Greasy Magic: An Interview with Author Scott S. Phillips

Regular readers of this site (are there such a thing?) will have noticed that I occasionally make mention of Cheese-Magnet.com.  It was on Cheese Magnet that I weaseled my way into my first blogging opportunity.  I was in a bit over my head writing alongside real, published authors but was welcomed into the fold nonetheless.  Author/screenwriter Scott S. Phillips was especially supportive with kind words for some of my articles.  Scott has written and directed two independent features, wrote twelve episodes of the television series Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight, and has authored numerous short stories and novels.  I approached Scott to talk about his supernatural themed book series, Pete Drinker of Blood, as well as some of his experiences as a writer.  Knowing that he had once suggested I try my hand at interviews and thus having no one to blame but himself, Scott graciously agreed.

MD:    Let’s get this out of the way up front.  The ‘S’.  Why Scott. S. Phillips?

SP:     It’s because of the plethora of Scott Phillipses out there. Back around the turn of the century, I received a WGA [Writers Guild of America] royalty check for a movie written by the Scott Phillips who wrote The Ice Harvest (the novel). We made a deal that if he wrote a movie, he’d use his middle initial and if I wrote a book, I’d use mine (the publishers of my Friday the 13th novel, Church of the Divine Psychopath, goofed up and left off my initial). The drummer from Creed is another Scott Phillips and I’ve had people bring me their Creed CDs to sign. And there’s another filmmaker named Scott Phillips, which I know only because his movie is listed on my IMDB page. I can always tell if somebody has the wrong Scott Phillips by their level of enthusiasm upon meeting me — if they’re really excited, I know they want one of the other guys.

Church of the Divine Psychopath
Church of the Divine Psychopath by Scott (S.) Phillips

MD:    I think you may have just solved a mystery for me.  I’ve watched your low budget features The Stink of Flesh and Gimme Skelter but I was surprised to see a film on IMDB from 2010 with you credited as writer/director with which I was unfamiliar.  Does the credit for that film belong to this fourth Scott Philips?

SP:     Yeah, I think it’s called Crowbar or something. I haven’t directed a feature since Gimme Skelter. I’d try to get that other movie off my list of credits but I can’t remember my login info for IMDB.

The Stink of Flesh & Gimme Skelter
The Stink of Flesh & Gimme Skelter DVDs

MD:    You’re a novelist, a screenwriter for both film and television, and you’ve directed a handful of feature films.  Which role do you most associate yourself with and which role do you enjoy the most?

SP:     That one’s easy — I definitely consider myself a writer first, and while I’ve always loved screenwriting, the hassles of dealing with the Hollywood process turned me off to the whole thing pretty seriously — that’s why I wound up making The Stink of Flesh and Gimme Skelter. I still dabble in screenplays, but I much prefer writing novels and short stories. Besides, I’m bursting with social anxiety, and writing novels means I get to sit in my little room by myself and not have to interact with the humans. As far as directing, I feel goofy even calling myself a director — I’m a writer who points at stuff and says action more than I’m a director. The best part of directing is that you don’t have a director changing your work, and if you do, you’re probably okay with it.

MD:    So we shouldn’t expect The Stink of Flesh 2 or another feature film anytime soon?

SP:     Yeah, it’s unlikely. I’d love to direct another movie and I came close with a script I wrote awhile back called Second Run, but I’m not sure I’ve got the wherewithal at this point to basically put together a flick from sheer force of will, which is what making these no-budget movies is kinda like. That said though, there may be a Stink of Flesh sequel coming soon in comic book form.

MD:    That’s some exciting news.  I’ll be keeping an eye out for that!

Scott S Phillips and zombies from The Stink of Flesh
Scott (centre) and some of the cast of The Stink of Flesh

MD:    I’m going to hijack my own interview a little because I have to ask you about legendary scream queen, Linnea Quigley.  You and her were roommates for a time, correct?  How did that come about?

