CHRIS – Here it is, the night of October 30 – the eve of All Hallow’s Eve, if you will.Mani and I are sitting in the study, our “bat cave,” the birthing place of all our macabre undertakings. We’re trying to come up with a Halloween-themed entry for our blog, and Mani suggests that we field the question we frequently hear from readers and potential readers: “How do you guys write together?”
It’s a damn good question, and I’ll let my macabre colleague take the first – shall we say – bite.
MANI – How utterly (gotta love those adverbs) creepy.This is how we started out so many years ago; the days when I had a healthy head of hair, was young and full of dreams.I’ll never forget how we first sat down on a rickety old Smith Corona typewriter – the kind that had ribbons and gave you calluses on your fingertips like a proverbial garage band bass guitar player.Anyway, we would take turns at the “controls.”Chris would write a few graphs and then I would have my turn.It was amazing that it worked.After a while it became effortless.Our two stylesand talents would merge into one.
CHRIS – Excuse me while I finish chewing my roasted pumpkin seed. There!
Now, Mani is speaking truthfully, but he’s marginalizing the differences. The fact is that we had, and in many ways still have, totally different styles. I’m inclined toward schmaltz, the hopelessly romantic, the corny side of macabre. Mani’s more suited toward the modern equivalent of those nasty novels they used to publish back in the 50s – you know, the ones that often featured a long-legged, slutty redhead type with high heels, slit skirt, black nylons. In fact, we wrote a piece way back, called “Sin and Shadow” in which Mani’s ideal woman played a very prominent role.
The point is, we had to find a common ground when it came to plots and characters. You think the battle between Obama and McCain was tough? You should have seen us hash through those differences.
Now, where the hell are those pumpkin seeds . . .
MANI – You see, not only is Chris my esteemed writing collaborator, but he’s my wannabe shrink as well – always trying to analyze me, always trying to figure out what makes me tick.Most importantly, what really scares me.
Okay, Chris and I have a lot of things not in common, but one thing has stayed strong and true all these years of fighting through plot lines, attacking each other over the more-than-occasional ‘clunker’ piece of dialogue, and attempting to create and breathe life into all sorts of odd characters:We both love horror and all that goes bump in the night.
Now, I have to stop myself because I don’t want Chris to get a bigger ego than he already has.I really believe that Chris’ talent far outshines mine.He has a true gift of words and concepts.My talent?I believe it can be traced back to my training in film.I understand story in visual terms.
CHRIS – And speaking of “what really scares” us, well, it’s all kinds of things. In “Chaosicon,” we were writing about the fear of chaos itself – the lack of order. No doubt, both of us took that from things that took place in our distant pasts – and I suspect that just about everyone else has similar fears. In “Abattoir,” our newest book, we took a look at fear itself. And in most of our short stories, there’s a certain core, a central fear, that we wanted to take the shell off of, to expose, and then – via catharsis – exorcise.
If you take any two individuals and try to compare their personal fears, of course, you’re going to come up with very different things. So, in order for Mani and I to put together any sort of cohesive story, we had to search through our respective mental attics, rummage around the assorted skeletons and boogie men collected up there, and find something in common. Then we’d dress it up in plot, populate it with characters, and hopefully come up with something that would resonate in other people’s – namely, our readers’ – brains.
See how simple it all is?
MANI – Yeah, it’s as simple as winning the state lottery on the first try.But Chris is right, it’s all about fear.We were both very fortunate a few years back to actually have cocktails with Clive Barker of “Hellraiser” and “Books of Blood” fame.Well into our third drink we collectively asked Mr. Barker a simple question:“What was the most frightening thing you ever experienced?”He smiled and recounted a book signing he had done a few years prior.He had a long queue of all sorts of people waiting in line; there were suits, Goths, long-hairs, all sorts of groupies.But one man in line gave him a start.He was a burly, motorcycle gang type with a bandana and a heavy leather coat.There was just something wrong with this guy.After he signed each book, Barker would glance back in the line to scope out this one character who was getting closer and closer.Finally, this man stood in front of Barker.But before Barker could sign the book he glanced up and the hair on the back of his head stood up.The motorcycle guy had taken off his jacket and proceeded to slice his arm with a razor.His blood dripped steadily onto the open page.We collectively asked Barker what he did next.He guessed that instinct took over.Barker simply rose his hand into the airand smacked it onto the formerly white page, creating a bloodied palm print.Our last question to Barker?What was the motorcycle guy’s reaction?Barker took a sip of his drink and replied in his thick Liverpool accent:“I never saw such a shit-eating grin in my life.”
CHRIS – Talk about “Books of Blood!”And thanks, Mani, for that handy segue.
Which makes my next point, actually. After awhile, we learned such cues from each other on a regular basis — how to set up the other’s imagination, how to keep the story moving along. In fact, after time, the collaboration almost began to take on a sort of metaphysical dimension.
My wife Lisa, who was frequently in the next room reading while we were busy writing, once said that it almost sounded as if there weren’t actually two people working in the room anymore, but only one. It was as if our voices sort of merged into one behind the closed door of this very study. Being spook-freaks, of course, we rather liked that idea, and early on began to refer to ourselves not as two writers in collaboration, but as one morphed central being. We even gave him a name, which was . . ..
MANI – Ian Bogue.How in the hell did we come up with that?Well, it was rather easy and quite logical.Ian represented the first name of one of my favorite authors growing up – Ian Fleming of James Bond fame.Bogue was short for bogus, as in false.
CHRIS – Actually, I think it was a tribute to the Bogeyman of children’s nightmare fame, which only goes to show how tricky memory is. The thing about Bogue is that . . . wait a minute . . . something’s happening. I’m beginning to feel a little light-headed, and Mani’s . . . Mani’s face is beginning to melt!He’s turning into something else!My God!So am I!Mani, what the hell’s going . . .
BOGUE – (after a sickening, crunching sound)
Ah, that feels good!That’s much, much better!
Dear readers, allow me to say good riddance to those two losers – those two parasites who are always taking credit for MY creations. The truth is, they live because of me. They are parts of me, necessary to the completion of my work, but – allow me to be honest – royal pains in the ass.
Writers indeed!I taught those fools everything they know. I’ll show you a writer.
Now that we’re rid of them, I think I’ll compose something, something appropriate for the season.
It was a dark and stormy night.
No.That’s already been done. How about this?
The diminutive chatterboxes were all long gone.It was late on Halloween night, and Sandra could still hear the reverberations of their tiny voices – “Trick or Treat, Trick or Treat!” – and see in her mind’s eye their painfully cute little costumes.
She spat on the floor in disgust. She hated this time of year. No, she despised it. It was almost as if they – the other people – had stolen it from her, and from her own community. Almost as if they really knew what it all about. What it all meant.
The truth . . .