For those interested in learning more about Robin Spriggs—what makes him tick, ticks him off, and tickles his twisted fancy—the House of Nine presents the following:
NINE QUESTIONS WITH ROBIN SPRIGGS
by Amarantha Pharr
Queries to the House of Nine about Robin Spriggs and his forthcoming projects, though never less than plentiful, have increased considerably of late. Being something of an expert on these subjects, my first impulse was to carry on as usual, answering all such questions to the best of my personal knowledge. Upon second consideration, however, I decided to take the opportunity to track down the man himself (no small feat, even for longtime associates) and ask for his own responses. Despite his busy schedule and intensely private nature, he agreed to subject himself to the following enneaspermous* quiz:
1. As a writer, you’ve proven pretty difficult to categorize. At various times you’ve been referred to as a dark fabulist, horror writer, prose poet, author of speculative fiction, interstitial storyteller, etc. Do any of these terms jibe with how you view yourself? Or do you prefer some other designation?
RS: As far as my own work goes--literary or otherwise--I prefer to leave the labeling to the labelers. Not that I have anything against labels, mind you, so long as they are applied with care rather than utilized as handy substitutes for personally arrived-at conclusions. When writing, it’s the Voice that I’m interested in, and what it has to say through this thing I call “myself.”
2. Judging from the mail pouring in to the House of Nine lately, your soon-to-be-released Capes & Cowls: Adventures in Wyrd City (a superhero board game, of all things) strikes the bulk of your readership as a surprising departure from the literary brand of darkly fantastical fiction that they’ve come to expect from Robin Spriggs. What are your thoughts on this?
RS: In many ways, my Capes & Cowls work--both the game itself and the Wyrd City tales on which it is based--are indeed a departure from my usual fare. It’s certainly more playful and more accessible to youngsters than my better-known “serious” work. All my Wyrd City dabblings over the years--both the writing and the drawing--have been undertaken purely for pleasure, and released sporadically through various independent publishers. After a while, though, they developed a life of their own, and a relatively small but devoted following to boot. For me, the Wyrd City tales became a recreational escape from my heavier writing endeavors, a chance to explore a four-color universe of costumed rebels and prose unabashedly purple. Add to this the opportunity to collaborate with Kelly O’Neal--my phenomenally talented Capes & Cowls co-artist--and it’s easy to see why I find Wyrd City such an irresistible retreat from my primary writing haunts. All of which is to say that I haven’t actually broken with my accustomed style and substance (such as they are), but rather that I’ve been fortunate enough to find a publisher brave enough and demented enough to indulge my tangential wanderings.
3. I promised myself I wouldn’t spend any of my precious nine questions on follow-ups, but now you’ve forced my hand. Oh well, so be it. Pardon me for “calling you out,” as they say, but, as someone who is quite familiar with Capes & Cowls: The Wyrd City Chronicles, if not so much with the forthcoming game, I’ll have to say I think you’re being overly modest (or perhaps intentionally cunning) in portraying that branch of your work as entirely devoid of the uniquely numinous quality that, in my opinion, is the hallmark of your work. Discuss.
RS: That’s hardly a question, Ama, but your point is well made and well taken. Suffice it to say--to bastardize an old bromide--no matter what I write, there I am.
4. Fair enough. Can you tell us a little about the game itself, Capes & Cowls: Adventures in Wyrd City?
RS: Well, you’ve already got quite a bit of information about the game on your House of Nine tribute site, for which I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you publicly. Your work on the site as a whole--both in quantity and attention to detail--is nothing short of astounding. And for that I’m deeply flattered and profoundly grateful.
But back to your question. Capes & Cowls: Adventures in Wyrd City, also known as Capes & Cowls: The Superhero Board Game, is something I’ve been playing privately and refining for the better part of a decade. Longer than that, if traced to its actual origin. I remember, as a little boy, cutting pictures of my favorite characters out of comic books (sacrilege, I know, to the modern-day collector) and turning them--through the magic of glue, cardboard, and other arcane supplies--into tiny, free-standing effigies, or, if you prefer, primitive action figures. These I would use to stage extemporary plays that were similar--in form if not in content--to the productions mounted in miniature paper theatres by children of the Victorian age.
