The YouTube personalities bring ‘The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek’ around the country this fall on a book tour, and it starts in Boston
Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal have made a career out of pushing each other to the limits of themselves and their friendship. But as the lifelong best friends and YouTube stars embark on the latest chapter of their conjoined creative journey with their first novel, The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek, which hits shelves on Tuesday (October 29), they’re in uncharted territory.
The continuously curious comrades will bring their latest vessel of creative brain power all over the country for the Bleak Creek Conversations with Rhett and Link book tour, an outside-of-the-box take on your “normal” book tour, and will be kicking said book tour off at The Wilbur Theatre on Sunday (October 27).
Vanyaland got the duo on the horn recently to chat a bit about the book, the autobiographical streaks within it, what brought them to the exploration of a new genre, and what the writing process did for them, in terms of fueling the creative fire for what’s to come after this.
Jason Greenough: Starting off with why we’re here, we’ve got some fun things coming up for you guys. You’ve got the Lost Causes of Bleak Creek coming out on October 29th. How are you feeling about it as we get closer to the book hitting shelves?
Rhett McLaughlin: We are super excited about it, man, and we are ready to unleash this thing on the world. We’ve been working on it for over a year. Well, closer to two years now, so compared to a lot of things we do, which are created and a few days later it’s on the internet, this is a different timeline. We’re very excited about it. From a creative standpoint, we’re as excited about it as anything we’ve ever done, so we just want to get it in people’s hands so they start reading the story and discussing it.
Link Neal: I’m excited to finally let all of our fans and others read it. It’s going to scare some people, it’s going to make you laugh, it might even make you cry a little bit. I will cry if it doesn’t scare people and make them laugh, let’s put it that way.
Right on! In addition to the release, you’ve got a book tour to help hype the book kicking off in Boston at the Wilbur Theatre. What can we expect from this tour?
Neal: We’re not doing what you might expect from a normal book tour, which might be going to bookstores and reading excerpts from the book. We’ve crafted an entire show around the themes and the story of the book, as well as our experiences in writing it.
McLaughlin: One of the really cool things about the story is that while the events are largely fictitious and made up, but the setting and the characters are very muchso based on us growing up in a small town in the south. Bleak Creek is essentially Buies Creek, and I think people will pick up on it pretty quickly that Rex and Leif, the lead characters in the book are basically Rhett and Link. So, in order to illustrate and explore that personal connection that our upbringing has on the story elements themselves, we went back to Buies Creek this past summer, and revisited a lot of the places and locations that come up in the novel, and we’re going to be premiering that documentary as part of Bleak Creek Conversations in Boston. So, I think it’ll make a lot of connections for people. For one, I think for our fans that have followed our work, they’ll like to see us go back to where we grew up, like our childhood homes and the places we hung out in as kids. The way the story ties into, and was influenced by those things is something that we’re really excited to share with everyone.
Just at the very base of the story, what sparked the idea to write this story? What blew this idea open for you guys?
Neal: We’ve always been very passionate about creating stories. We’ve usually thought of it and dreamed of it, in terms of being filmmakers, but then with the success of our first book, The Book of Mythicality, which was more of a coffee table books meets memoir meets advice book based on our friendship, based on that experience, we wanted to write another book, but we really wanted to dive into a story and create something in that way because that’s what we’re passionate about most.
McLaughlin: We’ve always wanted to write, but like Link said, it was more a of a screenplay. It was when our agent at the time brought up the idea of doing something around the adventures of a young Rhett and Link a la the Hardy Boys, and something that we realized was that we always had our eye on trying to figure out a way to bring something creative and something narrative out of that world we grew up in, in the south. I think we always kind of assumed that would be a movie, that we’ll most likely wind up making at some point anyway, but when he said that, it was just a really interesting thing to explore.
Once we got into it, it very quickly morphed into something is very distinctly different than The Hardy Boys, other than the fact that it’s about two teenage kids fighting some supernatural forces. It’s not really a mystery book, or campy in that way. There’s a lot of humor in it, but it’s a much more sincere and much darker than what you would get from Hardy Boys. Not to mention, the target audience for it is somewhere between young adult and adult, and people can make their own determination about that, but if you grew up in the nineties, you’re definitely going to have a lot of touch points for the things you find a book, but if you’re currently in high school, as the characters are going into high school in 1992, which is the year we went into high school, then there’s going to be a lot that you can relate to, as well. It’s very broad in terms of the audience.
That line between young adult and adult is important. Being able to read those types of adventurous books keeps the imagination open, regardless of age group.
McLaughlin: At this point, “young adult” doesn’t mean you’re only going to read it if you’re a teenager. There are plenty of adults going to the YA section to get their books. We really just did what we always do, and we wrote it for ourselves. We thought about what we thought was funny, or what we would want to read, but given the fact that the protagonists are in high school, it naturally relates to an audience that’s in that stage of life.
