Interview: Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon

Welcome to the last stop of the blog book tour for THE SECRET JOURNEYS OF JACK LONDON, the first in a new series from the incredible dark minds of Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon, and illustrated by Greg Ruth.

In case you missed other tour stops:

Because I got such great stuff, I'll have three posts, today's interview, a Q&A March 9 on illustrated books with Jordan Brown, the HarperCollins editor who oversaw the project, and a spotlight March 10 on the evolution of the book's monster, a malevolent Algonquian spirit called a wendigo. It's a must-read for illustrators.

And now, my chat with Chris and Tim:

How did the two of you meet, and at what point did the idea of collaborating on a novel come up?

TL: We first chatted after Chris asked me to write for his Hellboy anthology Odder Jobs.  Soon after that we Author Christopher Goldenmet at a convention in New York and hit it off.  We read, and liked, each other's work, and pretty soon we'd decided to write together.  Chris had already collaborated a lot, and I'd written a few things with other people––a novel, short stories, a screenplay.  That first novel we worked on was called Mind The Gap, and Chris can tell you about that book's genesis.  The Wild was actually the fourth novel we wrote together, I believe, and the first in the Secret Journeys of Jack London series.
CG:  MIND THE GAP started as an idea for a graphic novel, actually.  Even then, I knew that I wanted to collaborate with an author from the UK, as so much of the book's heart and soul is British.  It takes place entirely in and beneath London, and the history of the city was vital to the story.  When I met Tim, not only did we became instant friends, but I read a bunch of his work and was very impressed.  He's a great talent, and it's a pleasure to write with him.  As to how we created THE SECRET JOURNEYS OF JACK LONDON...we were at World Horror Convention in Toronto, out for drinks and Thai food with a bunch of friends.  Tim had just written a 30 Days of Night movie novelization and mentioned he'd put vampire polar bears into the book.  If I recall correctly, I instantly said something about how we could do that as its own novel, and call it WHITE FANGS, Tim said it would have to be about Jack London...who, incidentally, has been my favorite writer of classics since I was very young...and in moments, the trilogy wasAuthor Tim Lebbon born.  Book one is THE WILD, book two is THE SEA WOLVES, and book three is WHITE FANGS.

The writing is seamless. Did one of you type left-handed, and the other, right? Or did you have some other way of establishing a consistent and compelling voice?

TL: I'd say that Chris and I don't have styles that are particularly similar, but when we're writing together we concentrate hard on editing each other's chapters, make sure we're both on the same page about where the story's going, and end up with something that neither of us could have written on our own.  It's a fascinating, satisfying process. 
CG:  I think there's also a subconscious acknowledgement of the collaboration.  When I read Tim's solo work, it doesn't really read like me, and probably vice versa.  But I think we've found a voice we can both work in, and we edit each other's work to nudge it closer to that voice.

How did you research the novel? Did you travel to Alaska? Ride a half-frozen river?

TL:  We lived in an old trapper's cabin in Alaska for a year, eating frozen root vegetables and snaring rabbits.  We made clothes from their furs.  Chris is great at sewing.  Actually ... we did a lot of reading.  Jack London's fiction, biographies, and plenty of books about the Yukon gold rush and Alaska.  Fascinating. 
CG:  I'd have loved to go to Alaska.  It's on my Bucket List for sure.  My father was in the Coast Guard and stationed on Kodiak Island during the Korean War, and I've always wanted to go and see it for myself.  Tim covered the research, but I will say what a pleasure it is to have such a great excuse to go back and reread London's work, and to educate ourselves further about his life and era.

Did you plot the story thoroughly beforehand?

TL:  Yep, we did.  And just as easily strayed from it!  But that's one of the great parts of how Chris and I collaborate ... the process itself when we start writing is pretty organic.  Even though we often don't stick to the outline, writing it in the first place if a great way of getting our heads around the story, the characters, and what we want to achieve.  Just because the characters might go a different way doesn't mean the outlining is wasted.
CG:  Tim and I talk between each chapter, going over what's just been written by one of us, and what ought to be in the next bit from the other.  It's a very inventive and productive way to collaborate, and it keeps the process fresh in a way that collaborations often struggle to be.  The story is constantly in flux, which is great.

I'm conscious of spoilers here, so reveal only what you're comfortable revealing. But you've gone with a different sort of monster for this book. What's your favorite part about this choice?

TL: The fact that it's a familiar legend, and we were able to take what we needed from the many myths surrounding it.  And it's terrifying.
CG:  There's a great savagery and an intangibility to our version of that monster, so that it's almost as much spirit as beast.  That's the wild, to me.

As a special bonus, the authors helped create a mock Dewar's Profile for Jack London. People of a certain age will remember the Dewar's scotch ads that appeared in certain magazines. Jack London was a natural for this sort of thing.