My first steps into writing and my obsessive zombie apocalypse reading jag happened around the same time, and during my online wandering in search of things to feed both appetites I stumbled across the Permuted Press message boards. Not only did I find a ready source of some of the best horror books I’ve read, I also discovered a wonderful community of writers. There were people at every level, from people taking their first steps to well established authors who had a number of novels. I was made extremely welcome, and it has been of huge help to me on my writing journey.
One of the guys who made it such a great place to hang out was Thom Brannan. As part of my involvement with the critique groups there I have been fortunate enough to read and critique a heap of his short stories and novels and to be honest I am both disgusted by and in awe of his prolific output of quality writing – the man is a machine. But, Thom is also incredibly supportive of other writers and always willing to provide assistance and feedback. So, it seems rather apt to have him post on working with others – he is definitely a team player!
COLLABORATION FOR FUN AND PROFIT?
Jumping right into it, because I hate preamble… today: looking at my resume, I would not have seemed the ideal person to finish Z.A. Recht’s Survivors, the final book in his Morningstar series. Up until that point, I’d written some crime and some sci-fi, and maybe a little bit of horror. I’d also edited some horror, too. But nothing in my CV screamed out “zombies!” Nonetheless, Jacob Kier at Permuted knew what kind of a fan I was of the Morningstar books, and that I had a talent.
I would like to say I took to the task as a dog to cold mac and cheese, but that would be a lie. (Only if your dog is like my dog, though.) It worried me. It pained me. For the first couple of weeks, it fucking paralyzed me. Looking back now at the thread on the MSS forums where I was tracking progress, I can read through the false bravado to the scared me, and I can also see where it changed from false bravado to the real thing. Every week on Sunday (ish) I was posting snippets of the chapter I was working on, and never said whether it was Z’s work or my own. There was a lot of very enthusiastic feedback the whole time, and especially after I had posted one of my own bits, which bolstered me greatly.
After that, I fairly raced through the manuscript, jumping giddily when I found real-world things to shore up the things I was writing about, or when I found a new place in the timeline for one of Z’s discarded scenes. Everything just kind of clicked, after that.
(That’s not to say the third book in the trilogy has been universally accepted. Hah! Au contraire. Since July of 2012 I’ve read a lot of venom and vitriol about the book, my writing, and me in particular. It’s okay, though. I’m a big boy, with skin tempered by eleven years in the submarine service and seven years in the offshore drilling industry. You’ll have to work extra hard to offend me.)
This brings me to the actual collaboration portion of this… blog. Thing. Whatever. Finishing Survivors wasn’t a collaboration, but Pavlov’s Dogs was.
D.L. Snell was looking for a writing partner for his werewolves/zombies project, and Jacob thought of me for that, as well. Working on that novel with Snell was a whole other world from Survivors. I had more than just notes to work on, and much more license to change things. The point of collaboration, it has since become clear to me, is to embrace all that stuff you didn’t think of, precisely because you didn’t think of it. Amirite?!
The best thing about collaboration, to me, is that synergy that happens between writing partners that are truly sympatico. Snell is very methodical and precise. I am very tangential. He outlines extensively, and I usually maybe have an idea of where things are going to go. He thinks about character motivations and progression, and I think less about that and more about how they’re going to react to the outlandish situation. All of that mashed together worked out much better than either of us hoped, and I think it was because we covered each other’s weaknesses, not to mention how much the manuscript shone where our strengths overlapped.
Other collaborations were just as fun, if not as lengthy. I wrote a time-travel story with Rob Pegler for the up-and-coming Times of Trouble. Rob and I have long surfed the same brain wave. When I was writing about mercenary werewolves and my character trapped in a building with them, he was writing about his protagonists being trapped in a building with wereants. I think, right now, we’re both using the same mythological character as the nexus of bad things in our on-going stories. We arrive at these destinations on our own, and it’s always a pleasant surprise when we find out about the different ways we’re using the same idea. So, working with him on something where we could both focus our similarities was rewarding, and I think the readers will agree… whenever the anthology is out.
If I have a point here, I think it’s this: don’t be afraid to share ideas and work with people on them. Sometimes the story will get away from you and follow a path you’d not intended for it. Let the story grow between the two of you, and once it’s done, prune it down if you have to for wordcount considerations. Let it happen. It’ll work for you, or it won’t, but if you don’t try it with several people, you’ll never know.
Give it a shot.
Thom Brannan (est. 1976, Chicago, Illinois) is an American author from Austin, Texas. He’s a former submariner and nuclear field worker, now working on an overseas offshore installation. He is married and has one boy, one baby girl, one dog, and one turtle.
He is the co-editor (with John Sunseri) of the first two volumes of the Cthulhu Unbound anthology series. He co-authored Survivors, the final book in Z.A. Recht’s Morningstar Saga after the original author’s passing. His first solo novel, Lords of Night, was released by Permuted Press in October of 2012.
Thom edited the Permuted Press edition of Anthony Giangregorio’s Dead End and Travis Adkins’ After Twilight: Walking With the Dead, as well as performing copy-editing work for HorrorBound Online Magazine’s Return of the Raven and Fear of the Dark anthologies.
Dark Tomorrow dot Net features his serial fiction, mosty set in the Cthulhu Mythos.