With StokerCon2016 starting this Thursday, May 12th, “Mutt” author Shane McKenzie sat down with Frank Lauria to talk shop.
Shane McKenzie: I have so much to ask you about. Let’s start with Rothco Press. How’d you hook up with those guys?
Frank Lauria: I met them through Keith Deutsch, owner of Black Mask Pulp Magazine, publisher of Raymond Chandler and many others. Keith was writing for High Times, and it was when I was visiting him at his office there that he told me that William Burroughs was a fan of my Doctor Orient series. I just about fell out of my chair.
SM: You sure it wasn’t because you were at the High Times office that made you fall out of your chair?
FL: No, I can hold my pot. But eventually Keith introduced me to Rob Cohen at Rothco Press who wanted to publish my novel Demon Pope, the eighth book in the Doctor Orient series. We followed that up with Fog City Blues, the first book of a new series.
SM: So the Doctor Orient series was originally published by Bantam Books back in 1970, correct?
FL: Yes, Bantam Books. That was great for me. I’d been through the early hippy world, traveled to Tangier, went to the Middle East, picked up some hash in Bayreuth. I was living that kind of buccaneer life that you could live then because they weren’t looking that hard. It was all new and fresh and kind of innocent, just a way of life.
SM: Tell me more about the hippy movement. What was it like living through that?
FL: I realized that the hippy movement was actually a spiritual movement. Everyone talks about the drugs, the long hair, the fashion, the sex. But it was mainly a spiritual movement, it brought about the growth of Buddhism. A lot of things we consider PC now came out of that movement. These things take a long time to grow in our society just like any plant or tree.
SM: I have to admit, when I think of that time period and hippies in general, drugs are the first thing that come to mind.
I believe we have the ability to communicate telepathically, which is not convenient because you can’t lie. Yes, I believe there are certain aspects of magic that work, but the problem is people. – Frank Lauria
FL: Back in the seventies and eighties in America, everyone was doing coke. My accountant, clerks in stores, whoever. They were all doing it. What happens on coke is you can drink all night and not feel it. So when you stop doing coke, you discover you’re an alcoholic. Which is much harder to kick than the actual coke. Until my divorce, and until I started doing coke, I never drank. But you know, you pass through these phases of life, and that’s just what happens. It’s not what my mom and dad saw as a way of life, but that’s what I did.
SM: So you mentioned before that you did a lot of traveling research for the Doctor Orient Series. I’m sure you’ve got some pretty crazy stories to tell.
FL: I lived in Tangier for a couple years, lived in Rome for a couple years. I traveled to Beirut, Jordan, Syria, Israel. In those days, in the sixties, it cost me fifteen dollars to go from Syria to Jerusalem. Traveling was a lot different then.
So I had to go to Egypt for Baron Orgaz, the fourth Orient book, because the pyramids were an integral part of this novel. I had been researching the pyramids, and this was pre-Google, so I had to go to the library and go through books and all that. We were in Morocco, and I came to the part of the book where we had to go to the pyramids. So we went to Italy where my mom was living then, said hello to her, and while we were there, the war between Egypt and Israel broke out. I waited in Italy until the first available flight opened up. When we landed, we found out the airport was open, but the war wasn’t over. And, you know, I don’t like being in a warzone.
This is what happened. I go to the Shepheard Hotel, where all the archeologists were staying when they were opening King Tut’s tomb. I ask the desk clerk why their windows were blacked out and had sandbags over them. And he said, “You’re in a warzone, sir.” Sir meaning dummy. To make things worse, the lady I was with had a dream that I was executed by Egyptian soldiers. Thinking about it now, I think it was more of a wish than a nightmare.
