Interviews, page II

  • Stephen Spignesi (07/17/00)
  • Ed Gorman (08/24/00)
  • Kathi Goldmark (08/31/00)
  • Peter Straub (09/06/00)
    Interviews, page I Back to Home

    Ten Questions for Kathi Goldmark

    When Kathi Kamen Goldmark, a literary escort with a rock and roll soul, created The Rock Bottom Remainders in the mid-90’s, everyone thought it would just be a lark: a group of writers and critics playing rock oldies in front of a tiny crowd for charity. Little did Kathi – or anyone – know that the Remainders would be rockin’ into the 21st century … or that her largely untrained band would actually improve.

    1. Kathi, welcome and thanks for agreeing to this interview. This is a big year for you and the Remainders. A lot of people are very excited about your new tour (myself included.) Where and when will you be playing?
    2. Well, thanks! It’s a three-city tour:

      November 14, The Gothic Theater in Denver

      November 16, The Roxy in Boston

      November 17, The 930 Club in Washington, DC

      The tour is sponsored by a wonderful not-for-profit group called America Scores. They run after-school sports and creative writing programs for inner-city kids. All the shows are benefits for America Scores, and specific information (time, price, etc.) can be obtained at the venues, I believe. They haven’t told us any of that stuff yet.

    3. In the past, you’ve played with some big-time rock and roll folks, like Bruce Springsteen. When I saw you in Bangor, you were with one of my favorites, Warren Zevon. Any big rock names this time around? N*Sync, maybe?
    4. I doubt if Warren can make it this time, and I’ll miss him – it’s really a thrill to be onstage with one of my musical idols. I’ve heard that our "rock star in residence" this time around is another idol, Roger McGuinn of the Byrds, which will be great as long as I personally don't have to tune his twelve-string! One of the most surprising bonuses of this adventure has been the opportunity to perform with some incredible rock & roll legends. The Bruce moment was transcendent, but I think my personal favorite was singing backup on "Da Doo Ron Ron" with Darlene Love. It was like, "I can die now."

    5. The video you put out a few years ago shows your performance at the Cowboy Boogie – a good performance, but I know for a fact that you’re better now. Any plans for a new video?
    6. No video plans right now. In a way, I wish we’d never done that one. It documented our first show, before Amy put on her leathers, for example, or Stephen and Dave came up with their "Teen Angel schtick" – we all have that deer-caught-in-the-headlights look in our eyes, you know? Our show got so much better later on (even though we still totally suck as musicians), and I wish in retrospect that we’d waited. It was also a difficult process, because the guy who sold us on the original idea turned out to be a total amateur. But the thing is, we thought that was going to be our one and only show. So, maybe someday…but it would have to be under exactly the right circumstances, with a VERY imaginative producer. And I have to lose 10 pounds first!

    7. Your two-CD set, Stranger Than Fiction (featuring the Remainders and other literary giants straining their vocal cords) sold very well, especially in the King community. Now, a lot of those tracks are available on How did you hook up with them?
    8. This might surprise you, but Stranger Than Fiction sales have picked up since we made the tracks available on A singer-songwriter-radio-host named Diane Davis approached me and offered to help set up a page there, and it seemed like a good idea. I hear we’re getting a lot of hits, too. Just a reminder for anyone interested in Stranger Than Fiction: a hefty portion of profits will go to the Faith Sale Memorial Fund, administered by the PEN Writers Fund. This is a group that supports writers who can’t work due to medical crisis.

    9. Speaking of Stranger Than Fiction, I noticed a distinct lack of Dave Barry’s "Gloria" (for me, the transcendent moment of the Bangor night) and the FBI-paranoia version of "Louie Louie." Any following albums coming out to, hopefully, fill in these gaps?
    10. Yeah, I love Dave’s version of "Gloria" too. But STF is already so long, a 2-CD set, and it seemed more fun to include Dave’s originals, "Proofreading Woman" and "Tupperware Blues." (Warren Zevon makes an appearance on lead guitar, by the way, on "Tupperware Bues.") Also, I seem to remember there was a problem getting a clearance for "Gloria" when we did the video. As for "Louie Louie" – that one’s on the video, isn’t it? And how could we ever top THAT?

    11. What’s this I hear about a new book? Is it going to be a sequel to Mid-Life Confidential, or something completely different?
    12. Where did you hear that? As far as I know, there are no plans for a second collaborative book. If you’re asking me personally, I do have something in the works, but it’s supposed to be a secret. It’s not about the Remainders but about honky-tonk music in Northern California – sort of. So don’t tell anyone, OK?

