About a month back, I had an interview with some friends, Josh Mangel and Rui Li, who were interviewing various people for a variety of reasons, mostly having to do with a class they were both taking. The interview is in two parts, mostly because all together it’s about 14 pages worth of interview. And here’s the interview’s first half, which was recorded at my house one lovely Wednesday afternoon with some soda and snacks in my living room.

Thanks to Josh Mangel and Rui Li for interviewing me and sending me the transcripts. I appreciate all you’ve done for me and I hope this project of yours was a success.

For all readers, please be aware that the interview was recorded July 1st, meaning that it was about 17 days before The Quiet Game: Five Tales To Chill Your Bones came out. Just something to keep in mind. Also, the bold parts are questions from Josh and Rui, while the regular script is my responses. Just for clarification’s sake.

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Rami Ungar, a young up-and-coming horror author, has been writing stories since he was the tender age of six. He has one book already published, The Quiet Game: Five Tales That Chill Your Bones, and another coming out in November, Reborn City, a science fiction novel. He also writes for two blogs, one that showcases his personal work, and one that offers advice to self-publishing authors. Rami is sharp as a knife, talented, and certainly has the uncompromising attitude needed for a writer.

We covered several topics with Rami, and he provided us with a wealth of information on writing and the publishing process. The first part of this interview focuses on Rami’s personal story and his influences and experiences, and the second half covers publishing and some of Rami’s other secrets.

How did you get started writing?

I think it was Harry Potter. I read it when I was five or something and just got hooked on it. I wanted to write like that. I wanted to write about magic, and mystery, and I’ve been writing ever since. Though, when I got into horror I got into a different area.

What attracted you to writing horror?

Well, you know, there’s a funny story about that. I’ve always enjoyed scaring people – I’ve always enjoyed sneaking up behind them and going “Boo!” Sneaking up behind people isn’t always acceptable, so I guess writing scary stuff is a better alternative. And I like doing it – I really enjoy it.

Did you decide to write out of a motivation to become famous?

I think that influences me a little bit. I think that influences every writer who’s ever gone through publication – to be the famous guy whose books are in all the bookstores, who’s recognizable anywhere on a busy street. But it’s really a lot less about that and a lot more about writing what I love and sharing it with the world. I’ve got a collection of short stories coming out in about seventeen days and I’m just looking forward to sharing these stories that I’ve written with the world. So if I can make a little money off it that would be nice.

What’s your collection of short stories going to be called? Can you take us through them?

The Quiet Game: Five Tales That Chill Your Bones. It’s five separate stories that I wrote mostly over winter break. One was written over the beginning of spring semester. One, The Quiet Game, the titular short story, is about an all-girls school in the middle of nowhere that wakes up one morning cut off from the rest of the world. Everyone’s deaf, and they can’t hear a word. They soon find out that there’s something strange going on at the school, something very sinister.

Another short story is called Addict, and it’s about a man with sex addiction who’s trying to go cold turkey. He has some really freaky hallucinations when he attempts it. Another short story is called I’m Going To Be The Next James Bond, but it doesn’t have a lot to do with James Bond. It’s about a bunch of kids who go into a hospital, an abandoned hospital, in order to prove they’re brave and the freaky stuff that happens there.

There’s another short story that I’m really proud of called In The Lady Ogre’s Den. It follows a child with autism who’s in the hospital and the crazy stuff that happens there. Really terrible stuff happens to him there. The last short story is called Samson Wise’s Curse, and it involves a dybbuk – that a spirit from Jewish mythology, it’s kind of like a possessing ghost.

Is there something about being scared that attracts you personally? Do you enjoy being frightened?

Well, yes actually. Some people enjoy having a drink every now and then, some people enjoy skydiving – me, I enjoy being scared through a story. That gives me something like a natural high, and I really enjoy that. I went to see World War Z last weekend with my mom and my sister. There are some really scary parts and I was enjoying myself every minute. I had to have my hand cover my mouth, cause I was freaked out – like, what’s gonna happen? I was really enjoying myself.

What would you say is the best zombie movie?

You know, I don’t actually watch a lot of zombie movies or read a lot of zombie novels…

Best horror movie, in general…

Oh, that’s a tough one.

Best five. Or three, or…

The original Amityville Horror is definitely an awesome movie, because you really don’t understand what’s causing the haunting, or why it’s happening – a lot of the stuff that’s happening is very mysterious, and that just serves to make it scarier. At one point during the movie, the male lead, he sees a giant pig with glowing eyes looking out of a window, and just sends a silent message to him, and we don’t know what that message is or why that pig is there. It’s just really scary.

Also, there are movies like Halloween or Friday The 13th or Nightmare On Elm Street. They’re much bloodier than a lot of other horror films but they really scare people, and if you see the original films, they’re very good. They’re really well thought out.

