Today on my blog, the superlative…wait, no…the stupendous…no, no, that’s not quite it either…the, well THE Keith R.A. DeCandido, author of everything from the Serenity novelization to tie-ins for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Supernatural, Resident Evil, Spider-Man, etc. to original fiction, like his newly released SCPD: The Case of the Claw. He’s talking today about collaborative fiction and inspiration from working with other authors. Enjoy! (And, hey, give him a shout out, if you’re so inclined.)
by Keith R.A. DeCandido
Traditionally writing is considered a solitary activity, but there are ways to make it a collaborative medium while still maintaining your own voice.
One method I’ve mined pretty well is to work on tie-in fiction. While many tie-in lines go the standalone route—where each novel is just an independent story that takes place in the same universe as the TV show, movie, game, or comic book that it spins off of—others have encouraged a more collaborative method. The most obvious example is the Star Wars novel, which even has the rather cool title of “Expanded Universe.” I myself have participated in such in the Marvel novels of the 1990s (which was actually administrated by me as the line’s editor) and the Star Trek novels, which went from being traditionally standalone to becoming more integrated in the 21st century. Getting to jam with other authors on such sub-series as the Starfleet Corps of Engineers and the post-finale Deep Space Nine fiction and the A Time to… series of Next Generation novels was just great fun. Getting to bounce ideas off fellow authors and inspire each other is a creative jolt that just can’t be beat.
More recently, I’ve gotten to do that in settings that aren’t corporately owned.
Aaron Rosenberg and David Niall Wilson invited me to be part of a science fiction shared world concept called “The Scattered Earth.” The basic setting is a far future where humanity has died out—but slivers of the human race have been re-seeded on other planets by powerful beings once worshipped as gods. My own corner of it has people who derived from the people of West Africa, and who have conquered their entire star system under the rule of the Olodumare Hegemony. My first Scattered Earth novel Guilt in Innocence reveals the ugly secret behind the Hegemony’s dominance—upcoming novels and stories will start to bring the threads together as the different bits of humanity (seen so far in Aaron’s The Birth of the Dread Remora and David’s The Second Veil, among other places) will start to come together.
Meanwhile, Jonathan Maberry has started up a shared world of his own, in which vampires are real—but not the ones you know from the film, television, or literature. No, a virus activates people’s “junk DNA,” and they become the vampires of their ethnic heritage’s folklore. A Chinese guy turns into a hopping ghost, a Haitian man turns into a loup garou (that’s in my story, “The Ballad of Big Charlie”), and so on. The first batch of stories by me, Jonathan, and bunch of other cool folks will be in IDW’s V Wars this spring.
And Steven Savile created a little thriller series called Viral, wherein the same series of events—in this case, a CIA operation that uses Third World immunization programs to further the agenda of the war on terror—from a variety of angles. In my case, what interested me was something Steve said about a journalist who is confronted with this intelligence, and has to decide whether or not to report it—a decision made more complicated by the CIA strike team trying to kill him. That story is told in the first novella of the four in Viral, my own -30-.
In each case, it was so much fun to take ideas from other writers and incorporate them (with permission, obviously) to add texture. It was a true collaboration, but still my own story each time.
Of course, there’s a lot to be said for making your own damn sandbox. Right now I’ve got two fantastical police procedurals going—one in a high fantasy setting (Dragon Precinct and its sequels Unicorn Precinct and the forthcoming Goblin Precinct), the other in a city filled with superheroes (SCPD: The Case of the Claw). Both take place in fictional cities—Cliff’s End in the fantasy world of Flingaria in which elves, dwarves, gnomes, and halflings live in something like peace, Super City, which is in our world in much the same way Metropolis and Gotham City are—and part of the joy is in creating the feel of those cities. The neighborhoods, the people, the tone of each one, the pulse of the mass transit system in Super City, the differences in the precincts in Cliff’s End. It becomes a real place, with real people.
Sure, writing is a solitary profession. But there are lots of folks around to give you a hand, you just have to know where to find them.
Keith R.A. DeCandido is, as you may have guessed, a writer. If you go to his web site at www.DeCandido.net, you can find links to his blog, his Facebook page, and his Twitter feed, to purchase his most recent books, to his editorial service KRADitorial (serving both personal and corporate clients), and to his podcasts: Dead Kitchen Radio: The Keith R.A. DeCandido Podcast, The Chronic Rift, and the Parsec Award-winning audio drama HG World (for which he does the voice of Todd Rage), among other cool things. Oh, and look for his Leverage novel in the near-ish future, as well as all that cool stuff he talked about above. You’ll be glad you did.