Many moons ago, when we were each experiencing the excitement of publishing our first young adult novels, we met on MySpace and became fans of each other's work; an email correspondence began, with us two thousand miles apart. A few years later, we started talking about how it would be fun to collaborate on something. Then one day, Sara said, "Just send me something!" The first chapter of Roomies appeared in her inbox the next day with a note from Tara that said, "Your turn."
Considering how we met, it makes perfect sense that Roomies [Little, Brown, $18.00] is about two girls--one in New Jersey, one in California--who change each other's lives via email. In alternating chapters, we tell the story of Elizabeth and Lauren, who have just found out that they are going to be freshman year roommates at college. Here's the scoop on how we wrote it and why collaboration worked for us.
Writing a novel is really lonely! Writing one together is, well, less lonely. Sara and I have only been in the same room for a total of maybe fifteen hours in the seven years we've known each other so it's not like we wrote Roomies while sharing a table in our neighborhood café, or spent long evenings together brainstorming over marked-up pages. But somehow, working on a book together--even remotely--tricked me out of loneliness. Sara and I were both writing our own novels while we were working on Roomies, and for me the collaboration ended up feeling like an enormously fun tennis volley that broke up an otherwise very long game of solitaire.
That volley process was, for us, essential to the success of the project--and no doubt crucial to the preservation of our friendship. We bounced chapters back and forth at our leisure, and never commented on each other's storylines until we got to the end of a first draft. At that point, we talked a bit about timeline and what should happen in a revision, but we never edited each other. As such, writing this book didn't mess with our egos--or our schedules/writing routines. We have very different work rhythms and processes and I can't imagine we'd have done as well in a room together.
If we had been in a room together, for example, Sara would have heard me groan when I read her first chapter. Her narrator, Lauren, didn't seem like someone my character would want to be friends or roommates with at all. I wanted to shout, "Nooooo!" But after that groan came excitement. Because that meant we had conflict. Lauren was not a character I ever would have dreamed up so I never knew what she would say or do next. And that, ultimately, was why the project became interesting and challenging for me.
It seems obvious that you should like and respect anyone you collaborate with, but it also seems possible people might do it for other reasons, like to forward their career or to collect an extra paycheck. Don't do that! But if you have someone in your sights whom you genuinely adore, personally and professionally, I highly recommend collaborating. Perhaps especially remotely. I dare say, with Sara anyway, I'd do it again.
Now that I know Tara groaned aloud when she read my first chapter, I'm feeling insecure. That's because I have a fragile, baby-bird ego always with its mouth agape for affirmation, screeching in terror every time it sees a shadow. Which is why Roomies was the perfect collaborative project for me, with the perfect collaborator.
As Tara points out, this book was all about maximum autonomy for each of us. Our characters have separate arcs that really only converge in their correspondence, so there was little coordination required and therefore little criticism along the way. (I've been led to understand some writers call this "feedback" and find it quite helpful?) The funny thing is, I've chosen Tara as the last-pass reader for several of my own novels exactly because I respect and admire her writing, and know she has an eagle editorial eye she's not afraid to use. I just didn't want that eagle eye turned on me during the creation process of our joint work; I'm easily spooked in the drafting stage.
Wow, I sound like a real hot-house orchid! Just to further make editors out there excited about working with me, I'll also say that I can be a real lazybones about my writing routine. Part of that comes from having a depressive personality type and the fear/staying in bed that goes with that. But also it comes from wanting to watch Parks and Recreation all day. Tara, on the other hand, is mom to small children and she knows that one, her writing time is precious, and two, toddlers and toddler-like people need discipline. She never let me drop the ball or make excuses as we finished the first draft, second draft, and everything after.
Most of all, writing Roomies was fun. Fun! In the midst of pressing deadlines and some heavy subject matter in my other books, writing something with the enthusiasm and support of a friend who's also a respected peer helped me remember why I wanted to be a writer in the first place. That is, because I enjoy making up stories and sharing them with others. Every time I look at Roomies or read another good review, I'm super grateful to Tara for giving me this experience and still liking me now that it's over. (Or is it? I'll never say never when it comes to working with Tara).