Chad Lutzke & Tim Meyer on Writing Collaborative Horror
I recently had the privilege of discussing the craft of writing in collaboration with two big names in the indie horror fiction scene, Chad Lutzke and Tim Meyer. Both are extraordinary authors who recently released their book, Wormwood, through Silver Shamrock Publishing (December 2020). Chad wrote Of Foster Homes and Flies, which is one of the most dark and compelling coming-of-age tales I have ever read. And Tim, he is the most exciting name in Horror. Both have crafted one of the most anticipated novels of the past year and the early reviews speak for themselves:
...an absolute masterclass in suspenseful storytelling. Together, the two authors have written something in equal parts unforgettable, unputdownable, and surprisingly relatable.
How would you describe each other's writing?
Chad: Tim is much wordier than I am and, if there's an opportunity to describe something grotesque, he's all about it. If it's not there, he'll make it happen. He's closer to Stephen King than I am, as far as taking the time for description or even backstory and exploring an otherworldly reason for conflict in his books.
Tim: Chad’s writing is sharp and succinct. But even though he deploys this “bare bones” style, there’s so much going on in the subtext of his stories that readers still have enough content to feast on. I love all of Chad’s stories for that very reason, and his stuff makes for good subsequent rereads.
When I started writing reviews and getting involved in the horror community, I was blown away by just how big the genre is. It's massive. In saying that, you two could have worked with anyone. How did you two decide to collaborate?
Chad: Tim approached me with the idea of writing something together. I listened, and we stuck our toes in the water for a while before diving in, brainstorming ideas until we were on the same page, then jumped in the deep end.
Tim: Haha, well, Stephen King wasn’t available at the moment, so…just kidding. Being a big fan of Chad’s, I just thought it would be cool if the two of us created something together, despite our tastes and styles being somewhat opposite. We’ve known each other for quite a few years and hang out in the same social media circles, so I thought we’d have a good chance of getting along well enough to make a collab work. When I got the idea—or, when Chad gave me the idea, I should say—I thought we should explore it together.
My very brief take on the book is that it's about a young man who becomes influenced by a beautiful girl into doing some dark deeds. What motivated you two to write this story?
Chad: Tim’s got a cool story on the genesis, so I’ll offer the take on my own motivation. For me, it was about peer pressure and discovering alien territory as a teenager. I’m as nostalgic as they come, so it comes natural for me to write using experiences I learned in my youth. Making bad decisions and discovering love for the first time are things I enjoy drawing on. I’m old enough to have grandkids, yet I’m forever learning, still making mistakes (though smaller ones). I realized years ago that there’s no age where we’ll ever stop learning about life, about how to be a better friend, parent, spouse, etc., and we should be pursuing that knowledge daily. To me, coming-of-age goes far past the teenage years.
Tim: So, the idea was born when I heard Chad discussing his formative years on the This Is Horror podcast. He talked a lot about his youth, the trouble he got into, and he told a story about how he and his friends used to break into abandoned houses and hang out in them. How they used to graffiti the walls and experiment with alcohol. That gave me the initial idea for the story, although, like all my ideas, the idea took a supernatural turn. I wasn’t in love with the story, so I brought the idea to Chad and told him that his interview was the inspiration. He didn’t love the supernatural aspect, but thought the basis was cool. I asked him if he wanted to try a collaboration, and the next thing I knew…we had entered Wormwood.
It's my opinion that when we discuss the writing process, we need to talk about the challenges we endure as much if not more than our successes. Were there any hurdles you two had to overcome in order to get the words down?
Chad: The first hurdle was finding out our voices didn’t mesh well, to the point where readers would be able to know exactly who wrote what. So, when Tim had sent me the first two or three chapters he’d written, I completely tore them apart, essentially rewriting them. I felt bad about it, but he thought our story was better as a result. So, we did something a little unconventional. We had some face-time meetings discussing the important beats and came up with a rough outline, basically a bullet-pointed list of notes, and from there Tim wrote most of the first draft and I revised or re-wrote. Thankfully, Tim allowed for my obsessive control and fought very little against it. He’s a great person to collaborate, very professional and productive. He’s not lazy.
Tim: Most of this was written in the beginning of the pandemic, February and March. I think mentally we both struggled with sitting down to write when there was so much chaos going on in the world. I know I did. I think that was the hardest part of the whole thing. We had a solid plan going in, so once we were able to shut out the outside world, the words flowed.
Was there any time in writing Wormwood where you two didn't jive?
