The Collaborative Novel

muppits at typewriterHave you ever thought about collaborating on a novel with another writer? I’m working on a novel off and on with my wife and believe it or not we’re still speaking to each other. She supplied me with the initial ideas for the plot. I do the actual writing. She reviews what I’ve written and acts as line, copy and story editor and then I incorporate her corrections and ideas and the cycle repeats. Sixty thousand words later we might stand a chance of actually finishing the first draft.

I’m pretty sure most coauthor efforts aren’t as blissful as ours.

For example, during a collaboration between novelists Edwin O’Connor (1962 Pulitzer Prize for ‘The Edge of Sadness’) and Edmund Wilson, Wilson wrote:

“In writing alternate chapters with Ed, I very soon ran into difficulties. He would not always accept my cues of my methods, and I found my narrative blocked. I suspected that this was deliberate and that we were playing a game of chess, and this suspicion has been corroborated by Mrs. O’Connor’s telling me that, in sending back Chapter 4, Ed had said to her with satisfaction, “Well, I guess I’ve got him now”.

Arthur C. Clark and Stephen Baxter used to solve their disagreements during the writing of the ‘Time Odyssey’ novels by vigorously arguing on the phone or email until one of them came up with a better idea that they could both agree on.

Stephen King and Peter Straub during the writing of ‘The Talisman’ didn’t seem to have any significant problems at all. Stephen King said during an interview: “We wrote the beginning and ending together. Peter put on some jazz in his office, and I wrote for a while as he read magazines. When I was done, he’d pick it up where I had left off. For the rest of the book we divided the work. I’d write a chunk for a month or so at my house and then Peter would continue another chunk at his.”

They did the same thing during the sequel ‘Black House’ by taking turns sitting down at the computer to try and push the story forward.

During a joint interview King said, “Peter’s a friend and I only have about three of them. He makes me laugh harder than anyone else.” Straub replied, “That’s because you’re twisted.”

Then there was the SF husband and wife writing team of Walt and Leigh Richmond who wrote mostly for Analog magazine in the 1960’s. They had an interesting method of collaboration. Walt would sit in his chair and telepathically transmit story ideas to Leigh while she typed. In all of the published stories Walt was given full credit as coauthor.

A good example of the downside of the collaborative experience is Harper Lee’s effort with Truman Capote which is perhaps the most infamous backstab in American literature. Lee is of course the author of her one and only book ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’. At Capote’s request Lee helped him on and off during his writing of ‘In Cold Blood’. The two, who were long time childhood friends, had a rift and the collaboration ended. When the novel was published, Capote dedicated the book to Lee and his longtime partner but failed to acknowledge Lee’s contributions to the work. Lee was very angry and hurt by the betrayal.

If you’ve ever seriously considered a collaboration, there’s an interesting 20 minute podcast on the nuts and bolts of it at Adam Scull’s website, Eat Sleep Write. This man, woman collaboration was for an alternative history novel called ‘Saving Jackie K’ in which the Soviets botched their attempt to kill John Kennedy and ended up killing Jackie instead. For this outrage a decades long war between the US and Russia ensues bringing them to the brink of nuclear war until something very unusual is done to save the planet.

To listen to the podcast at website:

Or here:

About Richard Murray

I've been interested in astrophotography for some time now and more recently began writing science fiction. Half a million words plus later, I continue to write every day. I share some of the things I learned along the way as well as some of my writing, plus an occasional astrophoto I’ve taken just for fun on my blog site Fictional Astronomer at .
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3 Responses to The Collaborative Novel

  1. Annie says:

    Very interesting. I wonder how much Harper wrote of the book.

  2. If it wasn’t for Harper Lee, Capote apparently wouldn’t have had a book to write, at least from the research end of it. A good share of the townspeople interviewed regarding the murders initially refused to talk with Capote and it took Lee, with her honest, down to earth nature, to get them to open up and gather the needed research and later encourage them to talk with Capote directly.

    Here’s a quote from an interview by JC Robertson of Charles J. Shields who wrote Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee that gives the most definitive answer to that question. Shields states:

    “I wanted to give Miss Lee credit, long overdue in my opinion, for her part in creating one of the most important nonfiction books of the 20th century. Garden City, Kansas was a traumatized town after the Clutter murders in 1959. Not only did Harper Lee help Truman Capote penetrate a wall of suspicion and fear, but she also wrote character sketches and contributed insights about the people she and Truman encountered, which Capote later used in abundance. Nevertheless, when the book was published, Lee only received equal billing with Jack Dunphy, Truman’s lover, in the dedication. Dunphy had next to nothing to do within In Cold Blood. That gesture was extremely ungenerous of Capote.”

  3. Annie says:

    Interesting! Thanks for filling me in. I’ll have to read more about Capote and Lee’s lives, interesting people.

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