As kids growing up in Mount Clemens, Michigan, identical twins Lynda and Laura Campbell rarely fought, but when they did, their father jokingly referred to them as Blanche and Baby Jane, a reference to the 1962 movie Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Joan Crawford and Bette Davis star as two aging, cohabitating sisters caught in a co-dependent vortex of psychological and physical cruelty.
"Our father has a really bizarre sense of humor," says Laura. "It was, like, life-scarring," adds Lynda. "We hated it."
There are some similarities between the 42-year-old twins and the fictional Hudson sisters, who played actresses in the movie. The Campbells share a home - a two-story, factory-built house they erected this summer in Lincoln - and they're both in the entertainment business. Well, sort of. In 2000, they produced the short-lived "Evil Twin Comedy-Variety Show" on public-access television. Last summer, they self-published their novel, False Prophets, Tramps and Thieves, which they hope to someday make into a movie.
Unlike the Hudsons, though, the Campbell twins get along famously. In their meticulously kept living room, a painting hangs above the fireplace. It shows the sisters as young girls, smiling, with arms around each other's shoulders. "We've always had a common purpose," Laura explains.
They also seem to have the same taste in clothes. Though they tell me they don't always dress alike, for this interview they're wearing nearly identical outfits, down to the slippers they don at the door when they take off their matching boots. Thankfully, they've put on different sweaters so I can tell them apart.
Like many partners who have been intimately connected for decades, the Campbell twins finish each other's sentences and refer to themselves as a single unit, speaking as "we" more often than "I." This might seem creepy except for the fact that they talk openly about their unique relationship and even poke fun at it in their creative work. A recent press release for their book playfully proclaims, "Clones Reveal Secrets of False Prophets." The book follows the journey of a recent college graduate who falls under the spell of a corrupt spiritual guide. The plot mirrors similar patterns in the twins' own lives, but the novel's goofy, slapstick tone proves that, as Lynda points out, "We don't take ourselves too seriously."
It's easy to like the Campbell twins. When I invite myself over for an interview, Laura asks in advance if I like coffee or tea, and wants to know if I'm a vegetarian so she'll know what to feed me. When I arrive, the sisters offer me an assortment of pastries and fuss over my beverage. We bond over our respective childhoods in sterile, strip-malled suburban Detroit.
But despite their hospitality and our geographic connection, a little nagging voice in my head is saying, "This is kind of weird, isn't it?" Maybe it's the matching outfits. Or the way they talk as if they're the same person. People have long been fascinated by the anomaly of conjoined twins - what must it be like to be so thoroughly attached to another human being? The Campbells aren't joined at the hip, but they might as well be.
They've had the same interests all their lives. They've cohabitated, worked together. They even attended the same college and shared the same major. Has anyone ever commented on their unwavering sorority? "Nobody cared that we were twins," says Laura. "They probably thought, 'Oh, cool, twins,' but that's something we never think about because it's just the way our lives have been."
After graduating from Western Michigan University with bachelor's degrees in political science, the sisters moved to Washington, D.C. The man in charge of hiring for the Republican National Committee phone bank was from Michigan. Excited to have more Michiganders on board, he gave both of them jobs making calls on behalf of Ronald Reagan's re-election campaign. After the election, the duo moved on to the Commerce Department - Lynda became a political appointee. But not for long.
"We got disillusioned there real fast, because everyone's playing the game," Laura says.
"People tend to work for a party or cause because they believe in something," explains Lynda. "As you move up the line... it's about power, money, influence. It's really cutthroat."
While in Washington, the sisters developed a TV-movie parody of life on Capitol Hill called "Hill House," but never got around to making it. After three years, they moved to Los Angeles to follow their dream of becoming screenwriters. "We found out it was a lot harder than we thought," says Lynda. Instead, to make ends meet, they got jobs in a metaphysical store, selling crystals, Wicca supplies and occult books. They learned to do psychic readings. "You get energy from a person," she says. "They're wearing it like clothing, and you can tell what's going on in their lives."
It was there that they met the spiritual teacher on whom they loosely based the "false prophet" in their novel. "She was very charismatic," Laura remembers. "We saw right from the beginning her flaws, though a lot of the stuff she said was right." They studied with the teacher for eight years, spending thousands of dollars to follow her on "healing journeys" all over the world, from Stonehenge to the Great Pyramids to Machu Picchu.
