by Mike Resnick (originally published in Challenger 31)
It began back in the 1960s, when Paul Neimark, who later wrote She Lives, and I were laboring in what has come to be known euphemistically as the “adult field”. One or the other of us would get a book assignment, and since we both hated writing these novels we’d collaborate. We’d flip a coin, and the loser had to do the sex scenes that conprised 25% of the book, and the winner got to write the 75% that contained the plot and characters and all the other stuff that our particular readers weren’t interested in.
We did a lot of books that way – we lived two miles apart in Highland Park, Illinois, and our record for a single novel was 14 hours on a long Saturday back in 1968 – but eventually I got out of the field and never looked back
Move the clock ahead to 1980, and I’m living in Cincinnati. My closest friend there is Legendary Lou Tabakow, the mustachioed and white-haired God Emperor of Cincinnati fandom. Lou was retired and kept vampire hours, and like many writers so did I. So when he’d get restless at one or two or three in the morning, the one person he know would be awake, sitting at a typewriter, was me, so he’d call and ask if I’d like to take a break and meet him for coffee at one of the dozen now-mostly-vanished all-night restaurants and coffee shops between our two houses, and unless I was on a tight deadline I always agreed.
Lou wasn’t really a writer, but he’d sold a few stories in the 1950s and 1960s, and one night he told me this truly clever idea he’d had but didn’t know how to handle. It was a one-punch story, and I couldn’t see any way of getting more than 750 words out of it, and there wasn’t much of a market for stories of that length. But the next night he had another 700-word idea, and a month later a third, and finally he asked me to help him get them into shape, because he was a little rusty. I suggested that selling them to different markets would be a Herculean task, and that what we needed to do was come up with a unifying theme and sell them all to one market, something like F&SF’s Ferdinand Feghoot, but with a Fredric Brown-type punch ending rather than a pun. And finally I suggested that what could unify them was a character, maybe a world-famous writer/scientist named, for instance, Isaac Intrepid. Lou wrote Isaac Asimov and got permission (not that we needed it for a parody character, but Lou and Isaac were old friends and it was a courtesy) and we wrote and submitted nine Isaac Intrepid stories, one a week, to Analog, which bought four of them. (Lou died a year later, and a few years after that I sold all nine to another magazine, and surprised his granddaughter by mailing her a copy of the magazine and a check for half the money.)
It was interesting, but the stories were pieces of fluff, and I was just helping an old friend.
Move the clock ahead another nine years and Jack Chalker and I got to talking about the great old round robin stories in obscure 1930s fanzines, and decided to write a round robin novel. Of course, we needed a third author for that, and on the night George Alec Effinger won his Hugo at the Boston Worldcon (I’d won my first one a couple of minutes earlier), we tackled him and wouldn’t let him up until he’d agreed to join us. The conceit was that we’d change the writing order every three chapters, write a 12-chapter book, and each writer would try to stick the next guy in line with a major problem. The book, which we sold to Tor, became the very funny The Red Tape War, with a delightful cover by Kelly Freas. (What isn’t funny is that of the four of us – me, Jack, George, and Kelly – I’m the only one still alive, and I was the second oldest.)
It was a lot of fun, and reasonably lucrative, but even though we shared the byline it wasn’t a real collaboration, since each of us wrote our chapters in splendid isolation.
Okay, move the clock ahead to 1991, and I’m editing an anthology called Alternate Kennedys for Tor, and like all my anthologies, it’s by invitation only. And in comes an uninvited story by a newcomer I’d never heard of named Nick DiChario, who’d found out about the book in a workshop led by Nancy Kress, who had been invited. I opened up the envelope and thought I’d read a page or two just to see how bad it was before returning it with a note telling him not to crash closed anthologies – and by Page 4 I knew I was buying it and that nothing could keep “The Winterberry” off the Hugo ballot (and indeed it made the ballot, and the WFC ballot, and Nick himself made the Campbell.) When I finally met Nick at the Orlando Worldcon in 1992, I asked him why he’d sent the story to an anthology, rather than a magazine where it would get much more circulation and notice. He replied that it had received a form rejection from every magazine in the field, which merely meant that not a single slush reader had read it or was perceptive enough to pass it on to an editor (who would – theoretically, at least – recognize the quality therein.)
