by Gwenda Bond
While my introduction precedes me, in the form of my husband (co-author of our life together, and sometimes co-author of fiction too) Christopher Rowe’s post: Hello! This is my first post since joining the plucky band of misfits known as the Wild Cards consortium.
I’ve always loved collaborating and also had a great time playing in other people’s worlds, which is one reason I knew Wild Cards would bring a fun of its own variety. Borrowing a character created by someone else is a sacred trust; you want to honor the character’s spirit and their fans. And I’ve been lucky enough to work with some all-time great characters in that sense–Lois Lane, Clark Kent/Superman, Perry White, and some of their associated ensemble–and in one of the best new worlds of the past decades with Stranger Things. So that’s one kind of collaboration built into the Wild Cards universe, but the other–actually working with other writer(s) to tell a story together–is something I enjoy even more.
Not all writers are built to collaborate. Cormac McCarthy? Probably not joining Wild Cards anytime soon. (HIS LOSS.) And even within something like Wild Cards, the comfort level and specific types of collaboration can, of course, vary wildly. Some writers might stick pretty much to telling discreet stories, using a character or two created by other writers, and making them work within a certain overarching story, but more or less weaving their own tale in the big shared universe. Others write the interstitials that underpin and overarch and, well, stitch, those smaller stories together into a much larger one. (Waves at Christopher, who has done a couple of fabulous such interstitials, including the one using his characters Mathilde and Theodorus in Joker Moon–who are among my FAVORITE characters, so if you haven’t read it yet: go! I describe the book to people as a backdoor pilot into Wild Cards, a great place to start, a kind of secret history of this 30-plus-year-long extravaganza.)
Then there’s me. Like I said, collaboration is my jam. I do quite a lot of it, in between solo projects, and it always reinvigorates me. For example, Christopher and I wrote two middle grade novels together–and we’re still married. I created and ran a scripted podcast serial called Dead Air with two of my all-time favorite writers, Carrie Ryan and the late Rachel Caine, which involved both writing and show-running a complicated murder story and the podcast within the story. I’ve worked with comics writer Kate Leth and artist Ming Doyle on a graphic novel set in a world I created. I’m currently writing a trio of novellas as Audible Originals with my dear friends Kami Garcia and Sam Humphries. Knock on wood, I’ve never had a relationship sour over creative differences, because I somehow lucked into an innate sense of what makes a great collaboration. The keys? (Come closer, this is important.)
The biggest is knowing who you’re writing with. And then being sure up front that you a) share a vision for the story and b) will put the good of the story over the egos involved. Everyone needs to be more invested in making a great story than anything else. And you also better like one another enough to bicker and then let it go and not to disappear. Everything else is gravy (though I don’t really like gravy, so why can’t the saying be chocolate sauce?), including having a story you sense will be better coming from you and the other person or people than just you.
You get those pieces in place? Collaboration is writer play-time. Still work, but also very fun, because you not only have the scaffolding you put into place, but the magic of the way we always are kinder, gentler, on the work of others than we are on ourselves. (At least, I am.) And the delight of seeing what the other person or people come up with that you never would have, or what you come up with together that neither of you would have alone. Now…
The first thing most of us do when we join Wild Cards is create a new character. I created Stella Sumner, also known as Stargaze, a famous astrologer who… You’ll have to wait for the specifics. I sent her details out to our email list, which was currently in the throes of pitching stories for some new volumes George has talked about on his own site. And then I was contacted by a writer I had never met or spoken to named Peter Newman about whether I’d want to pitch a story together for the book to be known as Pairing Up. He thought his character might work well with mine. And because these were to be more or less romance stories, featuring one of our characters and someone else’s, it seemed like it would be well in the spirit to co-write a story together. I said sure.
I’m sure you’re thinking back to the golden rules of collaboration I mentioned above. Let’s revisit the most important one. What was it I said? Oh yeah: The biggest is knowing who you’re writing with.
Um, oops. Somehow, in the earlyish days of COVID, with Pete in an entirely different time zone, halfway around the world, having never met, we managed to write a novella together in one of the absolute most seamless collaborations of my life. We came up with our pitch over email, went back and forth with George about it, then started writing. Pete wrote his character’s POV and I wrote mine, with us bouncing the story back and forth during the writing. We ended up with a delightful modern romcom novella set in England. (I can say that, because someone else was involved and I’m confident in their work. See how it works?) Anyway, it turned out we were both sentimentalists at heart and shared a similar sense of humor. Our characters worked so well together on the page. We never even managed a zoom, and went all the way through edits just via google docs and email.
Luckily, the other rules of good collaboration all fell right into place. We were each about giving the other room to tell their part of the story. And, someday, you’ll get to read it and I hope you will be even more delighted knowing this backstory. It’s proven a fun conversation piece, this story. I was on a weekly zoom with writer friends mid-pandemic lockdown (still going) when I revealed I’d just finished co-writing a novella and turned it in. One of them asked who it was with and I said Peter Newman–oh, and we’ve never met and don’t really know one another. “How…do you write a novella with someone you don’t know?”
“Funny story,” I said.
So, it turns out this has been a long-winded way of saying sometimes you have to break your own writing rules, and everything still turns out fine. And if you’re going to, well, Wild Cards is clearly the place to do it.