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Authors sign book in blood

Curse drives Denver-based horror duo to dig deep

By Leigh E. Rich

Chaosicon: A Novel of Supernatural Terror
By Christopher Leppek and Emanuel Isler
Write Way Publishing
June 2001
358 pages

Horror authors Christopher Leppek and Emanuel “Mani” Isler never thought “chaos” would stalk them. Or come for their blood.


The Denver-based duo recently launched a Web site,, from which they hope to sell the remaining copies of their first collaborative novel at a bargain price … and autographed in their blood.

As American sportswriter Red Smith believed, “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at the typewriter and open a vein.” Leppek and Isler have done away with the metaphor, in part for their love of the macabre, in part out of frustration.

The curse of Chaosicon, they claim, has been haunting them since the get-go.

It began while these friends of 15 years were writing Chaosicon, a book about a priest, a rabbi and a telepath (really, no joke) who must pool together their expertise in demonology, Kabbalah and mind control to combat a supernatural chaos unleashed in the world after an airplane crashes in the usually quiet and mundane town of Coffeyville, Kan.

Leppek, a longtime journalist, and Isler, a former literary agent, knew they weren’t in Kansas anymore when real-life tragedies such as plane crashes and streetcars-run-amok began happening shortly after penning similar scenes in their novel. Even Chaosicon’s main character, Cerf, who is “modeled after a true-life con man who posed as a priest, a reporter, an investigator and an attorney,” came to life.

“Shortly after the manuscript was completed,” the authors contend on their Web site, “this true-life individual was spotted at the aftermath of a Detroit plane crash, virtually mirroring a scene in Chaosicon in which Cerf appears as a fireman at a plane crash.”

After the book was published, a few weeks following Sept. 11, other inexplicable events occurred.

Two agents stopped reading the book: One, based in New York City, was too traumatized by Choasicon’s opening scene; the other, based in Hollywood, “died suddenly in his sleep. The novel was the last book he would ever read.”

Then, a journalist lost her job in an argument with her editor over a review of Chaosicon; “an award-winning horror writer who penned a favorable blurb” for the book’s back cover had a heart attack; and even noted novelist Stephen King dumped his autographed copy, which ended up for sale on e-Bay.

Let this be a lesson to would-be authors: Getting published may be the least of your worries.

The real trouble started, however, once Choasicon’s publisher, Write Way, filed for bankruptcy and the unsold copies of Leppek and Isler’s redheaded lovechild became wards of the bankruptcy court. To retrieve these unwanted gems, the authors ironically had to purchase their own books and then somehow finagle boxes of the cursed tome across America’s heartland, from Kansas, where Chaosicon’s story begins, to “the basement of a spooky, old building in downtown Denver,” Leppek says, “where they reposed amidst spiders and shadows for nearly two years.”

It’s been more than a decade—nine years since the book was published, plus the two to three in researching and writing it—that Chaosicon has been wreaking havoc in these writers’ lives. In a paradoxical twist that only Mark Twain might appreciate, the exorcists are in need of an exorcism.

Truth is, apparently, stranger than fiction.

Neither will rest easily, Leppek says, until they are rid of the very last book that has paved—brick by Coffeyville brick—their own path of publishing peril.

Despite the trouble it has caused, Leppek and Isler, like exasperated parents, still feel affection toward Chaosicon and its characters. The protagonists, Orthodox Rabbi Dov Charvonia and Abbot Bryan Egan, reflect Leppek and Isler’s own mismatched writing marriage. Though Jewish and raised on Denver’s West Side, Isler attended Loyola Marymount, a Jesuit university in Los Angeles, and Leppek, a Michigan native with a Catholic upbringing, has worked for a Denver-based Jewish newspaper for almost 30 years.

“We have enough guilt to last 10 lifetimes,” Isler often quips, but what cements this award-winning pair is brotherly affection, mutual appreciation of the ghoulish and gruesome, and a healthy dose of not taking themselves or each other too seriously.

“I’m a good person,” Leppek likes to joke. “Mani is essentially evil.”

To which the good-natured Isler responds, “You don’t want to be in the same room with [Leppek] when you come up with a bad line.”

They are serious, however, about exploring what’s beneath human fear, whether of death, the paranormal, the future, or one group toward another. Egan and Charvonia, and the telepathic Abigail, for example, must “transcend their own theological limitations in order to grasp the true nature of the conflict” in Choasicon, Leppek explains.

That nature isn’t necessarily evil, Isler and Leppek say, but, rather, chaos, which is embodied in the book by an immortal and otherworldly character named Cerf. All terrifying events in human history, the authors contend—whether the 17th century plague, the French Revolution, the Holocaust, or the Kennedy assassination—have at their root chaos and a world gone mad.

This was the impetus for the novel’s title, which the authors (another notch for the curse) at times regret to this day. Chaosicon is a union of the Greek and Latin words “chaos” and “icon.” According to Leppek, the Greeks and Romans “used to use [icon as a] suffix for old books, such as ‘Lexicon’ and ‘Satyricon’—so [the title of the novel] comes out roughly as ‘Image of Chaos’ or, as it was commonly used, ‘Book of Chaos.’”

Chaosicon is about the “primacy of chaos.”

“Plus, we thought it sounded spooky,” Leppek muses.

Not so for some readers and reviewers, who have mistakenly thought it to be “Chow-sicon.”

Chaosicon curse aside, the Leppek-Isler collaboration has been fruitful over the years. Their first cooperative attempt, a short story entitled “The Master of Fear,” won an Oxford University Press award in a competition judged by Stephen King. And their second and third novels, Seed of Oblivion and Abattoir, are currently being considered for publication. Leppek, the author of A Surrogate Assassin published in 2000, has another solo project near press as well.

In the interim, interested readers and fans of all that’s frightening can go toe-to-toe with the two on the Chaosicon Web site. The authors regularly update their blog about both fiction and film.

As for the loss of sleep and loss of blood the curse has caused, the pair merely shrug and reference a blurb on the book’s dust jacket by P.D. Cacek:

“Chaos happens.”

Rich, L. E. (2010, June 10). Authors sign book in blood: Curse drives Denver-based horror duo to dig deep. Leigh Rich Freelance: five2seven.

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