Sharing the Load by Lev Butts

So I've been sitting on this for a while, and I still can't go into too much detail yet, but this past summer, I had the pleasure to write my first co-authored story, and I'd like to talk a little about it.

A few years ago, I met Dacre Stoker, the great-grandnephew of Bram Stoker (the author of Dracula) at a local Steampunk convention. I was there to promote Guns of the Waste Land, and he was giving a fascinating presentation, Stoker on Stoker, on the research and writing of Bram's masterpiece.

When we weren't on panels or presenting, we were across each other in the book sellers' area. In addition to his presentation, Dacre had also edited a volume of Bram Stoker's journals and co-authored a sequel to Dracula: Dracula the Un-Dead (It's pretty good; check it out).

We spent a good deal of time talking and getting to know each other since few people were finding their way to the Book Seller's Alley (Appropriately named as we were literally in a hall off from the side of everything else, poorly lit, and decidedly musty).

And the clientele were a little sketchy, to be honest.
I had him sign my copy of his novel, and we discussed having him give his presentation at my school.

From that weekend, a good friendship developed and Dacre and I have communicated and visited regularly about everything from re-publishing the journals book to our works in progress to our mutual appreciation for the sometimes panned Coppola Dracula film.

Shortly after the publication of his latest book, a prequel to Dracula (though unrelated to his earlier sequel) titled Dracul and co-written with J.D. Barker (This book is fantastic and you should definitely buy it now.), Dacre called to ask me if I'd be interested in writing a piece of short fiction with him.

I have to admit I was a little wary of agreeing to it, not because I had anything against Dacre, but because I'd never written something with anyone else before. I started a project last year with Brad Strickland, but it kind of petered out when the two of us proved too busy with our money-paying gigs to work on it. So I assumed I'd run into the same problems here, plus the added issue of us living in two separate states made me think collaboration would be pretty burdensome.

However, I decided to do it because when would I get the chance to play in the world of Dracula with not only the estate's blessing but alongside the original a member of the original author's family? I figured I'd give it a go and if it didn't work out, there'd be no harm done.

And I am glad I did.

There are definitely benefits to writing alone: You only really have to satisfy yourself, you can work at your own pace, and you don't need anyone else's permission to make creative decisions. I have to admit, though, that there are definitely unforeseen benefits to co-writing as well.

Dacre had  a bunch of ideas for a story; I won't tell you what they were, but they were great ideas. We sat down at a coffeehouse that was equidistant from both our homes, and he talked about what he saw as the main plot of the story, particular details he thought had to be included, and some details he thought might be cool to include if possible.

This was the most enjoyable aspect of the process for me: In essence he gave me a box of puzzle pieces to put together into a coherent narrative. My job was to figure out which pieces were part of the puzzle and how they fit together, which pieces were part of a different puzzle and needed to be put aside, and which pieces I needed to shape to fill in the gaps.

The first draft of mine and Dacre's story.
And don't get the idea that the process was just Dacre telling me what to write and me writing it: As our initial conversation developed, we both began contributing ideas. In fact, if we were to map out whose ideas were where, I'd say that the framing narrative of this story, the prologue and the epilogue were 90% Dacre's ideas, and the second third of the story, the flashback narrative was about 85% my ideas. Overall, I'd say we each completely carried our share of the creative weight with plotting.

Dacre claims that he is not a good writer, that he is more of an ideas guy, but I am here to tell you the man can write pretty well when the chips are down. As I wrote myself into particular corners during the drafting process, it was very helpful to have someone intimately acquainted with the project to help develop solutions or take over the writing of the piece until we were back on more sure footing. Perhaps his close familiarity with Bram's journals and writing, but the man can totally pull off the lingo of the late 19th century, seemingly without even trying.

As for my fears about the physical distance between us and the burden of collaborating over it, that I soon realized was completely unfounded and silly. We talked over the phone quite a bit, emailed, and texted even more frequently. It was actually a relief to be able to write in my own familiar surroundings secure in the knowledge that my collaborator was literally a phone call or a text away.

I worried about losing my own creativity because I'd be working mostly with someone else's ideas, but it became a good writing exercise to take this catalog of ideas and notions for a story and not only make it work, but to make feel like it was also part of my own oeuvre. Though it is a very different piece from Guns of the Waste Land or Emily's Stitches, it still very definitely feels like a story I'd write.

In short, I enjoyed co-writing so much, that Dacre and I are already planning a follow-up project, unrelated to this story but still set in the world of Dracula as well as in the world of a fairly well-known consulting detective. But that is, quite literally another story.

In the meantime, our story, "Last Days," should be appearing in an upcoming issue of the relaunched and revamped Weird Tales. Keep an eye out for it.

The start of a beautiful friendship.


Jan Needle said…
All sounds fascinating. But I want more info. Is anything available yet? Will you tell us when it is, and where to find it? Purlease...
Umberto Tosi said…
Sounds like a fascinating challenge, no matter the outcome - which promises to be a compelling read. My experiences with collaborative writing have been equally challenging - but usually worth the experience. Good luck.
Bill Kirton said…
For well over a year now, I've been co-writing short stories with a Canadian author. She and I have never met, and the way we work is very different from that which you describe, but I agree completely - it's an excellent exercise, challenging, but one which gives us both insights into our way of writing. I intend to write a blog of my own about it at some stage and I'd definitely recommend it to any writer, at whatever level.

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