Then we went to the Nile Hilton and looked up some journalists and asked them what the ground rules were. They were very good about telling me the lay of the land and all of that. The upside was there were no tourists, so we were alone in the pyramids, only three to four people with us. There was an engineer on the tour with us, and he asked me what I do for a living. When I told him I write about the occult and magic, he said, “Oh no. I’m a railroad engineer, and I’ve seen it work. I’ve seen the Evil Eye kill people.” And that really took me back. He was a very straight-laced, skeptical guy. And that kind of sealed it for me.
SM: Do you believe in the supernatural?
FL: I believe we have the ability to communicate telepathically, which is not convenient because you can’t lie. Yes, I believe there are certain aspects of magic that work, but the problem is people. Once they get that power, they need a lot of discipline to handle it, and also to separate whether they’re crazy or if it’s really happening. So it’s important to work on yourself before you open up to all of that.
SM: Going back to your hippy days, do you think taking certain drugs like LSD opened your mind to this kind of thing?
FL: Oh yeah. I did psilocybin. But back then, we had rules. The disco kids took everything at once. They’ll take a sleeping pill, some meth, they’ll drink. They’ll take anything you hand them, and that didn’t lead anywhere. And methamphetamine has always been a terrible thing. It makes you feel like a genius even though you have no facts in your head. But different drugs all have their place, I suppose. Meth was developed by the Nazis so their troops would keep fighting. They were handing it out. Hitler had a private doctor. Doctors were prescribing speed openly in the late fifties and early sixties. It was all over the place. There’s a song by the Stones called “Mama’s Little Helper” about a speed pill that housewives were taking daily.
SM: You’ve done quite a few novelizations of films. Pitch Black, Dark City, End of Days, Girl Fight, Mask of Zorro. How did you fall into doing that?
FL: Someone asked me to do one in the early seventies called Communion, which was a movie later retitled “Alice Sweet Alice.” I had about a month to write it off the script, and it turned out to be a best seller. Then I stopped doing them for a while. Later, I went to see an editor at St. Martins, and I was pitching the Doctor Orient series. And she said, “I don’t know about that, but would you like to do a novelization of Dark City?” I knew Bob Shaye, the CEO of New Line, when he was living in a little apartment on Fourteenth Street. I took the assignment and enjoyed it, and then another editor called me about Pitch Black, and from there it kind of snowballed.
SM: Did you have to stick to the screenplay, or were you allowed any creative freedom while writing these?
FL: A lot of times, because of the time constraints, you have to use your imagination. The back story for Pitch Black was all original. And after I did the Zorro novelization, I was hired to do more Zorro books, all original. That was fun.
SM: Melody Dawn is the new one from Rothco Press. Tell me about it.
FL: It’s the first book of a series about an FBI agent and his partner who are sent undercover to investigate the death of previous FBI agents found mutilated. One of them falls for Melody Dawn, who is a vampire who likes to do coke and drink absinthe. She’s a naughty lady. Their investigation takes them to a mad doctor who is the grandson of Hitler’s zoologist who had a park where they were experimenting with de-evolution of animals to bring them to their most primitive state. Interesting research there.
SM: Wait… that’s real?
FL: Yes, that’s real!
SM: Well you know, when you’re a methed-out Nazi, I guess you get into some pretty crazy shit.
FL: The research was incredible. While this is going on, they’re basically executing Jews left and right. But back to Melody Dawn. She’s a naughty vampire! She goes to a bar, because she’s hungry, and she picks up a guy who ends up being a drug courier for the Mafia. The plot converges so that she and the FBI agent have to work together.
SM: So it’s got cokehead vampires, Nazi mad scientists, and the Mafia? I have to read this thing. Are there going to be copies available at StokerCon?
FL: That’s the plan! I’ll be at the Rothco Press table selling and signing copies.
Find out more about Frank Lauria and all of his work at Rothcopress.com. And check out his band UNCLE FRANK AND THE CO-DEFENDANTS at Lostintheunderground.com.
Shane McKenzie is the author of MUTT (Rothco), WET AND SCREAMING (Deadite Press), MUERTA CON CARNE and others. You can find him at the Rothco/Deadite table.