Talking about writing is often a pretty quick solution to being mistaken for a good conversationalist. When asked what you do, best just say you’re not at liberty to disclose the nature of your employment and ride the crest of mystique.
It isn’t that people aren’t interested in the creative process. They are. It’s only that it can be difficult to make the nuts and bolts of word-tinkering live up to the fantasy of orchestrating Genesis all day every day, and smoking and drinking at the Algonquin all night. Duels of wit and fits of eloquent agony and taking out the garbage and getting your teeth cleaned – it just takes more skill than most of us have to render this paradox intriguing in chit chat at the neighborhood barbeque.
So writing is most reliably a solitary venture. But with the advent of the internet and more recently the proliferation of writer’s sites, that’s not necessarily as true as it used to be. We can convene without combing our hair. We can debate the nuances of ‘leap’ versus ‘gambol’ with people who occasionally care. And we can form partnerships of the mind without consideration of distance, just a little thought to the time zones.
It really is quite brilliant.
Trish Stewart and Kevin Craig are ripe for commentary on this very phenomenon, as they are seven chapters into a collaborative project for all to observe on Yours, Mine… Ours.
Trish and Kevin have agreed to chat with AuthorScoop throughout the process, so we’ll start off with a basic Q & A.
Jamie: So, Trish and Kevin, here’s what I know about you:
Not much. From my own experience, I know you as poets and contributors at Absolute Write’s Forum Boards. You both developed reputations there – good, solid, writerly ones – and now, you’re collaborating on a novel. Online, no less.
How did that happen? Who are you people?
Trish: It was all Kevin’s fault. We have been beta readers for each other for a while, so we’re familiar with each other’s styles of writing. He found a blog with nine people contributing to one novel. He thought we could give it a try; that it would be fun to see if we could meld our styles into one voice. So he set up the blog, even got my blog account and password set up for me. I said “I’d love to.” He said it would be fun, and just for exercise, so why the hell not?
As for me, I’m a wife, mother and Proposal Writer in Southern Illinois. Poetry is my first writing love, though I’ve been writing novels for the last several years. I’m presently querying my second novel, Taking Lessons from Ernest. My poetry can be most easily read at Absolute Write’s Poetry Forum.
Kevin: How did the collaboration happen? The collaboration felt like something that was imminent from the beginning. I responded to one of Trish’s first posted poems at A.W. with a poem. I just felt an immediate creative connection to her. We have critiqued each other’s novel manuscripts and built a creative trust between each other like no other. Then, one day I came across a blog where nine writers were collaborating on a FanFic novel. The first thing I thought was, “I could do this with Trish!” I emailed her that day and asked if she would want to collaborate on a novel and post it First-Draft-Ugly to a blog for all to see. Then I nervously waited for her reply.
Who Am I? I’m a husband and father. I’m an office worker. I’m a freelance writer on the side. And I was a closet writer for about twenty years. About 7 years ago I decided to come out of the closet and face writing head on and I haven’t stopped since.
Jamie: Tell us about the nature of collaboration. How did (do) you work out who does what?
Trish: Well, since Kevin did all of the work on the blog site and the whole thing was his idea from the beginning he chose me to write the first chapter and suggested that we would alternate from there. I was pleased with the alternating chapters, but terrified to write the first one. From that point, each of us writes our chapter in turn and the other proofreads the chapter before it gets posted. We share the site administration, of which there is virtually none. We email with ideas, prod each other, and occasionally send each other apologies for where the story left off at the end of a chapter.
