Thursday, September 9, 2010

In Which I Recoil In Horror

by Bill

The question of the week is one I don't want to answer.

Yeah, I know, it's my turn, and the question is "Who would you collaborate with…?" But what if I just answered a different question?

For example, I could answer the question, "In your writing life, what is the one thing you did which almost turned you off of writing forever?" (Answer: collaborated on a piece of writing.)

Or, I could answer the question, "What do you consider going too far when it comes to 'aggressive interrogation techniques'?" (Answer: forcing someone collaborate on a piece of writing.)

You may detect a trend here.

Alas, I have collaborated, and the best thing I can say about the experience is at least the check cleared. Sort of. (In the end, I was grossly under-compensated for the nightmare.) The experience cost me a friend, and nearly a job. It turned me off writing altogether for a couple of years.

"What do you consider an appropriate punishment for aggravated murder? (Answer: death by collaboration.)

The thought of collaboration is like the thought of rum: it gives me the dry heaves. In the case of rum, this is because I once drank so much in one sitting I had a hangover for 6 days. The collaboration situation was more complicated, and was less potentially deadly, but the functional result is the same. Thought of collaboration = sudden need to hurl.

Now, to be fair, this collaboration was on a non-fiction item, and strictly speaking I didn't get to choose my collaborator. But before the horror befell me, I did like my collaborator. We'd worked together on non-writing projects successfully for upwards of a year before the collaboration destroyed everything it touched.

I know what you're thinking. Actually I don't, but bear with me here. I've decided you're thinking, "What you need to do to fix this is collaborate on something fun, like a whirlwind crime drama filled with international intrigue and lots of noisy sex. Possibly involving multiple partners at once."

To which I can only say, imagine if every time someone mentioned noisy sex, you puked. On your lap.

Of course, I'm inconsistent on this issue. I participate in certain types of collaboration every time I write. I share work-in-progress with critique partners, and I take their criticism to heart. And working with an editor is also collaborative—something I've celebrated and certainly appreciated. But those kinds of collaborations are also different in both character and process from the kind of direct collaboration—shared writing responsibilities and privileges—from which I'm recoiling in horror.

My non-fiction collabofailure poisoned something I enjoyed so thoroughly I can't imagine ever risking beloved fiction on another collaborative venture. Once bitten, twice shy may be a cliché, but in this case, they gotta be words to live by as well.

So what's next week's question, anyway?


Lois Winston said...

I marvel at people who can collaborate. I know a husband/wife team who have successfully published fiction together for more than 20 years. Me? I tried it once when a friend talked me into it. I soon discovered that her idea of collaboration was writing a very skimpy outline of a chapter and having me "flesh it out." In other words, she did about 5% of the work while I was doing 95% of the work. Of course, she expected 50% of the advance and royalties for her 5%. We never got past the third chapter. We're also no longer friends. Like I said, I marvel at that married couple.

Bill Cameron said...

Lois, I think our collaboration experiences are similar, though in my case I had no choice but to go through with doing 95% of the work for 50% the pay. And I'm also amazed by successful collaborations because of it. And yet, there are a number of them which stand out. Preston and Child come to mind, Joe Moore and Lynn Sholes. Ken Bruen has done some fun collaborations.

So obviously it can work. Just not for me. ;)

Ann Marie Gamble said...

Yeah. Keeping everyone speaking through a critique is hard, and you're not dealing with issues of ownership and labor. Being married to your collaborator might be the way to make it work, because you have to stick around for the result of your actions. ;)

JohnO said...

There's a Norman Maclean story about two guys working on either end of one of those huge timber saws. And Maclean, who taught at the University of Chicago, described in great detail about how he wanted to murder the guy on the other end of the saw -- and vice-versa.

Seems to fit writing collaboration, too.

Shane Gericke said...

Well, noisy sex IS a collaboration, at least one hopes.

Bill Cameron said...

Shane, you are so right.

Graham Brown said...

Collabafailure - Bill you should trademark that word and put it on T-shirts. Its hillarious.

Gabi said...

If you simply answer the question you want instead of the one you're asked, I'm pretty sure you get to be a Supreme Court justice. Then again, at least in theory, you have to play well with others. Although "the bench" would be a novel weapon should the need arise.

Keep telling it like it is, Bill.

Kelli Stanley said...

Bill, I may not get the dry heaves over the thought of it, but I'm with ya, son.

The thing about writing is it is *yours*--good, bad, indifferent, eyes of the world shut, or read by thousands. It's your book and your world and your story and your creativity.

I could no more give up that independence than give up air. For me, anything else would be work for hire.


P.S. I'll remember not to order you any rum-based drinks next time I see you ...