It is one of the pieces of accepted wisdom in fiction writing that stories written in collaboration are almost invariably weaker than stories written by authors working alone. Since I enjoy sticking my thumb in the eye of accepted wisdom, I like to think I've done it again with this book—as well as a number of others I've written in collaboration with several different authors.
I've never really understood the logic of this piece of "wisdom," beyond the obvious technical reality: until the advent of computer word-processing and online communication, collaboration between authors was simply very difficult. I can remember the days when I used to write on a typewriter, and had to spend as much time painfully retyping entire manuscripts just to incorporate a few small changes in the text, as I did writing the story in the first place. (And I'll leave aside the joys of using carbon paper and white-out.) Working under those circumstances is trying enough for an author working alone. Adding a collaborator increases the problems by an order of magnitude.
That's the reason, I think, that authors for many decades, even centuries, generally worked alone. And where exceptions did occur, they usually did so because of special circumstances. Two, in particular:
The first is where one author basically does all the writing. The input of the other author might have taken the form of developing the plot outline, or, not infrequently, simply lending his or her name to the project for marketing purposes.
The second generally involved married couples, or people who were otherwise in position to work in very close proximity. To use a well-known instance from the history of science fiction, just about everything written by Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore after their marriage was, in fact if not in name, a collaborative work.
Modern technology, however, eliminates all the practical problems involved with collaborative writing. Thus, to use this book as an example, once Dave and I had settled on a detailed plot outline, we were each able to write our respective chapters, swap them back and forth in emails, cross-edit and add new material, rewrite—whatever was needed—just about as easily as a single author would manage his own rewriting and editing.
Of course, that still leaves the creative and personal aspects of the business. Those can be either a challenge—sometimes an insuperable one—or an opportunity. Part of what annoys me a bit about the unthinking assumption of a lot of people that collaboration automatically reduces the quality of the writing to the lowest common denominator, is that they overlook the obvious. Collaborative writing is a skill, like any other. Some authors are hopelessly inept at it—or simply don't want to do it all. Others manage it poorly; still others in a workmanlike but humdrum manner; and some—I happen to be one of them—do it very well.
I think there are three key ingredients to the skill. The first, and most important, is that the author himself has to want to do it. Any author for whom collaboration is a chore or a nuisance, done only for practical and commercial reasons, is not going to do it well. They will meet the challenges, perhaps; but they will miss the opportunities and potential benefits.
The second is that you have to choose your partner (or partners) carefully. This has both a personal and a professional side to it. On the personal side, your partner has to be someone you're on friendly terms with. On the professional side, they should be someone whose particular strengths and weaknesses as a writer match up well against your own. There's no point in Tweedledum co-authoring a novel with Tweedledee. You want a co-author who is going to add something—and whose weaknesses (and all authors have them) can be cancelled out by your own strengths. And vice-versa, of course.
Finally, you have to pick the right story. Not all stories lend themselves well to collaboration. To give an example from my own work: except for my friend Richard Roach, who has been working with me on the project since we were both men in our early twenties—over thirty years now—I would find it very difficult to collaborate with anyone on my Joe's World series. (The first two volumes of which, The Philosophical Strangler and Forward the Mage, are now in print.) That story is just too bound up with my own view of things and my sometimes quirky sense of humor. I doubt if many other authors would be able to find their way through its surrealistic logic.
On the other hand, some stories lend themselves superbly well to collaboration—and the 1632 universe is one of them. This is a big, sprawling canvas of a story. Or, since I tend to think in musical terms, it's a story that lends itself to something of a cross between chamber music and a jam session. That's not simply because the story allowsfor it. In many ways, I think, it almost demands collaboration.
The reason has to do with the nature of alternate history stories. Those can, of course, be written by a solo author—and written extremely well. But there is an inherent "occupational hazard" involved. A single author will almost inevitably start shaping his story to fit whatever historical schema he develops. And, over time, in the course of a multi-volume work, the story begins to suffer because of it. It's a subtle thing. But what tends to happen is that the complexities and quirkiness and—if you will—unpredictable chaos of real history tends to get washed away.
I wanted to avoid that, once I decided to turn 1632—which I wrote as a stand-alone novel—into a series. And so I looked for collaborators. I found them in two places.
The first, obviously, was Dave Weber. By then, Dave and I had become friends and I'd had the experience of working with him in the course of writing a short novel for one of the anthologies in his Honor Harrington series. ("From the Highlands," which appears in the third of the Harrington anthologies, Changer of Worlds.) Once Dave told me that he'd enjoy working in the 1632 universe, we decided to write the sequel to 1632 together. The result, you have now read. I hope it has pleased you. It certainly pleased Dave and me—so much so, in fact, that we now have a contract to write four more novels together continuing the story. (The first of which, 1634: The Baltic War, will be the direct sequel to 1633.)
