By Michael Small
Updated January 28, 1985 12:00 PM

For two years a dark mysterious mass lurked inside the word processors linked by phone to horror novelist Stephen King’s home in Maine and spook writer Peter Straub’s in Connecticut. Finally, in November, the thing emerged in the form of America’s current No. 1 best-seller, The Talisman. A 644-page fantasy about a 12-year-old boy’s odyssey in a netherworld filled with vicious werewolves and killer trees, The Talisman (Viking, $18.95) is a triumph of terror, and Steven Spielberg has already snapped up the film rights. Thanks to the book’s immediate success, the authors have foregone a lengthy book tour. They did agree, however, to a breakfast interview with Assistant Editor Michael Small. After swapping gory stories over eggs, they discussed The Talisman:

Why did you decide to collaborate?

SK: I was intensely curious to see the result. Working together was like that ad where one guy says, “You got chocolate on my peanut butter,” and the other guy says, “You got peanut butter on my chocolate,” and they end up saying, “Hey! This tastes pretty good.”

How did you divide the writing?

SK: We wrote the beginning and ending together. Peter put on some jazz in his office, and I wrote for a while as he read magazines. When I was done, he’d pick it up where I had left off. For the rest of the book we divided the work. I’d write a chunk for a month or so at my house and then Peter would continue another chunk at his.

Reviewers say that typical Straub writing is literary and that King writing is popular culture. Is that true?

PS: No. Steve is as literary as he has to be, and I’m fed up with being described as some kind of embalmed mandarin who thinks in polysyllabic orotund sentences. If I were that guy nobody would buy my books.

Which parts did each of you write?

PS: We’re never going to answer that. But I can tell you that when people guess, they’re usually wrong.

Why is The Talisman so popular?

SK: It’s more fun to read a fantasy like this at night than to sit around thinking, “Oh, I’ve got to go to work tomorrow, and my boss is so ugly.”

Is The Talisman different from the books you write separately?

PS: While we were writing, it didn’t seem as sinister as our previous books. I remember that every now and then we added something deliberately crude or shocking just so the book wouldn’t be too honeyed.

Because the book has so many movie-type special effects, some critics say you wrote it specifically for the movies.

SK: Why would anyone who’s done as well writing books as Peter or me ever stoop to the idea of selling a movie scenario as a novel? The word “film” never crossed our lips when we wrote.

Did you ever disagree?

SK: Not at all. Except Peter thinks a computer is great to write on, and I’m less enraptured. It makes me feel like I’m in the James Bond movie where he’s tied to an exercise machine.

How did you get along so well?

SK: Peter’s a friend and I only have about three of them. He makes me laugh harder than anyone else. PS: That’s because you’re twisted.

How did you two meet?

PS: After Steve wrote some kind blurbs for my books, I wrote to him in 1978 to thank him. He wrote back to say he was coming to visit. SK: We liked each other so well that we started talking about a collaboration the second time we met.

Will you do it again?

SK: Peter has an idea about a haunted house, and I’m free in about three years.

PS: I’m free in about five.

SK: Okay, let’s compromise. We’ll do it in four.