We became friends, and about a year later Nick sent me a novella titled “Unto the Land of Day-Glo”. He thought it was pretty good, but again, it had been turned down everywhere, and would I please read it and tell him what was wrong with it? I read it, found it to be as brilliant as “The Winterberry”, and realized the only thing wrong with it was that Nick was still relatively unknown in the field and that it simply wasn’t getting read. A couple of weeks later I got invited into an anthology that Nick’s novella fit perfectly; I agreed to write for it if they would agree to consider Nick’s piece. They did, and of course they bought it (it’s the basis of his 2008 novel), and I began to think that if the field kept treating him like this he was going to move to mysteries or espionage or somewhere else and we were going to lose a major talent, and that he’d better get some encouragement soon.
So when I was invited into another anthology the next month, I asked Nick to collaborate with me. He sat down and produced a fine draft. I polished it a bit, fixed the ending a bit, and changed the title from “Darwin’s Dragon” to “Birdie”; it was accepted, and it was a hit. Over the next year and a half I collaborated with Nick four more times, always assignments where if we didn’t screw up beyond belief they were sure sales. Over the years, long after he needed me or anyone else to get him into print, we collaborated on another six, and the eleven stories were eventually collected in hardcover and trade paperback as Magic Feathers: The Mike and Nick Show.
While I was doing the early collaborations with Nick, I found that my friend Barry Malzberg and I had each been invited to write a story for a Riverworld anthology, and that neither of us had read a word of the Riverworld series. So we decided to share the research – I would read Books 1 and 3, he would read 2 and 4 – and share the writing. We quickly gave up on the books – it’s economically counter-productive to read 500,000 words in order to sell a story, so we bought the Gurps Riverworld game book and read the series synopsis instead. We came up with a pretty nice novella titled “Every Man a God”, and Phil kept giving us little linear notes correcting minor things to agree with the books, and adding in each note: “Didn’t you read the stories?” We didn’t have the heart to tell him that he’d hit the nail on the head. We did the same thing – shared research and shared writing – with “Ghosts” for an anthology based on Keith Laumer’s Bolo stories, and eventually we collaborated not only on a third story but on 46 (and counting) Resnick/Malzberg Dialogues for the SFWA Bulletin.
About this time I realized that I enjoyed collaborating, seeing how other people’s minds worked, learning their totally different methodology, and bonding with friends who lived halfway across the country. So I looked for more people to collaborate with, almost always on anthology assignments, because I never wanted them to work on a story that could be turned down.
I’d been tutoring and editing Barbara Delaplace for a couple of years over on the Compuserve network. She’d gotten a pair of Campbell nominations, won a HOMer award, met her husband (Jack C. Haldeman) in the pages of one of my anthologies, and we’d become good friends. So I asked her to collaborate, she agreed, and we sold it.
I saw Lawrence Schimel almost every night on the GEnie network back when he was attending Yale (and probably setting all kinds of records for selling stories while still in college), and we collaborated on and sold three stories.
After that it was Katie-bar-the-door, as we were in the heyday of the original anthology, I was getting maybe a dozen assignments a year, and I had no shortage of willing collaborators for those stories I didn’t want to write alone. Among those who collaborated with me in the mid-1990s were Linda Dunn, Lyn Nichols, Ron Collins, Louise Rowder, Josepha Sherman, Jack Nimersheim, Adrienne Gormley, and Ann Marston. (After Nick, Barry and Lawrence, I limited myself to one story with each partner. Until 2009, anyway.)
Then one night Susan Shwartz sought me out in one of the GEnie conference rooms. She needed to pick my mind about Kenya and Uganda. I answered as best I could. A couple of nights later she found me again. She had this very powerful story to tell – I agreed; she’d discussed it to me in our previous chat – but she couldn’t tell it properly without months of research unless she had a collaborator who had actually been to East Africa and spoke a little Swahili and did I know anyone like that, did I, Mike, huh, did I? So I agreed to collaborate, we produced the novella “Bibi”, it was a Hugo and Nebula nominee, and won the HOMer Award and topped the Science Fiction Chronicle Poll.
