On Creative Collaboration
In 2011 I was hired by a friend named Scott Fulks to write a science fiction novel, in which he would embed his original scientific theories. I originally met him at a popular tiki lounge called Forbidden Island in Alameda, CA where I was employed as a weekend bouncer, as well as publicist, band booker, and monthly movie night host.
Like most writers, I wear many hats when it comes to paying the bills.
This freelance job was special because I was being paid to pursue my passion, namely pulp fiction, given free reign creatively as long as I loosely stuck to Scott’s basic three-page outline.
Since he was paying by the word, naturally I turned his skeletal concept into a 500-plus page epic. But we were both having a lot of fun, so he got his money’s worth, and I had the best temp gig of my life to that date.
The result was a mammoth “erotic, exotic” pulp novel called It Came from Hangar 18. We arranged an official book launch at an international convention called Tiki Oasis in San Diego, organized by friends of ours. We sold a lot of books and again, had a blast.
In 2014, Scott contacted me here in Seattle, my new home base, to write yet another novel, this time incorporating not only his science formulas, but also original cocktail recipes.
The Space Needler’s Intergalactic Bar Guide premiered at Tiki Oasis in August 2016, with both a book signing and a joint symposium on retro science fiction culture. The book was a much shorter than our previous effort, but no less wild and outrageous.
In between these paid projects, I actually worked with actor Christian Slater on his long simmering adaptation of my novel Love Stories Are Too Violent For Me, originally published in 1995 by Wild Card Press of San Francisco, then reissued by Gutter Books of Oregon in 2013. Slater had discovered the novel way back in 2001, while browsing in a Los Angeles bookstore. He tracked me down and optioned the book annually until 2012, when he finally flew me out to Miami to do location scouting, so I could then return to the Bay Area and rewrite his script, setting it in Southern Florida instead of Northern California.
Since Christian was such a huge fan of my work (!), our long distance process via email was very harmonious. We were literally on the same page. Unfortunately, after coming extremely close to finally getting the green light, the project was once again put on indefinite hiatus due to his successful, time-consuming television career (Archer, Mr. Robot).
Though the movie has yet to reach the screen, and our window of opportunity may have closed forever, I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything. In fact, it inspired my latest Vic Valentine, Private Eye novel, Hard-boiled Heart (Gutter Books, December 2015).
Both of the novels published by Gutter were edited by fast rising author Joe Clifford, whose Jay Porter series (Lamentation, December Boys, and the forthcoming Give Up the Dead) from Oceanview Publishing is putting his name on the literary map. Though Joe left my previously published novel Love Stories Are Too Violent For Me essentially intact (I made my own revisions, refining and augmenting the material), we worked together on Hard-boiled Heart, making some necessary cuts here and there, adjusting syntax where needed, etc.
Joe “gets me,” so it was a very smooth, painless process. The novel improved under his expert auspices, even though most readers won’t notice his input. That is the mark of a good editor, especially when that editor is a great writer in his or her own right.
Ideally, writers and editors are partners, too, sharing the same vision and goals.
The Dynamics of Duos
I recount these episodes to illustrate how collaborating with another writer – even in an editorial capacity - can be satisfying on several levels, beyond commercial considerations. Even though my books with Scott Fulks never became bestsellers, they each have their own cult following, and since Scott published them himself via CreateSpace, their virtual shelf lives are indefinite. Plus we garnered some good publicity. And naturally working with a famous actor on a screenplay of my own novel was exciting beyond description, even if it remains in perpetually frustrating limbo. Joe Clifford taught me a lot about how to self-edit, what works, and what doesn’t, thanks to his professionally educated expertise in the field.
But most importantly, I learned a lot about myself as a writer through each of these joint efforts, and that type of on-the-job training is priceless.
If the opportunity arises, and if you can set aside your own authorial ego, it is an education I strongly recommend.
PHOTO: WILL VIHARO
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