SF & Fantasy

25 Years of Spectra: MIND THE GAP (2008) by Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon


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I’m not saying Christopher Golden needs a collaborator to make it onto this list (seriously–check out his books The Myth Hunters or The Boys Are Back In Town if you don’t think he can hold his own), but it just so happens the two books with his name on it also share credits with another person.
In 2007, that was Mike Mignola, the amazing creator of Hellboy and the illustrator for Baltimore, and in 2008 it was the first book in the Hidden Cities series, Mind the Gap with Tim Lebbon (who also has done amazing books on his own for Spectra, notably Dusk and Dawn).
In a way, the Hidden Cities series reminds me of what a comedian once said about Huey Lewis and the News song, “Heart of Rock and Roll”: Of course everyone likes that song, because at some point, their city is going to get mentioned.
While not as egregious as all that (and it’s not really egregious at all–and I actually really like the Huey Lewis song!), I think what’s awesome about the series is that Chris and Tim explore cities from around the world and the magic inherent to each. In Mind the Gap, that city is London, but future books also delve into New Orleans (The Map of Moments–my favorite in the series so far), Venice, Italy (The Chamber of Ten, on-sale July 27th), and Boston (2011’s The Shadow Men.
I also think it helps that Tim and Chris are just so good at creating dark fantasy’s–and by dark, I mean they are able to weave elements of supernatural horror into their stories in a way that very few authors can successfully do–meaning that while these books could technically be called urban fantasy, they really stand in their own space on the shelves.
Below, Chris “interviews” Tim about working on the series and what it’s like collaborating with another author, and Anne Groell discusses the novel.




CG: Mind the Gap has a sort of interesting history, in that it was the beginning of what’s become a very productive and creatively fruitful collaboration. What’s your memory of how it all came about?

TL: If I remember correctly, you suggested to me that we write something together. This was after I’d done a Hellboy short story for you for Odder Jobs, and we’d met up in New York and got on really well. Mind the Gap was an idea you’d been dwelling on for some time, and originally it was to be a stand-alone book. You talked to me about the idea, and it went on from there … I added some of my own ideas, and the book grew organically as we were writing it. And then in one of our many Google Talk conversations, we realised that in actual fact it could be part of a long series.

TL: Mind the Gap was always going to be set in London. I know you’ve been to London a few times, but how important/useful was it to you to join up with a British writer to write this book?


CG:
It’s one thing to write a novel set in a foreign country from the perspective of an outsider to that country, but in order to do Mind the Gap, I felt like I had to team up with a British writer in order to make sure the voice and tone could be persuasively British. The idea had gestated for a while, but it really took off once we started brainstorming together.

CG: I was thinking just the other day that it’s sort of unusual for the two of us to collaborate so much, given that we’re on opposite sides of the Atlantic. Do you know of any other TransAtlantic writing teams?


TL: I’m not sure I do. Even a few years ago I think it might have been more difficult, but now with instant communication, it’s easy to chat on Google Talk – as we do frequently – and it’s almost like being in the same room. But only almost. I don’t feel that we’re constrained at all by the distance between us … in fact I think the different upbringings and cultures are advantageous.

I don’t know that many writing teams who work together as much as we do (five completed novels and counting). I know what I get out of collaborating, and I’ll talk about that in a minute. But what makes it so much fun for you?

CG: I’ve always said that writing is a solitary occupation and I’m not a solitary person. But there’s more to it than that. When you’re a writer and you have friends who are also writers and who share certain sensibilities and whose work you respect, it just seems to naturally arise that ideas are born at the pub or spitballing on the phone or on the elevator at a convention. I do enjoy collaborating, but that’s just a happy accident. Collaboration comes about, for me, mostly by accident. Mind the Gap is an exception.

CG: So what about you? What is it about collaboration that appeals to you?

