Thursday, June 03, 2004

How to Survive a Collaboration.

Mr. Neil Gaiman sir, I know that you collaborate with other people all the time on stories or art or music, so are there any tips you could give that might help a couple of guys that are trying to turn a non-functioning collaborative writing duo into a funtioning one?

I have no real idea why some messages get pulled out of the enormous inbox and some don't. This one wasn't going to be, and then I thought, well, he sort of has a point. I've collaborated all over the place. And I have learned a few things. So these are in no particular order:

1) Only collaborate if you both are working on the same thing. If you and your collaborator are writing the same book, great. If you want to write something like Prisoner of Zenda, and he wants to write something like Atlas Shrugged you'd better stop now, while you're still on speaking terms. Picking a recent collaboration, Gene Wolfe and I wrote a very short book together a couple of years ago called A WALKING TOUR OF THE SHAMBLES. We were asked to collaborate on something to be published for the World Horror Convention in Chicago, and we chatted about it on the phone. I was deeply intimidated by the idea of writing with Gene, and suggested that we do something that had its own shape, like a dictionary or a tarot deck or a travel guide. And Gene had already written a dictionary and I'd already written most of a tarot deck, so a travel guide it was. And we both knew what sort of thing we were writing -- tone of voice, all that.

2) Collaborations, on the whole aren't written by (in this case)Neil Gaiman and Gene Wolfe. They're written by (again, in this case) a two-headed entity called GeneandNeil. Part of it is about checking your head and ego at the door, and making the best thing you can. And part of it is about having fun making something you couldn't make on your own.

3) The best thing about a collaboration is having an immediate audience: you get to write for your collaborator, he gets to write for you. It's immediate feedback. Gene and I wrote A Walking Tour of The Shambles in the simplest way possible: I'd write four pages, and post them to Gene. The following week I'd look in the mail, and there would be four pages from Gene, which would be sharper and funnier and darker than what I'd written. So I'd try and write something even sharper and funnier and darker to make Gene smile... It seemed like the book was written in no time at all.

3) In an artistic disagreement, the person who cares the most, wins. Trust me on this. Arguments about aesthetics and art tend not to get into simple easy right and wrong places. Mostly they're about different kinds of right. On the whole, when there's a disagreement, one of you will care more. Go with that -- at least you'll be erring on the side of passion. Ego's not important. Cool art is important.

4) Know your boundaries. Know where you're willing to give, and what you're willing to give in on. My attitude on lyrics, for example, varies a lot depending on the song and the project, from "this is the sort of thing I'm talking about, feel free to take it as a starting point and we'll mess with it" (which is my attitude to the preliminary work I'm doing on Wolves in the Walls lyrics) to "change one word of what I've given you and you can give it back and forget the whole thing" (on something else).

5) On the one hand, you're best off knowing the business deal that the collaboration's based upon going in. On the other hand, most of the collaborations I've done have had the simplest and most sensible financian/business agreements, viz., "we'll split this 50/50 and not worry about who ordered the salad."

Hey Neil.

I'm new here and wasn't quite sure where to post this, so I hope this is okay.

Anyway, I've read that you allow fan fiction of your works, and I was curious as to why? Most authors don't allow fanfic because of concern for losing their rights.

I am a fairly new author (just had my first paid publication and am working on a novel) and am wrestling with this particular issue. I'm looking for any input that can help me decide where to fo with it.



Why? Because fan fiction is fan fiction. I don't believe I'll lose my rights to my characters and books if I allow/fail to prevent/turn a blind eye to people writing say Neverwhere fiction, as long as those people aren't, say, trying to sell books with my characters in. I don't read it (and that way no-one has to wonder whether I stole the plot of something from their fanfic).

I don't think my attitude on this is particularly uncommon among authors -- I noticed the other day that JK Rowling doesn't mind Harry Potter fan fiction. Except for the x-rated kind. (I'm sure there are people out there writing Harry Potter fan fiction that isn't x-rated). On the other hand I consider it an author's right to not want fan fiction and do everything the author can to stamp it out, if that's what he or she wants. It's one of those "your mileage may vary" things.

As a fledgling writer, I really wouldn't spend too much time worrying that people will write fan fiction with your characters in. If they ever do, take it as a sign that you probably did something right and made some characters that people liked and believed in and wanted to write about. Or wanted to imagine in the nude. Or something.

