Kendra: I share a publisher with Lee, and we both belong to a small unauthorized author group where we share or vent about our experiences. We haven’t met in person unless you count last year at BEA. I was chatting with a group from our publisher when Lee walked by and was greeted by some of the group. My husband immediately geeked out. “That was Lee Goldberg!” Thank you for being here today, Lee!
I am a TV writer and novelist, but for most of my career, the majority of my work has been done in episodic television where collaboration is the norm.
In TV, you work for the Executive Producer, who is often the creator of the show, and with a room full of other writers. Your job is to tell a story the way the EP does, to establish and maintain a shared vision of the show and voice for the characters. You plot stories with other writers and often rewrite each other or just an scene or act of someone else’s script. (This is even true when you are the EP — you may be in charge, but you need to run the writers room, guide the plotting of stories, and usually have to do a polish on every script). Working this way gives you a real objectivity about your work and a willingness to accept feedback and other points-of-view without your ego getting bruised. It’s all about the show, not you.
In books, the writing is usually a singular pursuit. One author, one voice. But much of my novel-writing experience has been collaborative as well. I’ve written fifteen books in the MONK series, which was based on the TV show, which I also worked on. I was writing about characters I didn’t create — Andy Breckman did. So I had to run all of my ideas past him first. I was fine with that. It was well within my comfort zone and I thrived. The book series did, too.
Then William Rabkin and I created THE DEAD MAN series of books and brought the episodic TV format to publishing. We wrote the first book together then hired other authors to write the subsequent, bi-monthly books the way we might hire freelance writers on an episodic TV series. We plot the stories with our writers one-on-one, through emails and sometimes phone calls, and then they go off and write a draft, trying to mimic our approach to the characters and storytelling while still bringing their own unique POV to the project. We give them notes, they do another draft or two, and then sometimes Bill and I will do a polish. It’s been so much fun and a commercial success. We’ve done 20 books so far with four more on the way.
Most of the authors on the series took very well to the episodic approach we brought to the DEAD MAN. They enjoyed the collaboration and were energized by the experience. A few other writers hated it. Collaboration didn’t come naturally to them at all, even though they were working with *our* characters. They were offended by any editorial suggestions. Their work was sacrosanct and they didn’t want anyone intruding on their process. They left vowing never to work with another writer again. As it happens, the writers who handled the collaboration well also happen to be more successful in their “solo” writing careers than the others who ran screaming from the process. I’m not sure why. But I know the ability to collaborate has served me very, very well.
Now I am writing the Fox & O’Hare series with Janet Evanovich (our first book, THE HEIST, came out June 18th) and we are having a terrific time. Janet and I have been friends for almost twenty years. We’d see each other whenever she was in L.A. and chat on the phone once or twice a year for a few hours of shop-talk and lots of laughter. I always looked forward to our dinners and calls because she’s one of the funniest, smartest, most-talented people I know.
Last year, when we got together for pizza and beer in L.A. we talked about the movies we’d seen and the books we’d read, what we liked about them and what we didn’t. We were on the same wave-length. It slowly dawned on us that we should write a novel together, something that we’d both like to read. Something that was pure escapist fun, full of high-stakes adventure, glamorous locales, and colorful, entertaining characters. So that’s exactly what we did. Writing the book was hard work…but the collaboration brought out the best in both of us. A new, shared voice emerged that is neither Evanovich nor Goldberg…it’s Evanoberg. And we both love it.
And now, a little over a year after that long dinner, the prequel short story PROS & CONS is a New York Times bestseller and the novel THE HEIST has just been released. Both stories are about Nick Fox, an international conman and thief, and Kate O’Hare, the hard-charging F.B.I. agent who is hunting him down. Well, at least that’s the way it starts in the prequel and the first few chapters of THE HEIST. But their relationship changes dramatically after that… to say more would diminish your the fun. I like to think that the energy and the fun of their collaboration is a true reflection of the fun of *our* collaboration.
Writing with someone else can be beneficial in so many ways. It forces you to raise our game, to get out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself. It’s also a lot less lonely. It’s nice to have someone to bounce ideas around with or who can rewrite a scene of yours that isn’t quite getting where you know it needs to be.
I believe if a writer is going to survive in this business now, they have to be open to new markets and new creative approaches. A successful collaboration can energize you, introduce you to fresh ways of doing things, and bring potentially bring an entirely new audience to your work. It can reinvigorate your solo work, too. Besides, it never hurts to be able to play well with others. You never know where it might lead you.
You can find Lee here: http://www.leegoldberg.com/
Anyone else here done a collaboration or do you think you could? Who would you love to write with? Readers, what are some of your favorite collaborations?