You mentioned how the characters and the setting are semi-autobiographical. Now, with that element in place, was it easier to focus on building the plot, as opposed to building the characters from scratch while also building the story?
McLaughlin: One of the things that we found out when we write is that a lot of the things we wind up creating, narratively, feature us in them. Even with our narrative series, Buddy System, both seasons feature us, as does Bleak Creek, even though we named them different names. One of the challenges of when we do that is that we are so connected to the protagonists that we will overlook conflict and character development, and then we have to stop and remind ourselves to not take for granted the way that we think, because the way that we think is the way our characters think, and we have to step outside and figure out ways to introduce conflict. I think it makes for an interesting writing process, because we’re so close to the characters because it is us. That’s one of the reasons why we changed the names to Rex and Leif, because it isn’t really us. They’re informed by our experiences, but we’re making things up about these characters, and where they live and what they do, and so it was helpful to name them something different to push all of that forward.
Neal: As far as pulling from our experiences growing up in a small southern town, that was a tremendous asset, in terms of building this world where the book happens. There were a lot of fantastical and scary elements, and supernatural things that happen over the course of the story, but we wanted to make sure it was grounded in the reality of feeling like this how it was growing up in the early nineties in the south. If you grew up in the nineties, I think you’ll enjoy the references, but if you didn’t grow up in the south, there will be a lot of raised eyebrows towards the stuff we didn’t have to make up, just in terms of how things operated on a small town level. Pulling from all of that, we hope that we created a story that really draws you in, and gives you a sense of what it was like to be there on the precipice of the band Nirvana.
As entertainers who started out in the comedy genre, and have based your entire careers in comedy, was it difficult to not necessarily reset, but to refocus and divert your approach to this project into more of a thriller, or more serious direction without over-saturating it with comedy? Was it easy to find that balance?
Neal: First and foremost, it’s a thrilling and scary story, but there is a lot of comedy in it, and we really wanted to choose those moments. We’re really inspired by Jordan Peele, who we’ve met and interacted with a number of times. He’s a hilarious guy who had a super successful comedy career, but made this major pivot to being an amazing Horror writer and director, and we take that as inspiration. Comedy becomes a really strong asset when you’re working in another genre, because it can only strengthen the entire experience for the reader.
McLaughlin: To answer part of your question, it wasn’t a difficult transition. I think that being able to do things that are more serious that you’re supposed to take seriously and not in a tongue-in-cheek way is not something that’s really difficult for us to do. A lot of what we personally consume, as far as entertainment, is not comedy. We spend a lot of time making comedy, but we consume a lot of drama, and I in particular consume a lot of horror. So, I don’t think it was a difficult transition, but it was difficult to not feel some sort of external pressure given what people expect of us, and make everything funny. We pulled back on that a little bit, because it’s easy to insert humor into serious scenes, and we feel like Jordan Peele is a master at that, where something can be in the middle of really tense, but in the middle there’s a joke that releases the tension. We did a fair amount of that in the book, but we did have to pull back on it a few times. We wanted these characters to have this really funny conversation, but if you’re really into the story, which is what our goal was, we didn’t want to slow that down, so we pulled back on feeling that pressure to make every single page funny, and I think we wrote it with a really nice balance.
Above all else, what would you say was your favorite aspect of writing this book?
McLaughlin: I would say starting in a place that’s really familiar and sort of reliving a lot of those memories and revisiting those places in our minds, and then physically going back to revisit those places in Buies Creek. Taking all of those elements as you’re building blocks, and having the power through fiction to imagine a series of events that could never happen in the real world. It was very fun to have those world elements mix with fiction. We don’t have anything else to compare it to, since we haven’t written anything that was completely fabricated, so I think for us, it helped the process to have those real world things, but what I think really made it a unique book is that it is so informed by personal experience, but yet still goes to the places a good thriller needs to go in order to keep you on the edge of your seat.
Neal: I agree with all of that. But I really enjoy just talking to you.
Well, I’m honored to say the least! There really isn’t a lot of outside reception quite yet for the book, but did the experience and process of writing the book and putting everything together have you guys thinking about what’s to come after this?
Neal: We loved the experience of creating The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek, book one, and when you read it, I think it will become clear at the end what our hopes are. I’m not going to say there is a satisfying ending, but I’ll just leave it at that. It’s clear where our intentions lie when you read between the lines toward the end of the book.
McLaughlin: I’ll go a step further, and say that there is definitely more story to tell about these guys and their experiences in Bleak Creek, and we could only be so lucky to continue telling it.
BLEAK CREEK CONVERSATIONS WITH RHETT AND LINK :: Sunday, October 27 at The Wilbur Theatre, 246 Tremont St. in Boston, MA :: 6:30 p.m., $42-$150 :: Wilbur event page :: Advance tickets