Unexpected Magic: the co-writing process.
It’s October, 2017 when I see a tweet asking readers what their dream “mashup” of authors would be; my friend and co-blogger, Annie, posts that she would love to see Taylor and I write together. I’m flattered because I am a gushingly huge fan of Taylor’s work.
The thing is, other than a professional sort of relationship (Taylor graciously sensitivity read my book, A Tiny Piece of Something Greater) and a mutual twitter pal kind of relationship, Taylor and I didn’t really know each other at this time.
Days after I saw Annie’s tweet I’d been in bed, about to fall asleep, when a random line of prose popped into my head. It was weird and wonderful and unexpected, so I did something I almost never do: wrote it down.
“There once was a dragon who had a taste for lively things, things of green and gold—lush things, untamable things. But as soon as he had what he wanted, everything turned to soot in his mouth.”
One of the things I love about Taylor’s work is the prose, the poetry in the words, the depth of meaning and movement under the movement of the story. When I woke up and saw what I’d written, with Annie’s tweet in my mind, I had some sort of instinct that I should send it to Taylor. I 100% was not expecting Taylor’s enthusiastic desire to see it. I was not expecting what came next: after sending it to Taylor, receiving back two paragraphs of prose that began a story. In moments, born of this half asleep moment, Taylor created Erik, our restless cage fighter running from his past. In this moment, the first line of our upcoming novel, Shadows You Left, was born.
I’ve always struggled with the idea of co-writing, because writing for me is such an internal, meditative process. I mull and turn over and question and layer slowly as I sit with the story and the characters. In my mind, I’d never been able to imagine how I could marry this process with another person’s process. Which is why I feel like when Taylor and I accidentally started writing a book based on half formed ideas and head-cannons and the mythology behind dragons, something magical was happening.
Taylor and I didn’t know each other as humans in any sort of close way before we wrote this. And yet somehow we created this system, moving too-fast and furious twitter DMs into character and plot outlines and then, in the space of a month, a fully formed manuscript for a book about a tattoo artist, an underground cage fighter, dragon tattoos and Seattle.
If I had to pinpoint what made it work the way it did, I’m not sure I could tell you; there are so many little moments, oddities, synchronicities that under-girded the process. While we each wrote for a character—I wrote River and Taylor wrote Erik—for the most part, Taylor wrote a chapter ahead of me. By this I mean, in the original draft, chapter 4 might be written before chapter 3. I couldn’t tell you how we made this work, but we didn’t just make it work: writing this way and with these characters felt like breathing. Like something deep and instinctual and natural. This feeling permeated every part of the writing process, from concept to edits.
I see so many co-written books and writing partnerships producing amazing content in our genre and wonder about how those processes and negotiations work, particularly when those partnerships write multiple books together. I wonder how unique each relationship must be, because in each a pairing of differing processes somehow becomes a unit. I think I wonder about this most because, for me, writing with Taylor didn’t feel like a kind of writing I’d ever have done on my own—the drafting, the development, the editing—and so at the time, I had no language for it. Writing Shadows You Left just was. It was a thing that existed when Taylor and I barely knew each other—interestingly I feel like we did most of the “getting to know you as a human beyond writing” stuff after the initial draft was written. This not knowing each other created a space for a strange kind of intimacy: Taylor and I both spent a lot of time talking about personal trauma and examining how those traumas were informing our characters.
And maybe that’s why the whole book feels like magic. Because I can’t explain it or quantify it or even, on some level, understand how it happened. The best part about all of this is that, for me, that bit of magic wove its way into the story and the characters, shining through in little moments and spelling its way into each character and the way that they fall in love. The way they break apart—that they have to break apart as humans—in order to really be together. The way I fell in love with a city I’ve never seen; the way Taylor and I were able to learn from and teach each other about topics surrounding addiction and sexuality rooted in our own, very different but connected stories and histories.
After fleshing out a multitude of fantastical creatures as a special effects makeup artist, Taylor Brooke (she/they) turned her imagination back to her one true love – books. When she’s not nestled in a blanket typing away on her laptop, she’s traveling, hiking or reading. She writes Queer books for teens and adults. She is represented by Saba Sulaiman at Talcott Notch Literary Services.
Jude Sierra is a Latinx poet, author, academic and mother who is currently working toward her PhD in Writing and Rhetoric, looking at the intersections of Queer, Feminist and Pop Culture Studies. She also works as an LGBTQAI+ book reviewer for Queer Books Unbound. Her novels include Hush, What it Takes, and Idlewild, a contemporary queer romance set in Detroit’s renaissance, which was named a Best Book of 2016 by Kirkus Reviews. Her most recent novel A Tiny Piece of Something Greater was released in May of 2018. Shadows you Left, a co-written novel with Taylor Brooke will arrive spring of 2019 from Entangled Press.