SP:     When I was working at the late, great Video Visions in Albuquerque in the late 80s-early 90s, we had a regular customer, Yvette Gagnon, who was a huge horror movie fan and we’d stand around and talk horror every time she came in. She had met Linnea at a convention and they became friends, and when I finally decided it was time to move to L.A. and take a stab at the screenwriting thing, Yvette told me Linnea was looking for someone to rent a room in her house, and she set the whole thing up. It was insanely crazy to spend a day driving to L.A. and wrap it up by knocking on Linnea’s door. She is without doubt the sweetest human being I’ve ever met. She convinced her friend Craig Hamann to read a script I’d written, Craig dug it and gave it to his manager, Cathryn Jaymes, and not long after that it became Drive. I owe pretty much everything to those four people.

Drive Poster
Drive (1997) – Screenplay by Scott S. Phillips

MD:    I was fortunate enough to meet Linnea in 2019, so of course I did a little name dropping.  She was very nice and had fond memories of you.  She insisted that if the opportunity arose I ask you about a story involving a mirror.  So, what’s the scoop?

SP:     Ha! That ties in with the social anxiety I mentioned earlier. I’m really uncomfortable with people seeing me exercise (or eat or walk or pretty much anything). When I moved into Linnea’s place, I had my goofy little dumbbells that I would awkwardly work out with in the privacy of my little bedroom. One day Linnea said “Why don’t you do your workout by the pool? It’s really nice out there.” I explained the whole not-wanting-to-be-seen thing, which she of course laughed at. Then the next time I was hefting my little weights in my room, a mirror slid in under the door and Linnea said “I can seeeeeee you!”

MD:    I only had a brief time to talk with Linnea but I can imagine that she and a confessed introvert as roommates must have made for quite the odd couple.  Maybe you should pitch that as a new television series idea.

SP:     Yeah, me and Linnea living in a house together made for some definite sitcom moments, up to and including her bringing me along to a Motorhead video shoot she was working on, and because I was about his height and had long hair, I wound up being Lemmy’s stand-in.

Linnea Quigley
Scream Queen Dream Roommate, Linnea Quigley

MD:    I could easily fill this interview with questions about your film work and some of the other celebrity run-ins you have had, but I really want to talk about the Pete, Drinker of Blood series.  For those that are unfamiliar, can you tell us a little about the series?

SP:     Pete is a fellow who was bitten by a vampire in 1973 and kinda got stuck in that era. He’s the lamest vampire in Hollywood — works nights for the Department of Water and Power and feeds on goats. As the series starts, he mostly avoids the cool-kid vampires that hang out at Club Emoglobin on the Sunset Strip, but eventually that changes. It’s an urban fantasy series that’s funny and crazy and features all manner of monsters and magic and whatnot. They’ve been compared to Christopher Moore’s stuff, so I’d say anyone who digs those or the White Trash Zombie books would probably like ’em. There are four books and two short stories out now, and I’m closing in on being done with the fifth book, which is titled The Donut Queen.

Pete Drinker of Blood
Cover art by Lili Chin.

MD:    Pete strikes me as a bit of wish fulfillment tempered with an overly-active and overly-critical self-awareness.  Does the series take inspiration from any personal fantasies and/or self-doubts?

SP:     I don’t know if I’d call Pete wish fulfillment, necessarily, unless it would be that I’d like to drive around at night listening to classic rock, but there is definitely a ton of my self-doubt and social anxiety in there. In fact, when I started writing Pete, I absolutely approached his vampirism as a metaphor for social anxiety. His relationship with Angie is chock-full of my own self-doubt as well, although much like Pete, I’m finally starting to think maybe my own girlfriend doesn’t think my goofiness is so off-putting (and that has only taken about nine years).

MD:    Hey, if it only took you nine years you are, what, thirty years up on Pete?  But, that was the type of wish fulfillment I was thinking of:  wining the pretty girl, being accepted by the cool kids, and being the hero.  Pete may always be a social outcast because of his vampirism but he is learning how to succeed and thrive while remaining true to him.  Doesn’t everyone have that wish?

