Sunday, December 17, 2006

Collaborating With Ben

The most frequent question I've been asked at readings and by friends who have read Daughter Dedannan or Wolf is how exactly Ben and I write our books together. First I must address a fallacy: writing happens with pen in hand or fingertips tapping the keyboard.


The physical act of writing is recording the vast neurological journey that the writer has already traversed.

At least that's the way it's always been for me. I might be struck by an image, invent a character and walk around for months, trampling down a path in my brain with a storyline. These are the travels Ben accompanies me on. I'll say, remember that idea I had for that story? What if? He'll say, how about? And so it goes for days, weeks and sometimes months before I even attempt to chart our course on paper.

It's also a form of entertainment. Right now I have two such journeys going on in my head. One with Ben where we frequently walk and talk about Grave Digger's House, our next novel. "What if?" I'll say. "How about?" he'll respond.
Similarly, my younger son Teddy and I have spent almost a year waiting for buses and trains, drawing on napkins in diners following the tail of Sail-- a unicycling rat who rides his tiny, home forged wheel through the tunnels and down the tracks of the NYC subway.

This for us is fun.

What our ancestors did to pass the time in the cave. Or around the turf fire. Or at the kitchen table when money was scarce, life hard and the need for storytelling immense. Long before before DVDs, cable, and Blockbuster, long before
radio and silent flicks,long before comic books and magazines, hey, long before Guttenberg we humans have reveled in the stories of our own making.

This as I said is how Ben and I initially collaborate.

Just tossing back and forth an idea,like a parent and a kid in the yard toss a ball back and forth. Only better because the ball is magically changed with each toss. Color, movement, flashing lights, we marvel as the idea becomes more vivid and alive.

Then I am the one who gladly sits before a notebook or PC for hours on end, further pursuing that original story. At that point I write a page or chapter then shout to Ben to come from another room and barrage him with the questions essential to the verisimilitude of our tale. In the case of WOLF: what song would Adam be listening to; what guitarists would he like; what alcohol would Shane drink; what kind of handgun would Luce find in the van; what classic rock albums would Adam's father have stored away in the wooden crate?

Our collaboration is a dialogue that then shifts with revisions-- when I read a chapter and Ben critiques:
guys curse more; Shane would feel worse if he were hung over; that's not how you spell Megadeath, it's Medadeth.

Ben never writes, yet he directs these stories through our ongoing dialogue.

A dialogue which colors even the drabbest days of my life with the bright lights of intuition and the landscapes of our imaginings.

So if you and a loved one haven't yet walked these roads, I suggest you try. Hey, maybe you too have a novel in the making!


At 11:48 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

A great description of how you and Ben collaborate. You can really hear it when reading WOLF. The converstations with your characters are very vivid and you sure feel like you are right there with them. You can easily forget you are reading a book. I think if Ben wrote some, you wrote some, it wouldn't be as alive as it is. Building characters and drawing the reader in is always a challenge and I think that the way you and Ben work together has given the story a wonderful rhythm. It has a great flow. You don't hold back, I like how you put real feelings out there. The energy of you and Ben dialoguing definitely gives something very special to the dialogues of your characters. You really feel a true sense of conversation.
One of my favorite sections is when Adam meets his father and he goes to take a picture of him. Of course, no image is seen in his camera, but he moves ahead with it anyone. I enjoyed the honesty and the humor, something that happens often in WOLF. The collaboration sure works, looking forward to the next book.

At 12:16 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Love your description of how you and Ben collaborate. You can definitely feel it when reading WOLF. The conversations in WOLF come across very natural, love their rhythm and flow.

Through this style of collaboration, the energy of the characters jump right out to you. I think that since you are listening to what Ben has to say, the characters also listen to each other. You can really hear what they are thinking, what they are feeling, they become people rather than characters.

I think if Ben wrote some, you wrote some, back and forth, back and forth, I don't think WOLF would have the same dynamic energy. I really enjoyed how you wrote about Adam taking a picture of his dad, but of course no image appeared, though he went with it anyway. You really caught the honesty and humor of the moment, and I think that this is something that is felt all through WOLF.


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