Who went from roller skates to books, movies, and CDs (and an actor playing a dead person)?
This Month's Special Page Features
who tells us about all of these things
IN THE "SPECIAL PAGE" ARCHIVES:
An interview with author, screenplay writer, and musician
Hi Craig. You are well known for your unusual sense of humor, and perhaps that will come out in these questions. I will start by asking: Were you really once a roller-skating street messenger in New York City? Isn't that how you got your first idea for a novel?
CS: Hi Jeani! About my twisted sense of humor, one never knows: vast swaths of my brain are like a bad neighborhood, go with a guide or you might get mugged. I’m an equal opportunity offender, at some point or another I’m bound to insult just about everyone, including myself!
As for the messenger story? Yes, it’s true. I was a roller skating street messenger on the bad avenues of Manhattan, combat skating 20 miles a day for two years while Skipp & I were writing THE LIGHT AT THE END. It’s not how I got the idea – that came to me while I was wrapping up my degree at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, one fine cold Saturday as I was riding the T over the Charles River Bridge on the way to Harvard Square to see a feel good film fest of The Deer Hunter and Taxi Driver. But having had the idea, being a messenger became implicit in the writing of – and the selling of – my first novel.
In the writing because, like they always say, write what you know – and who better to hunt and kill a punk vampire in the subways of Manhattan than street messengers? They’re mobile, organized, they know the city from the gutter up, and are the only ones crazy enough to figure out that the “Subway Psycho” is a vampire!
In the selling because, having written the book, shopped it and gotten a few quality rejections – including one from Patrick LoBrutto, who later became my editor at Bantam Books (!) – I actually did deliver the proposal to Lou Aronica at Bantam as a messenger run. Wrote it up on my manifest, skated in to the right floor at 666 5th Avenue (!!!) and said, Lou Aronica is expecting this.
The receptionist looked at me – skinny sweaty little 23 year old road warrior – and said, I don’t know anything about this. I replied, I don’t either. Sign here. Can I use your phone?
She never did let me use the phone. But I did sell the book. We laughed about it afterwards. And they confessed – first time that had ever happened; unsolicited manuscripts from unknown, unrepresented writers never sold to Bantam. I knew that. So So I did the only thing I could do: I tricked them.
I understand that you have submitted work for The Wonderful World of Disney. How do you fit that one into your a-typical personality?
CS: Honestly, I got a call one day from Donna Ebbs, who is one of my favorite producers in television. Disney had the rights to a young adult novel by Robin McKinley, SPINDLE’S END, and it had slipped through the cracks, and they needed someone to write it right NOW or they’d lose it. She hired me on the promise I wouldn’t do anything else while I was working on it. I took the gig cuz a) it was fun and paid well, and b) just to see the look on peoples’ faces… like, he did what?
Alas, like so much in Hollywood, I got paid, but it did not get made. Cool story, though – a post feminist re-imagining of Sleeping Beauty where the whole kingdom goes to sleep and she’s the only one awake, and she has to save everyone.
Donna wanted me because I could handle the dark fantastic, even toned down for the kids. I did it kind of Dark Lite – half the calories of regular Dark, tastes great, less filling. It was creepy but not enough so as to put children in therapy.
Your novel UNDERGROUND won Le Prix Masterton for Best Foreign Novel of Horror in 2008, which is the French award that pays tribute to Graham Masterton. Have you ever met Graham?
CS: I have, professionally, several ice ages ago. I love his work. I was surprised and honored when I learned I had won… I’m more the kind of guy who sells a lot of work but doesn’t win awards, I think mostly because I don’t cossett or suck up to award-giving type people. Plus, I think giving me an award send a bad message. To the kids, you know. It’s all about the kids.
Your acting career included playing a corpse in the 1990 film "Nightbreed." How difficult was it for someone with all your energy to stay still?
CS: Two words: jet lag. Jet lag helps a lot. We had just gotten off the flight to London and were driven put to Pinewood Studios, took the tour of the set, and then I was contemplating beer and bed when the lovely Corinna’s walkie talkie squawked, and she chirped, Clive would like to know if you’d like to be dead? I laughed. Method casting.
