Rambo: first book

The prospect of life after college can be terrifying in and of itself: There’s no monster or murderer waiting behind a door or around a corner—instead, it’s a whole wide world full of uncertainty. Trying to find a foothold in the chaos might be the scariest thing about becoming an adult.

Photo courtesy of Ron Rambo Jr.

The prospect of life after college can be terrifying in and of itself: There’s no monster or murderer waiting behind a door or around a corner—instead, it’s a whole wide world full of uncertainty. Trying to find a foothold in the chaos might be the scariest thing about becoming an adult.

Ron James Rambo Jr. seems to have it figured out. Besides being bestowed with an undeniably unique name, Rambo Jr. is currently balancing his passion and his day-to-day work with relative ease after graduating from Portland State.

Rambo recently self-published a collection of horror-themed short stories, Twisted Love, available for download on Amazon.com. Rambo sat down with the Vanguard to talk about his killer name, life after PSU and the self-publishing process.

This interview has been edited for concision and clarity.

Vanguard: So, most people are going to want to ask, “Is your name really Rambo?” At this point, are you kind of resentful of the name, or have you embraced it?

Ron James Rambo Jr.:
Yeah, for the first 10 years of my life it [was] kinda B.S., because little kids don’t understand how cool Rambo is, as a name. But by the time I got to middle school, it’s like, “All right, your last name’s Rambo? That’s pretty cool.” And it just kind of went up from there.

I pretty much got my job because of my last name, which was pretty cool. [Laughs.] And then writing the book, and not having to use a pen name, that kind of makes it easy.

Tell me about Twisted Love.

What do you want to know about it? Just everything?

VG: I want to know everything. What is there to know about Twisted Love?

So, I love horror. I’ve always loved horror, forever. I don’t know why. I don’t know if it’s because I’m just messed up in the head. [Laughs.] Scary stuff always does it for me. I read a lot in high school, George Orwell’s 1984 is a great book. H.P. Lovecraft. Ray Bradbury, [I’m a] huge Ray Bradbury fan. I started writing, myself, in high school, the end of high school.

The very first story I wrote, for a creative writing class, it was the longest story that anybody turned in. I got called up to see the teacher, and I was thinking, “All right, well, she’s going to complain because it’s too gory and she’s gonna say, ‘Well, this is bad, you can’t write stuff like this.’” And the first thing she asked me was: “Did you really write this, or did you plagiarize this?” And I was like, “Of course I wrote it, are you kidding?” I would never do something like plagiarism, that’s ridiculous. And she said, “Because this is really good.”

And that was, like, the first thing that got me on the boat. I was like, “Maybe I can actually do this and have some success with it.” And at that point, I started writing, and I kind of noticed a trend in what I was writing. And that was that a lot of the people in these stories were in relationships. There was some love-centered focus, and then something crazy happened to them.


E-Horror: PSU graduate Ron James Rambo Jr. recently e-published his first book, Twisted Love. Photo courtesy of Ron Rambo Jr.

So this last summer, after I graduated, I actually had time to write because I wasn’t doing two jobs and going to school. I decided I’d really actually try to pursue this and put it together, and that’s when I realized that this is the trend—it’s all love-based. I wanted to stick with the short story route first off, because I love Ray Bradbury, I love short stories. Richard Matheson is great, [a] phenomenal short story writer, one of the best ever.

All good writers, I think, go through a short story phase, where they just write short stories. Some just do that forever. Some move on to novels. I just wanted to stick with the short stories. I thought I could tell a lot more…strange occurrences, strange happenings, terrifying incidents, that kind of thing. You can cover a lot more with short stories than you can with one huge novel, because you’re stuck on that one train of thought.

I’ve always grown up listening to a lot of music, rock music, progressive and stuff like that. I like the idea of concept albums, concept albums are great. So, I was high one night, and I was like, “This is what I have to do. I’m going to take the love aspect, I’m going to do the short story thing. This whole concept is going to be love, and it’s gonna be crazy things that happen when you’re in love.”

VG: Any particular concept albums [you were thinking of]?

RJRJ: Operation: Mindcrime, by Queensryche. It’s hard to ignore The Wall, by Pink Floyd, but I like Animals a lot better—probably because I like Animal Farm a lot. Actually, the next book I’m working on, the concept is nuclear war, nuclear occurrences and that kind of thing, and that’s about a third of the way done. I’m already getting that train going. You ever read The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury?

VG: I’ve started it before, yeah.

RJRJ: It’s kind of the same idea. It’s a bunch of short stories, but they all have this one relation, and that’s Mars. That’s what I’m kind of doing with Twisted Love, and that’s what I’m trying to do with my next book, except it’s about nuclear war. I think it’s kind of coming back in vogue a little bit.

I’ve always been a huge fan of horror anthology movies as well, like Creepshow. It’s all these ideas, this massive amalgamation of weird stuff that just kind of came together and just threw itself at me. I said, “I gotta write this, I gotta pursue it, I gotta try it.”

VG: What in particular is it about the short story that lends itself well to horror?

RJRJ: With me, as a reader anyway, I find that if you don’t like the story, it doesn’t take up a lot of time. If you do like it, you’re always going to want more. That’s what I’m trying to get people to do when they read. I like when you don’t really know what happened before, you don’t necessarily know what happens after, it’s just this one chunk of time. You start the story, you read through it, and then you hit the end, and you’re like, “Damn, that was good.” That’s what I really like, that’s what I try to do. That’s what I try to focus on, really [what] most writers focus on.