    13. Here’s the question on everyone’s mind: with Stephen King still in rehabilitation from his accident, will he be joining you on this current tour?
    14. As far as I know, Steve plans to make all three dates. We’ve all got our fingers crossed; it’s just not the same without him, and his bandmates probably miss him even more than his fans in the audience do, when he can’t make a show.

    15. We read a lot about your road (mis)adventures in Mid-Life Confidential, but there was a lot of jostling for space in that book. Do you have a favorite story from the road that you just haven’t had a chance to tell yet?
    16. It was really fun pulling up to a truck stop in the tour bus and observing people’s reactions to Stephen King scarfing a cheeseburger at Denny’s in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere. But my favorite story is something that happened not on the tour but later on, when we were invited to provide music for a kick-off party the weekend the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame opened in Cleveland. This was a party for the big-ticket sponsors of the whole event, and cost a fortune to attend, but somehow it never occurred to us that rock stars would be there. You should have seen Dave Barry’s face when he tripped over Steve Cropper’s leg and realized he was going to have to play lead guitar for a lead guitar legend! Or Stephen King singing "Stand by Me" for Ben E. King. We were all absolutely terrified, but we ended up putting on one of our best shows ever.

    17. Is there anybody you’ve wanted to get to perform with the Remainders over the years who couldn’t – or wouldn’t – join together with the band?

      Yes, there are a few I can think of. We’ve been trying to coordinate schedules with Maya Angelou for years, but she’s so busy…she’s performed in a couple of my author talent shows, but never with the Remainders per se. I’d also love to lure Norman and Norris Mailer to a show sometime. But the one I’d most like to include is Dave Barry’s brother Sam, who happens to be a member of my "real" band in San Francisco. Then we could learn all those great old Sam & Dave tunes.

    18. Kathi, thanks for playing along. One more, and because it’s a Stephen King website, we end with a Stephen King question (albeit, because of the rock and roll connection, a little different than the one I ask everyone else): what’s your favorite Stephen King Rock Bottom Remainder performance? You don’t have to answer in the form of a question.

    Wow, that’s a tough one! Sentimentally, I like "You Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover" because it’s my duet with Steve, and usually opens the show. Also his full-tilt "Werewolves of London…" But I guess I have to cast my vote for "Teen Angel." It’s our most theatrical and one of our funniest songs, and watching it develop into a moment of truly absurd theater was a highlight of the tour. I love Steve’s delivery, and the band actually plays it pretty well. But mostly, I like the opportunity to see something most human beings will never ever see – Warren Zevon wearing a tinsel halo. Now, THAT’S rock & roll.

    Ten Questions for Peter Straub

    Peter Straub is the author of thirteen novels, three poetry collections, and two volumes of short fiction. The second of these, Magic Terror (Random House, $24.95), contains seven stories including the Stoker Award-winning long fiction piece "Mr. Clubb and Mr. Cuff." A giant in the horror community even when he’s not writing horror, Straub is currently working with Stephen King on the sequel to their 1984 bestseller The Talisman. Recently, Mr. Straub agreed to take time out of his busy schedule to answer my ten questions.  

    1. Much has been made of your return to supernatural horror, especially due to the H.P. Lovecraft-influenced Mr. X. Was this a conscious move, or do you simply write what calls to you at any given point?
    2. It was a combination of desire and conscious decision-making, I guess. I'd been trying to work out the plan of a book that never really fell into place, and as an experiment began making notes for a book about a Doppelganger. Maybe because I had been stuck for a while, all kinds of ideas appeared, one after the other, and as they did, I realized that I was going to start working with the material of straightforward horror all over again, at least in a way. That seemed refreshing and interesting, it sounded like fun.  

    3. The Hellfire Club blew me away. Every time I thought I had the book figured out, something new would happen and make me reevaluate my expectations. Is it necessary to map out a book such as this beforehand, or do you write it straight through and handle the connectivity in the rewrites?
    4. The Hellfire Club was anything but outlined in advance. I worked on it for a year without any idea of where it was going, just plodding along, and after I finally managed to get a handle on its basic story I spent three or four months writing up a sort of fast-forward version of the book, then expanded these notes into actual fiction. But even then, I was flying by the seat of my pants, depending on crucial bits of information to arrive at the moments when they were needed.

    5. Speaking of The Hellfire Club, the character of Dick Dart seems to have been ripped out of the pages of a far more "splatterpunk" novel than is usually associated with the name Peter Straub. Were you influenced by writers like Jack Ketchum and Ed Lee for this work?
    6. As much I respect the writers you mention, the answer is no, not at all. Dick Dart appeared to me as I was flying to Puerto Rico for a vacation with my family, and during the rest of our stay there I made extensive notes about his behavior. After we got back home, I felt as though I were taking dictation every time Dart opened his mouth - he was much funnier than I had expected him to be.