They hustled us off to wardrobe and onto the set – dead guys in the motel massacre scene, wearing goofy hats. I’ve been dead on set before – strangely, all my film appearances have been dead guy, undead guy, or getting killed guy. I know how long it takes and how boring it can be. So I was determined to just get comfortable in position and figured I could always nap between takes, as long as I wasn’t snoring dead guy.
Strangely, as we were touring the labrynthine behind the scenes of the set I had seen some guys mixing large vats of stage blood and freeze dried coffee – to make it thicker and richer. It was March in London, raining, and bone chilling, even inside the sound stage.
We got into position and it two things dawned on me -- one, all that cold thicker and richer blood was destined to paint us, and two, I was in costume but wearing my own underwear. Clive took the blood and grinned a gleefully evil grin and said, there’s an ART to this, and proceeded to spray the walls the floor, the table.... us. I carefully skooched up to the edge of the table to block the inexorably expanding pool before it soaked my shorts. Note to self: next cameo, go commando.
You have co-authored some of your books, notably with John Skipp and Whitley Strieber. Does that mean you play well with others?
CS: You’d have to ask the others. I had fun, and at the end of the proverbial day it’s all about the work for me: if the work is good, any transient collaborative exhaust just vents into the atmosphere. So I can be either great to work with or a world class bastard, depending.
Still, I love to work with talented driven crazy people. Maybe it’s my background in music; it’s very much all rock and roll to me, like a great jam or riffing over changes.
Whitley and I have done another screenplay since, based off THE CAVE by Ann Strieber, called THERAPIST. Woman shrink on vacation in her secluded cabin being terrorized by a psychotic former patient playing a life or death cat and mouse game of wits with her.
Ann wrote the novel, Whitley wrote the initial drafts and invited me aboard. I cranked the octane and adrenalated the fear. I take it as a good sign when I write something that scares the shit out of Whitley Strieber; while writing I emailed him some scenes and he replied, Good Lord, are you trying to kill me?????
In other news, Phil Nutman and I just completed a rewrite of my script adapted from the 4th Skipp&Spector book, DEAD LINES. It was just released as an eBook from Crossroad Press and is out on amazon.com, B&N.com, iBooks, etc. Jesus Gonzales and I are starting work on a new project, David Niall Wilson and I have been kicking one around, and Phil and I are gearing up to adapt his novel FULL THROTTLE. And Whitley and I may do another one.
Speaking of Whitley Strieber, I understand that the book about alien abductees that you two co-wrote, THE NYE INCIDENTS, is being made into a film. How is that going?
CS: It’s going – we just optioned it to RKO Pictures, with Todd Lincoln attached to direct. Alas, Hollywood being the miserable gutless feckless blind bitch that it is, neither Whitley, nor I, nor both of us together, are deemed “good enough” to write what we wrote. They’ll pay some hack with recent box office credit to write what we wrote. Cuz, you know, that will be better. And they’ll know it’s better because they’ll pay said hack ten times more, so it has to be at least ten times better, right? Creative decisions made for accountants on behalf of shareholders to the Great Mother Parent Corp. Excellent plan to guarantee quality. Just ask the makers of HEAVEN’S GATE. Or ISHTAR.
I kind of flash on the old Elvis Costello lyric at this point – I used to be disgusted, now I’m just amused. It’s weird to have a spine, a brain, testicles, a conscience and a fucking clue in 21st Century Hollywood. At least four of the five will be scraped off, if you let them. So I hope they make NYE, and I really, really hope it doesn’t suck. But I’ll cash my check just the same and go on to do things I can actually control.
Tell us about “Fear Factory,” where you will accept and critique unknown author's work for $125. I think this is something my readers would definitely want to know more about.
CS: Spector’s Fear Factory is a new idea based on some really old habits – talking to new writers, creative problem solving, sort of free range life coaching in the field of dreams. I’ve done it for friends, loved ones, and younger writers for decades; since I started really participating in this new fangled social network thang last year I’ve gotten hundreds of messages, IM’s, etc., asking questions about writing.
