HOW TO BE A COAUTHOR (AKA WORKWIFE)--Cam Baity & Benny Zelkowicz, Plus Giveaway!
THE BOOKS OF ORE trilogy is a labor of love for us. Our dream of a world of living metal first hatched in 2006, and since then, we’ve both sacrificed a great deal and invested tremendous amounts of blood, sweat, and tears to make it a reality. As we approach the release of the second volume of the trilogy, WAYBOUND, we have been reflecting on our process––both where it started and how far we’ve come.
Our wives both joke that we are each other’s “WorkWife”, but truth be told, an intensive artistic collaboration is an interpersonal relationship not unlike being married (minus the intimacy... at least in our case.) Although writing partnerships are common, we get a lot of questions about the nuts and bolts of how it actually works. Writing tends to be a solitary endeavor, so people wonder how we distill the brainpan drippings of two people into the delicious reduction of a single unified vision.
As with most relationships, being and having a coauthor requires work, attention, and communication, but over our eighteen years of collaboration, we have learned a few things about being a WorkWife and making a book baby with a partner.
1) Conflict is Necessary: We met at CalArts in 1998 attending an unfathomably boring History of Experimental Film class together, which quickly turned into our personal debate forum. We would argue about horror movies, retro TV shows, and fantasy books, only to discover that we disagreed on just about everything. Because we are both stubborn and passionate, we argue constantly, but we strive to harness that energy and tension to improve our work.
We like to think of each of our books as a boat––while one of us builds a section of the vessel, the other wails on the thing with a sledgehammer to make sure it’s seaworthy. In this fashion, we alternate roles as creator and destroyer. When one of us busts a hole in the hull, it’s painful for the person who built it, but the problem must be addressed and repaired. The process of constant debate and being forced to defend every choice has turned out to be the perfect forge to galvanize our craft.
2) Don’t Get Personal: No matter how vehemently we disagree, no matter how heated it gets, we try to always keep our arguments about the work and not each other. Our goal is always to write the best books we possibly can, and if we didn’t respect one another’s contributions, we would have given up long ago. Common decency is a hard rule to follow, especially when the writing is problematic or during stressful crunchtimes. But like all close relationships, civility is vital, and if a line is crossed, it must be acknowledged and amended.
Which leads us to our next point...
3) Pick Your Battles: Sometimes, a choice just feels right, or an idea is so personally satisfying that we do not want to let go of it. It’s extraordinarily annoying, then, when your partner decides to shoot it down. That almost always leads to drawnout, spicy... er... discussions. And we have had some doozies. While writing the first book of our trilogy, THE FOUNDRY’S EDGE, we argued for twenty minutes about a single period. Cam won, Benny lost, and the period is in the final book... and no one cares a whit about it. Since then, we’ve gotten better at recognizing when one partner’s passion outstrips the
other’s on a particular point, and we try to let go of relatively insignificant things in order to keep our powder dry for the issues that require our full arsenal.
Writing can be war, but we try to keep our casualties to a minimum.
4) Show Up: This is an obvious one, but it’s possibly the most important. It’s staggering how many collaborations go down in flames because of this. If one of the parties is unreliable, the work will die. There is no more important quality to have in a partner... except maybe to occasionally cover the bar tab.
5) Experiment and Adapt: Even if the system seems to be working, there is almost always a better way. Our first writing collaborations were screenplays, which involved both of us sitting at the same computer, alternating turns at the keyboard and backseat driving. What it lacked in efficiency, it more than made up for in unproductively irritable squabbling.
When we began THE FOUNDRY’S EDGE, we adjusted our process to play to our strengths. First, we hammered out a detailed chapter breakdown together, figuring out every plot point and character beat. Once we had our structure, we divided up the work. Since Benny was more comfortable confronting the blank page and Cam was more deliberate with word choice, we broke it up like that. Benny did the first pass on a chapter, we would discuss what worked or didn’t, and then Cam would do a rewrite on that chapter while Benny moved on to the next. After we each had a crack at it, we would send it back and forth, each making changes until twenty drafts later, we were both “okay” with it.
For the second book, WAYBOUND, our delivery window was shorter, so we changed our process. After writing our breakdown together, one of us would start with the first chapter while the other began the second. Then we would trade, offer critique to the other, and make revisions. We limited ourselves to only four drafts per chapter, which forced us to pick fewer nits and only make essential changes. Leapfrogging turned out to be a much better system as it maintained momentum and kept our eyes on the prize.
Book Three is on an even tighter schedule, so we’ve dialed in our process further still, making our collaboration more efficient and our writing more taut.
No matter how you are used to working, there is always room for improvement.
6) Laugh: Writing is easy, but writing something good is hard. The publishing process is long and tedious. Creative collaboration is stressful. Like any good relationship, you have to keep laughing and keep your partner laughing. Book deadlines usually can’t accommodate police calls or emergency room visits.
Now that we are nearing the end of our trilogy THE BOOKS OF ORE, we are amazed by how far we have come, both as writers and as people. Through all the slings and arrows of the creative process, it’s heartening and enriching to be in the trenches with a WorkWife, and more often than not, the end result is superior because of it.
Even if he insists on being wrong with stunning regularity.
Meet The Foundry's Edge (The First Book of Ore)
For Phoebe Plumm, life in affluent Meridian revolves around trading pranks with irksome servant Micah Tanner, and waiting for her world-renowned father, Dr. Jules Plumm, to return home. Chief engineer for The Foundry, a global corporation with an absolute monopoly on metal production and technology, Phoebe's father is often absent for months at a time. But when a sudden and unexpected reunion leads to father and daughter being abducted, Phoebe and would-be rescuer Micah find themselves stranded in a stunning yet volatile world of living metal-one that has been ruthlessly plundered by The Foundry for centuries and is the secret source of every comfort and innovation the two refugees have ever known.
Meet Waybound (The Second Book of Ore)
Phoebe Plumm and Micah Tanner are a long way from home and entrenched in a struggle with no end in sight. The Foundry, an all-powerful company that profits off the living metal creatures of Mehk, is unleashing a wave of devastating attacks to crush the rebel army of mehkans known as the Covenant and capture Phoebe and Micah, dead or alive. But the Covenant believes that their ancient god, Makina, has chosen Phoebe for a sacred task: to seek the Occulyth, a mysterious object they hope can turn the tide against the Foundry. With her father gone, Phoebe's once unshakable determination is broken, and while Micah tries to uphold the vow he made to protect her no matter the cost, their enemies are closing in and time is running out.
Meet Cam Baity
Cam Baity is an Emmy Award winning animator, and his short films have screened around the world, including at Anima Mundi in Brazil and the BBC British Short Film Festival. His credits include major motion pictures like Team America: World Police and TheSpongeBob SquarePants Movie, and popular television shows such as Robot Chicken and Supermansion.
Meet Benny Zelkowicz
Benny Zelkowicz studied animation at CalArts and made the award winning film, The ErlKing. He directed and starred in the BBC/CBC animated series Lunar Jim, and worked on The LEGO Movie as well as several TV shows including Robot Chicken and Moral Orel.
Wayward (The Second Book of Ore)
By: Cam Baity & Benny Zelkowicz
Release Date: April 12, 2016
One winner will receive a set of The Book of Ore series (US only).
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I like the book covers. I think that I will like the plot and the characters of the books. I can't wait to read these books!
These both sound like a ton of fun to read! I've always wondered the inner workings of a co-authoring so this interview was an insightful read for me.