Artistic collaborations are not new. All authors collaborate with at least a cover artist, unless they are such an artist, just to produce a book. Authors get together to produce anthologies and even cowrite stories, novellas, or novels. As an artist, I love to collaborate. When two (or more) different inspirations converge, the intersection can lead to a new and unexpected direction.

However, just because collaborations can yield something amazing does not mean they are always easy or successful. When I talk about co-writing a novella, the first question is always, “how did that work?” or “how did that go?” It is sometimes hard to see how people could align on a common vision. Yet it does happen all the time with many creative projects. Books are just not a medium people usually think of for collaboration.

Yet when Kevin J. Kennedy asked if I wanted to write together, I did not hesitate to try. Kevin and I had worked together numerous times before when I contributed to his anthologies, but this was definitely a deeper collaboration. Then, when Screechers needed a cover, we brought in Phil Beachler, who did the covers of my books The Waning and Savages.

Rather than recount my experience of the collaboration, I thought it best to include all our experiences.

Where did the idea for Screechers come from?

Kevin: I can’t remember how the idea fully formed, but the initial idea was sparked when I was reading the Hell Divers series by Nicholas Sansbury Smith. He has creatures called Sirens in his books. They are pretty different from the Screechers to be fair, but the screams the sirens make was a bit of a spark and through time I had an idea for the Screechers.

Christina: The idea for the novella came from Kevin ultimately. He approached me to cowrite a story then suggested a post-apocalyptic story with mutant creatures. I instantly wanted to put some human survivors into that nightmare.

Phil: I naturally love drawing monsters and bizarre creatures, so the ideas came from a mish mash of werewolves, space bugs, and various other mutated horrors.

When was it clear that it was going to be a collaboration effort? How did you get involved?

Kevin: I had read all of Christina’s books and loved them. We spoke from time to time because she often featured in my anthologies. Again, I can’t exactly remember how we decided to write Screechers together. It might have been an idea to write something together and then grew into doing the Screechers novella.

Christina: Kevin and I started talking about a collaboration. I had never tried co-writing before, but after contributing to multiple anthologies for Kevin, it seemed like a good fit. Post-apocalyptic was an easy choice for both of us. I had already gone there with my novella Savages. Once mutants and monsters came up, the idea grew legs.

Phil: It became clear after I sent the initial sketches to the authors and got really great reception right away. From there on out, we sent lots of material back and forth to get the ball rolling.

Who was “the leader” on the project?

Kevin: We wrote separate sections and just sent it back and forward. We didn’t even start with too much of a structure from memory. I tend to write as I go most of the time. I can’t recall anyone being in charge. We tweaked each other’s sections, so it flowed better but that was it really.

Christina: I would say Kevin was the leader. He definitely saw more of the Screechers world in his mind, and I fed off of it. But the collaboration was very balanced. We divided the story so we each had our own little sand box. He had monsters, and I had humans. With two pansters writing, we had to force ourselves to outline eventually for when our two storylines would finally intersect then overlap.

Phil: Kevin took the lead, but I got a lot of feedback from Christina regarding various plot points and from her perspective being a fan of nasty monsters.

How did the initial idea change as more people got involved?

Kevin: The idea grew as we wrote as happens with most stories. Christina is friends with Phil, and we asked him to do the cover. The internal art was just a nice bonus that Phil decided to provide.

Christina: We definitely leveled up when we brought Phil in. Not only did we go from an artistic duo to a trio, which increased the influence and opinions flying around, but we brought in an entirely different medium. Phil did the cover, but he drew so many things as he did so. There were sketched of all kind of monsters!

Phil: The idea seemed to stay pretty cohesive. From start to finish, we all had a consistent vision that made it easy to keep on track.

Creatively, how did the collaboration work? How were ideas governed and developed between multiple people?

Kevin: We bounced some ideas back and forth and wrote a chapter each. We would stop every so often and reflect at where we were at and see if anything wasn’t working and review it. It all went pretty smoothly.

Christina: There was a lot of passing back and forth, feedback, and gut-checking. Kevin and I exchanged the outline and the manuscript. Taking turns kept us from wandering too far down a path without input from the other author. Phil came into the process when the story was pretty much done, and he could draw all he wanted based on those words.

Phil: From my perspective, I tried to keep as true to the author’s intentions and vision for the life of the creatures and world they inhabited. I threw some of my own aesthetics into the mix where appropriate, but nothing to distract from the origins of the story. Ideas flowed quite freely between all of us.

