Friday, October 2, 2015
Collaboration super power
Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, and Deborah Biancotti spoke at my local indie bookstore, Third Place Books, last night, and, well, it left me panting to go to a pub with a couple of writer friends and brainstorm. That’s how their collaborative YA book, ZEROES, was born.
“We met at a pub every week for about four hours,” Westerfeld said. “We drank beer and talked about super powers. As you do.”
Okay, I’m all smiles by now.
I’ve long been a fan of Westerfeld’s imaginative storytelling. When I was first learning how to write a novel (as opposed to nonfiction, which had been my career), I studied his three-part organization of UGLIES, a book I adored for its biting view of societal constructs on physical beauty.
And Lanagan’s lush descriptions and haunting tale swept me away in BRIDES OF ROLLROCK ISLAND. I can still feel that place somewhere deep in my bones.
I’m not familiar with Biancotti’s work, because she’s published mainly in Australia. All three writers are winners of prestigious awards and come from Sydney.
Biancotti had worked on a television show and fell in love with the writing room model, where writers bounce ideas off each other. “It was so much fun, so much more energizing and invigorating,” she said. “The ideas got crazier and weirder and more awesome.”
Lanagan, who’s a literary writer of spec fiction and winner of four World Fantasy Awards and two Printz Honor books, said she spends most of her time writing alone, sometimes coming to the end of a draft to find it’s flat. But with this collaboration she said, “You have this sort of instant testing lab. You watch ideas disintegrate…or float rather beautifully.”
Westerfeld calls collaboration a super power of the human species, and said when the three of them worked together it was like a hive mind. And that resembled somewhat how the characters in the story they were creating worked.
In ZEROES, six teens have powers that set them apart, and they need each other to survive.
Each of the three authors wrote two of the characters, and they are proud that readers who know their styles couldn’t figure out who wrote what. “We did kind of breakdown each other’s styles,” Lanagan said. “We referred to it as the fourth voice,” Biancotti added.
One of the characters, Anon, is particularly interesting, because no one, not even the other Zeroes, can remember him. Westerfeld described him as the character from the film Momento turned inside out so that instead of the character having short-term memory loss it happens to the people around him.
All the characters were born in 2000, hence being zeroes, and they’re “internetty,” according to Westerfeld.
Will the three authors return to writing alone after they finish the Zeroes trilogy? Well, they all have projects of their own but plan to use skills they’ve learned working together. Biancotti said she’s a lot braver now. “I’m playing dare with myself.”