The Last Word : Double Dutch
Sometimes I become aware of a trend very slowly. Skirts are getting shorter, and mine stay below the knee, and by the time I buy bell bottoms, skinny jeans are back. So it's probably no surprise to anyone when I finally notice that partnerships in writing are, if not common, at least more common than I had realized.
Some partnerships are formed when two writers (perhaps life partners) write under a wholly made up name as one entity. There are lots of those partnerships, Judith Michaels combines Judith Barnard and Michael Fain; Kelley Roos is William and Audrey Roos. But this new (to me) phenomena are on-the-cover partnerships. Our own Phil Craig collaborated with William G. Tapply to write together Second Sight, each writer producing alternating chapters and using his own discrete character, J.W. Jackson and Brady Coyne. Agnes and the Hitman was written by a man and a woman, Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer. Each has a list of novels to his and her name, and yet they have come together to write a silly (and I mean that in the most flattering way possible) novel that dashes around from one crisis to another, with everyone enjoying the same sense of humor. A frying pan (her?) and lots of dead bodies and weaponry (him?) fill the fast-paced comic novel.
Some writers are so well branded that they have writing partners whose names are in the fine print. James Patterson and Maxine Paetro. Although an author in her own right, Ms. Paetro is hardly a household word. She and Mr. Patterson have co-authored seven books, all in the "Women's Murder Club" line. Still, she gets tiny billing beside Mr. Patterson's brand name.
I fell into another duo-written novel in A Version of the Truth, with Jennifer Kaufman and Karen Mack sharing the "by." This one was much less obviously divided and got me to thinking: How do writers team up? Is it like going to college and being introduced to the person with whom you'll share quarters for the next four years? Or is it more like a business partnership, this one brings a talent for dialogue, that one brings in great plotting? Do you advertise on Craig's List, or do you bring up the idea over coffee?
Historians and science writers, technical writers, television and screen writers all work well with others. Why not novelists? What's so precious about our own vaunted solitary pursuit that we can't loosen up and share the load? Perhaps this is what writers' groups are all about, that communal editing that is so necessary to some writers. Read the acknowledgments in some books and there is a list of "readers." Are these also people who have had a significant impact on the outcome of the book? Did "my other half, without whom I can do nothing" actually contribute character development or correct a lousy plot device?
Like most curious people, I went not to the oracle for my answers but to Google. It took a few swipes, but finally I hit upon a website with an essay by a woman who offers a list of considerations when choosing a writing partner. It reads like a contract, like taking on - gasp - a business partner. Tina Morgan writes on Fictionfactor.com that in choosing a writing partner, one must think in terms of perspective, professionalism, and trust. Sounds a bit like a business relationship to me. She cites the need for clarity in the areas of responsibility, editing protocols, deadlines, payment and, finally, who controls the work. I'd definitely seek advice from a lawyer. Maybe one who wants to write a book.
Stop me if I'm wrong, but isn't writing, uh, well, for lack of a better word: art? Can defining who is responsible for what in a work of art - e.g. you take care of Chapter One, I'll weigh in for Chapter Two, and let's plan on using the same voice for the same character - ever be considered art, or is it more like house painting? I'm the ceiling guy, you do the trim. Now, I enjoyed reading those books, but the seams were a little evident. Something about the pitch seemed just a little sharp to me.
Speaking of music, I guess the exception that proves the rule in art as a solitary endeavor is music. Gilbert and Sullivan, Rogers and Hammerstein. Look at the top of a piece of sheet music or the bottom of a hymn and potentially you can see the collaboration of up to three individuals: music, lyrics, and often, arrangement. Sometimes a translator gets recognition.
So, who would I like to partner with, should I ever decide to break out of my lonesome shed?
Cue fantasy/dream music and wavy lines.
Ah, Mr. Clements, you write the boys' adventures, and I'll tackle Miss Becky's feminine concerns. Frankly, I'm not sure Puddinhead Wilson is such a great title.
I've always liked Edith Wharton. She's got a great house up there in the Berkshires, and I can picture the two of us, lounging on that lovely terrace overlooking the gardens, sipping sherry and banging out the trials and tribulations of young society girls. Too late. Long after her death someone did partner with Wharton to finish her three-fifths completed novel, The Buccaneers. Marion Mainwaring took on the challenge, completing Wharton's book in 1993. I hope that Edith approves.
I don't think Hemingway would have been a lot of fun to partner with. Seems a bit on the churlish side, but I suppose if you like fishing, he'd be your guy.
What about joining forces with someone who writes a completely different sort of novel than I write? A mystery or a thriller. I could get someone to write the gory parts. (It's already been suggested to me that I get someone to write the sexy parts for me.) I wonder if Linda Fairstein is up for becoming part of a duo. I know nothing about police procedurals, but maybe she'd like a nice subplot concerning secrets and thwarted relationships. Any takers?