Walking on Stilts, or, My First Collaboration by Bradley P. Beaulieu

By on February 9, 2012

First of all, thanks to BookSpot Central for having me. When I was approached about a guest post, one of the first things I thought of was talking about collaboration. It was on my mind, of course, since Steve and I had just released Strata and started “making the rounds” at various online sites. But I was on the opposite side of the experience I had hoped to have when I first approached Steve with the idea for Strata.

Wait. Let me take a step back.

A while ago I had an idea for a story. It was going to be about pilots racing solar skimmers over the surface of the sun. That’s about all I had when I started, and I kept it loose on purpose because I wanted my collaborator to be able to provide a lot of input into the story. When I had the kernel of the story in mind, the first person I thought of to collaborate with was Steve Gaskell, a Clarion classmate of mine. I write about pretty much only fantasy when it comes to novels, but I do like to stretch my science-fictional muscles in short stories. Steve, however, is a great writer who writes mostly science fiction. His style reminds me a lot of Robert Charles Wilson and Robert J. Sawyer.

I was really glad when Steve agreed, but we were faced with a problem: namely, how to go about this thing. The brainstorming process was pretty obvious—work together, bounce ideas off one another—but even this seemingly simple issue can cause problems between the right (read: wrong) people. You get used to calling all the shorts when writing stories. You sift through ideas, weigh them, and choose the right ones for your tale. Not so when you have a collaborator. There’s give and take. There has to be; otherwise what are you really doing? You have to be ready for someone to say, I’m not so crazy about that, but what about this?

Steve and I spent a long time on the world, trying to figure out just what the racing was like, why the platforms existed in the first place, how they circled the sun, how they beamed energy back to earth, and so on. But once we started getting into character generation, we thought it would be good for each of us to take one character and be the “primary” on them. I came up with Kawe, the bright-eyed skimmer pilot, and Steve created Poulson, Kawe’s old, grizzled handler. It was good to have some ownership over them, but at the same time, our control wasn’t absolute. Once we started writing, we would take time to consider both characters and make adjustments. Over time, Kawe became Steve’s, just as Poulson became mine. They were both “ours” at that point, which was kind of a cool thing to have happened.

For the writing itself, we started out with Google docs. Steve largely wrote the first draft of the frame story, Poulson’s story, and I wrote the inner tale, Kawe’s story. We had worked up the loose plot points, but here again, we found ourselves touching base, affecting one another’s story lines, such that by the time the first draft was done we had both influenced the inner and outer stories, even though we had each written our own unique thread.

And then came the drafts. The drafts!

We knew we’d have to massage this thing a lot. A lot. Why? Because two different people had each written half of a story, and we knew our distinct styles—no matter how similar they might be—would show, and that was something we weren’t going to allow. So we started rewriting, and rewriting, and… Well, you get the idea. We basically abandoned Google docs (due to a few glitches) and went back and forth via Word docs, each taking a pass, editing what was there, massaging the tale and the characters and the prose. We went through no less than twenty two drafts—twenty two! eleven each!—until we finally had what was released to the world in December.

I mentioned above that I’m now on the opposite side of this writing experience. Strata has been released to the world, and it’s doing well. This is immensely gratifying, but I’m also very gratified to have worked on this story with Steve. It was a great shared experience, one we might have to reprise someday.

Hopefully so, but in the meantime, we hope you enjoy our dystopian, sci-fi thriller of a tale.


Bradley P. Beaulieu is the author of The Winds of Khalakovo, the first of three planned books in The Lays of Anuskaya series. In addition to being an L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Award winner, Brad’s stories have appeared in various other publications, including Realms of Fantasy Magazine, Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, Writers of the Future 20, and several anthologies from DAW Books. His story, “In the Eyes of the Empress’s Cat,” was voted a Notable Story of 2006 in the Million Writers Award. Learn more at www.quillings.com.

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Elena Nola
Elena Nola

I've always wondered how collaborations work...11 drafts apiece, though? WOW. That is...smoothing things out!