Collaborating on The Heart of the Beast with Jay Lake

As Jay’s mentioned on his blog, he and I are collaborating on a novel with a working title of The Heart of the Beast. Jay’s a writing machine, uses several different styles, and has mad talent. He’s also one of the nicest, most interesting people I know, with a healthy sense of curiosity. These elements may seem irrelevant, and they’re certainly secondary, but they help a lot in a collaboration.

Another thing that helps is what Jay touches on in his blog entry:

The binder contains a more or less coherent draft of about a third of the plotted book. The small notebook and the loose sheets contain overarching plot notes, character notes, earlier and later drafts of specific scenes (including handwritten, typescript and laserprint), doodles, diagrams, arrows, reflections, notes-to-self, and random impositions of completely unrelated material. In some cases, I was able the read the same scene four or more times, from original jotted notes to extensive handwritten draft to early, marked-up typescript, to fairly mature draft on printout…I generally write from fairly straightforward outlines, and draft almost exclusively in reading order. This is true even when I have intricate or out-of-sequence plots and structures. It’s just how my brain works. This material is pretty much the inverse of that, like a drunkard’s walk across a spiralled plot structure and one writer’s scattered thoughts over a number of years and iterations. Yet it’s building the story in the book place in my writing mind. Which means Jeff, and his notes, are teaching me a great deal that’s new to me about how to approach writing. Perhaps the most revealing are the self-critical marginalia. Comments on how certain sentences are crafted, or the way certain characters should be sharpened and interrelated. His interrogations of the connections between characters, events and setting, much of it invisible in backstory with respect to the proposed text, are fascinating and illuminating. It’s as if I picked up the gloves of a foreign craftsman, and have inherited some of his art in donning them.

This observation about my process (on most books) reflects that because I don’t usually work from an outline, I need to accrete all of that detail and other stuff he’s talking about in some form as a foundation before much actual writing takes place. It’s in an odd, bird-building-nest-out-of-scraps-of-everything way of almost doing an outline.

The Heart of the Beast was a victim of a sustained phase of Ambergris coming into my creative life, but it also requires something that only Jay can give it by dint of thought, instinct, talent, and experience, in my opinion. Another part of what he gives it comes out of process, because process most definitely affects what occurs on the page. It’s not simply different conduits to the same place. One effect of Jay examining and finishing the novel using his process, even if corrupted by mine, is that it brings an element to it that would not otherwise be there.

I’m looking forward to this collaboration for what Jay brings to making the novel complete. But I am also going to be fascinated to see how he interprets the notes and all of the rest–what gets used and what doesn’t, and how it gets used. Because when I backtrack from that new genesis, I am going to learn a great deal about writing, from another’s point of view. (One stipulation of our collaboration, which I suggested and seems to me the only way for it to work, is that Jay has the freedom to do whatever he wants with what I sent him. Anything else would be counterproductive.)

Jay should have a draft done by early March, and he’ll then turn it over to me, which works out nicely because I have no pressing long fiction on my plate this year.

10 comments on “Collaborating on The Heart of the Beast with Jay Lake

  1. Sounds like an interesting project.

  2. Sir Tessa says:

    Ditto. Trés interestink. The resulting creature is highly anticipated.

  3. Jay Lake says:

    I am very pleased and excited. Unfortunately I also seem to be coming down with a rotten cold right now, which may interfere with my planned efforts over the next few days. Grr.

  4. Like I said to Jay, I´d love to see that draft. You could put that online someday.

  5. Sir Tessa says:

    Go with the meds, it’ll only add to the beast.

  6. jeff vandermeer says:

    I don’t really know how to express this properly, but maybe it’s most sincere to just say I love jay and thus this collaboration makes me very happy.

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