First, my apologies if you've answered this a bajillion times before, but while you've answered questions before regarding publishing and have recommended using the web to get your stuff out there, but I don't remember if you've recently talked more specifically about online publishing.

You see, aside from university or community publications I'm not sure what places to try, so I considered the internet. It seems a logical option in this day and age, but finding a reputable e-zine is tricky. Some "accept" anything, which doesn't mean a thing to me. If I am selected I want to feel I've earned it. Other sites, meanwhile, charge a fee or have some other strings attached, and while I understand that a submission fee keeps some sites from being flooded and pays the judges, editors, etc., I'm also wary of any place that asks for money. Lastly, if the site or journal is too obscure, I may as well go post on some random message board.

What is your opinion and suggestions on such online zines and contests, and do you have any sites you'd recommend? I'm not really interested in prize money, mine you; I'd just like to see how my writings compare and test the waters a bit, so to speak. (Insert more clich�s, HERE.)

Thank you for your time.

- K

Always be wary of sites that ask for money. (Remember: money flows towards the author, not away. Yog's Law.)

Beyond that, I'm a rotten person to ask about this stuff. I'm not a beginning author here and now, I was a beginning author twenty-one years ago, and all the rules were different then. (My own theory about the net is that, if you write good stories, you could just put them up on the web and tell people to go and read them. I don't tend to read much fiction online -- places I do go to read it would include, but I'm sure you can find others yourself. A good test is whether the stuff on the site is readable.)

So my suggestion would be this. Go to the Making Light site. It's run by Teresa Nielsen Hayden, an editor at Tor Books, and one of the most level-headed and sensible people, when it comes to books, I've ever encountered. If it's to do with books or publishing or SF and Teresa says it's so, then it's so. Simple as that. (You may disagree with her on anything else you wish to, as long as you're very certain of your facts. But when it comes to copyediting, publishing, all that stuff... hush, grasshopper and learn.) Read the entries on publishing. Then read the comments attached to the entries. For example, if you want to know about literary agents, here are the different kinds. Here's a recent post about vanity publishing. Read her words, follow her links, and learn.


Things I meant to post earlier but forgot:

Over at the latest Emerald City, Anne Murphy, who was my guest liaison (minder) at Penguicon writes about what she saw of the con and about making sure I was moved from place to place and how I was still standing at the end -- it's a sort of companion piece to the Marsdust interview, which Anne mentions at the end.

Meanwhile over at her website, Malena, the extremely beautiful, silent (when the cameras were on) sort of vampiric assistant in the "Thirteen Nights of Fright" writes about our TV shoot and how much fun it was to get into that coffin. (It really was an incredibly comfortable coffin, and it was really only when they lowered the lid on you that you started to scent the formaldehyde, and you realised that it had definitely had some use as a show-coffin for people who were going on to be cremated, or just buried in cheaper and more uncomfortable coffins, before it started getting rented out to TV shows.)


Right -- this just in, a profile of Will Eisner at the Washington Post. I think it's now time for the world at large to notice Will, and this feels like a sensible place to start. Attention must be paid...

I don't have many heroes. Will Eisner is several of them.


Some small ones: these people are idiots. (via the ever-fascinating Museum of Hoaxes site.)

This one is amusing and fascinating. I wonder if he did send the message to the woman in Bristol, or if some central supercomputer is scanning text messages for significant words.


And I should plug a couple of things that have come out recently. ONE RING ZERO's CD 'As Smart as We Are" is now out. It's a book! It's a CD! It's a creamy dessert topping! Lyrics by such luminaries as Daniel Handler and Dave Eggers, Paul Auster, Rick Moody and Margaret Atwood. And me. It's fun. The "We" in the title are the cockroaches in the Jonathan Lethem song.

I understand my short story "The Problem Of Susan" is out, in the Al Sarrantonio anthology "extreme fantasy" anthology FLIGHTS. I've not seen a copy of the finished book yet -- here's a thumbnail review at Jonathan Strahan's blog, and a longer review at SF Weekly here (I think that last link may be a bit transient).

(And here's a listing for Gothic!, which contains "Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Nightmare House of the Night of Dread Desire" (I think I got that right), a story that people who've heard it read aloud seem to be waiting for, possibly because they can't quite believe they heard it correctly the first time.)