Celebrate #Horror Month!
Love is terrifying. To love and throw it away, even more so.
Twenty years ago on Oct. 31, we — Clark and Kathleen — decided to get married and start writing horror together. It was a monstrous decision.
We officially became engaged on a blustery Halloween night 20 years ago. Clark was dressed as the devil on vacation. Maps in hand, horns out, leisure shirt on. Kathleen was a zombie fairy. Glitter, tutu, bloodied face.
It seemed fitting for two people raised on a steady diet of H.P. Lovecraft and Gothic romances set on windswept moors, two people with minds quick to turn to dark and morbid thoughts, to pledge undying love on a night when — at least according to the Celts (who brought us Samhain, the precursor to Halloween) — souls are at their most vulnerable.
The road to our engagement was not a straight path. We met, fell madly and passionately in love, spontaneously combusted from that same mad passion, and ultimately resurrected something even stronger, more magical, from the flaming wreckage.
Not content with peering into the icy void of romance and watching the slow advance of the soul-crushing ancient gods, we decided to become more than lovers, to embrace a lunatic level of intimacy: We decided to write together.
Cue the gasps.
Our resurrected relationship is based on bringing together the creative impulse of two highly and cheerfully dysfunctional people into one seamless whole. Over twenty years, we’ve written five books together (yes, we are slow) and have one more almost in the can. Four of them fall squarely into the horror genre, something for which our romantic wrangling and literary aspirations helped well prepare us.
Here’s a list of some of the most terrifying things we’ve learned about writing horror together, with a narrative assist from classic Halloween monsters, our constant companions, who embody (or disembody) and channel our writing process.
Ghosts — We are easily influenced by the energy of others, especially other writers. To prevent the essence of other authors from haunting our works in progress, we limit the types of reading we do, and the stories we tell each other. That means mostly nonfiction or fiction that is so far beyond the realm of what we are currently writing, the possibilities of ethereal cross-contamination disappear like restless spirits in the bright sun.
Vampires — Writing together (ironically, about vampires) killed our social life. Drove a stake into its heart, stuffed its mouth with garlic and buried it under a millstone. Why? There’s no non-writer bugging you to do healthy social activities. As if allergic to sunshine, two writers/partners means acquiescing to the absence of a social life; in fact, we’re socially undead. Especially during the super-charged creative phase, we hardly ever leave the house. Our neighbors think we are weirdoes. They are not wrong.
Zombies — Why are they always looking for brains? Because they are probably writers who used up all their cognitive skills and now are looking for a stiff drink and a new source of inspiration. Or a nap. Building worlds from scratch is hard, building two worlds from two different minds and then smashing them into one is exhausting because of the constant bickering about … everything — from proper semi-colon usage to the imagined thoughts of vampires having near-death experiences during the day. It requires an all-consuming drive to slaughter all obstacles. And a well-stocked bar.
Werewolves — Writing together means actively giving in to our darkest impulses, and not just in the bedroom. It means seeking out the full moon and daring our creative monsters to come out. And taking chances. So far at least, those creative impulses have yet to miss the opportunity to come out and play. But inevitably they also require brutal editing. And since there are two of us, we take turns playing editor and shooting silver bullets into the wildest of prose. Strong ego required, but then again, that’s true whether you write with a partner or solo.
Mummies — Marketing sucks the life right out of both of us, leaving behind dried up husks of regret, shambling and groaning and trudging through endless labyrinths of ad buys and pitches and earned media. In today’s world, great writing requires at least acceptable marketing skills. Between the two of us, there’s just enough embalmed brains to manage our social media channels and shine some light into the tomb of perpetual darkness. Count that one on the plus side of writing with a partner.
Invisible man/woman — Related to marketing, a huge challenge all authors face is discoverability, which often makes us feel like the invisible man/woman, head wrapped in bandages, wearing a smoking jacket and holding a martini. As soon as the bandages come off, we risk disappearing from sight forever. Social media is a balm and a bane, allowing us to stay connected to readers but also creating endless distractions when we really should be writing. Or drinking a martini.
Frankenstein’s monster — In the end, Mary Shelley’s classic creation, an unholy combination of science and the occult, of life and death, of pride and humility, is the monster that best describes the process of partners writing together. Neither truly dead or alive, human or inhuman, co-authors who are also in love are their own hybrid monster. Yet, as we trudge through the frozen wasteland pondering our own existence, we are more than the fragile sum of our parts, more than dual natures grafted onto one unholy frame.
In fact, we’re twice blessed — once in love and once in profession — which means we are twice cursed too. But that sense of wonder, the strength of two voices blended into one, makes our books a harmony twice as strong as if either of us wrote alone. And it all started on Halloween, twenty years ago, when a devil and zombie fairy finally said, okay, why not. And, more importantly, in our case at least, that decision has made the certain journey into the howling void almost bearable.