I like the short story format a lot more because I can say what I need to say…I can just get to the point. It’s scarier to tell a shorter story than it is a longer story. Atmosphere is almost something that’s too overdone in a lot of novels. With short stories, you can hit just the right level, the right equilibrium between atmosphere, storytelling, character development, plot, all the key things that you need. I think I do it better than long writing right now, and it’s probably because I’m a young writer.

VG: Was there anything else—not directly in a writing class, but just your time in Portland and at PSU—that informed your horror stories?

The town itself. When I write, I kind of imagine certain areas of the town. I’ve got one story, “The Whisper,” that’s really based off of the park area here. That’s one of the places I envision in my head when I started writing. Little things like that. The people. Dialect changes according to where you’re from and so, if you know Portland, you have a good grasp of how this area functions. I think I do, too.

I like Portland, and I like how weird it is, I guess. There [are] a lot of really eclectic things about it that you don’t necessarily know from the writing, but if you live here you can kind of relate to it. I don’t say anything by name in the stories, but there are certain things you can envision while reading and you can say, “Wow, I know a place just like that, it’s right down on Morrison,” or something like that.

VG: What made you decide to self-publish digitally on Amazon?

RJRJ: I did a lot of reading about the economics of writing books and self-publishing. I’ve taken some marketing classes, I work for a marketing company. One of the things my company does is publish e-books through Amazon. I kind of just stole all the marketing tools from them, and combined those with other things that I’ve seen from other people.

The money behind it is the big thing, because you can get a publisher, you can get an agent. You’re probably only going to get 35 percent royalties, and then you’re going to send that to your agent. When you go through Amazon, at least, if it’s above a certain price bracket, you get 70 percent, so right there, that’s twice as good.

My scheme, so to speak, [is that with] the tools that I have I can get the sales that I want. My sales goal is very low, it’s very realistic, and if I hit that goal, I can just do that for the rest of my life. I don’t really want to work a regular job, and it’s really hard to find a dream job. So I figured I’d just create my own. I’ll do normal work until it gets fixed, but this is a yearlong [to] two-year process that I’m starting up, really, just recently. Just in December I published the book.

It’s doing pretty well so far—I’ve got quite a few downloads, more than I would have expected, especially because I haven’t really started the marketing aspect of it yet. Writing for different avenues, like Before It’s News, Cracked—that’s a good way to market the book and get your voice out to people.

And you don’t really need a lot of people to buy it to make enough money to make it worthwhile. My goal personally is 10,000 copies. If I can’t sell 10,000 copies in a world of billions of people and millions of readers, then I really have no business doing this, and I’ll just stick to a normal 9-to-5 job. But it’s definitely worth trying for the next few years.

VG: You work at a marketing company, but you seem to have this sort of disdain for it. But, on the other hand, you’re taking what you’ve learned from it and putting [it] toward what you really want to do.

I don’t really have disdain for the company, I have disdain for just working in general. I don’t think it’s necessarily laziness or anything, I just don’t like to work. I like to put my time into doing things that I like to do, and if I can find a way to make money doing that, that’s the most important thing.

I’m very lucky—I got the job less than two weeks after I graduated. And considering how many people…don’t have jobs right now [who] do have degrees, I’m definitely very thankful for it…so, not disdain for the company, just disdain for work in general. And I don’t consider writing “work.”

What would you call it? A hobby?

RJRJ: I’ve been doing it for five years, I was a journalist for four years, between The Advocate [at Mount Hood Community College] and the Spectator here. I don’t know, it’s fun. It’s a fun way to communicate, I think. I don’t know of a good way to explain it other than that. It’s obviously a hobby, it’s obviously a job, but I don’t really consider it too much of a job because I like doing it so much.

VG: It seems like you’re only partway through the process but, so far, going through the digital publishing process, is there anything you wish you would have done differently leading up to this moment?

RJRJ: Yeah, published another book. [Laughs.] I think the bigger your library is, the more sales you’re gonna get. The next book I’m doing is in a completely different area. It’s more political, it’s more a kind of a thriller, but it’s still my writing style.

But, published another book, yeah, that’s what I wish I would have done. If I had more choices for people to choose from, you can get more reviews that way, get more sales, obviously, and you have different things you can promote.

VG: What’s your new book called?

RJRJ: Last Day of the Sun. It’s the nuclear war concept [book]. I don’t want to give too much of it away. It’s very political, and I
really want to take a closer look at—you always watch movies, and it’s like, “We have to avert this disaster before it happens, we have to get away from that.” A movie I saw when I was a kid, it was called The Day After…really took a closer look at the actual toll that people would go through when a nuclear war occurred.

That really fascinated me, that’s what I wanted to pursue. What people would actually go through during a crisis. Not like The Road, which is after a crisis, and not like The Sum of All Fears, which is before the crisis—I want the actual crisis, right there.

That’s where it starts: In the first chapter [the nuclear war] hits, and it kind of goes from there. It took me a couple days to kind of think about it, but after I thought about it I got really excited and I was like, “All right, that’s it, that’s the next one, that’s what I’m doing.”

I think that’s about all I’ve got for you. Was there anything else you wanted to add?

Follow your dreams, kids. Do what you love to do and you’ll never work a day in your life.