Q&A: Editor R.J. Cavender on the “SHINING” Inspired Stanley Hotel Writers Retreat
So…the much-lauded editor and anthologist of forward-thinking, cutting edge horror fiction R.J. Cavender is organizing a first-class writers retreat at The Stanley Hotel—i.e. “the historic and haunted birthplace of Stephen King’s The Shining”? What could go wrong?
To be fair, while the “haunted history” section of the famed Estes Park, Colorado resort’s website acknowledges guests “may possibly have an ‘extra’ experience” during their stay, it also notes, “there are never any reports of sinister or evil events happening here, because there are only happy ghosts at the Stanley Hotel!”
For those brave scribblers willing to accept such assurances, the October 2014 confab offers packages ranging from bare bones (“We’re just going to leave you alone and let you write!”) to deluxe (“a full afternoon undisturbed to write alone in Room 217”), not to mention a singular experience.
Cavender was kind enough to field a few queries from FANGORIA about this proposed soiree with the ghost of Jack Torrance.
FANGORIA: So why don’t you tell me a little bit about the origins of the retreat and why you believe it’s going to end up with better results than the book and/or film.
R.J. CAVENDER: Well it certainly couldn’t end any worse, right? And what better place for a close-knit group of authors to get some quality writing done?! The Stanley Hotel is a perfect location for both work and play, and we’re planning an event we hope our authors will remember forever…and ever. I’ll be staying in Room 217 for the duration of the retreat, giving two authors an opportunity to write in the room overnight, as well. Though I love a good ghost story, I don’t really believe in ghosts. But we’ll see if that changes after my first night in the room. According to our events coordinator at the hotel, the last guest who stayed in Room 217 asked to change rooms around 3 a.m.
FANG: Can you share with us your first encounter with THE SHINING—book and/or film—and how it affected you?
CAVENDER: THE SHINING was the first Stephen King book I ever read. So when the film first aired on cable, I thought I knew what to expect. I was ten years-old at the time and I’d stayed up late to watch it one weekend when I was sleeping over at my grandma’s house. She had HBO.
The lights were out and I was watching the movie alone…I was entranced. On screen, Danny was pedaling his Big Wheel down one hallway after another. Carpet, tile, carpet, tile. Around one twisting corner after another. And then…the twins filled the end of the long hallway, beckoning to Danny. Flash! Hacked up, in pools of their own blood!
I threw my hands over my eyes, much like Danny onscreen, and I ran blind and screaming down the hallway. It wasn’t until I was in the safety of the guest bedroom, cowering under the covers, that I realized I’d left the TV on.
I fell asleep listening to the rest of the movie playing from the living room. My grandma laughed when I told her why the TV was still on in the morning. She was the one who gave me THE SHINING to read in the first place. Grandma was cool like that.
I wasn’t able to watch the film in its entirety until two years later when my family bought a VCR. Few other films ever measured up to the initial terror I experienced watching that movie. It left me scarred for life.
FANG: What has been the reaction to the idea amongst colleagues and friends?
CAVENDER: So far, everyone seems to dig the idea. We have thirteen authors registered for the retreat and the Horror Writers Association graciously offered to sponsor a book signing/reading event at the local library near The Stanley. I’ve wanted to put this together for a few years now, so I’m grateful to those who have helped make this dream become a reality. As soon as our guests are settled in for the weekend, I look forward to inviting everyone down for a toast in Room 217!
FANG: No need to name names, obviously, but have there been any nervous nellies expressing trepidation about what you’ve dubbed “this unique and haunting writing experience”?
CAVENDER: Honestly? No. I was surprised, but ultimately relieved. It’s a gorgeous resort, with some great people involved, and…I know how to host a group. I’ve worked behind-the-scenes on several author events over the last few years, and I have a solid hospitality background that I honed years before committing to full-time editing. I love to hang out with authors and artists of all kinds and talk shop. I like to make sure people are having a good time. I make a mean margarita, too.
CAVENDER: I’ll be surprised if I do. I’ve stayed at a few purportedly haunted hotels before, and I never saw or felt anything I couldn’t rationally explain away. I’m always open to the experience, though. And haunted or not, I love old buildings and classic architecture. I look forward to haunting the halls and grounds myself. Have you seen pictures of The Stanley? It’s a pretty impressive hotel. They don’t make ‘em like that anymore.
FANG: Have you been surprised at all by how fast the Indiegogo campaign caught on?
CAVENDER: For the last year, I’ve been telling anyone who’d listen that I’d hoped to launch a writers’ retreat at The Stanley Hotel. And while a lot of people expressed excitement about the project, ‘interested’ and ‘registered’ aren’t always the same thing. So I’m glad to see so many people committing to this event in advance, allowing me to plan well ahead for what I know will be a fantastic event. We’ll be open for registration for just a few weeks more. Details on our next author outing will be coming soon. A few fun surprises up my sleeve, as well.
FANG: One of the interesting things about the Stanley Hotel Writers Retreat is that it is being plotted as a legit “retreat,” with editors on hand to work with writer, not a convention where people write in the lobby between panels. How important was it to you as an editor to make sure this would have real productivity as a goal?
CAVENDER: I just wanted to set up an event where authors could have time to write. And time to write outside of their element, in an environment that could spark imagination and wonder. A true getaway where writing and inspiration might coexist, with a bit of editorial feedback thrown in to sweeten the pot. And because of that, I didn’t want to set up a strict schedule, so I’ve kept the events to a minimum and only for those authors who’d like to participate. If you want to disappear into your room and write all weekend…we’re not going to interrupt you. If you want to take part in a signing and some field trips or tours, we have that going on too. A little something for everyone, and the birthplace of THE SHINING, to boot. I couldn’t be more excited to host this.
FANG: It is also clear this won’t be “all work and no play.” What sort of ancillary activities do you have planned?
CAVENDER: The Stanley Hotel has a Friday Night Murder Mystery dinner and on Saturday night there’s the annual Shining Ball masquerade. Other than the book signing at the Estes Valley Library, we’ll be making a few days trips, and we’ll have a movie night. Some surprises regarding each, with details coming soon. I hear the hotel’s nightly ghost tours of the fourth floor are pretty cool, too!
FANG: You’re obviously plugged into the genre writing world; do you have any observations about the state of literary horror today?
CAVENDER: The horror small press is doing fine, by my estimation. There are so many talented authors working with so many great small presses putting out distinct and stylized work that might not find a home otherwise. Someday Hollywood might even catch on and start picking up projects based on fantastic books from some of these same authors. It’s happening already on a smaller scale with some authors I know. If Hollywood would crank out less of these unnecessary remakes, and fewer crappy sequels…well, that alone would improve the current ‘big picture’ state of horror in one fell swoop.
FANG: You may not want to answer, but you know we’ve gotta ask: Which side of the Kubrick/King Shining demarcation line do you fall on?
CAVENDER: I like the book and the film equally. I consider them companion pieces. My favorite book, my favorite movie. And both have haunted me equally. It’s no wonder I’ve been so drawn to create a writers retreat at The Stanley Hotel. It all makes sense now. I guess I’ve always been the editor here.