After a failed joint business endeavor, the twins parted ways with their spirit guide. "She actually did help us," says Laura. "And she betrayed us, too... she stole our money."
Lynda chimes in, "The betrayal was the best thing that could've happened to us, because it enabled us to say, 'You're no better than us.'"
That drama helped them realize "There isn't one person who has this answer," Lynda says. But they continued to investigate fringe spiritual groups. "We're always looking for truth," she adds, "somebody who's got an angle." That search brought them to Vermont in 1998, when they flew from California to check out a so-called spiritual leader. "The Master" proved to be a disappointment, but the Campbells fell in love with Vermont and moved out a few months later.
Despite their passion for writing and their interest in spirituality, the twins currently support themselves as freelance bookkeepers. They work for different companies but manage both their bookkeeping gigs and their creative endeavors through their jointly owned company, Evil Twin Productions.
A business office occupies the front room of their house, adjoining the living room. The twins share one desk, a long table with matching computers and high-backed floral-print chairs facing the window. The space is filled with bookcases, family photos - they have two sisters and a brother, all still in Michigan - crystals and a framed 8x10 portrait of St. Germaine. Their bookshelves display a diverse array of titles, including Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities. "He's one of our favorite authors," says Laura. They sent him a copy of their book, and though they suspect he hasn't read it, he wrote them a thank-you note and offered some words of encouragement.
False Prophets, Tramps and Thieves is an entertaining debut. The summary on the book jacket accurately bills it as a "fast-paced, fun-filled novel of adventure, romance, and high meditation." After graduating from Lake Winnemuc Technical College with a degree in Home Decorating, heroine Anne Davis receives a subpoena for a $300,000 lawsuit. She believes her manipulative mother is behind it. The next day she flees with her cat and a copy of Autobiography of a Yogi to Southern California, where she finds work at a metaphysical bookstore. There she meets Moonbeam, who teaches her to read Tarot, and "Doctor" Reubin Rabinowitz, her benevolent, ex-hippie landlord, who uses his covert network of Internet informants to help Anne with her legal affairs.
The twins freely admit that, like their protagonist, they're susceptible to the tricks of false prophets. By satirizing them, though, they've gotten a few laughs and discovered a rich vein of material. "It started out as revenge," Lynda confesses, "but we've got a whole series of False Prophets books in us now."
Though their novel delves into the New Age subculture, the twins say there's nothing mystical about their writing process. "We had a very detailed outline," says Laura. "She'd write the first half of a chapter, I'd write the second half, then we'd do a lot of rewriting. Because we're twins," she adds, "we're totally in sync. We have the same sense of humor and irony." But it wasn't effortless - Lynda admits to some fights and some differences. "She'll write something that is much more blunt. Maybe I'll be more descriptive."
"I'm probably a better editor," notes Laura.
Lynda agrees. "She's actually more talented than I am in that."
Since the Campbells published the book themselves, they also market it, a job they seem to enjoy. "We make fun of intuitive marketing techniques, hypnotic marketing techniques," says Laura, referring to the way many "false prophets" promise to reveal secrets to success. Their recent "Clones Reveal Secrets..." press release offers the "Top 12 Ways to Determine if You Are a False Prophet." Some of their jokes fall flat, such as: "Miss Cleo is your role model." But they know their material well enough to score a few zingers. A gag offer appears at the end of their list: "For a FREE copy of 10 Signs You May Be a Clone, send email to her and write 'Am I a Clone?' in the subject line."
Though the twins published the book last summer, the marketing didn't begin in earnest until December. The authors contacted the book buyer for Sam's Club, who read False Prophets and liked it. Because it's a self-published book, the bulk retailer hopes to sell it with other 1st Library books, so Laura put together a package that includes a romance novel written by Buddy Ebsen - a.k.a. Jed Clampett of "The Beverly Hillbillies" fame. A love story from Uncle Jed? Can it get any weirder?
For the Campbell twins, romance is not a big concern. "We've never wanted kids," says Lynda. "It's never in the cards."
"We meditate on it a lot," Laura offers thoughtfully. "God gave us a purpose, God gave us a mission."
Lynda shrugs. "We entertain," she says, "I really, really like that... If you get married, what's the point? You've got a companion. I feel like I've got a companion."