Here are two more authors from the NIWA anthology Underground. Enjoy this post about not only how THEY collaborated, but how to do it right. And they even collaborated on writing the post! Remember to go buy the book. Links at the bottom.
BIOS FOR THIS WEEK’S TWO AUTHORS, PAM COWAN AND JAKE ELLIOT
Pamela Cowan is best known for writing psychological thrillers. Her mystery novel, SOMETHING IN THE DARK, won the NSQ award and was a #1 best seller on Amazon Kindle. She recently published STORM JUSTICE, a suspense thriller, and is currently working on the second book in that series. Her short stories have been published in Alien Skin, Argus, Space and Time, Visions, various anthologies and have been read on OPB supported Golden Hours Radio.
An army brat, she was born in Germany and moved with her family 17 times before her father retired to Oregon, where she has steadfastly remained. She has two grown children and lives with her husband and various four-legged house guests.
Jake Elliot writes dark fantasy and horror geared toward a mature audience. Having worked in both the medical field and food industry, he’s seen some pretty frightening things—things better left to the imagination. So far, here are some of the things he’s been brave enough to write about: meeting the devil on a bus ride to work, a sea monster attacking a Viking ship, a bounty-hunting angel sent to Los Angeles to collect a demon lord’s head, and a critically acclaimed fantasy series about an outlaw priestess. Including his contribution to Underground, he’s been published nine times with a variety of small presses. (Learn more at jakeelliotfiction.com)
Thanks for letting us take over your page for a day or two. Pamela Cowan and I wrote the story Best Friends for the NIWA 2014 Anthology, Underground. Our story is about two ex-cons, both of them sex offenders, who have been released from prison and plan to deliver their pent-up animosities upon a poor young girl—and her dog.
It’s a rather dark story.
Pam and I matched well. She writes thriller/suspense and I write dark fantasy/horror. Although out genres were compatible, the first thing I’d recommend to anyone wanting to collaborate on a story is to know the writing style of whoever you’re hoping to team with. I know a fair number of authors, and regardless of how much I like most of them, there are only a few people I’d collaborate with writing something. There is a fine line between confidence and egotism, and many times, my big artistic ego doesn’t mesh with other big artistic egos. However, Pam’s dark sense of humor and subtle cynicism led me to believe we’d pair up perfectly.
For Best Friends, I took the back seat. The framework, core characters, and plotting is all Pam. She sent me the first draft and I did what I do best—detailing. I took the vision of Pam’s characters to a darker level, added a deeper environment, cut out some obvious foreshadowing and converted them to subtle perceptions of intrigue. My strengths complemented Pam’s sublime abilities, and now our story rocks (as I suspect each of the selected stories do.)
You can’t have two alpha writers trying to write a story together, true teamwork requires someone to take the beta position to make the project work. That is probably the dividing line between most successful and failed writing teams. We become writers because we have something to say, not to complement what someone else has to say. As a boon, I loved the original idea Pam presented, so knowing my role in this story was ten times easier to play. Again, I think this goes back to knowing Pam and how she writes that made it real easy for us to work together. It was true serendipity.
Oh goody, I get to ride Jake’s coattails and avoid having to stare at that empty white page. Jake’s given me a great starting place because near the end of his allotted word count he mentioned loving the original idea I presented.
This either represents a profoundly unwriterly lack of “artistic ego” on his part, or is testament to the number of adult beverages consumed at the initial meeting that inspired this short story. Because, the truth is, that original idea was all Jake’s.
One of the best things about hanging out with certain writers—talented, confident, seasoned writers—is their willingness to share ideas. Ideas about scenes, stories, twists, plot, mood, characters, you name it.
At one of the weekly get togethers of my writing group, when the balance had shifted from writing to socializing, Jake shared one of his stories with me. When he got to the twist ending I jumped on it like a demon jogging past an unclaimed soul.
What a great idea!
Of course we all know there’s a fine line between borrowing an idea and plagiarizing a story. I once took a class from well-known science fiction author, Timothy Zahn, who shared his belief that, “You can copyright stories, but ideas are free.” He talked about this a lot because so many novice writers are fiercely protective of their fresh and unique ideas which are, frankly, neither fresh nor unique. To demonstrate, he had us write down our story ideas, and then hand our idea to the person next to us. After we finished our stories we read them out loud. Guess what? Not one of the ideas ended up being the story the person with the original idea envisioned.
Taking Jake’s idea and running with it shouldn’t have been a problem. Of course it was. First, I wasn’t sure that Jake had taken that particular class from Mr. Zahn and secondly, I’ve read some of Jake’s stories. Not being a fan of dark, closed, airless places I made sure to ask his permission to use the idea. He graciously agreed, and when I needed an idea for a story for the anthology, Underground, that idea was right there waiting to be used.
All I had to do was to create some characters, give them some goals and throw them together. Jake then took the resulting story and, as he said, darkened the already dark characters and added a depth of sensory detail that really brings the reader into the scene.
So, did the collaboration work? You bet. Why do I think it worked?
Jake isn’t afraid to explore the darker corners of the soul. He isn’t offended or even surprised by the damaged characters I create. Furthermore, he and I are both competent writers with years of experience learning our craft. We are thin skinned enough to be kind and thick skinned enough to use criticism to improve our work.
Finally, I think it worked because Jake was able to switch from driver’s seat (original idea) to passenger’s seat (I wrote the first draft) to driver’s seat (he added detail) to passenger’s seat (surrendering our story to the anthology editor).
I’ve got this sudden urge to yell, “Shotgun!”
My final thoughts on collaboration are these. Finding someone who is a fan of your genre, has a similar style, a complementary skill set, who also knows when to argue and when to defer to their partner is a special kind of luck.
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