Chad: If you’re referring to having some difficult moments where we just couldn’t see eye to eye, not really. We allowed each other to argue our side and if one of us was super passionate about something then we’d allow it. Some examples would be me not wanting anything supernatural in the book, and another would be Tim really wanted frog intestines. He was big on having guts in this thing. I didn’t quite understand it but compromised by making it a pig, thinking pigs are much more unconventional and unsettling, which turned out great because it tied into the whole underlying chauvinist pig theme.
Tim: Ooh! How did Chad answer this question? Can I cheat? Haha, I think we were pretty much on the same page during the process, however, I kept trying to incorporate supernatural stuff into the plot and Chad was not having it. Like, at all. I wrote a really beautiful scene that takes place in a bathroom, but Chad dropped the axe on it. The story was better for it, though, so I’m not bitter. Not at all. I didn’t cry. I swear.
Is there anything you guys did really well as a team?
Chad: Besides the book as a whole, the initial bouncing of ideas back and forth went well. It was quick and productive. Something on a more singular basis that stands out is early on I had given this description of how I thought Cass should be. This assertive, spunky girl with an innocent rebellion, and when Tim first started writing her, I felt like he perfectly captured what I was trying to convey, which really helped me when I’d write her. It was like writing a song. You pick up the guitar, knowing what you want, but there are times it doesn’t come until the drummer throws down a beat and feeds your idea, forcing the riff out of you. Tim was that drummer.
Tim: We finished the book! Haha, kidding aside, I’ve attempted collaborations that just died midway through, so finishing this book was really special. I also think we were able to blend our voices together really well, considering ours are vastly different. We were also really open and honest with how we felt about the story, what we liked and disliked.
What's one piece of advice you would pass on to writers who are thinking of teaming up for a collaboration piece?
Chad: Before you sign on to do it, make sure you can work together. Being good friends doesn’t cut it. You need to have more than that. If you’ve got two alphas, you’re going to have issues. Maybe start with a short story first.
Tim: Communication is key. Be available to discuss anything and everything. Be sure it’s with someone you can feel confident sharing your opinions with. Also, learn to take breaks from talking about the work. Talk about movies or other books, or life in general. It’s good to recharge those creative batteries.
Did you find working together to be more economical timewise or was it slower than your usual pace?
Chad: For me personally it was slow because of my approach. I was messing with these bones Tim had laid out, pulling some out, putting some in. There was a lot of rearranging. Tim may have some really cool line or paragraph I thought would be better in a different scene, so I’d pull it and keep it aside. At times, it was a very stressful pile of guts, and putting them together was a lot different than just writing straightforward with one voice.
Tim: That’s a good question. I think it was on par with some of my other stuff. It was weird in the beginning, with the COVID situation. I was home from my day job, not working and having so much time on my hands, but the motivation to write wasn’t exactly there. Eventually I got on track and the words flowed better. But, man. Those early pandemic days were tough.
What are you two currently working on individually?
Chad: I have a vampire vigilante series coming out I’m writing under the name C.E. Lutzke. I’m using sort of a non cryptic pseudonym because the series is a departure from my usual stuff and didn’t want my readership going in with expectations. I’m also working on a historical fiction novel and another book with John Boden.
Tim: Just finishing the last round of edits on a big novel I wrote in 2019 called, Malignant Summer. Got a few novels that are done with first drafts and I’ll probably work on them in 2021, along with some other collaborations. Also, I’ve been toying with some screenplays, and that’s been an interesting, fun experience. Definitely a good change of pace from writing prose.
If I was new to reading your work, what would you two recommend I start with from each other's books?
Chad: The Switch House. It has a very unique premise that's sure to scratch that haunted house itch, but without rehashing the same thing we've read countless times before.
Tim: The first thing I read of Chad’s was Of Foster Home and Flies, and I’ve been hooked ever since. It’s super short, so I think it’s a good intro to his stuff. Another one I’d recommend is The Pale White. It’s certainly one of those, fuck-everything-else-until-I’m-finished type books.
What's something you would want readers to know about Wormwood?
Tim: It’s a dark coming-of-age tale that seems pretty straight forward until it’s not. I also think there are a lot of layers to this story, especially in the subtext. I remember when we were doing the revisions, after each round, I found something else we’d thrown in there, sometimes intentional, sometimes not. A theme or this subtle clue that made you think about the characters in a different way. I don’t know if everyone will see those little pieces, but I think it makes for a story that can be revisited time and time again. Oh, and another thing I love about this book – the writing is super honest.
Chad: That it’s on Amazon, available in Kindle and Paperback.
Get Wormwood at Amazon
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