Collaboration For Loners
By Mark Justice
Okay, I’m not exactly a loner, the kind of guy who opens up on his fellow factory workers with an assault rifle, prompting his neighbors to tell the local news, “He was so quiet, though he did like to read them weird Stephen King books.”
I enjoy my friends and family too much to qualify for loner-dom. But when it comes to writing, I enjoy the solitude, being cloistered in my tiny warren while I try to come up with a nice synonym for “eviscerate” (for the record, there is none; neither “gut” nor “disembowel” has the sweet symmetry of the E word).
Anyway, in honor of the release of Dead Earth: The Vengeance Road, the novel I wrote with David T. Wilbanks, I thought it would be appropriate to answer a frequent question under the guise of pimping the book. That query is always a variation of “What’s it like to write with somebody else?”
If the inquiry is made in person, the asker’s tone is usually conspiratorial, tinged with a gleeful TMZ sort of note, which I always interpret as “Tell us about the fights!”
Oh, how I wish I could share the tales of colossal battles. Titanic clashes that shook the cosmos.
The truth is Dave and I get along very well. When we write together, we act like two perfectly mature adults. It’s even more amazing because one of us is not (hint: it’s not Dave).
Our collaboration began a few years ago when Dave asked me to write a novel with him, something with zombies and mutants.
I never asked him why he chose me. Mainly because I don’t want to know how many writers turned him down before he got to my name.
From that brief germ of an idea, we brainstormed the Dead Earth world, in which a military experiment inadvertently opened a gateway to somewhere else, resulting in the death of most of the humans on the planet and the transformation of those who had died into shambling, flesh-eating beasts.
Our original pitch was set many years after the disaster, on an Earth overrun by alien overlords, their hungry zombie soldiers and a number of human with strange mutations.
Then one of us–and I can’t remember who–suggested that we go back to the beginning and do a prequel novel that revealed the tale of the original accident. We decided to tell the story from the viewpoint of Jubal Slate, a small town cop in New Mexico who watched helplessly as the world ended.
This ended up becoming Dead Earth: The Green Dawn, and was published by PS Publishing.
Writing the prequel turned out to be a good idea, as far as I’m concerned. Focusing on Jubal and his agony as he lost everyone he cared for gave our series a very important human touch, an approach we worked hard to maintain in the sequel, even as the inhuman elements creeped into this bad new world.
In Dead Earth: The Vengeance Road, Jubal Slate is back, a changed man, fueled by a single purpose: payback. He wants to take the fight to the beings that destroyed his life.
The Dead Earth series is a blend of horror, SF and adventure fiction, an apocalyptic thriller that reflects the pulp fiction that both us of grew up reading.
As to how the actual collaboration worked, it’s pretty basic. We hashed out a loose plot, highlighting the important story beats we wanted to hit. Then we took turns with the writing. Our goal was five pages before we passed it off to the other guy. That left us free to work on other projects while our partner was taking his turn. If one of us came up with an unexpected twist or character moment, we checked with the other. The deciding factor on any changes to the plot was this: does it make the story better? If it did it went in. We weren’t OCD about sticking to the original outline (which left a lot of room for improvisation in the first place). Nor did we exhibit much in the way of ego clashes.
The part that amazed me about the collaboration was how much I enjoyed it. I always liked the writing process, but sharing it with someone else provided an unexpected benefit. Seeing what someone else did with my writing as a springboard, the directions and choices that would never occur to me in a million years, was very cool. It inspired me to get back to the story, send it to Dave and look forward to reading what came next.
And now, reading over the books, it’s hard to remember which of us wrote what, particularly after the many rounds of revisions and edits.
Of course, I realize that all collaborations will not be this smooth. But I don’t have anything else to compare it to. It’s always good to get back to my solo writing, but I enjoy teaming up with Dave on Dead Earth, too.
To answer the second most popular question: yes, there will be another Dead Earth novel. It’s already underway. The working title is Dead Earth: People Get Eaten and Squishy Intestines Drag on the Ground.
But that’s subject to change.
Dead Earth: The Vengeance Road is out now from Permuted Press, and the publisher is releasing Dead Earth: The Green Dawn as an eBook for Kindle, Nook and other platforms.
If you choose to pick up a copy or an electronic version, please let us know what you think over at the Justice-Wilbanks forum here at Horror World.
Mark Justice is a writer and radio announcer who lives in Kentucky with his wife and cats. He also hosts pod of Horror with the Goddess of Horror World. You can often find him at http://markjustice.blogspot.com/
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