Monday, September 24, 2012

Extending the Brand

By Reece Hirsch

I have no real objections to author collaborations, it’s just not something that I’m particularly interested in as a reader.  A glance at recent bestseller lists indicates that I may hold a minority opinion here (and not for the first time).

If the point of a collaboration is to “extend the brand” of a mega-selling author, that’s fine by me.  Nearly anything that succeeds in keeping readers reading in the current environment is probably a good thing.  (Notable exception to that rule – Fifty Shades of Grey.)  Newer authors who collaborate with more established writers collect a good paycheck and get exposed to a wider readership that will hopefully help them become bestsellers on their own someday.

If the collaboration is more of a marriage of equals between two established authors, that’s fine, too.  But I’ve never been a fan of the whole “supergroup” concept in writing or music.  I much prefer Neil Young to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

The reason that these collaborations don’t make it onto my personal reading list is because I read to hear an author’s voice.  And if I like an author, I prefer mine neat.  Straight, no chaser.  No fillers or additives.  Okay, I’ll stop now.

And a writer’s voice is so inherently personal that I don't really understand how anyone truly collaborates on a work of fiction.  In music, when two voices are singing in harmony, the whole can truly be greater than the sum of its parts (see the Beach Boys circa Pet Sounds).  (Note to self:  must update music references.)  But when it comes to writing, the pleasure comes from getting as close to an author’s unique perspective on the world as possible.  It seems to me that adding a co-author only creates distance and confuses that perspective, creating a sort of parallax effect.

Here are a few opening passages of a few books I admire that speak with a voice that is definitely not the product of a team approach:

Daniel Woodrell, Winter’s Bone:  “Ree Dolly stood at break of day on her cold front steps and smelled coming flurries and saw meat.  Meat hung from trees across the creek.  The carcasses hung pale of flesh with a fatty gleam from low limbs of saplings in the side yards.  Three halt haggard houses formed a kneeling rank on the fat creekside and each had two or more skinned torsos dangling by rope from sagged limbs, venison left to the weather for two nights and three days so that the early blossoming of decay might round the flavor, sweeten that meat to the bone.”

James Crumley, The Last Good Kiss:  “When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon."

Saul Bellow, Henderson the Rain King:  “What made me take the trip to Africa?  There is no quick explanation.  Things got worse and worse and worse and pretty soon they were too complicated.

When I think of my condition at the age of fifty-five when I bought the ticket, all is grief.  The facts begin to crowd me and soon I get a pressure in my chest.  A disorderly rush begins – my parents, my wives, my girls, my children, my farm, my animals, my habits, my money, my music lessons, my drunkenness, my prejudices, my brutality, my teeth, my face, my soul!  I have to cry, “No, no, get back, curse you, let me alone!”  But how can they let me alone?   They belong to me.  They are mine.  And they pile into me from all sides.  It turns into chaos.”


Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

I agree, Reece, it's all about individual voice. Sometimes a duet is better than a solo, but I prefer the solos and do not gravitate towards collaborations, either as a reader or author.

Vikki Jeanne said...

As a reader, I am a big Iris Johansen fan, and I tend to prefer the books that she writes by herself to those she co-writes with her son. As I writer, I *co-wrote* two books with my elderly neighbor ~ her basic story idea, my words ~ and giving written form to her vision was frustrating sometimes. She was a blunt, exacting lady, but when all was said and done, I had to say that I enjoyed sharing the process with her. She passed away before our second book, *A Rose at Sunset,* was done, and I truly missed her input. Still, I prefer writing my own visions. :) ♥

Reece said...

Sue Ann and Vikki -- Thanks for stopping by -- sounds like we're all on the same page. Watching the Emmys last night, I was reminded that collaboration among writers really can work on a TV show like Mad Men, Breaking Bad or Homeland. But even there you usually have one writer like David Chase or David Simon driving the creative process.