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Collaborative Writing: When Two Brains Are Better Than One

I was so happy a few weeks ago when a boy in the third row of a freshman English class raised his hand and asked us, �Where do you come up with your characters? They are so�um� random.�

I think that�s partly what attracts both Brad and me to writing. In what other vocation or avocation is it okay to know a whole lot about bottle cap collecting, and anachronistic role-playing, and Bob�s Big Boy? Not to mention Brad�s extensive knowledge of all things related to 50�s television and my somewhat unfortunate obsession with apples and chocolate. I don�t think this obscure knowledge would even make us very good Trivial Pursuit partners for anyone. I mean, how often do you need to know that the first Ronald McDonald wore a food-tray hat, or that the Honey Crisp Apple is actually a cross between a Macoun and a Honeygold?

I was told something that I�m sure most writers are told when they are starting out. Write what you know.

The thing is no one told me that the things I know might not be the big ideas. I really don�t know how to stop global warming or how to heal a broken heart or how to get ahead in business. The things that I know are the smaller things that find their way into my everyday life. It�s in these obscure obsessions that I seem to find stories.

We set our first novel, Scrambled Eggs at Midnight (Dutton, 2006) in a Renaissance fair. And, not because we had all this extensive knowledge about them. (I�ve still never been to one.), but because the idea of adults pretending to be princesses and knights and queens and wenches seemed really intriguing.

Our second novel, Dream Factory (Dutton, May 2007) is set at Disney World. Again, not because either of us knew that much about it. Brad�s never been to Disney World and I�ve only been once when I was five. But we set it there because it was interesting.

Tattoo studios, mental health hospitals, pie eating contests. It is in these small places that maybe not many people know that much about that Brad and I find ourselves wandering.

People ask all the time how we decided to write together. I try to think up something smart to say. I�m sure I should say something about similar voices and matching literary sensibilities, but the truth is we chose to write together and continue to write together for the same reason we became friends. Both of us have an odd sense of what is interesting and probably more important, we both laugh at the same things. Well, to be honest I am the one doing all the laughing. Brad�s more of a smirker, but that�s just because he doesn�t like to let on that he�s as entertained as he really is.

The second thing everyone asks is whether we argue a lot. They want the dirt. Like I might tell them about the time I almost dumped a whole cup of coffee on Brad�s head or the time he threatened to leave me on the interstate somewhere in Connecticut. Okay, those things didn�t really happen. I always hate to break it to people because they always seem so bummed. We don�t really argue when we write. We argue about what�s better for dessert. (I�m for brownies. Brad�s vote is on cheesecake.) But, when it comes to writing, I think both of us have a sure sense of what we are each good at and where each of us could use some help.

I�m a starter. I can write enough first chapters to fill up the chest in my attic, but when it comes to final chapters Brad will tell you, I stink. Brad is great at details. I fear I�m way too distracted for that. I don�t really understand it all. Not even close. It�s probably part luck and part intuition. It�s probably the same thing that makes both Brad and I want to go see the World�s Largest Ball of String or eat garlic ice. It�s probably the same reason most everyone writes. It�s the desire to get inside someone or something that you know nothing about and for a while just live there. Just walk around and touch things and look at things and see what you can find out. It�s going to sound very pretentious, but here it is.

Paul Eluard, a French poet said it better than I could ever hope to. �There is another world and it is in this one.� I�m not sure if he meant that it could be found using the Park Hopper option at Disney World, but I�m going to try.

Submitted by:

Heather Hepler

Brad Barkley and Heather Hepler are the authors of the Young Adult Novels Scrambled Eggs at Midnight, and Dream Factory. Visit their website and try your hand at creative word play.


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