TL: I love the whole collaborative process – seed of idea, brainstorming, the writing, and the fact that we come up with ideas that neither of us might have had otherwise. And the books we’ve written together are books we’d have never written on our own. We’ve almost created a new idenity – Chris Lebbon. Tim Golden. Bit spooky really. It’s also a real pleasure to write with someone whose writing you love so much.

TL: So how about the mechanics? (Let’s set aside for the moment the necessity of writing proposals to send to publishers, which in my experience are always changed during the writing process sometimes drastically). When I’m writing my solo novels, it’s rare that I plan in any great detail. In fact our collaborative process – where we talk frequently about what is to come next, and plan a chapter or two ahead – is very similar to how I write my own novels. How much does the process differ for you, if at all?

CG: Actually, our collaboration is unique in my experience. Usually when I’m writing with someone else, we create a fairly detailed blueprint, breaking down the work chapter by chapter. Our process, where one of us writes a chapter and then we get on the phone and work out what comes next, is always a blast, but a little scary too. It has resulted in work that I’m very proud of.

CG: Talk a little about how Mind the Gap became the Hidden Cities, and what’s next.
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As I mentioned above, this first novel started as a standalone, but soon after starting one of us (Tim Golden? Chris Lebbon? I can’t recall) realised that it could easily be the beginning of a series. Every city has a million hidden stories, and Mind the Gap is a story of London’s hidden side – the down below, where secrets are hidden away from view. Then when the whole Oracle thing came about, that seemed like a perfect link to other cities, and other hidden stories.

The Chamber of Ten is the third in the series and is out now, a tale of dark magic set in Venice, and then next year will come The Shadow Men,a novel about Boston … both the one we know, and others that are just slightly different.

The world’s full of famous cities, and each one has many stories to tell. The sky is the limit.


–Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon, July 2010

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“Sometimes, when you work with a book, what stands out most in your mind is the editing process. Or deciding on the cover. Or coming up with the perfect title. In the case of Mind the Gap, what stands out most in my mind is the pitch.

Memory, I admit, is a strange and unreliable thing. Details of a story can mutate in your mind over time, and often different parties recall the same event in completely different lights. (For instance, Steve Donaldson and I have very different versions of the story in which he lobbed a dinner roll at me at one of the convention banquets.) But my memories of the pitch are as follows.

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We are at a convention; I can no longer recall which one and in which city. But I had a lot of authors there and limited meal slots, so instead of doing back-to-back lunches, I think I started looking for folks I could double up. I had been working with both Chris and Tim independently at the time, but while I had met Chris before, I think that this was my first time meeting Tim. But I knew Chris as friends with Tim, so I thought: “Hey, that might be a fun pairing.” So I asked them if they minded doubling up. Not only did they not mind, they seemed quite eager.

So, come the convention, and we all cab off to his restaurant far offsite that had gotten good reviews online and that I wanted to try. It was in a strip mall, which none of us had expected, and which I admit threw me for a bit of a loop. But the food was good, and we had a lovely meal, laughing and chatting. And then came the business part of the afternoon. And somehow it came out that Chris and Tim did not mind sharing a meal with their editor because, you see, they had this book they wanted to write together. And they wanted to tell me about it.

This is always a bit of an awkward moment for an editor (and likely for the authors too, I suspect!) But from the editor’s perspective, you are getting this pitch live, and are desperately hoping that you are a good enough actress not to react with horror if the idea is total crap. (Not that two authors of this caliber would ever come up with total crap…but you know what I mean.) So I braced myself…and then they related to me one of the coolest pitches I had heard in years, about the secret stories of some of the world’s greatest cities. And I just sat there vibrating in excitement. I totally wanted to work on these books–and fortunately, I got to! I still think this is one of the coolest series concepts ever, and I love all the books–though probably The Map of Moments is closest to my heart. It is set in post-Katrina New Orleans, and is a riveting, harrowing, and yet glorious tribute to a city and a people struggling to right themselves in the wake of disaster. If you haven’t yet, please read it. You won’t be disappointed.”


–Anne Groell, Senior Editor, Spectra


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