It must be karma. As a lifelong half-assed celebrity, I’ve been asked for interviews. And I always just kinda went “Gah!” because I never wanted to be at the mercy of someone like me. Then in 2011 I published a bangin’ rock’n’roll mystery novel called Dead Spot, which somebody should’ve interviewed me about by now but hasn’t. Screw ’em, um doing it my damn self. Here ya go!
Q Great book! Is Dead Spot a roman à clef?
A Hahaha! No. But the Nona character is kind of a worst-case-scenario me. I’d personally never murder anyone, but Nona would if I could’ve worked it into the story line.
Q So, no chicken bombs for you? Hoses through mail slots?
A No, sorry. Although back when you could mail stuff COD without a return address, I did send an asshole a brick.
Q Your characters are … quite realistic, and shady as hell. What fundamentally motivates them?
A It changed over time. This book reads like a romp but actually took ten years to write. When I began I was reading Margaret Atwood and it showed. My characters were moribund. I decided Nona would be way more fun and lovable if her actions were driven by amorality rather than self-righteousness. So I fixed her in the rewrite.
Q Are any of Dead Spot‘s other characters based on real people?
A Let’s put it this way: Most of my friends have been musicians. My first and last boyfriends were musicians. I went to a college for musicians. I wrote about wedding bands for magazines, and nightclubs for newspapers. I’ve hung around musicians my whole life. Today I have two kinds of friends: musicians who’re mad at me because they think they’re in Dead Spot, and musicians who’re mad because they aren’t.
Q Play any musical instruments yourself?
A I used to. Guitar, clarinet, piano, gangsa, and gong, when gangsa didn’t work out. As a kid I was in the all-city orchestra, and assorted school bands, and a gamelan. I actually used to could read and write music, but mostly I butchered it.
Q What about singing?
A Lol. I was in school choirs and stuff. And briefly in a pop duo with a friend who was good enough to become a professional opera singer. I was good enough to become a pulp fiction writer. Although this one time at karaoke I hit a note only dogs could hear, and some drunks in the back went nuts. Not sure that counts.
Q Ever do any songwriting?
A Only the songs in Dead Spot. Originally I wanted to use snippets of famous songs, but it cost too much so I wrote my own. They’re kind of “Rocky Horror Show”-ish. You can blame Bruce Springsteen for that. I had contacted his rep about quoting half of one verse from “Darkness on the Edge of Town” and he said, “Okay, we charge a per-run fee based on the number of copies. How many are you printing?”
Me: “None. It’s an ebook.”
Him: “Well, how many will you sell?”
Me: “If I’m lucky, five.”
Seriously, I don’t know which is more pathetic — being a twenty-first century publishing lawyer who doesn’t know about electronic publishing, or being hosed by one. In the end I used the lyric anyway and dodged the fee by… Oh, just read the book.
Q Ever get into a slam at a Ramones show?
Q A running theme in Dead Spot is vintage guitars. You seem to know a lot about them. Do you got any?
A Nah. I had a lot of help with that. A couple of guys I know are into collecting, big time. They’re really incapable of talking about anything else.
Q What about vintage motorcycles? There are lots of those in Dead Spot.
A Thems I know. I used to write about vintage bikes for magazines. Old Bike Journal, Classic Cycle Review. They’re out of business now, but not because of me.
Q Do you ride motorcycles?
Q Wrench them?
Q Ever get a speeding ticket?
Q What was your inspiration for Dead Spot‘s epic vehicular chase?
A I’ve carried many annoying passengers. Plus I was followed and threatened a lot. See, if you have a bike, you make a lot of friends. My scoot got pushed over and set on fire. I’ve been front ended, rear ended, sideswiped, and doored. One time I hopped a curb to avoid a traffic jam and got chased by international police, because it turned out the sidewalk I was driving on was the UN’s. I was never shot at, but there’s still time. Put them all together, they spell mofo.
Q When you were a kid, did you ever go on fun road trips with your dad, like Nona did?
