A Conversation with
Erick S. Gray
Part. I of II
Interview by Joey Pinkney
Where did you get the idea to write Crave All Lose All?
Erick S. Gray: Actually, I got that from my moms. She has a lot of wisdom. One day she told me, "Crave all lose all." That sounded like an ill story line to write about. She always preached that to me. I thought it was an ill title for a book, so I sat down and wrote it. You crave everything, you end up losing it all eventually.
And that's the exact path Vincent ended up going down, too.
Erick S. Gray: That was like five years ago.
So you have been sitting on that book for a while. Or did you recently write it?
Erick S. Gray: Actually, I wrote the book in 2004. What ended up being released is a rewrite. I have a thing where I write a book and let it sit there. I figured it was time to get it published. When I looked at it again, I liked the concept but not the feel of it. I wasn't satisfied the first version. I had to make it stronger, you know what I'm saying? So I wrote the whole thing over again. I took a lot of scenes out and put a lot of scenes in there to make it flow better. I did a lot of rewrites
Not to give too many of your secrets away, but... Where do you go to write a book like this? Do you listen to music, burn incense, go out of town? How do you get in your zone to write a book like this?
Erick S. Gray: I get in my zone by listening to music a lot of times. I listen to a track, and it hits me like, "Oh, sh*t! That's an ill song. That's an ill concept."
What type of music do you listen to?
Erick S. Gray: Slow jams, rap, reggae...
What else do you do to get in that zone?
Erick S. Gray: I'm a heavy thinker. I like to sit to myself and meditate. Sometimes on a nice day, I take a drive and come up with a concept. I travel a lot. Sometimes I think about things I've seen and say, "That would be an ill concept for a book."
The main character's name is Vincent Grey. Is that a shout out to your brother?
Erick S. Gray: Yeah, Vincent Gray passed away in Attica last year in 2007. Growing up, he was always a thug going in and out of prison. I never got to really grow up with him. It was like he was either in the streets, or he was in jail. We grew up together, but we didn't grow up around each other. I would visit him in jail, or he would just pop up out of the blue.
I wanted the Vincent Grey in Crave All Lose All to be close to me. At first I was afraid to use his name because I wasn't sure how my family would feel about that. They were cool about it so I was alright. When I base characters on people I know or know of, the characters come out fire to me.
I gave a lot of people who were important to me a shout out in the beginning of Crave All. Everybody was like, "That was cool. I liked the dedication piece."
I read that and thought it was ill. I've never seen an author map out like a personal obituary of sorts.
Erick S. Gray: On the real, I had to call my boy like, "Yo, Joey gave me five stars for this book, yo." The when they asked you what you disliked about the book, you said, "That it ended." I was like, "Oh, my God!"
I really meant that.
Erick S. Gray: I appreciated it.
My family has been through a lot, and I've lost so many people over the years. People don't understand that writing is like therapy to me, it's like breathing. It's a way for me to express myself. It's a way for me to be heard.
When my brother passed away, I just grabbed a pen and began to write about it. It helps me get by. People ask me, "Is that a true story?" Parts of it is; parts of it isn't.
You know how you see rappers stick together but when they start getting famous everything falls apart. You wonder how does that happen. I wanted to focus that type of situation on the drug world. I've seen how money and drugs can break up a tight friendship like the one between Vincent, Tyriq and Spoon. I see it happen daily in the streets.
Vincent got in the game thinking that it's going to be temporary way to feed his family. But when you get into a certain environment, the whole thing can go left. It's easy to get caught up in anything that involves money, drugs, fame, whatever. Vincent wanted to feed his son, but in the long run he ended up losing everything.
Although Vincent had both parents, went to college and had a loving girlfriend, I felt that he was too close to the streets to not fall in. How do you see it?
Erick S. Gray: Thugs don't always come from broken homes. I know cats like Vincent. I come from a two-parent home, and I've done a couple of things. I didn't want to write a story about a stereotypical drug dealer where the father is gone and the mother is on crack. Vincent didn't come from that. He came from an educated family; he came from people who cared about him.
9/11 is why is he got in the drug game. I know a lot of cats that after 9/11 were depressed, exhausted. I wanted Vincent to be a likable character, but there were things about him that were dark, too.
The longer he stayed in the game, the deeper he got caught up. Deion Sanders once said in some interview that having access to huge amounts of money only brings out your addictions. Vincent definitely had a thang, not a thing, but a thang for women. Sure, he was thuggin' it. But he was making the money really to floss for the women. Even his friends were actually telling him that.
Erick S. Gray: I've been there before. I've had access to a lot of money like he did. It's like a disease. You can but whatever you want. If you're poor and don't know how to manage you money, you will lose it all quickly.
Vincent had Spoon school him like, "This is not you, man. Get out of this; don't do this." Tyriq told him, "Are you ready to make some money?" Both dudes were his best friends. Spoon had mad love and respect for his man. He told Vincent that he could do something different with his life since he actually went out and got an education. But Spoon also understood that Vince was a man and he had to eat. So he had to do what he felt was necessary.
There was interesting relationship between Spoon and Vincent. The scene between Vincent and Spoon on Christmas Eve was a classic. Did that come from a movie? The irony between Spoon's warnings and his demise was unpredictable.
Erick S. Gray: I was thinking of a situation. What if your man snitched on you? But he had been looking out for you your whole life? How would you feel about that? You grew up together. He went to jail for you. He looked out for you.
You know how we feel about snitches, right? If you snitch, you die. If I had to kill my best friend like that, how would I feel? How would I react? I think I would have thrown up. I would have been out of it.
Erick S. Gray: Yeah, it's sickening. Vincent is the god-father of Spoon's kids. Their moms knew each other. I just wanted to present it like Vincent wasn't a bad guy, he just got caught up in a bad situation.
