Ever wonder how two authors manage to write one book? We publish books for a living and it’s a headscratcher even for us. We asked two of our favorite authors, Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland, to answer that question. Neal and Nicole recently wrote The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. together. This isn’t just any novel -- it’s a novel composed of letters, emails, archive fragments, chats, corporate memos, and journals. Oh, and did we mention it’s 750 pages long, moves back and forth in time (the characters are literally time-travelers) and the plot’s key device requires the application of physics, history, and philosophy to practical magic? That’s a lot of detail, characters, events, and continuity to keep track of for one author; it boggles our minds what it must have been like for two, shuttling a manuscript back and forth. Here, in their own words, are Neal and Nicole to demystify the process of co-authorship.
Nicki and I worked together previously on The Mongoliad and so I knew what to expect: that she would just get things done like the pro she is. That is exactly what happened with The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. When you are writing a novel solo, you can just start writing and see where the story takes you, but in a collaboration, it’s necessary to start with a lot of talking. “Brainstorming” isn’t my favorite word, so I’ll describe it as pretty disciplined and focused co-imagining process. If the writers aren’t in sync, it unravels pretty fast, but if they share a clear vision of the characters and the story--as Nicki and I did in this case-- then it can come together with surprising ease and swiftness. Once we knew who these people were and what they were going to do, Nickie made a first pass over the opening phase of the book while I ran tech support, tracking the timeline on a spreadsheet and spewing out gobs of techno-gibberish when that was needed. Then she tossed that over to me and I did my bit while she forged ahead. I won’t say it was easy but I will say that the collaboration went very well, with a lot of humor and a minimum of drama.
This collaboration was great fun, in part because I got to witness Neal spew out gobs of techno-gibberish, which he does very elegantly. Sometimes I felt like Scout to his Atticus (if Atticus were a mad scientist). I’m used to collaboration from years of theater, but working creatively with one other person for more than a year is a very different thing. It’s 50 percent mind-melding and 50 percent keeping a deliberate distance (and 50 percent doing something in between), and that ebb and flow happened pretty naturally. Although I took shameless advantage of his guest room, we were a continent apart for most of the process, and that allowed us to meet almost entirely within the world of D.O.D.O.-- we were rarely even distracted by pleasantries about the weather. When we had differences of opinion--which didn’t happen much, especially given the scope of the book--they were resolved, and Neal has said, with good humor and a minimum of drama. (Confession: I’m more dramatic than Neal.)
The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland is on sale now. What do you get when you take a linguist of ancient languages, a military intelligence operative, a quantum physicist, a handful of witches, a cat, and a posse of coding nerds and ask them to bring magic back to the 21st Century? DODO -- the Department of Diachronic Operations, dedicated to time travel and the manipulation of history.