A Nah. My father was a small business owner. He didn’t have time for crap like that. He was pretty cool, though. He restored a Hudson Hornet and built motorized model planes. The planes took up a lot of his time because they crashed a lot. His mostest prized possession was a bucket truck. I wanted to drive it but he wouldn’t let me.
Q Bummer. So what’s your journalism background?
A I started out writing features on culture and sports for Spy, the Village Voice, Bicycle Guide, and a gazillion other magazines. Then I did a handbrake turn into medical writing and editing in the fields of radiology, pharma, and sports medicine. I was also a business editor at Harvard. And an algebra books editor. Don’t even ask.
Q Did you ever do any of the wild stuff Nona does to get a story?
A Ermagerd, no! I never secretly stalked people or hid in anyone’s bushes or broke into houses. Not that I didn’t want to. I always boringly went through proper channels and requested interviews, or my editors set them up. When I got the interview, great; when I didn’t, screw ’em, I just called someone else.
Q What was the sketchiest journalism thing you ever did?
A Faked my way into a sold-out Meat Loaf concert in the 1970s. I told his publicity office I wanted to cover it for a music magazine. The magazine belonged to a friend of mine in California. It was about electronic music and they didn’t give two poops about Meat Loaf, plus this was five years before I wrote for magazines for real. My friend covered for me, though; he’s a sweetie pie. In the end I did do a write-up and submitted it over the transom to some other mags that didn’t want it, either. Anyway, Loaf sent a messenger to my apartment with two tickets to his sold-out show. Then he overnighted two more tickets for another show that I didn’t even ask for. This was when Karla DeVito worked with him. I would’ve paid double just to see her. Great shows. Madison Square Garden and Nassau Coliseum, oxygen tanks and all.
Q So, did you get to meet Mr. Loaf?
A Honestly, it was too big of a cl∪sterf∪ck even for me. Huge venues, hundreds of people fighting for his attention, long lines, spurious explanations, etc. He lived in New York at the time and so did I; if I really wanted to meet him, it was easier to just pick up a box of Twinkies and go ring his doorbell.
Q What was different in the last millennium about investigative reporting?
A Before cell phones, if you had to reach anyone in a big stinkin’ hurry, first you had to find a pay phone that wasn’t broken and wait on a line to use it. The phone books were always stolen or messed up. And you needed change, sometimes LOTS of change. It often ended badly. Fortunately lead times were months then, not minutes like today. The other thing was availability of information. In 1990, when Dead Spot takes place, there was no internet, or electronic information databases accessible from your TRS-80. Like, if you wanted to know who owned a property or business, you had to go to the city buildings department or call the secretary of state’s office. If you needed old magazine articles or out-of-town newspapers, you went to the library. You couldn’t search criminal records from your couch. People didn’t have websites. You couldn’t just fire off an email to someone you wanted to talk to. You had to get their phone number or snailmail addy somehow. I had mountains of dead-trees phone books from everywhere and a Rolodex the size of Queens.
Q How about sports? In Dead Spot, Nona participates in the New York City Marathon. On her bike. Ever involved in any sports yourself, beyond armchair coaching?
A Yeah. I was a bicycle racing official for two wild, twisted decades. It’s more corrupt than you can possibly imagine. The US cycling federation had institutionalized doping programs, rigged drug testing, an inscrutable ranking system, pandemic cheating, payola scandals, and a pedophile CEO. Oh, and they were ginormous misogynists. Good times!
Q If you hadn’t become a writer, what would you be now?
A A courtroom artist. Or a bookie. Or a barfly.
Q Do you drink tequila?
A Depends. You buying?
Copyright © 2018 SYDNEY SCHUSTER — All rights reserved
I make no money from this blog. If you find it interesting or useful, please buy my book Dead Spot. The Kindle version’s only $5 and you’ll love it! (Also available in paperback.) Thanks.
Sydney Schuster and Dead Spot neither approved nor endorse any advertising that may appear below, nor do we derive any income from it. Feel free to ignore it.