble intents realize their dreams as I have relentlessly pursued my own. The calling to be a writer is a gift and it's difficult to master. You need people who believe in you and believe in your work in order to make a dent and unless your last name is Kardashian, there's no fast lane to the head of a publisher's release queue.

At the same time, I am even more hell-bent than ever to take my writing career to the heights I expect from it, as was foretold by my grandfather to me back in 1984 when I sat with a paperback copy of Stephen King's The Shining with ballooned eyes and a resolved declaration that I too would become a writer. Spin the sitar-splashed intro of Yes' "It Can Happen."

I've come a long way in my journey and I can't ever close a year without thanking those who make it possible. I have to thank the editors who gave me freelance this year. The pickings were slim but these loyal friends offered me piece work when I was laid off earlier in the year and I'm blessed to have their company and empathy. I thank the editor of Carroll magazine for putting me on a groovy assignment at a town history museum this past summer, one of the richest experiences I've had in my journalism career.

I thank the fine folks at Sue Procko as well as Starz and Anchor Bay for flooding my box with films and interview set-ups. As the year became more difficult, it was a much-needed release for me to do the interviews and review the films. Likewise, I'm thankful to all of my longtime publicist and imprint chums who exhibit the confidence in me to place their valued clients in front of my recorder. One of these years, I will be taking you up on your SXSW invites and I'm sure the nights will be legendary. Ditto for those who set me up to shoot concerts. I'm not on the same 10-12 concerts-a-month schedule that I used to be before my son came into the picture, but I'm happy nonetheless anytime I'm perched stage-side with my camera as I am backstage or on a tour bus fielding interviews. My wife used to call me "Almost Famous." Now it's "Daddy" and I'm equally honored.

I thank Liz Kracht for spending a generous amount of time with me this year in the evaluation and development of my novel, "Saved by Zero." While we still have steps to go on that project, I'm eternally grateful to have been embraced by a literary agent whose patience and cheerful support keeps me in the fight. I can next thank Carmen Walsh, a good friend of mine with whom I have an amusing background story stemming back to high school. Carmen was there was when I was laid off and gave me free counsel and a resume tidying up since the formats have changed greatly since I used to write them for pay back in the nineties. I hope to be utilizing Carmen's editorial services in 2012 on future projects.

Thanks as always to my Danish cheerleader, Sheila Eggenberger. As my short-lived art director for Retaliate, Sheila has managed to become one of my most vocal supporters out there. The madness reigns, sister... I appreciate James Zahn's promotion of Retaliate when I still had a head of steam and a purported strong partnership. James brought me on at Fangoria.com and we've maintained a solid kinship since they folded the web staff a couple years back. Thanks to all of my fellow journalists and scribes, including Devin Walsh, a new voice to the metal community but his passion to write and reach an audience matches mine and it was a privilege to have him contribute to my blogsite, The Metal Minute. As for my other writing comrades, it's always good to hear from you now and then, though some of you are punks for not calling me when you're in town!

Thanks to Rat Skates, original drummer and founding member of Overkill, plus rising documentarian. Rat's been equally vocal in supporting my work out there and we've had a number of entertaining interviews and side chats. I look forward to his long-constructed documentary Welcome to the Dream hitting the masses and I further welcome his continued friendship. The dude was on my bedroom wall (in an Overkill group photo) as a teenager and I never discount the thrill of opening ties with an underground legend. Also thanks to Hades/Non Fiction axe slinger Dan Lorenzo, for his continued correspondence and all the freebies he's generously given me over the years.

I naturally have to thank my readers. It was a difficult decision to lay down The Metal Minute this year. For a blog, I had really built myself a sizable, niche-driven audience. Okay, so a sponsorship by MSN or Revolver magazine would've been nice, but the heavy traffic I maintained with The Metal Minute is something I'm still proud of. Today I still get bands and publicists asking for coverage over there. I laid it down for multiple reasons, top of the list being my familial and personal obligations. I'm slowly climbing out of my ruts and hoping to smooth out the crinkles of my life in 2012, and to do it, I had to make a big sacrifice. We'll see where The Metal Minute leads. I have a lot of other vibes hitting my ears these days, so I should explore any potential paths as they unravel themselves.

First, though, it comes down to the readership. Everywhere I've written, I've had my fair share of fans and readers and it's still a wonderful thing to hear another writer say they read your work on their way up, as much as it is someone who just writes, "I love your stuff, man, and I love Guinness just like you." That's as inspirational to me as my stepfather and mother-in-law. The traffic here at The Crash Pad has spiked exponentially in the past few weeks, so I thank all of you for your time and support. Every one of you stokes my hunger to bust into the next level. It's waiting for me, I hear it, I am about to join it.

Most of all, I have to thank my family for their continued understanding of who I am and why I must do what I do. A true writer doesn't want to write; he or she has to. Writing sustains my very soul. There's less time for me to do it as I must juggle my family's needs and continue to plot a course where I've satisfied my obligations. At the end of the day, though, it's my family who rallies me when I'm at the computer--even when my son might get up too early and literally drag me from my desk chair. Little punk, I love you, man. Your mommy, too.

And so, for 2012 I've already opened a few new channels to discuss possible projects or collaborations. I have started other books, short stories and a script this year and I am going to let nature dictate which of those find life in the new year. What I can say is that my desire to succeed is unbreakable, even when I'm in low spirits or a headache is so powerful I can't look at anything but the dark. I know I can do this and it's best not to succumb to the negative energy badgering at me and preventing me from moving forward. I have resolved to take better care of myself health-wise, to eat better and to get myself into a better exercise regimen on top of achieving my goals. I've selected a few future teammates to help me on my way and I look forward to their camaraderie and assistance. I will grow stronger, not weaker.

My mantra, then, for the new year is: "DO. There is no die."

'Nuff said, I think...

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