Until recently, collaborating on a work of fiction sounded a bit like climbing a mountain: too much work to contemplate. But then a friend asked if I’d consider working with her, and she had enough reasons it was a great idea for both of us that I put on my crampons. Not only is it my first collaborative project, but it’s my first attempt at writing to a pre-selected theme, so I’m learning plenty about my own processes along the way.
But one thing I’ve discovered isn’t about me or my writing: collaborating seems to be far more common in spec-fic than in other genres. This may seem obvious to you, gentle reader, but it didn’t sink in for me until a literary-type writer asked me how my writing was going. I mentioned I was collaborating on a story and got a blank look. I explained a bit further, and he still looked surprised at the idea. “It’s not uncommon in speculative fiction,” I found myself saying. And that’s true.
There are lots of temporary team-ups: Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Moon; P.K. Dick and Roger Zelazny; one book written by Marion Zimmer Bradley, Julian May, and Andre Norton. One of my favorite collaborations is Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. Most of the long-term writing teams I know of are romantic partners who write together, from Janet and Isaac Asimov to Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon. But all of these collaborations, which I remembered off the top of my head, are in fantasy or science fiction. I’ve met plenty of people who’ve collaborated on short stories too — all of them writing spec fic.
So what’s going on here? Perhaps literary fiction is very invested in the genius model of creation. If writing is something transcendent that happens in the fecund mind of an individual, how can it be shared between two? Of course, I didn’t find a lot of unabashed proponents of the genius model when I was in grad school: literary writers seem to have become a bit more pragmatic. Well then, perhaps it’s the implied compromise: in my experience, the literary world does see the author as striving toward an ideal artistic vision. How can two people share the same vision, and won’t they both have to compromise in order to finish the work?
Of course, trying to cast this as an effect of literary aloofness is ignoring another important piece of anecdata. I have read a lot of mysteries — and, living with my mom, seen the covers of many more — and I can’t recall an actual coauthor. (Feline coauthors, in my humanocentric opinion, do not count.) I don’t have any expertise at all in romance, but my limited impressions don’t include two names on the cover. If it were just literary fiction that resisted collaboration, why wouldn’t I have seen at least a few co-written books in these genres?
So it is I come to my current working theory: it’s not about literary fiction, or about what spec-fic isn’t. It’s about fandom and what spec-fic is. Fandom is a riot of people building on each others’ ideas, enjoying each others’ worlds and characters. It includes many gamers, who are used to the idea that a story, even an interesting or epic story can emerge from the contributions of four or five people sitting around a table. Maybe it isn’t that other sorts of fiction have a resistance to collaboration so much as that collaboration just doesn’t come up in those circles. Whether it came from writers geeking out over each others’ worlds, people around a gaming table or established authors wanting to nurture and promote newer ones, team-writing seems to have a tradition within science fiction and fantasy (and horror?) that it doesn’t have elsewhere.
What do you think? Have you read collaborations in other genres? Am I overlooking something about team-written spec-fic? Who wants to be the only voice in a discussion about collaboration, anyway?