When authors collaborate, it’s different from team to team. What is essential in a successful collaboration is to tell a story—the same story—while remaining true to your own style. This tends to be the biggest stumbling block for authors who share a byline. When a book is co-written, there shouldn’t be a jump in styles as that can be jarring and yank a reader out of the story. Then comes the additional challenge of a reader preferring one author’s voice over another. Favoritism can affect the way a reader takes in the story you’re both trying to tell.
So you still think sharing that idea with a friend and splitting the work on a manuscript will be easy, right?
Not by a longshot.
Welcome to my world.
Both Pip and I have our own way of writing, but there are similarities and compatibilities that led us to working together (and yeah, probably getting married). That definitely affected our decision to work together, but we also needed to find out what story we wanted to tell together. That idea, we discovered, would be a rollicking steampunk adventure featuring archivist Wellington Books and pistol-packing agent Eliza D. Braun. With an idea now taking shape, we started talking through plot developments and twists, bouncing wild situations back and forth that we knew needed to be part of this story we were going to write together. All this provided the foundation of open communications Pip and I shared when we were in different hemispheres, and when we are in the same living room.
What do we mean by open communications? Both of us have survived collaborations gone wrong, both of them involving a breakdown in the communications between our partners. While one of these instances was resolved more amicably than the other, we now understand the importance of planning for the worst-case scenario which is why we did. It’s important, if not imperative, that you plan for what to do if you or your partner lose interest, just in case the writing relationship takes a wrong turn somewhere.
Thankfully, after six years, we are still going strong.
However, open communications is no obligation to tell your partner everything you want to throw at your shared characters and worlds. This process is supposed to be fun after all, right? Pip and I continue to surprise one another constantly with either one-liner gems or revelations that we will delve deeper into during the editorial phase. While it may feel like this collaboration is becoming a game of one-upmanship, your responsibility as a collaborator is to make certain your surprises are justified. You need a good reason for doing what you do, not just because you think this idea is cool.
The only time we have ever found ourselves at odds with one another is when it comes to writing Interludes, those segments of the Ministry novels that are told from a variety of characters’ points-of-view. We both love writing for the Maestro and Sophia del Morte, and in Dawn’s Early Light we even found an opportunity to get into Nikola Tesla’s head. Throughout rounds of Rock-Paper-Scissors-Lizard-Spock and heated arguments over who was writing which scenes with Sophia, Pip and I never forgot that the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences is a shared world, and it is our responsibility — to our fans and to our characters — to come up with the best resolutions of making plot developments work.
Usually, that resolution invokes me with “You’re right, Pip…” and then I do what I want anyway. It’s a very special relationship we have. Especially when it comes to the editing phase.
There are plenty of benefits Pip and I have found in the collaboration process, but it’s making one another laugh, smile, and even shudder at what we come up with that have their own rewards. Maybe we have a subversive competitive streak between us, but we do try to ramp up the tension for both Eliza and Wellington. Whenever one of us completes a chapter, we genuinely look forward to what surprises await us. It’s that ability to bounce ideas back and forth, either in pre-production or during the editorial process, that makes writing the books fun for us, and hopefully for others when they read them.
Collaboration, when done right, makes the writing process less solitary.
Tee Morris has been writing adventures in far-off lands and far-off worlds since elementary school. Inspired by numerous Choose Your Own Adventure titles and Terry Brooks’ Shannara series, he wrote not-so-short short stories of his own, unaware that working on a typewriter when sick-from-school and, later, on a computer (which was a lot quieter…that meant more time to write at night…) would pave a way for his writings.
Tee has now returned to writing fiction with The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series, written with his wife, Pip Ballantine. Their first title in the series, Phoenix Rising, won the 2011 Airship Award for Best in Steampunk Literature, while both Phoenix Rising and The Janus Affair were finalists in Goodreads Best in Science Fiction of 2011 and 2012. In 2013 Tee and Pip released Ministry Protocol, an original anthology of short stories set in the Ministry universe. Now in 2014, following a Parsec win for their companion podcast, Tales from the Archives, Tee and Pip celebrate the arrival of their third book, Dawn’s Early Light and launch a new venture—One Stop Writer Shop—offering a variety of services to up-and-coming and established indie authors.