Christopher Robinson and Gavin Kovite have been writing together for a long time. “We’ve developed a common narrative voice through years of collaboration,” they say. And as any agent or editor will sadly attest, the land overflows with writers who never developed a consistent narrative voice despite having only themselves as partners.
The modus labori of the Encyclopaedists’ dynamic duo seems like the easy part: Each author started out writing the areas of the plot he was most familiar with, then “we’d edit each other’s work, swap and rewrite, swap and rewrite.”
Sounds pretty professional, but the reality feels to me as tough as what it takes to make a domestic relationship work. If my writing partner is unhappy with a fictive spouse’s fixation on G.I. Joe dolls, for instance, while I, creator of said spouse, see Joe as akin to spouse’s Siamese twin, isn’t that the same as a connubial partner objecting to my taste in food or clothes?
“In the process of resolving our disputes, the book improves,” Robinson/Kovite say. Presumably, they know, but it sounds like a place most people don’t get to without serious investment in “couple counseling.”
Thinking about their efforts made me recall my own attempt once to write a book with a partner, but that was an editing text, a job totally cut-and-dried because we decided early on who would take the commas and who the coordinating conjunctions. (The process went swimmingly until he decided collaborating with his new bride was likelier to bring immediate benefit than collaborating with me.)
Another disappointment in the co-writing department came when I was living in Silicon Valley, and saw a Sunday classified ad seeking participants for a novel to be written by a committee. The creativity of the idea was irresistible!
A dozen or so of us maybe-wannabe-committee-members gathered in an airy condo on a Sunday afternoon. The advertiser explained that he had a thousand great stories but finally had to admit that his characters suffered from serious rigor mortis. And by the way, his wife, the editor, didn’t think he had much of an ear for how people talk either. So the concept was that an “expert” would be chosen, in a way I unfortunately wasn’t there long enough to find out, for such easily separable areas (or so the host believed) as setting, action, dialog, character description, etc.
It really would have been fascinating to learn how he thought to carry out this mad plan, but alas, a fatal attack of qualm forced me to withdraw when he told the assemblage we wouldn’t have to actually describe a steel mill setting (for example) realistically; all we had to do was fool the reader into thinking it was realistic.
Would that I were made of sterner stuff, and had been able to stomach such foul tripe! I might be telling here a tale of collaboration to dwarf the exploits of Robinson/Kovite like the elephant (or at least the cat) dwarfs the mouse.
But as of now, I’m placing myself in their fan club. Looking back, the two writers see the process as having brought them both a better book and a better relationship. Surely on the internet somewhere, there’s a literary version of Match.com with a partner just right for me.