As we neared and then reached the millennium, I collaborated with Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Catherine Asaro, Tom Gerencer (one of my Clarion students), Tobias S. Buckell (another Clarion student), Mark Stafford (a third), Robyn Herrington, B. J. Galler-Smith, M. Shayne Bell, Janis Ian, Kay Kenyon, Susan R. Matthews, Michael A. Burstein, and Bob Faw.
I’d been hired by Capella International to write a screenplay based on my novel Santiago, and one night, when they were driving me crazy telling me they wanted “the poetry of language” and then hating every Bradburyesque prose poem I faxed them, Carol happened to be passing through the room, so I gave her the phone and told her to see if she could figure out what they were talking about. She listened, dictated something I would never have written, we faxed it, they declared that I finally understood the poetry of language (a combination of sentence fragments and exclamation points, structured like advertising slogans), and at that moment I insisted that Carol become my official screenplay collaborator. We also scripted The Widowmaker for Miramax. Neither got made, but we were well-paid for both.
A few years into the new century I got to collaborate with my boyhood idol and good friend Robert Sheckley a year before his death. And with Harry Turtledove, and Paul Crilley, and James Patrick Kelly, and Ralph Roberts, and Nancy Kress, and David Gerrold, and Pat Cadigan, and Linda Donahue, and Kevin J. Anderson, and Eric Flint.
Which brings us up to November of 2007. I was selling off some books for the late Mary Martin, octogenarian surgeon and longtime CFG member, and one of them was an autographed Anne McCaffrey first edition. The auction closed with no buyers, and a couple of days later I got an e-mail from Australia, from a girl named Lezli Robyn, who asked if it was still available. I said it was, and she bought it. After receiving her thank-you e-mail I told her of my initial meeting with Anne McCaffrey, and she mentioned that she had thought she recognized my name. She explained that my books were difficult to find in Australia, and so she couldn’t give me an opinion of my writing because she’d never read me. I said “We can’t have that, can we?” and promptly e-mailed her fifteen of my stories. She read them, and made some very perceptive and incisive comments, so I e-mailed her another twenty, and we began corresponding every day. Since she had a beautiful turn of phrase it wasn’t too long before I asked her if she’d ever considered writing science fiction. She admitted that it had been a childhood dream, she’d even written McCaffrey as a teenager to ask how to go about it, but life had gotten in the way and now in her mid-twenties she still hadn’t gotten around to it.
So it was time to help another newcomer. I offered to collaborate with her. She suggested we meet at Denver first. So we did (and Denver wasn’t just her first Worldcon, but her first con of any kind), and we hit it off, and she went back home, and we collaborated on a story.
One of the things I loved about collaborating with Nick was that he was like R. A. Lafferty. Remember those old books for science fiction beginners, the ones that said “If you like Asimov, read Clement” or “If you like Sheckley, read Tenn”? And then you’d come to “If you like Lafferty, buy everything of his you can find before no one writes or thinks remotely like him.” Until I discovered Bob Jeschonek last year, Nick was the only other guy you could say that about. We’d get a dragon assignment, and he’d write about the one who coached Darwin and Einstein. For a book about kings, he’d write about King Kong, who’d fallen on hard times and was driving a bus in upstate New York. Seeing what Nick’s brain produced next was always an adventure.
Lezli was exactly the opposite. Despite the fact that we are different sexes, and are 40 years and 17,000 miles and two cultures apart, I have never found anyone else who sees things almost exactly the way I do, who words sentences the way I do, who wants to tell the same kinds of stories I do. When I’ve proofed the galleys to our stories, I have been unable to tell which of us wrote which parts, and that has never been the case in any prior collaboration.
So we collaborated again, and again, and still again, selling to the top magazines as well as anthologies, and in a little over 13 months now we’re up to six collaborations, all sold, at least two of them award quality, and we’re committed for at least three more in 2010, plus a series of Young Adult novels. And I haven’t been carrying her; she’s sold some outstanding stories on her own as well. Anyway, I didn’t set out to find a permanent collaborator in 1967, or 1980, or 1991, and I certainly wasn’t looking for one in 2008, either – but I think I’ve found one anyway. We’ll continue to do our own separate stories and books, and I have a couple of contractual obligations for collaborations that don’t involve her – for one thing, Eric Flint and I owe Baen Books the first novel in a trilogy, but our work on Jim Baen’s Universe and his heart surgery have made us a couple of years late with it – but other than such obligations, for the next few years when I collaborate, it’ll almost certainly be with Lezli.