Logistically, how did collaboration work? Did you meet up? Get on the phone? Zoom?

Kevin: Everything was done via email and Facebook messenger. I’m in the UK and the others are in the US so no meeting was possible. I’m not a massive fan of video chatting, so I try to avoid it where possible.

Christina: The idea was cultivated over messenger, but the project work was done over email. Phil and I were able to get together and hang out since we both live in the same city, but Kevin lives in another part of the world.

Phil: Mostly chats, emails, and the occasional call.

How was collaborating? Did you enjoy it? Was it maddening?

Kevin: I really enjoyed it. I’ve done it with 3 different authors now, and each time it has been different, but it’s always been fun. In some ways, it’s more fun than writing on your own as you have someone to talk to about your project and it keeps you motivated.

Christina: I have always enjoyed collaborating with other artists. I have worked with visual artists before and enjoyed the balance of mediums. This was my first time working with another author on the same work, not an anthology. I really enjoyed it. I have done tag writing exercises before, where you write a sentence or paragraph and pass it off and the story goes it very unexpected directions. This felt like a much more controlled development of that. The story went in ways I would have never imagined on my own, and I loved that.

Phil: Loved it, and want to do more, much much more!

What really worked about the collaboration?

Kevin: I think it helped that we had read each other’s previous work and liked it, so we knew what we were getting into. Neither of us was too controlling, but we both had out own opinions. It was a good blend.

Christina: We started from a common baseline. We all loved the idea and the themes. Then I think everyone was the right amount of flexible. Everyone contributed, but everyone was also willing to bend and adapt to accommodate the other contributors. It was a good balance.

Phil: Our collective love of survival and apocalyptic themes, in concert with the great introspection displayed by characters, sprinkled with a bit of monster mayhem. In short, it just worked.

What would you do differently in future collaborations? Will you work with other artists again?

Kevin: We mapped out more of book 2 in advance. It came to a stand still when my father became unwell, but we are returning to it now and hopefully it’ll move quickly again now that I have more time. I will definitely do more co-writes.

Christina: In future collaborations, I would probably push an outline earlier. We already learned our lesson and did that first for Screechers 2. I definitely look forward to future co-writing and collaboration projects, with Kevin and Phil and other artists/authors.

Phil: Personally, I just need to get better about being more organized and time-oriented when I’m doing this kind of work in my free time. It’s all too easy to take the “work hat” off and slip into my habits of distraction when I just illustrate for myself.

What about the collaboration shows up in the finished product? What makes it unique?

Kevin: I think the whole point it to make it seem like a solo work. The idea was to have the voices blend although we were writing separate parts.

Christina: I think this collaboration is unique because we had our own sandboxes. It is the weaving of two separate perspectives, humans and monsters, that then collide. Instead of trying to make the dual authors completely transparent, we leaned on that strength to create a layered story. Then we brought the cover artist more into the process than always happens. Phil got to pick our brains before drawing the art.

Phil: Again, I tried my best to be the visual conduit through which the story just flowed. Everything within the book was so strong on its own merit I didn’t want to overdo anything and stray from the vision of the authors.

What is your favorite part of the work that the other persons contributed?

Kevin: I enjoyed the relationship Christina created with the humans in the book. It filled the story out and kept those parts exciting too. I loved Phil’s art and how he brought some of our monsters to life.

Christina: Kevin’s monster fight scene was my favorite part. I focused on the human relationships and humanizing the survivors, but ultimately, Kevin’s monsters were more sympathetic than my characters. That dynamic turned out great. Then I always love how Phil brings what is on the page to life.

Phil: Just getting into their headspace through the writing process as the book took shape and how we would continue to motivate and excite each other as we all came out with more parts of the story through our mediums.

You can find Kevin here: https://www.kevinjkennedy.co.uk/

You can find Phil’s art on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/philbeachchair/

Christina Bergling

https://linktr.ee/chrstnabergling

Comments
  1. So this is not only EXCELLENT, I am thinking that how you did this could be made into a how-to kind of tome — an expansion on what you have here. A lot of folks need hand-holding, and this is so innovative and perfect for not only Covid times, but modern life — doing what tech always claimed it would do in bringing the Arts and people together… Feed the kitty. 🙂

    Like

  2. Great stuff! I like what you did here as I think collaborating with other creatives is both a fun and supportive way of creating. Congrats to you all! And that cover really looks super cool, I hope I’ll get to read your book soon. 🙂

    Like

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