Do you think that all of your stories need magic in some form?

Not necessarily. I’ve written a novel about a serial killer in New York City, and there’s no magic at all. It’s basically humans against humans.

Do you think that in some ways that’s the scariest thing?

For me, the darkness that humanity is capable of, the evil, that is fascinating. I mean, I don’t like it at all when it’s really happening. I don’t really like it when there’s an actual killer on the loose, or someone’s actually planning murder. But, within a literary context, it’s fascinating to think about what cause someone to want to become a killer – what causes someone to want to do something so heinous, so atrocious.

Overall, what are you scared of the most in the world?

Overall – that’s really tough. I’ve got to say I’m not too fond of wasps, or bees, or large spiders. I can deal with a small spider, once I get used to the fact that there’s one right over my shoulder and I’m like – uggh! But large spiders like tarantulas just freak me out.

I think that all of those things that you are scared of are just because they can cause you to die. Would you say that death scares a lot of people?

I think that death is a huge factor in what people are afraid of. It harkens back to our survival instincts, to look for ways to live, and fear developed from that. But, there are a lot of things that can’t hurt us but scare people to death. That makes it much more interesting – something that can’t hurt you, like the sound of thunder. That can scare people to death. The fact that that happens, that people are afraid of thunder, or people are afraid of water, even just a small kiddie pool – that fascinates me to some degree.

Talking about death, do you think that you would be more afraid of your own death or the death of family members?

Definitely more of my family members. I’m not afraid of death, per se – I’m not willing to meet it anytime soon! But I’m very spiritual, I do believe in life after death, so I’m not afraid of dying. Though, like I said, I’m not willing to meet it anytime soon. I’d be much more concerned about the death of a family member.

So have you thought about how most others are afraid of the death of their family members, so when you write, you write about causing the death of their family members instead of them? I think that now most scary stories just cause the death of the people that’s reading the book.

Yeah, or it’s already realized, like in I Am Legend or something.

That’s a really complicated question, cause when I write, I’m not necessarily thinking that I’m going to write it this way so that people are more afraid or their family members’ deaths or their own deaths. I’m writing in the way that I feel will cause the most terror. For my serial killer novel, which is called Snake, there’s a scene – I’m not gonna get into too much detail, but there’s a scene where one of the characters, one of the killer’s victims, is horribly wounded, and that terrified me a little when I read it. When I read what I had written I was actually kind of afraid. So, I’m aiming to cause the most fear, I’m not aiming to cause any particular kind of fear. But I’m aiming to cause fear in itself.

Do you ever sit around, and just think of normal everyday household objects or actions that could cause fear if changed to be just the right way? Like a picture like that, if it broke and you slipped on a puddle of water, and you landed in the broken glass, that would be horrifying.

Yeah, but I don’t usually think like that; I think that that’s more random chance, and random chance isn’t usually terrifying. People aren’t usually afraid of random chance. They’re more afraid of what may be lurking around the corner of their eye, or what they feel could actually harm them or has intent to harm them.

Based upon the description of your short stories, it seems like you have a lot of topics related to kids. So you write a lot about kids and children – could that be because you have a personal story from when you were little?

Actually, yes. Though I don’t always write because of that. Children are much more easily scared than adults are. They’re afraid of things that don’t exist or aren’t tangible: the dark, the bogeyman, and the monster in my closet. Kids are much more easy to scare, much more easy to influence. That’s why they make great protagonists in scary stories.

Do you think that people are more scared of the tangible things or the intangible things and why?

I have a theory that as we grow up we actually just change our fears to be more rational. The monster under my bed, the thing living in my closet…

It’s the IRS now (laughing).

…the IRS, terrorists, an overprotective government. We change our fears to suit what we believe is rational or irrational.

So your target audience is children?

My target audience is not children because some of these novels are definitely not for children. In fact, I would argue that none of them are for children. They’re for young adults and full adults (laughing). People who have a sense of maturity and are attracted to scary stuff but aren’t so easily influenced by that and it warps them. Say, I would never give one of my books to a ten-year old and say “go read” because I know it’s gonna freak them out if they read it.

Could you share your personal experience from when you were little that served as the origin for your love of scary stories?

