Collaborative Writing

I’ve talked a bit before about writing with other people, but as Camp NaNo is coming up soon, I thought I’d revisit this theme.

There are two ways of writing collaboratively (okay, there are many, but two major ones). One is actually working on a piece together, the other is working on different pieces but bouncing ideas off each other. Both are useful for different kinds of work, and some cases of collaborative writing are age-old and almost legendary.

I mean, hello, Rogers and Hammerstein. Lewis and Tolkien.

That’s going to be my two examples, and just stay with me here. I know that musicals aren’t the same as novels.

We’ll start with Rogers and Hammerstein, though. What they did was work together, bringing different sets of skills in, and creating a single work of art. Musicians do this a lot, which is what makes musicals a great example. Think of jamming. You’ve got different pieces, but they all fit together to make one song (or album, or The Sound of Music).

A lot of my co-writing experiences thus far have been like this. Co-authored fan fiction with E. M. McBride and Natalie Cannon have looked very much this way, where we’ve brought our own voices and skills in, planned, and then executed a joint project to create a single work of art. It’s hard, it’s often time consuming, but it can create beautiful work when all’s said and done.

Another way, though, is the Camp NaNo way that Natalie (and other friends) and I are about to embark upon once again.

This is C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.

The Inklings, their writerly group at Oxford, are fairly famous now. I’ve been to the pub where they often met and discussed their work. Think, like, a book club except it’s works in progress instead of someone else’s words.

Lewis and Tolkien would read from manuscripts, or their fellow writers would. Sometimes this was the nonfiction they wrote based on research, but famously it was bits of Middle-Earth or Narnia (among other fabulous fictional work) that no one else had read or heard yet. Some of the greatest literature ever written, and it started with a collaborative process.

Now, Tolkien didn’t write Narnia, and Lewis didn’t write any Middle-Earth, but they gave each other input, insights, and snarky remarks that were sometimes ignored, sometimes headed. In this way, a Camp NaNo cabin is a collaborative process.

My friends and I all have different projects. I’m finishing a novel, Natalie is focusing on finishing her portion of the chapters for our collaborative fan fiction (yup, she’s double dosing on collab), another friend is writing her Masters thesis, and thus is using Camp NaNo for that task. A third friend still hasn’t decided (although she doesn’t have long to choose…)

We’re all producing different projects, and even different kinds of projects, like the Inklings. But we’re supporting each other, and we have a platform for encouragement, shared thoughts, and a place to bounce ideas off each other. In some small way, we’re all co-writing. We won’t be listed as co-authors, but it’s arguably just as integral input as actual co-authoring.

Dedications, I suppose, at the very least.




Cirrocumulus stratiformis

A misty wave rolls ‘cross the swelling scene.

It rolls and breaks upon a range or two

Of snow-soaked hills on fields of brilliant blue —

Erode away with time, weather’d by wind.

They melt into the sea of endless shades

Of lapis, azure, cobalt, sapphire true.

Perhaps a breath might make them crumble soon.

Perhaps the heat could melt them sooner still.

-Charlotte Blackwood

A Light in Dark Places

Today, during my lunchtime Netflix viewing, I watched a Hugh Laurie film called Mr. Pip.

It was a good film. I know this because it made me cry repeatedly, and as we all know this is the most accurate measure of a film’s quality.

Anyway, among being about a war, it was basically a story of a young girl, and how her introduction to a Dickens novel (Great Expectations) not only changed her life, but may have even saved her and given her a fuller, more nuanced lens to consider and examine the world. It helped her go from being a girl to being a woman.

Those of us who love literature have a book we can point at, not necessarily as our favorite, but as a book that changed our life, the way we look at it, the way we live it. For me, I’ve made no secret of this being Anna Karenina, but this film got me thinking.

There’s a mixed view in the community of writers on how much to consider the reader when writing. Obviously, when creating art, you have to just be a vessel for what is inside of you to be shared. On the other hand, if you’re trying to create work that will be published, you have to consider your audience and ask questions about theme and maturity level of the reader.

But what about creating life-changing work? Do we ask ourselves those kinds of questions, or is that something that happens through our art if we do our best and have a spark of luck?

Obviously, I don’t have answers for these questions, but they’re floating around my head nonetheless.



Into my Bookshelf: The Mystery of Edwin Drood

Perhaps the thing authors thrive on most is possibilities. As much as I hate unfinished work, I’ve been reading a book alight with possibilities, that has captured so many imaginations, and certainly captured mine.

As a lifelong Dickens fan, it was only a matter of time before I got around to reading The Mystery of Edwin Drood. It’s his unfinished novel, about half done, that isn’t his best and isn’t his worst, but in so many ways has gone right up to the top three on my list of best things he’s written.

The story begins in an opium den, which really, is the recipe for an awesome story right there. There’s not a lot of mystery as to who actually commits the murder (which takes FOREVER to materialize), as Dickens has never been prided in his subtlety at ALL. On top of that, several people who knew where the story was going and had been given various amounts of privileged information all agree that the title character was murdered by his uncle.