Kevin: When Trish agreed to do this I elected her the writer of the first chapter. It was a total cop-out. I didn’t want to be the one to create the characters…I just wanted to walk into something that was already there and expand upon it. The plan was I would write Chapter two, she would write chapter three, and so on and so on. We’ve had a few emails between us with a couple of thoughts here and there, but we’ve been pretty much on our own with the process. I have the next chapter in my inbox and I still have to read it. I have NO idea what’s in it. I don’t know what direction she has taken things in. I like the way it’s happening…almost totally blind. I think I have asked Trish more questions…since she wrote the first chapter I am totally afraid of dragging everybody somewhere that she didn’t see them going. It’s almost like I’m playing with her characters. But at the same time, I read it and think, “these are my characters”. It’s one of the weirdest writing experiences I’ve ever had. It’s a thrill to take her next chapter and make it mine and add the next to it. And it’s also very scary.
Jamie: Are you flying blind or are you following an outline?
Trish: Completely blind. I wrote a first chapter and hoped Kevin would like it. He did, so he wrote chapter two. I feel too blind on occasion. Picking up where someone leaves off isn’t always easy. He can do whatever he wants with his chapter. I trust him to take it the right direction, and hope I make the right choices when it’s my turn. Going without an outline is a natural writing style for both of us, but doing so publicly means that we can’t go back and change a reference or add a clue in a previous chapter, at least not easily. I’ve tried to leave a few little tidbits for myself that I might be able to snag later in the story, though only having half control of the story might not allow for that.
Some of our readers ask us questions about what is going to happen or where something is leading, and the truth is we don’t even know. For instance, when Mickey disappeared from the grocery store in Chapter Three, I couldn’t tell Kevin where Mickey went because I didn’t know, so he had to figure it out. When the big man visits Duncan, Kevin couldn’t tell me who he was. I still haven’t figured that one out.
Kevin: No outline. Just a couple of emails here and there asking, “What do you think about this?” But not much more.
Jamie: And, so far, are the tears shed measured by the ounce or gallon?
Trish: Ounce, definitely. It is very challenging, and we’ve made a sort of game out of handing off chapters, leaving cliffhangers (and apologies) to one another at every turn. The process is invigorating and the pressure is more intense than just writing for ourselves.
Anyone who chooses to visit our blog is seeing a first draft of a chapter; pressure goes with that territory, and a bit of fear does, too. Sometimes putting a chapter out there feels like hanging laundry out your car window to dry while you drive around town. No one needs to see that. Or even worse is following a great chapter written by your co-author with aimless drivel in your own. There haven’t been a lot of tears, there has been a good deal of sweat, but I think we both agree that it is an absolute blast. The challenge has been a fun one.
Kevin: I’ve been constantly conscious of the fact that I might be going in the wrong direction. And Trish has been constantly reassuring me that there is no wrong direction…that I should take them where I want to take them, since that is what she’s doing. No tears. We have been backing each other creatively for a couple of years now. What we usually do is email each other the next chapter so we can read it before posting it. The email usually says something like, ‘This is terrible, but for what it’s worth…here’s the next chapter’. It’s almost inevitable that we apron-wring. And it IS inevitable that we tell each other not to apron-wring. That’s the nature of our creative relationship. Accept your work. Trish is a wonderful writer. That’s why I wanted to work with her.
Jamie: Any surprises so far?
Trish: I didn’t expect it to get harder as we go along, but it has. I also didn’t expect that first chapter would lead to where we are now. The story’s progression has been one surprise after another.
Kevin: I had no idea what to do when Trish put Duncan in a garage fire. I panicked for a bit, but then I had a vision of a Chatty-Cathy nurse and introducing her alleviated the panic. My favorite surprise wasn’t a surprise at all…her first chapter. I thought it was brilliant and I was extremely excited to pick up where she left off. She did a great job introducing three wonderful characters I could really sink my teeth into. I feel we have this connection…sure there will be surprises along the way, but we are writing a book. I have surprises along the way when I write a book solo…it’s the nature of writing without an outline. I’m more than ready for the next surprise! I’m about to read the next chapter…maybe I’ll find one there.
AuthorScoop will return to the adventures of Kevin Craig and Trish Stewart as their project develops. So stay tuned here and stay tuned there.