Every horror writer seems to have one of those stories. Stephen King, actually – he’s considered one of the greatest horror writers in our time and he saw a friend of his hit by a train, supposedly, and that caused him to get into horror. Me, my story’s a lot less bloody. You see, when I was young, couldn’t have been more than six, these two – I was at the synagogue one Saturday afternoon, cause, I’m Jewish, and I go to synagogue a lot – and I was wandering around. These two staff members, these two people who were hired by the synagogue to work there on Saturday mornings – like take books that were left in the aisles. This was before I moved to Columbus. These two staff members, they decided to play a prank on me. So, one of them snuck ahead of me without me noticing and the other one was behind me – there was a hallway where you could do that – and this was near the furnace room, or the boiler room, or whatever you call that. There was a humming noise going through the walls, and they just gave me this weird smile, a smile I would not see until I saw Heath Ledger as the Joker (laughing). It was that freaky. And they say to me,  “You hear that sound?” And I, being no more than six, and scared, just nod my head, because I’m freaked out, and they’re like “It’s the sound of de-eath! Death is coming for you!” (laughing) That humming became the sound of buzz saws in my ears – it sounded like buzz saws or chainsaws coming from the other room – and I just ran! I ran and I ran and I didn’t stop running until I was halfway between one end of the synagogue and the other half, and that’s a big distance for a six-year old.

A few weeks later, I went to that exact same spot, just to show that I wasn’t going to die. I went through, I survived, and I guess subconsciously I reacted by learning to love horror, learning to love scaring people, and learning to love to be scared.

How do you think your background, particularly your Jewish heritage, has influenced writing horror?

Well, that’s a really good question. A lot of my stories have to do with the supernatural, and I would argue that despite Judaism and Christianity not really believing in anything like ghosts, they’re very magical religions – I mean, the splitting of the Red Sea, or the ten plagues – that is one of the best horror stories out there. The ten plagues…

What about the sacrifice of Isaac (as a horror story)?

That would make a great thriller, if I didn’t already know the ending. I would argue that religions are very magical, because they’re filled with stories of people doing amazing things. Occasionally, spirituality does appear in my stories. I’ve also written a sci-fi novel, and the main character is a very religious Muslim. Like I said, I’ve written a short story including a demon of Jewish origin, a dybbuk, so that would also count a s being influenced by my Judaism.

So, just now, you also said your short story involves an all-girls school and a sexually abusive man. Does all the sex and girls have some origin in your real life? Like, you like a girl and…

The one, Addict, which is about a man with sex addiction, that’s actually based on the experiences of a friend of mine. He has suffered from sex addiction for a number of years. He knows about this short story, he’s ok with it, but he’s suffered from it for a number of years, so that could be an influence. As for the all-girls school story, that’s just from… I just thought it was an interesting concept. I mean, from what I understand, private schools, especially ones where you live on campus, can be very closed; people can be a very small community. If you cut that off from the world, and you introduce some very unsettling circumstances, strange things can happen, things that wouldn’t happen in a normal society. It’s very similar to what Stephen King did with Under The Dome, only I did it very differently.

Do you think that in some cases horror is not universal? Like, if you put it in a certain place… someone in New York doesn’t have the same experience as someone in the Midwest, they don’t have the same fears.

Well, that’s something that’s the job of the author to get the point across to the reader no matter who they are. So I’m not so much worried about a man in New York understanding the reasoning of a man in the Midwest, it’s more can anyone understand this (laughing). If people are understanding what I’m writing, if they’re able to identify, to empathize with the character then I’m doing my job.

So, you are writing for other people to read. If no one read what you write, would you still write?

Probably. I’ve got so many stories in my head that I need to get them out on paper, just so that they can get out of my head and somewhere else. But I think that with the publishing industry as it is today, a single person at home has the ability to create a novel all by themselves and distribute it to the entire world. There’s always a chance that there will be someone who’s going to read your work, you just have to make sure that people know that you’ve written something and that it is available somewhere.

Have you ever felt so sucked into your stories that you forgot your own life and the real world?

I’ve sometimes got very into my story and spent hours just writing. I’ve never exactly just sat down and read my own work for hours on end. I do get very much into my stories. I’ll usually go around planning them for several days before I write them, and when I do, it usually just flows out. I can get very taken with other ideas as well.

Have you taken character ideas from people you know and directly incorporated them into stories?

You mean, put a friend in a novel? I’ve done that before, but only for certain reasons, because there are a lot of problems with actually putting people you know in a story. They may get a huge head (laughing) if they find out there’s a character based on them in a story, or they may object to how that character is treated. They’ll say, “I don’t think my character should do this or that” or “Why is my character a ginger?” or “Why is my character killed off? I want him to live! Why isn’t he the main character?” Oy yoi yoi! (laughing) But there are circumstances in which I will put someone I know into a story as a character. For example, one time at my high school they were doing an auction to raise money for the yearbook, and I auctioned off a role in my sci-fi novel. It didn’t sell for a lot, but a friend of mine did buy that spot, and I wrote them in, and I actually really did end up liking that character, so they may appear in the sequel. I actually ended up making him the villain’s assistant.

How many stories have you written altogether?

Oh my god, I don’t even want to put a number on that. I’ve been writing since I was five (laughing) and there are stories that have been lost and never found again, and there are stories that haven’t been published, there are stories that are published, there are stories that are in the midst of getting to be published.

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