So much for the history. Now: how (I hear you ask) do I collaborate?
Since I get the assignments or make the sales, I insist on doing the final draft; that’s been true of every collaborative story I’ve worked on. In a majority of the cases, my collaborator does the first draft, sometimes after consulting with me, sometimes on his or her own, and I do the rewrite/line-edit/polish. Those would include the following:
Nick DiChario (ten times), Barry Malzberg (once), Lawrence Schimel (three times), Lou Tabakow (nine times), Barbara Delaplace, Linda Dunn, Lyn Nichols, Louise Rowder, Josepha Sherman, Ron Collins, Adrienne Gormley, Tom Gerencer, Tobias S. Buckell, B.J. Galler-Smith, Robyn Herrington, Mark Stafford, Kay Kenyon, Susan R. Matthews, Paul Crilley, Linda Donahue, and Harry Turtledove.
Sometimes it’s a half-and-half draft. My partner writes the first half of the story and I write the rest; or we write large alternating sections, depending on our areas of expertise. Those would include Barry Malzberg (twice), Nick DiChario (once), Susan Shwartz, Jack Nimersheim, Ralph Roberts, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Catherine Asaro, Michael A. Burstein, Dean Wesley Smith, Robert Sheckley, James Patrick Kelly, Nancy Kress, David Gerrold, Eric Flint, Kevin J. Anderson, and Pat Cadigan.
Janis Ian and I wrote a story that is just an extended sexy joke, and we just took turns building on the joke until we reached the end.
Lezli and I collaborate more like Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore, almost finishing each other’s sentences. I keep vampire hours and she’s halfway around the world, so we’re usually awake at the same time. I doubt that either of us has written as many as 800 words before the other started editing and building on it.
There are a number of collaborations I haven’t tried yet. Other than writing a Conan comic book eons ago, I’ve never really collaborated with an artist; certainly not the way, say, Alfred Bester did with Jack Gaughan in Golem-100 (which was a failure, but an incredibly ambitious one).
I did do one other round robin, but I don’t know if it counts. It was “The Nolacon Visitation”, done for the 1988 Worldcon Program Book, and while it’s not quite a classic of science fiction (nor was it ever intended to be), at least it gave me a chance to share a byline with friends like Raymond E. Feist, Janet Kagen, Walter Jon Williams, Michael Kube-McDowell, Joel Rosenberg, Jack Chalker, Pat Cadigan, and others.
Looking back over the years, that is a lot of collaborations, and with one or two exceptions I enjoyed every one of them. It began as a way to keep beginners happy by getting them in print more often than they could do on their own…but somehow, subtly, it changed and became a way of keeping me happy.
Almost everyone I have collaborated with is a friend, and what is nicer than sharing your art, your work, your thoughts, and a paycheck with a friend?
