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Interview : Jay Clarke

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If you’re an author with a hot book on the shelves, get it straight to your neighbouring Hollywood studio. Good stories are hard to come by – and studios are snapping them up in droves. And Author Jay Clarke – who writes under the ‘Michael Slade’ pseudonym – is hoping he’s the next to get a call from the bigwigs. He talks to CLINT MORRIS about taking his acclaimed novels to the big screen.

For those not in the know, how’d you get started writing?
I drew and wrote mystery/horror comics and stories as a kid. That’s why I chose criminal law – specializing in insanity – as a career. With over a hundred murder trials under my belt, I had enough inspiration for a this-is-how-it-really-is writing career. The success of “HeadHunter” – the first psycho-thriller in the Special X series – made a fulltime novelist out of me.

A Renowned horror Director tells me you’re looking at adapting some stories for the screen. Which ones?
I crave movies with blindside twists. “Psycho”, “The Crying Game”, and similar rug-pullers. That’s why I write what I write. A Slade novel is a three-ring bull’s eye. In the center is the whodunit. A Slade-of-hand, as one reviewer put it. The ring around that is psychological horror. What I absorbed from psychos encountered in my legal career. Encircling that is Mounted Police action, based on over a thousand trials defended against, or prosecuted with, the Mounties. “Bed of Nails”, “Ghoul”, “Ripper”, “Hangman” and “Headhunter” all have tricky twists. The choice is up to the producer.

How’s progress – any ideas on casting yet?
“Headhunter” is optioned. “Bed of Nails” is hot off the press. As for casting, I’d rather have an unknown who can Really and IS the part – like when Sean Connery burst on the scene in “Dr No”- than spending too much money on a name star who can’t shake his name to become the character. Ian Fleming wanted David Niven as James Bond. Not me.

Do you imagine Hollywood to be a much different ballgame?
I’m handicapped right off the bat because I’m a Canadian writing psycho thrillers about the Horsemen. In my brief experience, Hollywood execs have trouble thinking outside the box that encases America. Invariably, the first question is, "Can we set it in the States?" I created Special X – the Special External Section of the RCMP – to move the world’s most colorful and mythic police force around the globe. What Slade needs is a non-isolationist who champions underdogs.

Is this the first time someone’s ever come to you with an idea to turn your stories into a film?
“Headhunter” has been optioned three times. Slade likes to joke: "We can’t afford to have the series made into a film. We’re making too much money off the options." To date, our movie visionaries have not been the ones who control the purse strings.

You think there’s potential for the films to be a success?
Of course. The Mountie movie has a century-old pedigree. Edison – the guy who Invented films – shot “Riders of the Lost Plains” in 1910. Since then, Hollywood has produced 250 "Northerns": “Rose Marie”, “Susannah of the Mounties” (with Shirley Temple), Cecil B. DeMille’s “Northwest Mounted Police” (with Gary Cooper), “Saskatchewan” (with Alan Ladd), and so on. Is there anyone who doesn’t recognize the names of Sergeant Preston of the Yukon and his mighty dog King? The Mountie movie lost its legs when Hollywood got blinded by the straight-arrow stereotype. The redcoats in “Missouri Breaks” and “The Untouchables” are good examples. “Dudley Do Right” is Hollywood’s screen reality. The same thing happened to the FBI. Hollywood bought the stereotype of the Suits: starchy anal-retentives in dark shades and straight-cut bible black. Then along came a modern update. Meet Special Agent Clarice Starling.Likewise with Scotland Yard. The Met was rife with the stereotype of Empire old boys with stiff upper lips. Then along came a mold breaker in “Prime Suspect”. Meet DI Jane Tennyson. "Mountie noir" is how someone described what Slade is all about. My aim is simply to blow the Hollywood stereotype apart. The Mounties are too vibrant and potent a myth not to succeed with the right retelling. Meet C/Supt. Robert DeClercq and Insp. Zinc Chandler.

Have you ever helped anyone out on scripts etc? authenticity?
No, but then I had never written a novel until I sat down at the keyboard. I used to tell my clients, "Consider me a gunslinger. No matter what, I’ll draw the gun and pull the trigger. But whether it goes ‘Bang!’ or ‘Click!’ depends on you. Give me ammunition." The important thing to know about the Special X series is that the books have been embraced by the Mounties themselves. Slade has been to the Red Serge Ball and several Regimental Dinners. The forensics come out of talks with techs in the lab. The blazing car chase in “Bed of Nails” was mapped out by North Vancouver Mounties who drove me around so I would get the takedown right. The role I offer in film-making is that of quartermaster. I’ll supply the ammunition. You shoot the gun.

Are crime authors very competitive? i.e. do you talk to those in the same field?
I argued the last hanging case in Canada before nine sour judges of the Supreme Court. For years, I worked in the eye of the storm that whirled around the courts. Now I sit in my writing cell, all alone, and tell myself stories. Consequently, I jump at every chance I get to talk about the biz with like minds. Some authors are competitive to the point of paranoia. Life’s too short for that.

How do you sleep?
Like a baby. I get all my horrors, concerns and frustrations out on the page during the working day. They don’t fester and trouble my beauty sleep.

If you could’ve written any film – which one would it be?
“Seven”. Hollywood uses special effects to mask the fact that so many movies these days lack unique plots. How refreshing it was to get kicked in the teeth by someone who meant business. Decades ago, my choice would have been “Psycho”.

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About Caffeinated Clint

The writer/publicist/producer who wears the editor hat on Moviehole. Favorite films include "Say Anything...", "The Hunt for Red October", "Jerry Maguire", "Almost Famous", "Die Hard", "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo", "Young Guns", "American Psycho", "Back to the Future" and the "Star Wars" series.
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