Collaborating on a novel with your spouse is like sharing a piece of bread that only one of you wants toasted. When one is heartbent for modern romance and the other is set to strike out down the stony path toward gothic horror, it seems like the easiest thing to do would be to meet congenially in fantasy or science fiction. But by the time the opening sentence finds its place on the electronic media screen, things are already personal. If redecorating a house together leads down the long and winding road to relationship stress, collaborating on a novel is the short, straight path to dividing your assets.
My husband, Damien Spielberg, took a perfectly lovely and sincere story about the relationship between a maiden apprentice and her mentor and turned it from a lively, endearing romance into a Renaissance Wizarding Extravagana complete with recreational lightning bolt action. And he made it a screenplay, to boot.
“If we’re going to be in cahoots on this thing, you’ve got to learn to give a little bit,” he said, striking through an entire page of my rich, descriptive prose with a wide-point permanent marker.
I snatched my beloved pages from his jagged claws. “Cahoots? You make it sound like a bad western. We’re collaborating.” I bit the eraser off my pencil.
“What happened to my colorful description of Abby meeting Bob for the first time?” I asked, wrinkling my brow as I flipped through the pages.
“Here it is,” he said, wiping out another paragraph as he gestured nonchalantly with his Sharpie.
“Scene I. Abby meets Bob.”
“That’s all? The humor of the scene comes from Abby, a modern businesswoman accustomed to a sterile and structured environment, coming to terms with the fact that she is competing for a promotion with a man whom she’s just discovered is a 500 year old member of wizarding royalty who is grandfathered into her company’s pension plan.”
“I put wizard in the script notes. See here in the margin? Bob wears a pointy hat.”
“A pointy hat? Bob is not a dunce. Bob is a staff-wielding mage who served in some of the most influential governments in history. He talks to fish!”
“Calm down. I mentioned the fish. See here in Scene III. There’s a nice bit here in the willows by the pond.”
“So how do we know he talks to the fish?”
“Dialogue? You mean a conversation? This is coming from the man who told me he was in a wreck two hours after he totaled his new car and the rescue team delivered him to the emergency room? You didn’t call me until the nurse dialed the number for you.”
“And after they gave me enough painkillers to make me count to ten in three languages and sing the Lumberjack song to a burly intern. But this is different. It’s Bob talking. Not me.”
“That’s a good thing. Otherwise it would be the world’s shortest book.”
“We’re supposed to be working on this together. Be nice.”
“I’d rather be the dental hygienist in the tiger cage at Ringling Brothers.”
“Never mind. Tell me more about our wizard’s wonderful world of words.”
“The only way you can see into the man is to hear him talk.”
“I’ve got to hear to see? What about my searing description of their awkward encounter in the elevator?”
“I covered that. In the second scene you see the looks on their faces when she realizes he can read her thoughts and she splashes peanut butter milkshake all over his topcoat, tries to scrape it off with his cane, and accidentally pokes him in the n---.”
“I was going to say nose. When you see that, you can hear their hearts.”
“Okay, now I have to see to hear.” I turn a page in my narrative version and mark out several paragraphs describing Abby’s clothes. “So how do you come up with all this clever conversation?”
“I listen to people talk. Then I write it down.”
Easy enough. “By the way, back at the pond, what are Bob and the catfish discussing?”
“Whether he should take the job.”
“What do they decide?”
“The catfish advises against it.”
“And why is that?”
He says that Abby is a bad influence and Bob should leave the company entirely.”
“I’ve given her a beautiful home, a killer figure, and a sparkling wit. Why doesn’t he like her?”
He sighed and scratched his head. “She talks too much.”