Most are nice and cool, some are freaky – like the internet short circuits some people’s brainpans and sockets straight into their id – I’m talking about the 3am Facebook IM all in caps: HOW DO I SELL MY STORY??? Like, uhm whoa, back the fuck up – hello? Hello is a good place to start, especially since I don’t fucking KNOW you and I might be, uhm, busy?
I always answer them, but at a certain point it’s like, guys, I could do this all day, not write anything of my own, and starve to death. So, I’m now offering 1-2-1 mentoring, for a nominal fee. It’s kind of a filtering mechanism – it weeds out the unserious. And face it – nothing focuses people’s attentions on a thing like putting cash on it. Because money is the one thing everyone agrees has value.
We talk about the writing and the work, but also the selling of the work, and individual career strategy. It might sound crass but fuck it – I have sold every single thing I’ve ever written, usually more than once, and I live by the credo: any story worth telling is one worth selling.
So if you’re serious about maybe one day quitting your day job, sign up and feed your dream. Just be careful what you wish for. You might just get it.
You are also a musician. What instrument(s) do you play, and where do you perform (again, playing well with others, this time literally!).
CS: I play guitar, bass, some keys, I sing, program drum machines until they sound human, record and produce. I’ve been doing a lot of studio work lately: my first solo music eCD, Craig Spector: So Lo, is for sale on iTunes, Amazon.com, and directly from www.crossroadpress.com. I’m working on my second one now and it will be out later this year.
I played for about ten years with Richard Christian Matheson and Preston Sturges Jr. in a band called SMASH-CUT, tracks of which you can hear on my website or my page at www.reverbnation.com/craigspector. In 2008-09, we recorded enough material for three albums. Then of course the band broke up with the first CD unreleased. I’m still trying to get the guys to give it a go for an e-release. We’ll see. It’s great material.
I have heard your song “Fades to Black” and I admit I am impressed. I feel that song is beautifully done and works on all levels, both with the vocals and the instrumentals. How do you equate such a pretty song with the splatterpunk you write?
CS: Thanks, I’m glad you like it. Actually that song has a very dark undertone – the lyrics can be read as either burning love on a mission or kind of stalker-eseque, depending. LOL. I wrote it for a character in one of my books. I played everything on the track. Very early Todd Rundgren of me.
As for the seeming disparity – music has always beem intensely personal to me, and is kind of the other side of my core duality. I can say things in music that don’t come out quite the same in other forms (like books or movies, LOL.) There’s that, plus the fact that while I did achieve contact pretty early in life with my music, which was mostly about love, passion heartbreak, etc. – I really made contact when I taped my sick dark side and started scaring the living shit out of people. Bigger market, I guess, LOL. No problem – want love? Got that. Want sick, twisted, dementedly gleeful evil? Got that, too. Shrinks will have to figure that one out.
But if your readers want to try, download a copy of my solo CD. And upload comments when you’re done.
You said, “I never planned on being a writer. It was a total accident, or maybe serendipity. But when it happened I wasn't stupid enough to pass it up... and nothing's been the same since.” So now we get to what my readers always want me to ask all successful writers: How did you break into the business?
CS: Okay, we know the messenger story. I love the old Warner Bros cartoons from the 30s and 40s; I think the secrets of the universe are contained in them (uhm, seriously.) Ever notice how, when Bugs runs through the wall, he leaves a perfect Bugs shaped hole? Daffy does, too. Etc. THAT’s how you break in. You make your own hole, perfectly shaped like you. No one else can fit through the hole you make, it’s uniquely, serendipitously tuned to who you are, what your work is, the relationships you make along the way – the bridges you build and the ones you burn, LOL – and at a certain point a moment aligns, and you have the shot. And you take it or you don’t, and the moment passes. But if you take it and it works, you are through the wall, you have broken in.
And then the REAL nightmare begins….
Do you have any advice for those trying to find success as a writer?
CS: Tons. Sign up with Spector’s Fear Factory at www.craigspector.com and I’ll tell you all about it, LOL. And it’s tax deductible….
What about you personally: Do you have any hobbies, perhaps extreme likes or dislikes? What would you like the readers to know about you? Give us a memorable closing statement.