Eventually I began phasing out all the well-known commercial characters and recasting my mini-productions with heroes and villains of my own peculiar design--glue-and-paper golems brought to life by the power of imagination. While I and a select group of friends enjoyed these freeform rites immensely, it was shortly thereafter that I began to experiment with a more structured and competitive method of setting in motion what I had come to look upon as my personal pantheon of toy-sized gods. This led, of course, to the creation of dauntingly copious rules and game boards so sprawling and elaborate that only I and my equally obsessed coterie of playmates would dare come anywhere near them. Still, my monstrous if well-meaning mess served us well for quite a while, bringing us countless hours of highly competitive fun before traded in at last--like many a childhood passion--for the less interesting, less gratifying, less worthwhile pursuits that humans, in their pitiable masochism, insist on proclaiming “real life.”
Flash forward to the mid-nineties. While going through the attic of the dilapidated and now vacant family home--originally my grandparents’--that had passed into my possession via inheritance, I unearthed the aforementioned game. Much to my disappointment, however, it was not at all the masterpiece that my inner child recalled. Far from it, in fact. Still, to my mind at least, there was indeed some gold amongst the gunk. And so--to the detriment of my “real” work and the dismay of my primary publisher--I dedicated myself to whipping the abomination into shape.
My primary goal was to streamline everything--movement, powers, turn sequence, etc. What I was after, in a nutshell, was something simpler and more intuitive than the original, yet also more strategically and tactically challenging. The most dramatic change I made was to the game board itself. It went from being a literal but unwieldy depiction of a sprawling cityscape to a small, far more manageable, color- and number-coded grid that directly influenced the characters’ powers and actions. At first I was concerned that this change might prove too great an abstraction for a game that, at its core, is intended to simulate superhero slugfests. But, much to my delight, such was not the case. The new board design, which employed scene features and objects that were mobile rather than fixed, actually improved the action aspect of the game and greatly increased its overall versatility. Or so I’m told by players to whom an extremely limited edition of the game was first made available over seven years ago.
I could go on to describe the various changes the game has gone through since that initial micro-release, but I’ve begun to bore even myself and would prefer to let the game--fair or foul--speak for itself from here on out. I can only hope that it brings at least half as much joy to those who will play it in the future as it seems to have brought to those who have played it in the past.
5. Wow! That’s quite a backstory. Intriguing, enlightening, and rife with tasty morsels. Thanks for sharing. Thanks, also, for your comments about the House of Nine site, as well as for your permission to establish it in the first place and to dub it your official domain. The pleasure, rest assured, is all mine. And I’m honored to be of service. But lest you think you’re off the hook, have you seen a finished copy of the game?
RS: I have indeed. Many copies, in fact. It’s a strange feeling to stand in a warehouse, walled in by columns upon columns of your own childhood obsession--neatly packaged and ready for public consumption. Which brings me to Jazz Lieberman (bless his mad, mad soul) and his one-of-a-kind Wyrd House Press. For an underground company that heretofore has focused all its publishing energy on literary oddities and Hermetic esoterica, they’ve done a marvelous job with my beloved Capes & Cowls. While the physical materials themselves may not be quite as sleek or heavy-duty as those from some of the bigger traditional game companies, the overall result is a beautifully crafted treasure that achieves exactly what I was hoping for--namely, the distinctive look and feel of a classic comic book.
6. Admittedly, I don’t know a lot about comic books (or superheroes, for that matter), but it’s obvious even to me that your Wyrd City material has an obvious retro quality, especially visually. Is this intentional?
RS: Absolutely. While, the computer-enhanced (and I use the term “enhanced” with tongue firmly in cheek) art of most modern comics leaves me cold and uninspired, the playful vividity of golden- and silver-age art delights me to no end. This bias is self-evident in all my Wyrd City work, which is admittedly garish, over-the-top, and suited for sideshow banners. This influence spills over into the writing as well, which often spirals to dizzying heights of undiluted magniloquence.