SP:     Good point! Then yes, wish fulfillment for sure. See, I write the things and yet I have no clue what I’m talking about.

MD:    Ha!  Isaac Asimov wrote that an English professor once told him that he shouldn’t expect to understand what his stories were about merely because he wrote them.

That said, in reference to your comment about vampirism being a metaphor for social anxiety, did you set out with the intent to have Pete’s story touch readers at a level beyond the humorous fantasy?

SP:     Boy, that Asimov story is spot-on.

Yeah, I’d like to think the Pete stories go a little deeper than just being kinda funny and entertaining, although it’s never my intent to get all meaningful or whatever — at the end of the day, I just want folks to be entertained, and if I can accomplish that, I’m happy.

The Room Temperature Warrior
Book Four – Cover art by Lili Chin.

MD:    What sort of writer are you?  Do you have a clear plan when you start or do you let the story evolve as you go?  Was it always your intent that Pete would become a series and, if so, did you have a plan for the evolution of the character?

SP:     I’m definitely a pantser, as in seat-of-the. I don’t like to outline and never do it unless I’m hired to write a screenplay or something. I always have some signposts in my head as far as where I think the story will go, and most of the time I have a pretty solid idea of what my ending is going to be, but that can change based on where the story takes me. I dislike writing from an outline because I can always feel the story or characters trying to go in a different direction than what’s been outlined, and it’s hard to let yourself veer away from that. I used to think I was a weirdo or was being lazy because I don’t outline, but then I found out a bunch of my favorite writers don’t (or didn’t, as the case may be) do it, either. I like to set my characters off on their way and then let ’em take me along for the ride.

Pete was originally a screenplay, and I adapted that into the novel but it’s wildly different and much more fleshed-out — the script was kind of a lameass Adam Sandler sort of thing. As I was writing the novel, my girlfriend Sarah Bartsch, who is also a writer, suggested making it a series. I feel like Pete is a little bit different at the end of each book than he was at the end of the one before, but he’s always a dork. I’ve really enjoyed bringing all kinds of crazy stuff into the books, like the greasy magic that first shows up in Book 2, Pete has Risen from the Grave. That’s a good example of why I like writing without an outline — the greasy magic stuff took the story and characters into places I never imagined.

Pete Has Risen from the Grave
Book Two – Cover art by Lili Chin.

MD:    Ah, yes.  Greasy magic.  I had never heard of the term before.  Is greasy magic a creation of your own specifically for this series?

SP:     Yeah, it’s something I came up with for the Pete books. I wanted pretty much the lowest form of magic I could come up with, and “greasy magic” seemed like a good name for it.

MD:    This is as good a place as any to confess my fandom.  I recently finished Pete has Risen from the Grave and I loved it, in part due to the introduction of greasy magic.  The first book, Pete, Drinker of Blood, was a fun ride too, but expanding Pete’s world beyond vampires into other supernatural aspects provided some truly funny moments and the start of a unique mythos.  It seems safe to say that you are comfortable writing for horror and the supernatural.  Where did your interest in these genres originate?

SP:     Thank you! I’m glad you dug Pete has Risen from the Grave. I’ve been having a lot of fun writing the later books thanks to the crazier elements I’ve been throwing in (although Book 5, The Donut Queen, has been the toughest thing I’ve ever written, but that’s more about depression than about writing). This probably sounds goofy, but I don’t see them so much as books about vampires, it’s more like they’re books about all kinds of stuff and the main characters happen to be vampires.

My interest in the genre has been there as far back as I can remember — I used to stay up late watching Creepy Creature Feature on weekends and that’s probably where it really started. Then when I was around eight years old, I stumbled across Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine — bought issue 100 off the stands. But the real hammer to the skull was seeing Night of the Living Dead when I was 10 (on the aforementioned Creepy Creature Feature) and man, did it scare the living crap outta me. It also felt like a movie that was made by some folks instead of the sort of stuff I’d been seeing, and that was super-intriguing.

