Friday, May 13, 2016
I suppose it's the most intense writing experience I've ever had. It was Autumn 1998, and I was working on Dreams of the Dark, which I co-wrote with Elizabeth Massie for the HarperCollins Dark Shadows series. Dark Shadows was, for me, a magical property, one I grew up with, dreamed about, plotted new episodes in my spare time. I knew the original television series, the movies, the Marilyn Ross novels inside and out. I was the consummate Dark Shadows fanboy. I had decided way back when, and I've said it many times since, that in a perfect universe, if I lived a good and worthy life, after I died I would go to Collinwood.
Ms. Massie and I had intricately plotted the novel, had virtually all the details worked out, and had divvied up the chapters for which we would each be responsible. I had developed a new character, a vampire, named Thomas Rathburn who would insinuate himself into Collinwood and thereby become the reader's eyes and ears as events at the great estate unfolded. It was via Rathburn that the reader would meet the Collins family — most notably, Barnabas Collins.
It was a Friday afternoon when I started working on the scene where Rathburn was to meet Barnabas for the first time, and I found myself as excited as if I were there, at Collinwood, about to come face to face with the characters I had known so intimately for so many years. I had armed myself with some rum, but as I began to paint the scene, I felt giddy, intoxicated, far in excess of the effect of any alcohol. It was the first time — perhaps the only time, really — that the process of writing transported me wholly into the world in which I was working. It was a world I knew better than any I could create from my own mind. In those moments, Collinsport, Maine, the place and its people, was as real, as corporeal, as the most familiar corner of my own hometown. I could see Barnabas Collins with perfect clarity, hear every word he spoke — in Jonathan Frid's inimitable, mellifluous voice — as if he were standing before me, performing for me only.
I wrote and drank for several hours, and sometime around midnight my (now ex-) wife reminded me that I'd had no dinner. I took a brief break for some vittles, recharged my glass (again), probably took a pee, and settled back in to continue the scene. It was all coming out like lightning, as natural, as real as if I were merely transcribing events happening in the tangible world around me. At some point, Mrs. Death went to bed, while I kept writing and drinking.
Eventually, I realized the sun was coming up.
I was beginning to feel the effects of the night's alcohol, so I made coffee, took a few minutes' breather, and went back to writing. And by noon, the rum was flowing again.
I finished that chapter sometime after sundown and finally, at some point, collapsed, pretty well enervated. I think I napped for a couple of hours before getting back to it, this time sans rum. Well, at least for the next few hours. By Sunday afternoon, I was writing and rumming again as if all that previous rumming had never happened.
When I look back at Dreams of the Dark, that chapter specifically, I can happily say it is not the work of an excited drunk. It's the work of an enthusiastic spirit who, for just a little while, visited the place of his dreams. I'd say there aren't any other media properties that could have done that for me, not then, not ever. I'm mighty glad I had the chance to work in that universe, not once but several times, because it opened a door for me — inside me — that few, if any, of my own unique creations have ever done. No right or wrong about it. It just was.
Fortunately for me, in the days since then, I have managed to write just as enthusiastically (if for much shorter spells) but without quite so much drink. I'm pretty sure I would never — could never — even attempt to repeat or recapture that experience. That was a singular, isolated time where passion and spirits overcame everything else. It's a fine thing to remember. I'm glad I can remember. For a while there, it was iffy.