    7. In Mr. X, it’s implied that the main family, the Dunstans, are African-American. You never talk about this explicitly, though, leading less observant readers to assume that the Dunstans are caucasian. Was this done intentionally, and, if so, why?
    8. I saw Ned Dunstan and his relatives as black, or African-American, right from the start, and I always intended to keep their racial identity in the background, unstated, throughout nearly all of the book. The point was who they were as individual people, not the color of their skin, and I thought the nature of their characters would come through more clearly if the reader could not immediately respond to them on the basis of their race. That is, I wanted them to be seen as human being beings first, then only secondarily as black people. This was a way to circumvent the instinctive racism inherent in almost all white readers, no matter how liberal they might be. A common humanity was the point.
      For a long time, I considered making the matter explicit near the end of the book - say, by having someone mention Ned's skin color. Doing so would have provided a nice, salutory shock. In the end, however, I thought I had provided a sufficient number of signals to alert the attentive reader, and that seemed enough. In fact, it seemed better to me. Some readers would get it, others would not. The book was open to various interpretations, various readings.


    9. Okay, now the question most Charnel House readers have been waiting for: What can you tell us about the sequel to The Talisman, especially in regards to plot, structure, and title? How is this book progressing?
    10. Oh, is that what most Charnel House readers were waiting for? Gee, I was hoping you enjoyed my work on its own merits, apart from my occasional conjunctions with Stephen King. Anyhow, the new collaboration is going very well. Jack Sawyer is in his early thirties and in temporary retreat from the world. Nasty events gradually force him back into re-engagement with those forces he has been trying to ignore and avoid.

    11. Are you and King deliberately copying each other’s styles in the new book, as you did with the first? So many people have told me that it’s so easy to figure out who wrote what in The Talisman, but I have a feeling it’s more difficult than they think.
    12. No, not this time. I think we're both trying to achieve a nice, new style different from both of ours individually, as though we are meeting on a shared plateau. It's kind of exciting.

    13. Are you dismayed at the dearth of horror in the mainstream literary market right now? Only a few big names, like King, Koontz, and yourself are still well-known, while other great writers like Ed Gorman and Jack Ketchum fall below the radar. The tone seems to have shifted away from horror since the boom of the 1980’s.
    14. The horror, the horror. No one in his right mind ever wanted to be classified as a genre horror writer, it was like being lumped in with the writers of childrens' books. If you were going to make any sort of mark, if you wanted to reach a wide general audience, you had to be presented in more approachable terms. That was the situation when King and I started out, and it is even truer now. Let reviewers call you a horror writer, but get published as a mainstream commercial writer - that's the only way to get yourself known. Unlike mystery writers, horror writers have to reach beyond the ghetto of genre. Our genre is really different from any other; it has no true boundaries or borders, it admits everything.

      I'd like to think that the appearance of genuinely talented new writers like Graham Joyce, Douglas Clegg, Michael Marano, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Kelly Link, Elizabeth Hand, John Pelan, and a few others will awaken the general readership to the imaginative richness made available by the best horror writing.

    15. Here are a few questions under one category: What has your reaction been to film adaptations of your work, like Ghost Story and The Haunting of Julia? Have you done any screenwriting yourself? Are you concerned about the upcoming miniseries adaptation of The Talisman?
    16. The two films made from books of mine were pretty disappointing, but I haven't given up hope. Who knows, something really good may still yet come out. The screenwriter's craft remains an absolute mystery to me, and is likely to remain so. I don't want to write screenplays, I want to write novels, I think they're more interesting. And no, I'm not "concerned" about any upcoming TV adaptation of The Talisman. If it happens, it will sell a lot of books.


    17. Are you working on anything now besides the collaboration, or do you plan on anything specific once the sequel is complete?
    18. I've been doing some little projects while the book was in King's hands, and the next time around, I want to start working on a new novel that is still percolating in my head.

    19. Thank you very much for answering my questions, Peter. Now, for the finale, the same question I ask everyone: name your top three favorite Stephen King works, in any category.
    Kev, what are you, a Stephen King fanboy? [Is it that obvious? - KQ] You ask everyone this question? Why, exactly? I don't get it. Um, my favorite colors are blue, charcoal-gray, and black; my favorite cities are New York, Paris, and London; my favorite musicians are Lester Young, Paul Desmond, and Stan Getz; and my three favorite, all-time works by Stephen King are The Shining, It, and Insomnia