MY MONEY: Stocks and Robbers

Writer Robert Crais tells Neasa MacErlean he likes thrilling
plots but plays safe with his portfolio
(The Observer, March 12, 2000)

Byline: Neasa MacErlean

ROBERT CRAIS has lived the American dream. The working-class
son of an oil worker and a police officer,  Crais  left the city of Baton
Rouge, Louisiana, at the age of 22 'with a few dollars' to become a writer
in Los Angeles. He knew no one in LA and had no contacts in Hollywood
but became a prime-time TV script writer and then an extremely successful
writer of thrillers. UK publishers Orion plan a major publicity campaign this
summer when his ninth novel, Demolition Angel, is published here.

His own story even sounds like a tense novel. To pay the rent, he got a job
in an office mail room but spent his breaks writing. To teach himself the
scriptwriting trade, he bought second-hand scripts and spent nights analysing
TV programmes looking at plot structure, scene length and characterisation.
He broke through very quickly, and his second script was accepted for the
Seventies cop show Baretta. Over the next nine years, he was a well-known
TV writer, producing scripts for Quincy, LA Law, Hill Street Blues, Miami
Vice and others. But, finally, he realised that he found TV work 'unsatisfying'
and he wanted the deeper, more complicated challenge of full-length novels.

'I took the year off, 1986, and went to the mountains and wrote. I was
terrified. I didn't know if I could write 400-500 page novels. The most I had
written before was 60 pages. And I had a family too a wife and daughter.'
They had just enough money to last them a year. 'We had enough money
if we were frugal but after a year we'd be out. It went right down to the
wire. It took me  the entire time to write The Monkey's Raincoat. In the
last month, we were in dire straits financially and I had to scramble around
for TV script work before  the book came out.' It was an artistic success
but did not provide immediate riches. But  Crais,  now 46, earned enough
to keep going.

He is now eight books on and more successful with each of his LA-set stories
involving private investigator Elvis Cole.

Many writers find the gap between creative writing and management of their
finances too big to jump and most are rather bored by money. So Crais is
unusual in taking a keen interest. While his wife manages their cash flow, he
deals with the investments. 'On my stock portfolio, I look for excellent
companies that I can expect a good return on and I buy them for the long
return. I concentrate on mutual funds. I think I'm a sensible investor.
I'm not a penny stock person. And I'm not a day trader.'

He and his wife are also collectors of Disneyana (a symptom of his film
fascination), art works and books. 'Most of it has appreciated in value,' he
says. 'But I don't see a time when we will be selling them for profit.'

Fans have a surprise in store this summer when Demolition Angel appears.
After 15 years of writing from a male perspective,  Crais  has chosen a female
heroine 'bomb victim and tenacious detective Carole Starkey'. He says: 'Every
day was an adventure, trying to think as she would think.'

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