Whenever I reveal that I am coauthoring with my best friend, the first response is usually something like “Cool!” This reaction is typically followed by obvious questions such as “What’s it about?”, “Where does it take place?” etc. Inevitably, another question arises, “Who is your coauthor and what is it like to work with them?”
Now this is where it gets interesting, because I can tell by the way the question is framed, how the interrogator has preconceived our experience. Some imagine a constant battle of egos, the butting of creative heads and endless skirmishes over opposing priorities. Others think our writing is a breeze; two people sharing a vision, sharing tasks and eagerly beavering away to achieve their collective dream.
The truth is that coauthoring is all of the above and then some.
In Narcisse Navarre, I have found a very special friend. She is intelligent, talented, creative and quite literally a force of nature. I met her late in life but I assure you, had we met as kids, the bond would have been just as powerful. She is a lot of fun.
We first met in a game of Dungeons and Dragons, then gamed online in a variety of MMORPGs. We role-played together with Dhatura and Khajj, and later other characters, weaving stories that eventually broke free of the limits of those games. That’s when we started writing together–first through email, then on Google docs. We would bat a few paragraphs back and forth like that writing game where one person writes a sentence and hands it to another who writes a sentence before handing it back and so on. Thus our first collaborative work of fiction was born–Nahja. We had great ideas and great scenes, but no idea how to write a proper book. We wrote because it was fun.
We delighted in surprising each other, not so much from one upmanship, but really seeking to create the story we would love to read. Eventually we realized we had a lot of writing, but no solid plotline or strategy. When we set out to create a plot, we realized we didn’t quite know how and so we began to teach ourselves. At first we used the Snowflake Method and that worked for the synopsis but didn’t quite hold our interest in terms of hatching a full length novel.
Nahja was a victim of another pair of characters created for a game and eventually hit the back burner like many of our other collaborations. It wasn’t long before we switched gears yet again. We were trying out a new (for us) format for role playing games, an online private forum game with three of our friends. As is our habit, Narcisse and I developed extensive back stories for our characters. At one point the GM asked if our characters “knew each other” before the current campaign timeframe. We decided that my character had worked with hers on a job in Rio de Janeiro a few years before. Really, it was a only throw away paragraph to infer that the job had been intense and successful.
Our characters turned out to be damn cool. Their personalities clicked really well. So one day, Narcisse and I were bored, no one else was online and we felt like role-playing our characters but couldn’t because of where we were at in the campaign storyline. Out of the blue, Narcisse and I embarked on an awe-inspiring journey as we explored what happened on the “Rio Job”. Long story short, we created a tale that grew into what will be our Sci-Fi epic – “Z.H.E.N.N.” As an aside, it was these characters that led us to meet and become friends with supermodel Andrei Andrei on whom we had based the male character. Providence? Synchronicity?
Definitely. Our writing is magic!
Writing sci-fi was great but soon we began to miss our original characters–Khajj and Dhatura, the cousins. Our curiosity to unearth the early interactions of the two characters soon had us rummaging through our inboxes, trying to salvage text logs and assorted emails. Khajj and Dhatura were by far the most in-depth and detailed characters either of us had ever played and we had a genuine desire to explore their story further. Each had a long and illustrious past before they even met – Khajj was born at a table top game, while Dhatura was born online. Reminiscing about their wild and fabulous adventures, we realized that we had the basis for a very compelling book!
In our zeal to explore their world, we wound up creating an atlas of planes, a pantheon of gods, an entire mythos, a forest of family trees and the trappings of a very seductive world. As the world grew, so did our desire to dwell there and explore. We were possessed by the idea and by the time we were done a loose manuscript of roughly 500,000 words existed that detailed not one book but three.
The manuscript was terrible. We had forgotten one critical task of good writing–the outline! The material we had was poorly written in two distinct styles, filled with talking heads and riddled with continuity and plot holes. After a year and a half of writing it was clear that we needed to evolve our styles into something legible. It was an immensely frustrating observation.
Without a synopsis or a clue, we were up shit’s creek without the proverbial paddle when it came to polishing our chunk of coal into a diamond. The idea that lived and flourished in our heads was nowhere on the page. Suffice it to say, we needed a plan but like Sisyphus, we were stuck with a mountain of a task and a very heavy boulder to roll. Completely overwhelmed, we dropped the project and switched back to the more manageable sci-fi story for a while. We were in total denial.
Frustration built to the boiling point. One morning, while on the phone with Narcisse, tempers bubbled over. We yelled at each other for having made no progress on anything. After roundly cursing at each other, we breathed. We both wanted this novel more than anything else. This was our dream and we’d be damned to let it slip away.
We spent another six months trying version after version of edits on the existing material before we threw in the towel–again. It was horrible, painful and utterly unimaginable that with our combined intellects we could not pound the first drafts into a semblance of even a mediocre book. Suffice it to say, Narcisse’s standards are high. Think Suskind and Sartre. It didn’t matter to her that it was erotica. She was determined to make the work sing. Neither of us do things half way so we both saw the wisdom in starting over but…damn.
It was at the two year mark that we finally succumbed and started over. Narcisse and I sat down and wrote a fresh outline, detailing chapter by chapter the first Book of Liryos: The Soulbinder’s Tale. Once we had completed the outline we realized that much of what we had written was no longer valid and thousands of words hit the cutting room floor. Gone. More staggering was that even with close to 300,000 words as a first draft, we needed to write MORE to fill in the gaps! So here we are today, working our way through our novel, the TRADITIONAL WAY.
The benefit of fumbling as we did was that through this process we learned and wrote a lot. As a result, our language, subtlety and finesse drastically improved. We learned to communicate (most of the time) and develop new ways of collaborating. I am very good at storytelling and Narcisse is very good at mood and style. It’s a good, solid combination to coauthor a book.
Do we share tasks? Yes, absolutely. We each have our areas of responsibility, sometimes mine is staying out of Narcisse’s way. Narcisse is a powerhouse and I have had to give up trying to keep pace with her. If Narcisse ever told me she was going to fly to the moon on gossamer wings while juggling fireballs and debating the merits of the Holographic Universe with Stephen Hawking, I would believe her without blinking.
Do we battle? Yes, although we have almost never argued over the characters, story or world, we do get stressed by our daily lives and sometimes it leads to conflict. When a Capricorn butts heads with an Aries, mountains tremble, seas boil and the very heavens above cry out in dismay but it does not last. Thankfully, this epic, cosmic clash is rare and in no time we find our way back to harmony.
Coauthoring can be very rewarding but it is not for everyone. If the chemistry is right it is a wonderful creative journey filled with challenges and triumphs, but if it’s wrong it will be explosive, frustrating and potentially devastating for a friendship. Coauthors can riff off each other and bounce ideas, console and surprise each other but it is a codependency. Finding someone whose timing, personality, sense of urgency and creativity matches yours is extremely rare.
Our winning formula is to keep each other motivated. Honest communication, lots of booze and thrilling plot twists go a long way.