Monday, June 4, 2012

INTERVIEW: Allison Dickson and Ian Healy

Allison Dickson and Ian Healy are a writing duo who I suspect will hit the shelves with a steampunk series that will knock your socks off. Since the two of them write so beautifully together, I decided to ask them a few questions about how they work together. This is a continuation of my commentary below:

COMMENTARY: Should I Write With a Friend?

BEX: How did you two meet?

I: We met completely randomly online. I clicked on a "Next blog" button and there she was. I left a comment and the rest, as they say, is history.

A: I actually stumbled across that blog entry the other night, quite on accident. It was really cool to see that meeting point, because I had no precise memory as to when it happened. To be precise, we met on October 1st, 2006. But it wasn't until the beginning of 2008 that we actually started talking regularly, when I approached him for advice on writing fiction. Because up to that point, I hadn't written anything fictional since I was a teenager, and I was starting to feel a calling for it again. So it took a little time to get the ball rolling, but once we did, it's been a pretty symbiotic relationship ever since.

BEX: What made you decide to write together?

I: We'd talked about it for awhile, but the never project quite came along until I proposed the idea of The Oilman's Daughter. Allie was still kind of unsure, so I wrote the first chapter and sent it to her, and after that we were off and running (with a lengthy break while Allie moved halfway across the country).

A: It actually took a lot of tooth pulling on my part. I had all sorts of concerns about the project running through my head. Was I going to be able to commit without letting him down? Was this going to ruin our friendship in some way? Was I going to be able to take the hit to my ego that this wasn't "my" idea, and I would be expected to take credit for it? Would I even be able to write steampunk, given the fact that I had never, at that point, actually read a steampunk story or even attempted a period piece? Etc etc... Eventually, though, we worked through all that. I'd say once we got halfway through the first act (really, it was around Chapter 8 or so) I felt right into it and didn't look back. And actually, I fell so much in love with this whole anachronistic/alternate history thing that I became inspired to start my diselpunk book, Colt Coltrane and the Lotus Killer.

BEX: Did you set up any kind of rules for collaboration? (who writes what, deadlines, research, etc)

I: We worked without deadlines. Since we both have other projects going on besides our coauthored work, neither of us wanted to really pressure the other to get something done. We both know we will get things done eventually, because neither of us is the type to leave work unfinished. We basically just alternated writing chapters. Allie asked me to write the space battles, because that's kinda my thing. But she did just fine with the action scenes she wrote herself. She's better at them than she thinks she is.

A: Ian is very kind. lol But I never could have written those space battles. I lack completely in the spacey-nautical vocabulary that he brought to the table. The combat scene on the space station was a lot easier for me to write, because it didn't involve operating a ship of some sort. That's definitely in my comfort zone. When we started out, we knew we had two main characters and one of us was going to write from one character's POV. I naturally gravitated toward the anti-hero pirate guy. I needed that, because it was really the only thing I had some basis of knowledge in starting out. We also agreed we'd write in alternating chapters and would edit one another's work before proceeding to the next chapter. In terms of deadlines, Ian is right. We didn't make deadlines. In fact, that would have been a bad idea for both of us, because as similarly as we write in style, we definitely work at different paces. I'm a lot slower overall, and it's hard for me to put full intensity into more than one project at a time. I'm a bit of a project monogamist that way. But toward the end, it was like something lit a fire under my ass. I saw the finish line and I was ready to rally and get it done, and for the first time, I think I was actually head of the curve for once. lol

BEX: Have you had any surprises?

I: Allie brought the need for improved fertilizer, food shortages, and what is currently called the Haber Process into the story, and that added a much-needed human-interest element to the tale that I simply hadn't considered. That was a pleasant surprise to me. It made for a significant improvement in the story.

A: That was a very incidental discovery on my part as well. I was inspired by my reading of the book Omnivore's Dilemmaby Michael Pollan, which discussed how integrated petroleum is in the modern agricultural process. I knew at that point we absolutely had to fit it into the story, because essentially in thinking about all the ways that oil has changed the landscape of our world as well as our culture, it isn't all about weapons and vehicles. If it wasn't for petroleum, we never really would have been able to sustain our growing population.

I: One of the biggest surprises to me was how similar our writing styles and thought processes about storytelling have become over the years of working on revising each other's manuscripts. We've developed our own editorial shorthand that nobody else will understand because of it. The surprise was how seamless our alternate chapters became, and how they read like they were written by the same person.

A: Yeah, that was a great thing we discovered there. Ian is really the only colleague I have where complete honesty is not only accepted between us but expected. We've been blunt with each other from the very beginning, in writing and in life. We say things to each other about our work that would (and have) killed other writer partnerships. lol We might not always agree, but it's always appreciated.

Do you think your work is better as a team?

I: Yes. What you read was essentially a revised first draft and it was as tightly-plotted and well-written a work as either of us has produced after multiple editorial passes.

A: That is true. We each have different strengths as writers. Very ying and yang that way. He's great at fleshing out the set pieces and the action and making sure the plot more or less lines up. I'm more about fleshing out the characters and trying to fill in the emotional/visceral elements. We're both good at maintaining a certain continuity and pacing. It was really a perfect match that way, so being able to work in tandem the way we did wound up giving us a complete story with what felt like half the work.

BEX: I totally agree with their assessment. I had no idea the book I was beta-reading was a first draft.

BEX: Will you continue writing together?

I: Unquestionably. We've already talked about sequels, prequels, and parallel tales from what I affectionately call the ODverse. I would also love to write something set in my superhero Just Cause Universe with Allie as well.

A: I'd definitely like to do it again. If this book pans out (we both have a pretty good feeling about it), then that only adds additional incentive. I like that this project allowed me to work in both of my favorite capacities, both as creator and "consultant." I love reading other people's writing and looking for ways to help open it up more. Even on days that I didn't feel like writing any original content, it was nice to be able to at least read and edit his chapters, and invariably, when I did, it managed to inspire me to write the next chapter.

BEX: Do you agree with Evelyn David's set of rules? Do you have something to add to that?

I: Yeah, they seem like sound ideas, and I don't really have anything to add except that you have to trust your writing partner completely. You have to know in your heart of hearts that your writing partner is going to take excellent care of your baby and return her to you better than when you left.

A: I agree with all that. Trust is absolutely essential. And a complete understanding of your partner's strengths and weaknesses and an ability to accept your own role in the project. There's no room for divas or prima donnas in work like this. The point of collaborating is to take the works of two different people and blend them so you can't distinguish between the two. If you are the kind of person who insists on a spotlight or on having complete control over something, co-authoring is definitely not for you. There was some give and take over this whole process, but ultimately there was nothing that left me feeling stung. If Ian wanted to make a change at any point, even if I wasn't sure at first, we usually came to an agreement after a short discussion. And my suggestions were equally met with an open mind.


  1. Cool interview! I also collaborate with a friend (we're also a man/woman team) so I could really relate. I'm so happy that these two found such great writing partners in each other. I'm looking forward to reading THE OILMAN'S DAUGHTER.

  2. Margaret, I'd love to hear about your collaboration sometime, too. You're going to love "The Oilman's Daughter." It was a difficult book for me to critique, because I was having so much fun reading. Well, steampunk, trains, pirates, and Texas--what's NOT to love?