1. with Lou Tabakow
“Isaac Intrepid #1” (Analog)
“Isaac Intrepid #2” (Analog)
“Isaac Intrepid #3” (Analog)
“Isaac Intrepid #4” (Analog)
“Isaac Intrepid #5” (Starshore)
“Isaac Intrepid #6” (Starshore)
“Isaac Intrepid #7” (Starshore)
“Isaac Intrepid #8” (Starshore)
“Isaac Intrepid #9” (Starshore)
2. with Jack L. Chalker
The Red Tape War
3. with George Alec Effinger
The Red Tape War
4. with Nick DiChario
“Working Stiff” (F&SF)
“Alien Radio” (The Ultimate Alien)
“Pleasantly Pink” (The Ultimate Dragon)
“The Sweet Sad Love Song of Fred and Wilma” (Science
“The Most Beautiful Girl Alive” (The Shimmering Door)
“Squonking” (Orphans of the Night)
“The Joy of Hats” (Killing Me Softly)
“The Arrows of Godly Passion” (Olympus)
“The Fighting 35th’s Last Stand at the Delores Proud
Apple Valley School for the Blind” (Magic Feathers)
“Fascinatin’ Rhythm” (Magic Feathers)
5. with Barry N. Malzberg
“Every Man a God” (Tales of Riverworld)
“Ghosts” (Bolos at War)
“Approaching Sixty” (Fantastic Fate)
6. with Barbara Delaplace
“Trading Up” (Battlestation)
7. with Lawrence Schimel
“Super Acorns” (Superheroes)
“disILLUSIONS” (When the Magic Stopped)
“The Shiksa” (Ancient Enchantresses)
8. with Linda Dunn
“Merdinus” (Castles Fantastic)
9. with Lyn Nichols
“Heart of Stone” (Pirate Writings Magazine)
10. with Jack Nimersheim
“My Brother’s Keeper” (Urban Nightmares)
11. with Susan Shwartz
12. with Louise Rowder
“The Starving Children on Mars” (Don’t Forget Your
13.with Josepha Sherman
“Of Flame and Air” (Lamps on the Brow)
14. with Ann Marston
“Sagittarius Rising” (Zodiac Fantastic)
15. with Ron Collins
“STAN” (Mob Magic)
16. with Adrienne Gormley
“Me and Galahad” (Out of Avalon)
17. with Kristine Kathryn Rusch
“Full Circle” (Space Colonies)
18. with Catherine Asaro
“Boot Hill” (Civil War Fantastic)
19. with Tom Gerencer
“Ocean’s Eleven” (Oceans of Magic)
20. with B. J. Galler-Smith
“Like Father, Like Son” (Vestal Review Magazine)
21. with Robyn Herrington
“Like Small Feet Following” (Vestal Review Magazine)
22. with M. Shayne Bell
“Flower Children of Mars” (Mars Probe)
23. with Tobias S. Buckell
“The Shackles of Freedom” (Visions of Liberty)
24. with Mark Stafford
“The Demons of Jupiter’s Moons” (Sol’s Children)
25. with Dean Wesley Smith
“A Moment of Your Time” (Microcosm)
25. with Janis Ian
“Water-Skiing Down the Styx” (Fictionwise.com)
26. with Michael A. Burstein
“Reflections in Black Granite” (Tales of the Wall)
27. with Ralph Roberts
“Inefficiencies on the Dark Continent” (You Did What?)
28. with Kay Kenyon
“Dobchek, Lost in the Funhouse” (Life Without a Net)
29. with Susan R. Matthews
“Swimming Upstream in the Wells of the Dessert” (ReVisions)
30. with Carol Resnick
The Widowmaker screenplay
31. with Robert Sheckley
“Game Face” (Postscripts #2)
32. with Bob Faw
“A Muse with Burning Eyes” (Poe’s Lighthouse)
33. with Harry Turtledove
“Before the Beginning” (Future Shocks)
34. with Paul Crilley
“The Hermit of the Skies” (Liftport)
35. with Kevin J. Anderson
36. with James Patrick Kelly
“A Small Skirmish in the Culture War” ( The Future We Wish
37. with Linda Donahue
“The Last Actor” (Future Americas)
38. with Nancy Kress
“Solomon’s Choice” (Fast Forward 1)
39. with David Gerrold
“Jellyfish” (The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction)
40. with Eric Flint
“Conspiracies: A 937-page Condensed Novel” ( Sideways in
41. with Pat Cadigan
“Not Quite Alone in the Dream Quarter” ( Fast Forward 2)
42. with Lezli Robyn
“Idle Roomer” (Clarkesworld)
“Benchwarmer” (Twlight Zone 50th Anniversary Anthology)
“Report from the Field” (Is Anyone Out There?)
“The Close Shave” (Blood Lite 2)
Since the above article appeared I’ve picked up a 43rd collaborator: Jack McDevitt and I have signed to do a novel, The Cassandra Project, for Ace.
[Postscript: My gang has already grown to 45 since I wrote this in late 2010. I'm collaborating on a novel for Ace Books with Jack McDevitt, and on short stories, one with Laurie Tom, one with Brad Torgerson, for a pair of British anthologies. And Lezli and I have at least 3 to do this year.]