Really forbidden love: My name is Ray, and my book is about necrophilia

Somewhere between the gothic eccentricities of filmmakers Tim Burton and David Lynch and the witty intellectualism of authors Thomas Pynchon and Don DeLillo, emerging writer Brian Ray is exploring an empty building and trying to understand the sick mind of the necrophiliac. Is he crazy?

Eccentric might be the better term for the UNC Greensboro PhD student, although risk-taker, coffee-drinker, and rhetoric enthusiast might all accurately describe this 28-year-old author.

"I'm going to have to get used to telling people about the necrophilia at book fairs," laughs Ray, as he explains the very peculiar problem of the narrator of his upcoming novel, Unknown Female, which combines thriller, crime, and mystery genres into one man's romantic and ethical struggle to solve a case.

"I'm trying to go for the David Lynch persona," says Ray. "He's a charming, funny guy, and he would be someone that could stand in front of a camera and say, 'My next film is about a necrophiliac.'"

Writing about the taboo to be provocative is one thing; Ray, on the other hand, says he's just looking for ways to explore human nature and the lifestyles and decisions of his characters. And his craft.

"I just love working on sentences," he says. "Once a story or novel is done, I don't make revisions regarding plot or character– I'm just trying to get the sentences to sound good."

Indeed, his first novel, Through a Pale Door, was praised not only for its intensely Southern gothic aesthetic and rich characters, but also for the musicality infused in every line.

There, Ray sends his female protagonist, Sarah, through a modern-day bildungsroman as she experiences death and love for the first time. It was both Ray's ability to create a young woman's voice and to craft a quintessentially Southern setting– with the decaying steel mill where he worked in Columbia, South Carolina, graveyards, and abandoned buildings– that won him the inaugural South Carolina First Novel Prize.

Despite the comfort he had in conveying a female perspective in the first book, Ray concedes that one reason he gave the new novel's narrator the penchant for necrophilia was to crush suggestion that the new novel might be autobiographical.

As for his own life, he talks of studying for PhD orals, teaching classes, and preparing to begin and finish a rhetoric dissertation in a year. Ray says he stayed up until 2am most nights, energized by nearly 20 cups of coffee, plowing through mystery novels and television shows to find his muse.

"Writing has always seemed like a kind of privilege, not work," says Ray. "It's crazy in a sense to be working on a book while trying to earn a PhD, but if I were just working in one genre, I'd get burned out pretty quickly."

Necrophilia, Southern gothic settings, gender-bending perspectives? With such precedents, we can't wait to see what Ray comes out with next.
Brian Ray reads from
Through A Pale Door and Unknown Female at 4pm Thursday, March 17, at Barnes and Noble.