This past October I participated in a poetry challenge where I met and started friendships with other writers. At the time, one of those writers was preparing to publish a new book in time for Halloween entitled JESSICA. Well, of course THAT got my attention. And so, my interest piqued, I began following the author on her blog, Being the Memoirs of Helena Hann-Basquiat, Dilletante. Not too long into this year, Ms. Hann-Basquiat (who has never kept silent the fact that her name is a pseudonym) finally revealed herself, or rather HIMself, to her readers and followers, who were incredibly supportive and encouraging. Somehow, during all of this, Ken (Helena) and I became friends, thanks to Facebook and blogging. But I became a big fan of his writing before that.
Currently, Ken has been working on a sequel to JESSICA. SINGULARITY, the title of his forthcoming novel, throws a new light on JESSICA. Have I made you curious yet? Hope so, because today I am bringing you Ken, talking about collaborating on a project with other writers from different backgrounds, and what happens when two ideas do not mesh. His experience is worth reading about. Please enjoy.
Links are provided at the end of the article.
On Collaboration by Helena Hann-Basquiat, a.k.a. Ken
I have always enjoyed collaboration.
I love surrounding myself with talented writers, artists, and musicians. If I were independently wealthy, I’d open up a studio like Andy Warhol’s Factory and create a culture of artistic collaborative expression for the 21st Century.
I love collaboration for the very synergy of it – the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Each person brings something to the project that the other wouldn’t have even considered at times.
We all have our limitations and blind spots. I may dream something up that is beyond my ability, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have the drive and desire to see it become a reality. And so I share my vision with others, and often times, I’m very lucky and find people who want to join up and help make it happen.
Don’t get me wrong – I love to captain the ship, but I know the importance of a good crew.
As a captain, I tend to be a little mad (let’s cut through those icebergs, sail through that hurricane, head to the horizon and see if we really do fall of the edge) and so I tend to surround myself with people who either share or at least trust my vision. That trust is important, and it goes both ways, but I’ll get to that later.
Last fall, I had an idea for a collaborative project to celebrate Hallowe’en. I had been masquerading not only as Helena but also as this dark creature, Jessica, who I purported lived in my basement and wrote creepy stories on old dusty parchment, using her own blood for ink. She was part Crypt Keeper, part Elvira, Mistress of the Night, part ghoul, part temptress – the truth is, I didn’t really know what she was. Mostly she was just a name that developed a bit of mystique, both for me and my readers.
And so my initial idea was to recruit a half dozen writers and artists to come up with their own stories about Jessica – you know, the type of story you tell around a campfire (I hear she only drinks the tears of Latvian orphans and that she bathes in the milk of endangered Yaks from Nepal)… each one trying to out-do each other.
That’s how it started, and I was just going to be the host, adding witty banter from Penny and me.
Then I got sick – really sick, and ended up in the hospital, and in a morphine dream, I got an idea about the strangest demon birth ever conceived.
And so I started writing what would have initially been my contribution to the JESSICA project.
Then the stories started coming in, and I began making connections between them – they did, after all, have a common subject.
What then began was one of the most rewarding experiences of my writing career – weaving the voices together into something that worked as a whole. For Jessica, I embraced the fact that there were six different voices telling the stories. Through a series of journal entries, police reports, confessions, and interviews, I was able to make that fact completely acceptable – if anything, having different writers with different voices adds, in my opinion, an authenticity that many writers might find difficult to achieve on their own.
I think that if you are going to collaborate, there are only certain types of stories that you can probably tell. You definitely have to allow for multiple perspectives, even if you later discount those perspectives as false… I have an idea I’d like to explore sometime about a murder mystery where all of the players involved actually confess to the crime, and tell how and why they did it. Wouldn’t that be a trip?
When I began what has now become SINGULARITY, I didn’t realize that I was writing a sequel to JESSICA until the very last sentence of my opening chapter. And as soon as I realized what exactly had happened in that opening sequence (no spoilers!) I knew what I wanted from my collaborators, who had already been recruited and were waiting for me to let them know what was going on.
Now, here’s where I have to confess a couple of things – when I was writing JESSICA, I didn’t go in with anything – I simply requested tales answering the question “Who Is Jessica?” The writers complied and then when things started developing, I clued them in a bit, but told them to be patient, that I was putting something incredible together and if they just trusted me, I promised they’d be pleased.
However, when the idea for SINGULARITY started developing, I made a strange request of my collaborators. I asked them to just write me a story. I gave them some ideas and some parameters, but the one thing I told them was that it wasn’t to have ANYTHING to do with Jessica.
Don’t worry, it didn’t make sense to them, either.
The idea I had was strange and unorthodox – the stories were both part of the bigger whole, and yet they were also stand-alone tales in themselves. They are stories written by the character Jessica B. Bell.
So, with Singularity, you not only get the novel itself, but interspersed within the novel are these stories – which you dare not ignore as they are each as compelling as the whole – that form the basis for the characters in the novel.
However, I kept the other writers in the dark about this for the most part. I didn’t allow for those “What if…” conversations to take place with everyone. When you are working with a handful of writers spread all over the globe, sometimes it’s hard to have brainstorming sessions. And so for one of the original writers, I’d gone in a direction that just didn’t mesh with her. Lesson learned, and we both had to talk about how to proceed, and came to a very professional mutual decision for her to leave the project.
Which way is easier? Having everyone in on it or just taking the reins and hoping the other writers trust you? I think that you need writers who trust their “captain’s” vision, but then, any captain who keeps his crew’s destination a secret can expect a mutiny or two before long.
So I think there has to be a conversation up front about it. When I was writing JESSICA, I was quite frank with the other writers, and I think we were all equally excited to see what would happen with all the stories. I told them that I may end up cutting and pasting their stories together in order to fit the whole. One of the writer’s stories didn’t appear in its complete form because it was such a great glue with which to bind the other stories together. I couldn’t have asked for a better story, or a more accommodating writer in that instance.
SINGULARITY, instead, became a collection of stories within the whole. We all created characters, and then I used those characters to some extent within the greater story.
SINGULARITY is a novel about stories and storytelling, after all – about creating and destroying, with the tool and weapon being the same thing – fiction. The imagination. Playing with the very concept of what it means to be real, and how resentful fictional characters must be when their creators have finished with them.
I’m not going to give anything away, other than to say that there will be a third book, which is already formulating in my head. For now, go read JESSICA, and look for SINGULARITY August 1st.
Some people attribute the invention of the Ampersand to her, but she has never made that claim herself.
Helena writes strange, dark fiction under the name Jessica B. Bell. VISCERA, a collection of strange tales, will be published by Sirens Call Publications later this year. Find more of her writing at http://www.helenahb.com or and http://www.whoisjessica.com Connect with her via Twitter @HHBasquiat , and keep up with her ever growing body of work at GOODREADS, or visit her AMAZON PAGE