Monday, August 12, 2013

Reader's Diary #1048- Joseph Boyden, Anne Michaels, Stacey May Fowles, Priscila Uppal, Catherine Bush, Craig Davidson, Michael Winter, Cary Fagan, Wayne Johnston, Kelley Armstrong, Lawrence Hill : They Arrived in the Fall

I've not read a lot of co-authored books (the two Stephen King/ Peter Straub collaborations come to mind), but when I do I'm almost as interested in the writing process as I am in the writing itself. Does one author write a chapter, send it off to the other who then writes the second, and so forth? I'm sure it's different for every pair and piece they are working on, but the process would almost certainly become more complicated if you start adding more authors into the equation. Would it be at least more manageable if they kept the piece short?

Thanks to a fun and exciting National Post summer fiction project, we now have 11 Canadian authors to ask how they all felt about the process. Given the opening sentence "They arrived in the fall" Joseph Boyden, Anne Michaels, Stacey May Fowles, Priscila Uppal, Catherine Bush, Craig Davidson, Michael Winter, Cary Fagan, Wayne Johnston, Kelley Armstrong, and Lawrence Hill were all asked to work together to create a short piece of fiction.

The result is a wacky bit of horror, lots of reflection on what it is that attracts us to horror, and there's even some relationship issues thrown in for good measure.

I wasn't sure if it was working at first. Joseph Boyden begins with a story about a woman feeding some sort of mysterious creature. She is out of milk, so she opts for her blood instead. Yes, it's weird, but also strangely compelling. Then Anne Michaels begins by saying, "She looked up from the page."

I was angered with that line. I felt like she'd broken the cardinal rule of improv, "take what your partner gives you and build on it." By reducing Boyden's contribution to a screenplay that someone was writing felt like that old TV cliche when a character realizes "it was all just a dream." Furthermore, when the new character Michaels introduces starts analyzing why people like to be scared, it felt as if she was trying to take the intellectual high road. As if this National Post project needed something a bit more serious and substantial than that bit of monster fluff Boyden had supplied.

But I shouldn't pretend to know what Michaels' intentions were, nor what the process was (perhaps, for instance, this shift in direction had been Boyden's plan all along and he had supplied that idea). In any case, she's off the hook because the remainder of the authors, playing diplomats, managed to make the two pieces work together cohesively, while still adding their own touches. And the ending tied it all up wonderfully, to my satisfaction brought full circle by Lawrence Hill (even if he did have the worst line in the entire story: "It is lemonade, whereas other human blood types are like water with a slice of lemon thrown in.")

 Of the 11 authors, I'll admit that I'd only even heard of 7, and of those I'd read even less. However, I was thoroughly impressed by all of the writing (even Michaels who may or may not have played fair). Of those who I had read before, I was surprised by the unexpected approaches that most had taken. Wayne Johnston, Joseph Boyden, and Lawrence Hill went for sci-fi/ horror, yet Kelley Armstrong didn't? Who knew?

A hearty thank-you all of these authors for agreeing to this experiment and to the National Post for arranging it!

(Did you write a post for Short Story Monday? If so, please leave a link in the comments below.)


Barbara Bruederlin said...

How intriguing! Like you, I would have assumed that result of so many authors would be a giant hot mess. I must check this story out.

John Mutford said...

Barbara: It's not that the story's perfect (it does get confusing at times and there are a few additions that get dropped along the way)but it's far from a "giant hot mess" and quite enjoyable.