7. What was the hardest part about preparing the game for publication?
RS: Two things come immediately to mind. First, the writing of the rules. Showing someone how to play a game is always easy enough, but teaching someone how to play a game via written rules alone is nightmarishly difficult. You can never assume that the reader understands even the simplest and most common gaming procedure. Such being the case, it is absolutely essential to spell out every aspect as clearly and concisely as possible. In fiction and poetry, the writer can afford to leave a lot to the reader’s imagination; in the writing of a rule book, however, he is granted no such luxury.
The second most difficult thing--not surprisingly, I suppose--was distilling years of character history into the highly stylized thumbnail bios included in the Adventure Book. I’m pleased with the final result, but getting there was nothing short of torture.
8. What’s next? Beyond the game, I mean. Any information you care to leak about forthcoming books, acting projects, your work within the real-world House of Nine or the Fanum Lux Occulta?
RS: Well, I’ve already submitted enough game-related material to Jazz for at least two Capes & Cowls expansions--more characters and adventures, mostly. And he also wants to release a book of micro-origin tales featuring the costumed dramatis personae of my entire Wyrd City oeuvre. Beyond that, my next collection of fiction--yes, my “real” fiction (how’s that for an oxymoron?)--is due out sometime next year. On the acting front, I’m currently in talks with a couple of auteurs about leading roles in upcoming independent films that I’ll let you know more about when I can. As far as my work within FLO or the House of Nine proper . . . well, let’s just say that such things are better left undiscussed in the well-lit public square.
9. Any closing words?
RS: Just a reiterated heartfelt thanks to you, Jazz Lieberman, Wyrd House Press, and everyone who has shown interest in my work along the way. Because of you, it’s a lot more fun being me.
So there you have it, Wyrdlings--Robin Spriggs in his own enigmatic words. I hope you enjoyed the experience as much as I did.
by Lisa Babick, Bella Online
Robin Spriggs is the author of the amazing new short story collection WONDROUS STRANGE: Tales of the Uncanny. His previous book, THE DRACULA POEMS: A Poetic Encounter with the Lord of Vampires, is a cult favorite. He's placed fiction at numerous publications including Cemetery Dance, Flesh and Blood, Night Terrors, and Maelstrom Speculative Fiction. He's also an actor and has appeared on stage, in films and on television.
He's said that some critics have described his work as "Luciferian." That's interesting. He does kind of look like a modern and hip version of the master of evil, and maybe he really is. But I don't know. His stories are poetic and haunting; even hypnotic. And he's a really friendly guy. Hmm . . . hey, wait a minute . . .
Lisa Babick: How did you come up with the idea for Wondrous Strange?
Robin Spriggs: There comes a time in a short-story writer's career when he wants to see his favorite tales collected in a single volume and made available to a wider readership. Wondrous Strange is the product of that desire.
How hard is it to put a book of work like this together? Do you find yourself to be more critical of your work?
Beyond participating in the selection of the stories to be included in Wondrous Strange, I had very little to do with putting together the book. I am extremely critical of my own work. Neurotically critical, in fact. Short stories are my greatest literary passion, as both a reader and a writer. Consequently, I spend more time agonizing over a three-thousand-word tale than some authors spend on a 400-page novel. In putting together the collection, I selected what I thought were the fifty strongest tales of my career, then passed the package along to my editor, Amy Jenkins, who whittled it down to the twenty-five stories that ended up in the book. I'm in awe of her decisiveness; if the task had been left up to me, I'd still be trying to make up my mind.
What came first, the stories or the idea of the book?
The stories. One story at a time, over the course of several years. When I felt fairly confident that I had enough material to make for a strong collection, I began to send out queries. Lucky for me, Circle Myth bit. The result is Wondrous Strange.
Her and Him In the Cold Dark Underneath is a particularly nasty little tale?what exactly is Her anyway and where did you find this story?
I'd like to let the readers decide for themselves what or who Her is, as I'm sure their answers will be far more interesting than mine. The story itself came to me late one night in the cellar of an abandoned house deep in the Appalachian Mountains. I scratched the first draft right in the dirt of the bare-earth floor, and for all I know it's still there, proclaiming itself to the darkness.
A lot of your work in Wondrous Strange has a very poetic feel and some of the stories even seem a bit entrenched in mythology (Mother and Sun and Eater of Hearts), do you consider yourself a poet? Did you specifically aim for a poetic feel in some of your stories? And what about the mythology thing?
My first book was a collection of poetry titled The Dracula Poems: A Poetic Encounter with the Lord of Vampires. So yes, I do indeed consider myself a poet. That doesn't mean anyone else shares my opinion, mind you, and I'm none too eager to take a poll. William Faulkner once said something to the effect of, "Short-story writers are failed poets, and novelists are failed short-story writers." By that definition, I find myself obscurely lodged somewhere between rankings one and two. Regarding mythology, I see it as an inescapable influence not only in my writing, but also in the lives and attitudes of all humankind. Myth and human awareness enjoy a symbiotic relationship, each one constantly shaping, defining, and redefining the other.
Did you build a tin can golem in your youth?
Scores of them. And other kinds of golems as well. I still do, for that matter. I've always been obsessed with the idea of creating more or less humanoid forms and attempting to bring them to life.
How did you come up with that idea (Tin-Can Molly)?
The idea for the story came from my own real-life obsession.
What would you do if a tin can golem decided to pay you a visit one day?
Pat myself on the back for a job well done.
What kind of peculiar urges do you have? And have you ever seen strange creatures out your kitchen window like the character in The Hungry Purpose of Peculiar Urges? And what's your purpose anyway?
In the interest of protecting the guilty, my urges--whether acted upon or otherwise--are best left undisclosed. I see strange creatures everywhere I look, especially at the mall. My purpose, like my urges, is best left undisclosed.
How long have you been a writer?
I've considered myself a writer since seventh grade, but didn't make my first sale till my late teens. As to how long ago that was, well, let's just say that chronology has always been a bit of a mystery to me, and I prefer to keep it that way.
What do you do for a living, or is writing your life?
While writing is indeed my life's calling, thus far it has proved a highly untrustworthy source of income. (Imagine that. And I thought I was going to get rich writing short stories.) As a result, my life has been enriched by a colorful array of supplementary occupations. I've taught drama, worked as a stuntman, directed for the stage, told fortunes, interpreted dreams, removed curses, and served as resident bodyguard in an establishment that the management euphemistically referred to as a "lingerie modeling studio." Oddly enough, most of my income to date has been generated by acting. I've made more moolah in one day on a commercial shoot than I've made in my entire career as a writer. Maddening but true. We live in a society that will pay a person more for taking an on-screen sip of Coca-Cola than for teaching school or crafting poetry.
Why do you spend so little time acting and so much time writing?
To put it frankly, outside of meeting bare necessities and treating myself to the occasional toy, I put very little emphasis on the pursuit of making money. I'd rather make stories, thank you very much, kale or no kale. If the pay improves along the way, great. If not, I'll still be making stories. Idiotic, I know, but understandable, considering I was born on April 1.
How did you get started writing?
By way of a homework assignment issued by my seventh grade English teacher, Mrs. Parks. The students were to write short stories about anything they wished, then read them aloud to the class. Though I'd written stories in the past, this one--an atmospheric piece about a boy's midnight encounter with a mysterious visitor from another world--affected me profoundly. Writing it was nothing short of what I now would call a religious experience. It was as though I had stumbled upon a secret someone deep inside myself, someone with things to say that I'd never before dreamed of saying, things that twelve-year-old Robin Spriggs could not have said on his own. The feeling was at once both frightening and thrilling, and I swore allegiance to it right then and there--sold my soul to the devil, as some might say. And reading the story aloud to the class was the icing on the cake. An eerie, gratifying hush settled over the room as I read, and I remember thinking, at that very moment, This is what I want to do forever. I was further encouraged, by the way, when my tale was voted class favorite. I'm a dog for praise, I'm afraid. Too bad compliments won't fill an empty stomach or keep you dry in the rain.
Why write horror?
I don't. At least not consciously. I just write what I write, then try to look at it objectively and determine where I might be able to sell it. Usually, but by no means always, that ends up being to anthologies and magazines that bear the label horror. On the whole, though, I consider my work more phantasmal than horrific. Other words I often use to describe it, when asked for my opinion, are "weird," "eldritch," and "uncanny." Several critics, uncannily enough, have referred to it as Luciferian.
Tell me about your acting life? Where might we have seen you?
The large majority of my work has been on the professional stage, where I've played such roles as Hamlet, Romeo, and, to cite a less classical example, the Joker in the Six Flags/Warner Brothers production of The Batman Stunt Spectacular. In the realms of film and TV, aside from the aforementioned Coca-Cola gig, I've appeared in the semi-sleazy action features Double Threat (wherein I get my ass kicked by Andrew Stevens) and Raw Justice (wherein I get my ass kicked by David Keith), and in the TV show I'll Fly Away (wherein no one kicks my ass but someone should have). Most recently I portrayed the wisecracking Cajun car thief in the independent film Dirty, Drunk and Heartbroke.
How do you incorporate your acting into your writing and vice versa?
They inform and sharpen each other. Being an actor has brought greater depth to the characters I write, while being a writer has brought greater depth to the characters I act.
So, have you given any readings at churches, synagogues or mosques? What's it like?
Yes, quite a few, but none yet at any of the Judeo-Christian or Islamic variety. As far as religious gatherings go, I'm much more in demand among those of, shall we say, an underground persuasion.
Who are your writing influences? What writers do you admire?
I could rattle off a hundred names and barely scratch the surface, so I'll give you ten at random and in no particular order: Poe, Gogol, Saki, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Hawthorne, Flannery O'Connor, Baudelaire, Hanns Heinz Ewers, W. B. Yeats. Only one of those dear teachers--Ray Bradbury--is still among the living, and as a token of my gratitude, I sent him a copy of Wondrous Strange. Not to be outdone, he called me up to thank me for the gift, then sent me a book of his own. Proof positive that greatness and goodness (at least as I define them) often go hand in hand.
What's on your bedside reading table?
I'm currently revisiting the following: Kafka's collected works, Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, and a study of Lycanthropy by Adam Douglas called The Beast Within.
If you were stuck on a deserted island and could only have three things with you what would they be?
The three big P's, of course: pen, paper, and . . . chocolate pudding.
What's your next project? What are you working on now?
I'm currently finishing up a novel, polishing a longish short story, and compiling a collection of essays on sorcery and left-hand-path philosophy.
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
The forbidden fruits are the sweetest of all. Take your pick and enjoy.
ROBIN SPRIGGS vs. THE GREAT IDIOT
by Dark Whisper, Island of Broken Toys
Island of Broken Toys: First off, I want to thank you so much for taking time from your busy schedule and sitting down with us for this interview. I promise this will be painless.
Robin Spriggs: The pleasure is all mine, Whisper. I consider myself fortunate to be an honorary citizen of The Island of Broken Toys. Its enchanting blend of mystery, wonder, and eerie elegance make it the perfect sanitarium for a wyrdweaver such as I. Thanks also for making room for my story "Tin-Can Molly"; she feels right at home on the Island and hopes to remain indefinitely. Oh, and don't be too easy on me. A certain amount of pain, if lovingly and deftly applied, can be highly inspirational.
For our lovely readers who are being introduced to you for the first time, you are the author of the new book WONDROUS STRANGE: Tales of the Uncanny (to be released in Jan 2001) and co-author of THE DRACULA POEMS, plus you have been featured in many anthologies as well as magazines. Could you please talk some about your upcoming book?
Yes, WONDROUS STRANGE collects the twenty-five best stories of my career, most of which were written within the last five years. I suppose you could call it my greatest hits. The tales run the gamut from the strangely sweet to the damnably dark and span such genres and subgenres as magic realism, horror (though I prefer the word "terror"), fantasy, and even science fiction. If pressed to categorize the book as a whole, I suppose I would label it supernatural or weird fiction. Fantastique also has a nice ring to it.
How did you become the co-author of THE DRACULA POEMS and where is it available? Could you also speak a little of this book?
THE DRACULA POEMS is a project I undertook with lifelong friend and fellow poet Brent Landry Glenn. It's an exploration of the heroic aspects of the Lord of Darkness as embodied in the metaphor of Dracula. When read in sequence, the poems therein form a loosely connected narrative that one critic referred to as a "Luciferian dream sequence." I believe the book, originally published in hardback, recently went out of print, but I couldn't say for certain. I do know, however, that the publisher is considering a second printing, this time in trade paperback.
The magazines that have featured you are all under the horror genre. What was your inspiration to create these stories, and at what age did you begin?
Actually, my work has appeared in magazines that publish not only horror, but literary fiction (whatever that means), fantasy, mystery, science fiction, etc. Most of my stories do, however, tend toward the sinister. They come to me from a dark place that is at once both within me and beyond me. My job is to hurl myself into the abyss, capture a story, and find my way back home sane enough to tell the tale.
Where were you raised and does it have any impact on your stories today? Do you incorporate any of your childhood memories into your work?
Though I've lived in a good many places, including New York City, I spent my boyhood in the haunted environs of southern Appalachia, soaking up the rich lore and bewitching rhythms of a culture of natural-born storytellers. Childhood memories? Yes indeed. Lovely and terrible mutants that they are, they're my secret collaborators in everything I write.
You also do dramatic readings of your work at many different locations. Which do you enjoy the most - giving the readings or creating the works?
As a veteran stage actor with over ten years' professional experience, I relish the opportunity to give dramatic readings of my own word dreams. At heart, however, I'm a militant introvert who prefers by far the solitary act of writing.
Which has been your most memorable reading?
A few years ago, I staged a highly theatrical production of THE DRACULA POEMS that ran for a couple of weeks. We turned the whole theatre into a sort of Church of the Damned, using as our unholy text THE DRACULA POEMS itself. Half the audience loved it. The other half was severely traumatized. As far as I'm concerned, that's about as close to perfection as a reading or performance can come.
What has been the biggest struggle for you as an author?
Being an author is easy. It's writing that's the hard part. The biggest struggle for me comes in shutting out the cacophony of the Great Idiot (my term for the information glut and deluge of meaningless distractions inherent in the modern world). It is a beast of myriad voices, each one yammering for the individual's attention and doing its damnedest to kill the "Inner Voice" that is a writer's only salvation. I do my writing in a ritual chamber specially designed to hold the Great Idiot at bay.
Do you have any advice to those who hope to be published one day?
Yes. Beware of all advice and anyone who offers it too freely. That said, here's my secret formula: Read stories, write stories, sell stories. Note: the same formula can also be applied to poems, novels, etc.
Where do you see yourself in the future?
Hanging upside down in an ash tree, scratching in the sand for the secret of the universe.
What is your favorite book and if it changed your life, how?
In all honesty, I have to say that my favorite book is WONDROUS STRANGE. I have never put so much of myself into any single endeavor, nor received so much in return. Writing it was an initiation into a realm of personal secrets that have enriched my life profoundly.
What is in your CD player right now?
MIDNIGHT MOON by Steve Roach. The music, instrumental meditations on isolation, was composed late at night or in the early morning hours when the musician was in a hypnogogic state. It makes for an excellent weapon in my ongoing battle with the Great Idiot.
When you have a "day off" what do you do?
I head for the mountains with my werehounds Talamu and Bendith and run naked through the woods by the light of the moon.
What is your favourite quote?
This one comes courtesy of yours truly: "Hell is a woman of infinite mystery and numberless dark delights. Every warlock worth his wand yearns to plumb her murky depths and proclaim himself the Devil."
Would you like to give any final thoughts?
Only this. Good books, whether written or read, are the keys to self-repair. So arm yourselves accordingly, my Broken Kindred, and stand with me in defiance of the hateful Great Idiot.
Thank you so much for this interview. I look forward to reading your new book, and wish you the best of success for its upcoming release!
Thank you, Whisper. You and the Broken Toys run the most hospitable island kingdom I've ever had the pleasure of visiting. And now, if you'll excuse me, I have a date with the abyss. . . .
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DISCLAIMER: Though this site exists with the permission of Robin Spriggs, in whose name it was established, it should by no means be considered his official on-line presence. All blame, criticism, and praise for its existence and contents should be directed at yours truly, Amarantha Pharr, a proud member of the "real-world" House of Nine and a great admirer of its aforementioned founder. In short, all materials herein, unless otherwise noted, are © 2001 - 2009 Amarantha Pharr, and may not be reproduced without permission. All rights reserved.