Tyriq was messing with Vincent's head when he told him to do or Tyriq was going to kill Vincent. So when Vincent stabbed Spoon in the chest, he held Spoon and started crying. He was like, "I got you man" even though he was killing him! That's got to be one of the most painful things anyone could go through.
True. That's pure irony right there. When Tyriq first offered Vincent to get in the game, Spoon warned Vincent to stay out. A few months later, Vincent ends up being Spoon's murderer. That was a crazy plot twist.
Erick S. Gray: Yeah, and he did it a day after his birthday on Christmas Eve. It's was supposed to be a happy time. But Vincent had no reason to be in the mood. I wanted that whole scene to catch a lot of people. When you get in the game, you might have to do stuff like that. How far would you go? How would you react? How would you feel about that?
There was an interesting dynamic between Vincent and Tyriq. They were supposed to be best friends, but they literally because worst enemies.
Erick S. Gray: I wanted this book to catch a lot of people. I wanted to really depict the dark side of hustling. Although it's called "the game", it's really not a game. A lot of kids are out there thinking it's all about having fun. I wanted to show readers how dabbling in drugs can really tear your life apart.
Many urban fiction novels exclude what I call "the puppeteers in the game", treating the dealers as the end-all-be-all of the movement of the drugs in the communities. Crave All Lose All showed the reality of who's running things in the hood when a drug war took place between the Cubans and Jamaicans using Vincent and Tyriq as pawns. How did you come up with that idea?
Erick S. Gray: My cousin is in that lifestyle. He told about me things he experienced back in the 90s. He explained to me how there is always somebody over somebody. I wanted to show how Tyriq was a bad ass but how he was a worker for the Jamaicans. I wanted you to fear the Jamaicans. I wanted you to know that they were crazy.
When the Jamaicans killed that family, that's how they really get down. I wanted you to be disturbed. These dudes right here were psychotic. Then with the Colombians, they were different. They were ruthless, but... How should I say it?
They had a level of class about themselves.
Erick S. Gray: Yeah, they were classy. Greed is the root of all evil, not the money. The more money you make, the more problems you can have. Money and greed takes you to a level that's ugly. That's the point I was trying to make in the book.
If a reader has no idea how things can go on the street, they might might mistake this book as glorifying violence. This is a book about how a person can lose their morals and their self respect by making the wrong choices.
Erick S. Gray: The problem with Vincent was that he wasn't a critical thinker. He thought the money he got was going to make his life better for him and his son. It made it worse for him. His mom told him that although he didn't have a job and he was unemployed, he still had God. She told him to stay patient. But Vincent was like, "I can't wait, I need it now". He was in such a rush to get money that he couldn't see that his life was spiraling out of control. He couldn't look at his mom. He had to tell her that he's not the son he used to be. That was a deep part of the book for me.
His father taught him to respect the value of life. Once he got in that world, everything that his parents told him went out the door.
There was a different set of rules, and he had to act accordingly. One thing you made definite in the book is that he tried to gain a little bit and ended up losing everything.
Erick S. Gray: Everything. He ended up not being able to walk at the end of the book.
There were five different women in Vincent's life. I'm going to throw them out there, and you give me your thoughts on who or what they represent. First up is Momma.
Erick S. Gray: His mom represents his backbone, morals, integrity. That was his foundation. She was the good in his life. She wouldn't steer that man wrong.
Erick S. Gray: Chandra was the love of his life. He loved her to the point where he kind of regretted letting her go. To tell you the truth, Chandra is like my baby momma. I modeled that character after her. Vincent and I have very similar situations with us going in different directions from our baby mother's and having to let go. That was his love.
Erick S. Gray: I would say that Vincent had a soft spot for Shae. He cared for her, but he didn't love her. He was trying to replace Chandra with Shae. Shae was a mature woman. She was telling him things, but Vincent wasn't catching on. When she was like "I want to control money, I don't want money to control me", he should have caught on to that.
She was giving him some serious jewels right there, and he didn't pick up.
Erick S. Gray: Yeah. She was throwing some jewels out there. She was like "I'm going to be with you, but you got to promise that you're going to treat me good". She had a lot of wisdom. Remember when she said, "I want out", and she did get out? He should have followed her foot steps. Get in, get out. But he got caught up, and he ended up losing her too.
Erick S. Gray: Cashmere is straight...you know...grimy. Just greedy. She didn't care about Vincent. She just cared about what he represented.
Erick S. Gray: She was just a connection. If you noticed in the book, all of Vincent's connections were made through females. Cashmere hooked him up in Philly. Iris hooked him up with the Colombians. I learned that from the streets. In Queens, you ask a female what's going on in the streets and she can tell you. She will know which thug is doing what because ni**as talk too much.
But Iris, she was just out there. She was on the come up. She tried to play the game, and the dude she thought she loved shot her in the face.
That was crazy! That was one of those unpredictable moments in the book where you stop and think, "Did this just happen?!" I had go back a couple of paragraphs and reread it like "What just happened?"
Erick S. Gray: The Colombian tested Vincent with that, too. He wanted to see if Vincent had emotions for Iris before working with him. He felt like if Vincent got emotional over a woman, he wasn't ready for the game.
Scenes like that keep me motivated. If I don't get emotional about the story I'm writing, then I don't put it out. In this life, you have to believe what you do, know what you do, love what you do. Believe, know and love.
Words to live by.
Erick S. Gray: You can quote me on this. (laughter)
Click for part II of interview
Erick Gray 2006 Interview
Crave All Lose All Book Review
Joey Pinkney is a freelance writer and book reviewer. He spends most of his time with his family and friends. At night he burns the midnight oil putting together articles for your reading pleasure. For more information visit: www.joeypinkney.com
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