Today we welcome writing team Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris.
Philippa Ballantine is the author of the Books of the Order series with Ace- Geist and Spectyr out now, and Wrayth (2012) and Harbinger to follow. She is also the co-author of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series with Tee Morris. Phoenix Rising debuted in May 2011 and The Janus Affair will be out in May 2012. She also has the Shifted World series with Pyr Books, with the first book Hunter and Fox coming in June 2012.
Tee Morris began his writing career with his 2002 historical epic fantasy, MOREVI The Chronicles of Rafe & Askana. He won acclaim and accolades for his cross-genre fantasy-detective Billibub Baddings Mysteries, the podcast of The Case of the Singing Sword winning him the 2008 Parsec Award for Best Audio Drama. Along with those titles, Tee has written articles and short stories for BenBella Books’s Farscape Forever: Sex, Drugs, and Killer Muppets, the podcast anthology VOICES: New Media Fiction, BenBella Books’ So Say We All: Collected Thoughts and Opinions of Battlestar Galactica, and Dragon Moon Press’ Podthology: The Pod Complex.
Collaboration: An Art within the Art
By Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris
People are fascinated by how the two of us managed to write Phoenix Rising and The Janus Affair, as well as pen several short stories for our podcast series, Tales from the Archives. The questions range between “How did you manage to keep your continuity straight?” to “How did you two manage not to kill one another?” Collaboration is a risk for publishers and, sometimes, for readers as the end result can be jarring when switching from one chapter to another. The running complaint for many collaborative works tends to be that the two-featured authors cannot effectively mesh their styles.
Somehow, we manage to avoid that pitfall. Exactly how do we do that?
We begin with an understanding that this book will not be a novel by Tee Morris and not by Pip Ballantine, but a novel written by the both of us. That means the style might have moments of Pip and moments of Tee, but a voice and a style completely different. This hybrid style is born from trust. If you were to talk to other collaborative teams, you will find that alongside communication, trust is an essential ingredient in a successful collaboration. We trust each other, not only in the way we write but in the way we plan and the ways we want to progress our plots forward.
From the trust also comes the faith in giving each other’s work a good, hard editorial eye. This is when the hybrid style matures. After Pip writes her scene, Tee steps in and begins an edit for not only grammatical and typographical slips, but also peppers throughout his own trademarks and touches. The same rule applies for Tee’s work when it comes under Pip’s red pen, and between each of our passes, this new voice emerges and the story begins to unfold.
Communication is also key in a successful shared story. To use a steampunk analogy, harbored grievances between authors are a bit like boilers building pressure. If you don’t release that valve, even slowly, you have a bomb on your hands; and when it blows, the damage isn’t pretty: Plot twists and characters flaws strewn across the furniture, and cliffhangers that — no matter how hard you clean — will never come out of the carpet. Yes, maybe relieving the tension is noisy and uncomfortable but in the end, that essential communication can save a story and (in some cases) a writing relationship. When collaborating with friends, family, and loved ones, keep the communication solid. If your communication falters, your trust soon follows.
These factors are all part of a successful collaboration, but they are also building blocks for any creative endeavor, whether you are sharing a byline or flying solo. How so? At the time of this posting, we are about to head up to Pennsylvania to shoot our book trailer. This time around, our trailer is calling on the talents of a cast of six, the resources of Brute Force Studios, and the filmmaking talents of our friend, Linc Williams. The brainstorming, the writing, and—across four days—the visual creativity of Linc, Thomas Willeford, and the two of us will come to fruition through six actors who have never worked together before and, in a few cases, never worked on camera before. We’ve been swapping emails, tweets, and text messages for weeks now; and in the final two weekends of April, it’s all coming together.
Collaboration can yield amazing things, and while you may have a book under one person’s name, don’t forget that within those words, within those chapters of narrative, struggle, drama, and revelation, there is an editor offering an objective look, a proofreader attempting to catch any of the typos that may have missed the editorial passes, a designer that gives the book’s interior a flair and a polish, and a cover artist that makes people stop to look. It may vary from publish to publisher, but we believe that The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences novels have been—from the beginning—true success stories from the beginning. From our writing, to the editorial and creative staff of HarperVoyager, to the marketing team of HarperCollins, to the amazing writers invited to podcast with us in Tales from the Archives, to the filmmaking talents of Bald Groove, The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences may have taken its first steps with us, but became a flash mob of epic proportions through trust, communication, and faith in some truly inspiring individuals. Consider the words of actor, producer, and director Kenneth Branagh when he was asked what his secret was in creating successful films: “Surround yourself with people more brilliant than yourself.”
We did, and now we’re headed up to Pennsylvania to step through a steampunk looking glass.
Shall we dance?
–Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris