In-Depth Interview - Craig Spector Talks Screenwriting, Splatterpunk, and More!
Back in the mid-80s, horror fiction had become more than a little complacent. In most people’s minds, what passed for cutting edge genre fiction was the work of word generators such as Stephen King, Dean Koontz, or Anne Rice. It was all spooky kids, rabid pets, daddy issues, and whiny, homo-erotic vampires.
By and large that was fine, but it is important to remember that the punk music scene had landed with both feet on the next of the public zeitgeist and stories of such archetypical monsters and mayhem didn't resonate with readers like they once did. The public had a new attitude and wanted a new breed of monsters to go with it...ones that better fit in line with their new nihilistic outlook.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere and to everybody’s surprise, came a group of young iconoclasts like Clive Barker, Poppy Z. Brite, Jack Ketchum, Joe R. Lansdale, Richard Laymon, Richard Christian Matheson, Robert McCammon, David J. Schow, John Skipp, and Craig Spector. These were brash writers who, while schooled in the conventions of the genre, had embraced the underground punk scene and were all-too-willing to quite literally kick down the door of the horror fiction status quo.
One of the novels that helped define this new style of writing - dubbed "Splatterpunk" by the media - was John Skipp and Craig Spector's THE LIGHT AT THE END. A vampire novel which, by Joss Whedon’s own admission, was the inspiration for the Spike character in "BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER", came to define what the modern vampire was in most readers’ – especially young readers’ - minds.
What followed for LIGHT’s authors was a series of collaborations: a novelization of the Tom Holland script for the film FRIGHT NIGHT, THE CLEANUP, THE SCREAM, DEAD LINES, BOOK OF THE DEAD & STILL DEAD: BOOK OF THE DEAD 2 (which they edited), THE BRIDGE, and ANIMALS. These books, with their leather and jackboot esthetic and an outlook that was more rock-n-roll than classic Gothic literature, took the market by storm and made an impact on the genre that is still being felt today.
In 1993, Skipp and Spector parted ways as a collaborative entity, each going on to write several successful and equally influential novels.
Craig Spector wrote TO BURY THE DEAD (aka A QUESTION OF WILL) in 2000 and UNDERGROUND in 2005. In 2008, Spector worked extensively on an adaptation of his and Skipp’s book, ANIMALS. The film, after suffering from some Post Production woes (more on that in a second…) went on to play extensively on VOD and is currently available on DVD.
This past Halloween, Crossroad Press has released (or rather re-released) the first of Spector’s works – THE LIGHT AT THE END - in eBook format, the first of many projects that bring seminal horror fiction to the modern digital age and a more techno-savvy audience. THE LIGHT AT THE END is the modern antidote for “Twilight burnout” in that it returns the vampire to its rightful place in the horror pantheon – that of the blood-thirsty killer.
Dread Central recently sat down with Craig Spector and talked a bit about his writing, the first film made of his work, and his triumphant return to the horror fiction limelight.
Dread Central: Were you, as a kid, someone who was always into horror?
Craig Spector: From before birth, I think. I was a twin. One of us died in the womb. The other one made it out. My mom told me that when I was eight; my response was, how do you know it was me that survived? Maybe the other one did and I’m just pretending to be me. My earliest drawings – from age 2 or 3 – were of skeletons, monsters, blood. I was an odd child. Now I’m an odd adult. But professional about it.
DC: Did you do the whole college thing? How did you know you wanted to write?
CS: I did the art school thing at the Atlanta College of Art, which convinced me that I didn’t want to be an artist. Funny though, I was just down there working with Phil Nutman (WET WORK, the screenplay for Jack Ketchum’s THE GIRL NEXT DOOR) on a new script project and I got to be a zombie in the Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse 2010, which you can see pics of on my FB page and was more fun than I can possibly explain. I don’t know if it’s something in the water, a mass influx migration of weirdos, or both, but Atlanta is gotten damned cool since I lived there 30 years ago. My nickname for it now is ALTlanta.
Then I did the music thing – got into the Berklee College of Music with no formal musical education, did the four year program in three years and graduated with honors at 22, and absolutely loved it. Thought I knew exactly what I was going to my life. Then in my last semester I got this weird idea about a punk vampire lurking in the subways of NYC… and that became THE LIGHT AT THE END.
DC: What was your first professional sale?
CS: Um, THE LIGHT AT THE END. I had absolutely no plans on becoming a writer, like, ever. I partnered with John on it because we’d been best friends in high school, we loved the same sick stuff, and he was in NYC trying to break in as a writer. To me at the time it was a one-off – just a cool story, maybe sell it and make some money. But when Bantam bought it they wanted more from us, and so the 2nd incarnation of “Skipp & Spector” was born.
DC: You’ve always been know as both a writer and a musician. Does one discipline inform the other?
CS: For me, completely. When I collaborate I liken it very much to jamming in a band, trading licks and riffs and building arrangements in composition. But even working solo, I hear the beat of the story in my head, like a private soundtrack. I’m also a practiced and admitted abuser of the English language – my theory is, abuse of language is 9/10ths of style. Of voice. So mangled slanguage and skewed syntax are kind of part of the fun for me. But I also listen for the sheer sonorance of the words – the way the vowels and consonants bounce off each other. I also look at the words on the page visually in terms of positive and negative space. Like a Rorschach. So I guess in a way, all of the things I’ve studied, all of the various disciplines… including things like marital arts (Taekwondo, Kenpo)… they all come into play at some point. They all inform and feed the mix. Because the mediums change, but the message is always… storytelling.