That’s so not even a spoiler. If you couldn’t figure that out within the first couple installments (ten chapters or so), I don’t even know what to make of you.

The village of Cloisterham is a very closed community, with people with their very particular behaviors and habits. Quite naturally, the suspect is suspected easily because he’s got a checkered past and he apparently appears “un-English”. Mr. Sapsea, the person who coins that term in this work, reminds me of one of my favorite characters in all of Dickens – Mr. Podsnap from Our Mutual Friend, my favorite Dickens novel.

Based on clues in the novel, and based on conversations had with people like the illustrator and relatives, we know a bit more than just who the killer is (which is totally not even a secret to the reader by the end of the novel). We have a good inkling where the body is (again, once you know who the killer is, not even a surprise), who’s going to end up with the dear Miss Rosa Bud (slightly less obvious), and there are very few mysteries remaining. Although, may I say, some really fabulous characters are fleshed out or introduced toward the middle of the book – that is to say, the end of the book as we have it.

The one mystery – around which many adaptations can focus in trying to finish the story – that remains is whom Mr. Datchery is, a gentleman who shows up in Cloisterham toward the end of the story with the intention of moving there, possibly to investigated the as-yet unsolved year-old murder/disappearance of Edwin Drood. I mean, there are all kinds of possibilities, like a police officer or actor who has taken interest in the tale. We’ve gotten such suggestions as these. It even popped into my head while reading that it might be Drood himself in disguise – not killed, but somehow altered from the ordeal as to be unrecognizable.

That was a silly idea, naturally, but it occurred nonetheless.

SPOILER ALERT (kind of?)

I mean, since it’s unfinished, I use the term spoiler loosely. HOWEVER, I think that to me the most reasonable explanation for whom Mr. Datchery is (since we have a list of people whom he cannot be), given Drood’s actual death (which is pretty certain), and ruling out the impossible, is that Mr. Datchery is actually one Mr. Bazzard. He works for Mr. Grewgious, the guardian of Rosa, and writes plays. Or rather, has written a play that still hasn’t been picked up. We haven’t actually seen him yet, so we don’t know what he looks like. Many theatre writers have some acting experience, and as he wrote a tragedy, the tale would interest him. He would know it from the papers, and he certainly would have heard something about the death of Rosa’s once-fiance from his employer.

Of course, the biggest problem with this is the idea that he would be able to “live” in Cloisterham for the rest of his life and yet still work and live in London, spending time at work and with his writer set.  That’s a puzzle, to be sure.

Still, the beauty of this being an unfinished story is that we can imagine it to work out however we want. From my teacher/writer eye, I see possibilities not only for writing an ending myself, but for assigning this as a shorter Dickens novel, challenging students to write an ending in the style of Dickens, making it all work out sensibly. Could be fun, and useful.



Project: Hold Me Now

So, what have I been up to?

Well, among other things, I’ve been writing a novel that isn’t really a romance story. I don’t do romance stories. I vastly prefer emotionally wrecking my readers.

I suppose you could say it’s a love story, although that’s a bit simplistic. As I said, I like to emotionally wreck my readers. This is less emotionally wrecking than other things, though.

It’s come out of my work that’s a kind of a study on the psychological impact of various aspects of fame. Specifically, the idea of how the stresses of constant press attention can disrupt and even destroy the lives of those under the microscope. I’m finding it fun, and a wonderful mental exercise.

At present, I can’t say when it will be finished, but that’s my primary project of focus for the moment. It’s coming along well, over half done, and then it’ll be off to Natalie for editing. I’ll let you know when that comes.



Into My Notebooks: Red Star Trek

Welcome back to my notebooks!

We’re still plodding through my Star Trek fan fiction notes, and I confess, it’s mostly because that’s what I’ve been working on lately. I’ll try to keep this as interesting and useful as possible.

I’ve titled this “Red Star Trek,” because as far as I can tell, this is the only red one thus far in my growing collection of Star Trek notebooks. Seriously, growing. Since the last time I posted one of these blog posts, I’ve started and nearly finished a whole notebook. I’ll be starting a fresh one either tonight or tomorrow. They take up lots of paper, these notes.

This notebook Is another basic single-subject, 70-page, college rule Top Flight spiral, and it had a brief past life as my British Writers 2 notebook. Scribbled inside the front cover, the back of the back cover, and in the margins of the first page are some of my favorite lines from John Dryden’s “Absalom and Achitophel” (which everyone should read, by the by). I’ll share those excerpts now.

Plots, true or false, are necessary things,

To raise up commonwealths, and ruin kings.


For who can be secure of private right,

If sovereign sway may be dissolved of might?

Nor is the people’s judgment always true:

The most may err as grossly as the few;

And faultless kings run down by common cry,

For vice, oppression, and for tyranny.