Famouse Monsters of Filmland 100
Famous Monsters of Filmland Issue 100 (August 1973)

MD:    Given your deep seated love of horror, should readers expect some true scares in the Pete books?  Or do you keep the tone light?

SP:     Naw, I like to keep ‘em fun and entertaining. Actually, when the first Pete book came out it had different cover art, sort of a more traditional urban fantasy-type piece. It was terrific, but I kept seeing reviews that said “I put off reading this book because the cover made me think it was horror!” I asked my friend Lili Chin to do a new cover and she’s done all the books since then. Her art definitely suits the tone of the books.

Taste the Blood of Pete
Book Three – Cover art by Lili Chin.

MD:    One of my favourite secondary characters is the Mohawk-wearing, vampire, bouncer Pinball.  Right from the start, she stands out from the other, rather foppish, vampires.  What was the inspiration for her character?

SP:     Boy, that’s a good question! It’s been so long ago that I can’t remember if there was any specific inspiration or if I just thought Club Emoglobin needed a rough-n’-tumble bouncer. She actually doesn’t have a Mohawk in any of the books — Lili Chin drew her with one on the cover, so I wrote it into the standalone Pinball story, Doorchick of Darkness. Just a tiny bit of business about how she used to have a Mohawk. She’s a lot of fun to write because she doesn’t have a whole lot in the way of filters.

MD:    Speaking of Doorchick of Darkness, as a short story it is currently available only as an e-book, correct?  Any thought to writing additional short stories in the Pete, Drinker of Blood universe and publishing a collection?

SP:     Yeah, Doorchick is only available as an e-book. That one takes place between books 1 and 2 and introduces a character who becomes important later on. There’s one other Pete short story in an anthology called It’s a Weird Winter Wonderland — it’s a Pete Christmas story that takes place immediately after the events of book 3. I’d love to write more shorts featuring the other characters but right now it’s all I can do to keep trudging ahead on book 5, and I wanna get that dang thing out in the world as soon as I can. But I dig the idea of doing a collection of shorts set in the Pete universe. Oh, there’s a story in a “weird western” anthology called Tall Tales of the Weird West that ties in with the whole greasy magic thing, so I guess that takes place in the Pete universe, too.

Doorchick of Darkness
Cover art by Lili Chin.

MD:    You’ve mentioned book 5, The Donut Queen a couple times and indicated that it is close to completion.  Without giving anything away, can you give us an exclusive peek into the plot?

SP:     The Donut Queen carries on the overarching storyline that’s been running through the series since Book 2, involving Maisie Untermeier and her greasy magic donut empire expanding into Hollywood. Maisie has been in the books previously but almost always more behind the scenes, and in this one she steps out of the shadows. There are other oddball goings-on as well, and things are leading up to some big doin’s in the next book, which will be titled The Greasy Magic War.

MD:    Where can people find Pete’s exploits along with your other books?

SP:     Everything is available at Amazon in paperback or for Kindle. There are the four Pete books (so far), a couple of standalone novels (Man with Chihuahua and Squirrel Eyes), a crime novel called Gun Up, and some other stuff. If you don’t like Amazon, you can have your favorite local bookstore order the books, too. And as of June 1, Book one in the Pete series is available as an audiobook through Amazon, iTunes and Audible. Book two is being recorded as I type this, and Benjamin Allen is doing a great job narrating them.

Scott S Phillips and Gunnar Hansen
Scott on the set of Gimme Skelter with the original Leatherface, Gunnar Hansen.

My sincere thanks to Scott for allowing me to inundate him with questions.  If you’re a fan of ultra-low budget movies, hunt down Scott’s two independent films, The Stink of Flesh and Gimme Skelter.  For some fun reading, I can highly recommend all of Scott’s books and, in particular, the Pete Drinker of Blood series.

As Scott mentions, all his books are available on Amazon.

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