Horrors of reality
By WENDI WINTERS, For The Capital
For local author this time the monsters are Annapolitans
Mago Vista resident Ronald Damien Malfi has discovered you don't need to invent a monster to write a mainstream book about horror. Left to their own devices, ordinary people, fueled by inner demons, boredom or demon rum, can do truly monstrous things.
His latest book, "The Nature of Monsters," arrived in click-and-order and brick-and-mortar bookstores on Sept. 1.
Like many creative souls in this region, the 29-year-old Brooklyn-born writer has a day job with the government - the Department of the Interior.
Three of his books have been published and a fourth, "Via Delarosa," his first hard cover novel, is being readied for distribution early next year. These aren't vanity printings - his books are selling. Not exactly blockbusters, but according to one of his publishers, John Lawson of Raw Dog Screaming Press, Mr. Malfi is developing a cult following.
Calling Mr. Malfi's books "page turners" Mr. Lawson added: "In the time since I first worked with him as a magazine editor, and later as an anthology editor, his work has grown in terms of scope."
He added that the author is established and doesn't necessarily need to cater to any single audience or genre, which is a problem facing many new authors.
"I'd say he has retained his depth, though, because his work always dove deep into the hearts of his characters, and through them human nature," he said.
Laughing, the author said the books' sales pay for his vacations.
"But I'd write even if I didn't get paid," he said. "I still look at writing as an art form, as opposed to a business."
A 1995 graduate of Severna Park High School, Mr. Malfi is familiar to readers of horror and mainstream fiction not just through books, but also via dozens of short stories and anthologies published over the past decade.
His flirtation with writing horror fiction started in high school, when he began banging away on an old manual typewriter.
After graduation, he attended Anne Arundel Community College and transferred to Towson University as an English major. Along the way, he wrote "six or seven novel length manuscripts" that have not been published.
His first two books, "The Fall of Never" and "The Space Between," dealt with supernatural and psychological horror themes.
In his latest book, reminiscent of American writers of the '20s and '30s, the monsters are Annapolitans who are careless with their own careers and lives and those of others. "Monsters" is his public move away from his established reputation as a horror writer.
Mr. Malfi's 331-page novel is set in Annapolis and Baltimore.
A rather naive youth, literally right off the farm, moves to Baltimore, rents a seedy apartment and begins to write a book. Or what appears to be a book. One of his acquaintances from back home has made it big as a boxer, and is the star at the center of a boozy, cosmopolitan orbit in Annapolis.
Soon, the young man, Robert Crofton, along with a cousin, are drawn into the warped circle of the boxer's entourage. The farm-boy is a little off-kilter: emotionally disconnected, he seems to alternate between floating with the flow and digging in stubbornly.
The book's publisher, James Cosby-Wolf, of 5 Story Walkup, said, regardless of the story Mr. Malfi is telling, he tells a "damn fine story."
"The Nature of Monsters' ties into the best of the last century's classics: Hemingway's slick prose, Faulkner's unflinching sensibilities, Fitzgerald's grasp of culture and setting - and it rides a carefully crafted line between homage and parody," he notes. "I've never seen anything like it."
"The bridge was long, the pavement rough and uneven, and it was like driving across the exposed rib cage of a giant," writes Mr. Malfi, describing a night trip across the Bay Bridge. "Only the pale sprinkle of moonlight reflecting along the surface of the water reinforced the belief that there was actually something of substance below."
"Monsters" sells for $20 through www.5storywalkup.com and www.amazon.com or can be ordered at Barnes & Noble and Walden Books. More details can be found at www.ronmalfi.com.
In this area, Mr. Malfi is scheduled for two book signing appearances - Oct. 7, at the Capital BookFest in Largo and from 5 to 8 p.m. Oct. 28, at Waldenbooks at White Marsh Mall. His publisher is hoping to arrange signings in the immediate Annapolis area, too.
Though the book was officially released earlier this month, the publisher sold several hundred copies before its debut date.
"The pre-sell did about what we expected it to," Mr. Cosby-Wolf said. "A small number of copies, but sufficient to recoup a significant portion of the costs of the first print run" said.
But mostly, he said the pre-sell was done for the benefit of Malfi's fans, who wanted a first shot at the book and a way to get it signed without having to travel to where he is.
Mr. Malfi's writing method is as unorthodox as some of his books.
"I don't outline," he explained. "When I get the first chapter in my brain, I write from there. I do research on portions, but, for the most part, my books are character driven." After a 9-to-5 workday, he manages to come home and write 5,000 words in the evening.
He also writes articles and books under pen names but he won't tell which. Mostly short articles. Though, working at warp speed, he once wrote a short 32,000-word novel in two days.
When he is focused on his writing, no matter where he is, "the back of my brain is working on the plot," Mr. Malfi said.
"You can watch him and see his head spinning," his wife, Debra, observed dryly.
His first published novel arrived in 2001, the second in 2004. "After that I got bored and went back and read a lot of classic novels." With "Monsters," he feels he's finally kicked his "Stephen King habit." One reviewer, he noted, called the book a modern Great Gatsby.
"'Monsters' was harder to write than genre stuff. It's easier to propel a story when you have a visible antagonist and protagonist. In Main Street fiction, characters carry the plot. You can't just explode a car in Chapter Five."
"There's nothing more satisfying than to come up with that perfect phrase," Mr. Malfi sighed. "When I open a book and re-read a paragraph I wrote, I think, 'Yeah! I really nailed that.' That's the real satisfaction."
Wendi Winters is a freelance writer living in Annapolis.