Grimm City and the Mystery of The Third Mind

What you’re always shooting for in a collaboration is to wind up collaborating with more than just one other guy.

That can seem counter-intuitive, given all the back-and-forth communications, miscommunications, corrections, changes, clarifications, compromises, etc., that one would ordinarily expect to happen, when two creative minds are attempting to come together on a single work. And those certainly happen; that’s what makes collaborations such a challenge. Granted, with writers the process rarely comes down to actual fisticuffs, the way it does with musicians—half the fun of going to hear the original Kinks, back in the old British Invasion days, was the gleeful anticipation that this might be one of those memorable gigs in which Ray Davies would cold-cock his brother and collaborator Dave right on stage.

Writers probably get along at least a little better with each other, not because they have more placid temperaments—they don’t, as far as I’ve been able to tell—but because they more often work with each other at a distance, through the mail in the old days and now with the internet. Thank god for e-mail; it certainly sped up the process of working with Gareth Jefferson Jones, my collaborator on Grimm City: Death’s Apprentice, whom I’ve yet to meet in person. Gareth was over in Germany and I was a continent away—first in the U.S., then down in Ecuador—while we thrashed out all the book’s details.

And an interesting process it was. At one point early on, I remarked to both Gareth and Brendan Deneen, our editor at Thomas Dunne Books, that it was like trying to create a novelization of a movie that not only had never been made, but also a movie in a genre that didn’t exist, either. Death’s Apprentice is an intensely visual story, propelled along by action that happens on virtually every page, so getting the look and feel of the world in which it takes place was absolutely crucial to its success.

When a writer is working on a Star Wars or Star Trek book, it’s pretty easy to nail down the details you’re working with; just fire up the DVD player, fast-forward to some scene in which the necessary character appears, and you know just what he looks like, right down to the dents in Boba Fett’s helmet. Gareth and I didn’t have that luxury with Death’s Apprentice. Instead, we had the luxury of starting out on a completely blank page. When we decided that we wanted our hell-damned soldier, Blake, to have matted dreadlocks dangling over the shoulders of the infernal coat given to him by the Devil, we didn’t have to clear it with the continuity department at LucasFilm. If it worked to make the story darker and more compelling, then we could have it on the page. The problem was in getting both myself and Gareth on the same page, about what all those details and incidents in the book should be. That took a lot of work, even before the book began to be written.

Which brings up that “other” collaborator I mentioned above. Gareth certainly brought his A game about what he wanted to have in the book, as did I. The ancient Brothers Grimm material that the book is based on has more than enough depth and weird Jungian content to allow for any number of dramatic interpretations; this was hardly a fill-in-the blanks exercise, where there was just one obvious path to follow. Layer the Grimm stories with a strong element of Asian mysticism, filtered through a pop-culture screen of old Hong Kong action and wuxia flicks, and the possibilities are nearly endless. When it’s difficult enough to get two people on the same wavelength, why would anybody be crazy enough to want some third, unnamed and mysterious collaborator?

But that’s what happens, and when it does it takes everything up a notch. The so-called “Third Mind” phenomenon is something I originally got clued on to through reading William Burroughs; he got it, or so he claimed, from the self-help books of Norman Vincent Peale, which admittedly seems like an odd influence for somebody like him. But if something’s true, it’s true anywhere. And that’s what I’ve come to believe about the Third Mind, at least when it happens—and it doesn’t always. You just have to be ready for it when it does.

So I was glad when it happened with Death’s Apprentice. Basically, what both Burroughs and Peale conjectured was that when two people collaborate, there’s the possibility of the results containing aspects and elements that could not be predicted from the collaborators—just as if a third party, a third mind, had been summoned into existence by the process. Now you have a three-way collaboration, with entirely unforeseen and unforeseeable contributions from an entity that didn’t even exist before. Pretty cool when it takes place, as it seems to have this time. There were surprises along the way, elements that weren’t in the original draft and outline that Gareth and I so painstakingly worked out together, and I’m pretty sure they surprised him as well.

What’s particularly satisfying about the Third Mind, that unexpected collaborator, sitting down and working with us on the book is that it ties in with its essential theme. Death’s Apprentice is about the cooperation—teamwork, if you will—between three very different characters, with starkly dissimilar backgrounds and fates. Unlikely as it might seem at the beginning, when the reader first encounters them one by one, they accomplish something together—the salvation of humanity, or at least one dark city’s worth—that they wouldn’t have been able to separately. But it’s made possible for them only by their having the courage and rough wisdom to accept the unforeseen, some power that comes from outside them, summoned by their joining forces. If the book Death’s Apprentice is as fortunate a result as the story it contains, it’s at least partly because its authors let that happen for them as well.


K.W. Jeter is the international and New York Times bestselling author of science fiction novels including Farewell Horizontal, Death Arms and Madlands, horror/thrillers including The Night Man, Soul Eater and Dark Seeker, and media tie-ins including the Star Wars: Bounty Hunter Wars trilogy and the authorized Blade Runner book sequels The Edge of Human and Replicant Night.

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