Collaborative Books

I was digging through a pile of old books recently and rediscovered this old book by Mercedes Lackey (acclaimed author of the adult fantasy Valdemar series which I used to be crazy about) and Piers Anthony (best known for his pun-laden Xanth series, also fantasy) called If I Pay Thee Not in Gold.

Is it just me or does the heroine
look decidedly stumpy?
Ignore the misleading Goodreads blurb, which is the same as the one on the back of the book--the publishers were trying to capitalize on Piers Anthony's humorous/light fantasy renown.  The book itself is serious in tone, and the plot goes nine kinds of WTF in the end.  It starts off with conjuration magic and the Queen trying to murder the heroine, and by midway through descends into a morass of travel and the heroine and her war-party get attacked by giant crabs and anemones and by the end there's gender-shifting and threesomes and--yeah, no.

Why did the book become such a mess?  (Not that it was super great to begin with, mind you.)  I finally read the author's note in the back and apparently Piers Anthony never met Mercedes Lackey--he had the idea for this book and pitched it to the higher-ups, who gave it to Mercedes Lackey to write.  After she was done, the book went back to Piers Anthony who did the final editing.  He had a very good analogy too:
I did a complete job of copy-editing and spot revisions and additions, exactly as I do for my own drafts, polishing the novel to my satisfaction and expanding it by ten thousand words.  Those who are conversant with Misty's writing and mine will see aspects of both here, just as both of our ideas are represented.  Thus I did the top and bottom of it, the summary and the revision.  Picture a sandwich: I'm the two slices of bread.  Most of the nourishment is in the center, but without the bread it wouldn't exist. (397)
And yeah, I totally see it now.  I'm pretty sure that the latter half of the book was his addition since it really has very little setup or tie-ins to the first half.  Add in the plot holes and continuity errors and it becomes obvious where text and plot were added.

This led me to thinking about collaborative writing, since that's what Krispy and I have done in the past and are currently doing (or would be doing if someone would finish her section already, hint hint wink wink poke poke nudge nudge).  In the case of the aforementioned book, the authors never met and never discussed anything, and ultimately never even spoke to each other.

Whereas with Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, the authors worked very closely with each other.  Wikipedia has a very good section about the authorship of the novel (though there may be a couple of spoilers in there, so be warned!) wherein both authors say that things started out kind of separate but by the end everything merged into one big beautiful indistinguishable whole.

And indeed, at first I was easily able to tell which author probably wrote which bit.  But as I read further and further into what is a masterpiece of fiction (really, Good Omens is fantastic), I stopped noticing the differences in style--perhaps because the differences no longer existed.

For this novel, the authors worked together on everything from plot development to the acutal business of writing and editing, and it shows.  The novel comes together as a cohesive and delightful whole, unlike poor sordid WTF-laden If I Pay Thee Not in Gold.

On the other hand, there are cases where having two authors works in the book's favor.  First-person (or third-person) narration from two different narrators, for instance, means that differences in style, tone, and diction work well.  The contemporary YA novel Armageddon Summer by Bruce Coville and Jane Yolen is a great example of first-person perspective from two characters.  I reviewed it last year here and talk a bit about the two authors = two narrators = advantageous thing.

Book was so-so but
the cover is still awesome.
Havemercy by Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett is an adult fantasy with four different first-person perspectives.  The voices of each POV are each distinct and unique and the characters were a pleasure even if the actual plot was lackluster because, really, it hardly existed.  

I wish I could cite a webpage or a book note here, but I can't seem to find a source right now (I'll edit later if I find it), so take it with a grain of salt when I say: I'm pretty sure that each author took on two characters, and they collaborated very closely as they wrote.  Once again, the character interactions show a cohesive, believable wholeness.

A not-very-good-but-still-interesting example of collaborative writing is Tiger Burning Bright by (wait for it) Marion Zimmer Bradley, Andre Norton, and Mercedes Lackey.  When I got my hands on this book years ago I was so super beyond excited because omg three such awesome fantasy authors collaborating on one fantasy book! 

The book design is cool because that red cover lifts up and
inside is a full color plate of all three main POV characters in their
roleplaying costumes distinctive garb.