CS: I work on things constantly – writing, music, art – it kind of infuses every aspect of my life. My dream to is be horribly overworked and horribly overpaid, LOL.
More seriously, though, I try to live my life by some fairly simple principles – not so much easy, mind you, but simple.
1) Do my work,
I recently added a 4) Take care of myself. Haven’t been so hot on that last one for a lot of years, but I’m working on it. I’ve developed a fairly recent interest in remaining on the planet a bit longer.
My extreme likes are intelligence, empathy, humor, irreverence, love, and troublemaking. My extreme dislikes are stupidity, greed, gutlessness, and Republicans (Sorry guys, in 2011, after eight years of wholesale global butt-fuckery by Bush, Cheney, Rumseld, Rice, and the unholy cabal of the Sociopathic Coporate Overlords Who Own and Rule Us All, if you’re a Republican, you’re an idiot or a willing co-conspirator. You’re Renfield to their Dracula, selling your soul for the promise of a fly. Grow a consicence. And a clue.)
As for memorable closing satements? Okay –
~ In all things, ask yourself, how long will I be dead? Now live accordingly. Karma and gravity are more than just good ideas, they’re the Law. Do it like you fucking mean it. Pay it back and forward. And don’t brake for whiners.
I don’t know how long I’ll be here – honestly, in some ways I’m surprised I still am. But so long as I am, I’m playing for keeps. Love it, hate it, I can deal with either – as the old canard goes, is it better to be loved or feared? Love is better, but fear is a durable alternative.
What readers should now about me? I am exactly as advertised. Every bad thing you ever heard about me is true, times ten. And any good thing you ever heard? Well really, have you heard any good thing?
Funny though – ever notice how people call you ‘good’ when you do what they want and ‘bad’ when you don’t? Odd, that. I am, thus and simply, bad. I don’t do what you want, I do what I want. I might, however, do what you need. And if you’re not scared yet, you’re not paying attnetion.
So let me me in, I dare you. I will entertain you. Better yet, I will fuck with your mind. I will plant seeds in your subconcious and keep you up late nights. But remember – I’m just the fucking messenger, LOL.
That’s just my job. Your job – your own personal mission impossible, should you choose to accept it – is to take the message to the next click down this long and winding road, and make it your own.
So read me. Hear me. Feel me. Buy my work. Or alternately? Don’t. Go to the mall or something. And have a great day... after all, it might be your last.
Craig Spector is an award-winning and bestselling author, editor, screenwriter, and musician, with eleven books published, millions of copies sold, and reprints in nine languages. His fiction has been published by Tor/St. Martins Press, Bragelonne, Bantam Books, Harper Collins, Pocket Books, Arbor House, and others; his film and television work includes A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 5: THE DREAM CHILD and projects for TNC Pictures, Anonymous Content, ABC, NBC, Fox Television, Hearst Entertainment, Davis Entertainment Television, New Line Cinema, Beacon Pictures, and Wonderful World of Disney.
His feature film adaptation of ANIMALS was a 2010 release from TNC Pictures and Anonymous Content (distributed by Maverick Entertainment) and stars Marc Blucas, Nicky Aycox, Eva Amurri, and Naveen Andrews. Spector's graphic novel THE NYE INCIDENTS (co-created with Whitley Streiber) was a June 2008 release from Devils Due Publishing and has been optioned by RKO Pictures.
Spector is a graduate of the Berklee College of Music in Boston MA and an alumni of the Atlanta College of Art in Atlanta GA, and was the founder and Chief Creative Officer of the late Stealth Press, an Internet-enabled publishing company that specialized in quality hardcover reprints of titles by such authors as Peter Straub, Ray Bradbury, Clive Barker, Peter Atkins, William Nolan, Dennis Etchison, John Shirley, and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro.
Spector's novel UNDERGROUND won Le Prix Masterton for best foreign novel of horror for 2008.
Spector divides his time between Richmond, VA and Los Angeles, CA. You can reach him on facebook, reverbnation.com, myspace, twitter, and even in the real world.
His official website is HERE.
Listen to Craig's songs HERE
Buy Craig's CD HERE
The film ANIMALS