Fools are more hard to conquer than persuade.


Beware the fury of the patient man.


He meditates revenge who least complains.

The last few quotes sound like epitaphs for murder mysteries, don’t they? In fact, the last one reminds me very strongly of something Poirot says in one of his cases…. I won’t say which one, but the husband kills his wife (probably describes half of them, anyway), and Poirot says he suspected it because the man bore his wife’s pestering too well. Either he no longer cared, or he knew he would soon be free.

The first page, front and back, consists of my notes on Dryden, which appear to be the only notes I took for this course…. What did I learn about Dryden? Well, he was the first poet-critic. He also said, “Wit is a propriety in thoughts and words; in other terms, thought and words elegantly adapted to their subjects.” Essentially, he believed that greatness, “wit,” if you will, is the ability to not only see the things that are natural, but also to say those things elegantly, artfully, in a way that will get a universal, natural reaction.

So that’s Dryden.

The rest of the pages are Star Trek.

As with most of my other notes, all of the right-hand pages (front of the page) are devoted to the transcripts of episodes used to write my chapters, while the left-hand pages (back of the page) are reserved for other notes.

The right-hand of this notebook begins barely into the episode “The Corbomite Maneuver”, and ends partway through the episode “The Conscience of the King.” All of these pages, oddly enough, are done in black ink (as are all the Dryden notes).

The left-hand of this notebook is completely filled, all with chapter outlines (which episodes I’m doing, and where I’m adding in non-episode chapters with original content). Five pages are devoted to “Cold Start,” the story for Star Trek: Enterprise. There are 87 chapters, and all of this is in a burgundy ink, except for the last line, where I had run out of burgundy and wrote it in turquoise. Eight pages are for the Star Trek: TNG episodes, all 122 chapters, and outlined in burgundy with one “oops” added in turquoise after I’d run out of burgundy.

Eight more pages have my Star Trek: DS9 outline, with most of it in burgundy, and the last two and a half pages in turquoise. There are 155 chapters. Eight pages, all in turquoise, then for my Star Trek: Voyager notes, all 130 chapters. One page, all in turquoise, as the brief notes for the films (Khan through Nemesis, as the first film’s notes are in another notebook), basically a list of the films and a note for each that they’ll be covered as a oneshot. I then take eight pages to outline the 64 chapter story of Xebel (my interrim OC) at the Academy, with a more traditional chapter-by-chapter outline. This is also turquoise.

Three more pages outline the story of Xebel on the USS Enterprise-B, also in turquoise, for 21 chapters. The last nine pages of the notebook outline the story of the Buckingham girls (sisters Savannah, Sadiana, Beryl, and Sophie; and their cousins Cynthia, Evodia, and Daphne) from the time Savannah and Cynthia begin at the Academy to when Daphne graduates the Academy. This covers many more years than the one about Xebel’s schooling, but it does it more briskly, not showing it in as much depth, and telling several events almost entirely in letters. This outline is 66 chapters, and is written, once again, entirely in turquoise.

Well, that’s the red one. Hopefully that wasn’t too dull. The Dryden stuff might have been a kick.



Into my Bookshelf: 10 Things I Hate About You

Welcome back to my bookshelf!

I’ve got a bit of a weird one today: the novelization of the film 10 Things I Hate About You. It’s really the only book like this I have, and I inherited it from my sister. I think she got it in high school.

There are two reasons I decided to keep this book, because it’s not like it’s a great work of literature.

The first reason is that my good friend, E. M. McBride and I used Heath Ledger (God rest his soul) from this film as the physical template for one of our characters in “Maybe I Know.” Not just the looks, but the clothing, the attitude, the way people saw his character before and after the character has really made his stamp on the story.

The other reason is that the Shakespeare play this was based on, The Taming of the Shrew, is basically one of the best things ever, and I’ve yet to come across a version of it that wasn’t fabulous. I’ve got the Elizabeth Taylor film version, and I’m itching to get my hands on a good copy of My Fair Lady and a copy of the actually film, 10 Things I Hate About You for the complete set.

As far as modernizing Shakespeare is concerned, this is head and shoulders above the Amanda Bynes film based on Twelfth Night (The title of which is escaping me… She’s the Man? Something like that). That was a good enough film, but it was kind of a one-man show as far as casting was concerned. Heath did a much better job than Channing Tatum, and while Amanda Bynes was a comedic natural, Julia Styles just sort of nails the “shrew” role. Also, I just felt like the story for The Taming of the Shrew was not only the more believable story, but infinitely the more adaptable story, especially for the high school scene. It was always going to be the better material to work with.

I have to say that Heath and Julia were one of the best teen rom com pairings that ever happened, and I’m kind of tearing up writing this right now, but isn’t it awful to think it’ll never happen again, those two in a movie? Any movie? I mostly have the book just to look at the cover sometimes and think of how perfect that duo was together.

K. I’m going to find my mysteriously missing tissue box now.