It was okay.  It's told from three distinct third-person POVs: the Dowager Queen, the Queen, and the Princess, who have to respectively diguise themselves as an acolyte, a merchant, and a gypsy.  I'm pretty sure that Mercedes Lackey wrote the Princess perspective.  I'm less sure that Andre Norton wrote the Dowager Queen and Marion Zimmer Bradley wrote the Queen.  I've read less of their books than Mercedes Lackey's so am less familiar with their styles.

I know absolutely nothing of how the authors collaborated on this novel.  The plot is kind of a mess, especially as the Queen's section hares off on its own political intrigue and worldbuilding that's almost completely separate from the other two POVs.  The Queen's section was also the most different in terms of tone and style, and often felt like reading a separate book; the other two characters' sections meshed better, but were still oddly isolated from each other in terms of plot.

Overall, the book was disappointing since I was expecting a shining masterpiece and what I received was something lackluster; the story comes across as a some kind of role-playing game that never quite got the editing it needed to smooth it out.  Which may be why this book is lesser known despite three huge fantasy authors' names plastered all over it.

On the other hand, there's Lisa and Laura Roecker's The Liar Society.  In this novel, there's only one first-person perspective (I think--it's been a while since I read it) and it's impossible to tell where one author begins and another ends, in terms of writing and ideas.  It's a seamless perfect whole, without any weird gaps, jumps or bumps in the narration, tone, style, diction, you name it.  The authors worked closely together and it shows because it doesn't show.

I'd blather on here about how Krispy and I write together but we've done that in the past, so I'm schneizelefforting this one in Krispy's honor and telling you to just take a gander at our collaboration tag

In our current endeavor, we've gone for the Different Character Perspectives approach.  Krispy in fact tried to write a section from "my" character's POV and found it rather difficult, so switched back to "her" character and the words flowed again.  Right, Krispy?  FLOWING, right?  That's what they're doing now, flowing like a fountain from the top of a mountain?

Anyway, collaboration has its pros and cons.  What are your thoughts and experiences concerning collaboration both in your own writing and books you've read?  If a colony of pirate penguins and a single ninja narwhal got into a fight, who would win?


Julie Dao said...

Tiger Burning Bright sounds fantastic. I highly recommend The Mists of Avalon if you've never read Zimmer Bradley's work - the Arthurian legend told through the eyes of the female characters is very intense and nicely done. As for collaboration, I don't think I'd ever consider it... I'm too much of a control freak writing on my own to have to deal with another writer on the same project :D

XiXi said...

I think collaborative writing is much harder than individual writing for this reason. You guys are brave for working it out!

Connie Keller said...

I've always wanted to do a collaborative book, but the opportunity has never come up.

BTW, in the penguin/narwal wars, I think the penguins would win. Though many penguins would get impaled before they won.

Golden Eagle said...

Some collaborations seem to work really well and others not so much; I can't really say I like or dislike them overall. For example, I read a couple books by Arthur C. Clarke and a second author, and while I was disappointed by one of them the other I really enjoyed.

I'd say the penguins, since penguin colonies can be pretty big.

Sophia Chang said...

oh gawd Piers Anthony messed up my adolescence in kind of a not funny, serious way, but moving on from that - collaborations both intrigue and repulse me with equal intensity.

Leeanna said...

I remember "If I Pay Thee Not in Gold." I think I found it at a dollar store, which should have told me something about it, but I liked Piers Anthony's Xanth books at that age.

Anyway, I really wanted to reply because I've been doing a collaborative writing project online with a friend for a good year and a half. It's something we just do for fun, and I love it. Before I found someone I really clicked with, I found writing with someone else to be impossible. Now I hate writing by myself, because it's so much more fun to bounce ideas off someone else and comment on each other's characters and that sort of thing.

We generally have an idea for where each doc will go, but sometimes the characters surprise us. Writing this way is the first time I understood what people meant when they referred to their characters talking to them, muses, etc.

I need to find someone like her for my original writing, because I think it would give me some motivation, and a much needed push in the behind. I don't know if I'd write collaboratively for anything not for fun, but I'd like to form that same sort of close bond with a writing buddy, if that makes sense.