The other place I looked was in the now very large group of fans who participate daily in an online discussion of the 1632 universe. That discussion takes place in Baen's Bar, the discussion area which is part of Baen Books' website—see note below—in a conference specifically set aside for it: "1632 Tech Manual." The discussion has now gone on for over two years, with tens of thousands of posts having gone up during that period.
Last year, after discussing the idea with my publisher, Jim Baen, I decided to put together an anthology of stories set in the 1632 universe. I wanted to do it in a way which would incorporate, as much as possible, the bubbling cauldron of ideas which the Tech Manual has become. So I adopted a rather unusual format. As is standard procedure for such anthologies, I asked a number of established authors to contribute stories for the anthology. I invited those I was sure would write stories which fit into the setting and would add something to it. The authors involved are David Weber, Mercedes Lackey, Dave Freer, Kathy Wentworth, and S. L. Viehl—and all of them did exactly as I had hoped. And I'll be writing a novella of my own for it, of course.
But I set aside half the space for new writers, and threw the anthology open for submissions from the participants in the discussion in the "Tech Manual." A number of the participants are aspiring writers as well as fans, and I was confident that they'd be able to produce a number of excellent stories. Which, they did. About sixty stories were submitted, and I selected nine of them for the anthology.
What was most important to me, though, is that the anthology stories—those from the newcomers as well as the established writers—expanded my own view of this world. The basic framework of the 1632 setting remains the one I had created in 1632, but that theme now has well over a dozen variations on the tune. Aspects of the story to which I had given little thought were now developed into stories in their own right. Characters were introduced who began to shape the ongoing story I was writing myself, and the way I thought about it.
I could give a multitude of examples. The character of Tom Stone, for instance, was first developed by Misty Lackey in her story "To Dye For"—and was then incorporated by Dave and me into 1633 and will become a major character in a sequel which I will be writing with Andrew Dennis. That sequel will develop Andrew's story for the anthology, "Between the Armies." It involves characters who were either minor in 1632—such as Father Larry Mazzare—or were first developed by Andrew, and will relate the impact which the Ring of Fire has on Italy and the Catholic Church.
To conclude, although I created this setting and will continue to write solo novels in it, I see myself as part of an ensemble. Sometimes as soloist, sometimes as a participant in chamber music—especially in my duets with Dave Weber—and sometimes conducting the orchestra.
One of the members of the orchestra needs to be singled out for special mention in this afterword, and that's Mike Spehar. Mike was in the course of writing a story for the anthology when the events on September 11 required him to break off from it due to his professional responsibilities. Mike is such a good writer that I hated to see his work simply go to waste. So, with Dave's agreement, we incorporated what he had written into some of the earlier chapters of 1633. The character of Jesse Wood was developed originally by Mike, along with the technical basis for the aircraft. (With some input from Evan Mayerle, I should add.)
Then, as we continued to write the novel, things developed further. Periodically, Dave and I would ask Mike if he could write a new scene for this or that chapter, since Mike—who is a retired U.S. Air Force pilot—could give the flying scenes a vividness and detail that neither Dave nor I possibly could. Mike did so, and the first drafts of many of the scenes in a number of the chapters were written by him. Except for the final battle at Wismar, in fact, all of the flying episodes were originally written by Mike—and he was our technical editor for that final scene.
Mike will continue to play that role for us in 1634: The Baltic War, and I'll be very surprised if he doesn't wind up writing his own stories—or becoming a full collaborator on a novel—as this series progresses. I expect the same will happen with some other people who have participated for over two years now in shaping the 1632 universe. I will certainly be encouraging them to, and doing my best to help the process.
I like to collaborate, accepted wisdom be damned. It's probably not an accident that I tend to think of writing in musical terms. I'm quite sure that if I were a violinist or a pianist, instead of an author, I'd play at least as much chamber music as I would solo compositions or concertos.
Now, I need to publicly thank a number of people who gave Dave and me a lot of help in the way of technical advice and historical expertise. I can't possibly name them all, but I'll start by thanking the hundreds of people who have participated in the 1632 Tech Manual discussions for the past two years. Then, in particular:
Virginia DeMarce, who is a professional historian and a specialist on 17th-century Germany. (Virginia, by the way, is also one of the authors who will be appearing in the upcoming anthology—and with whom I hope to be collaborating on a novel before too long, following up on the story line she developed for it centering on the character of Veronica. Like Mike Stearns, I'm partial to tough old biddies.)
Andrew Dennis, for his advice on naval and historical matters.
Detlef Zander, who has been incredibly helpful in tracking down information for us in his native Germany. His assistance in providing us with diagrams, maps and photos of the north German ports, canals, rivers and the Wietze oil field was invaluable.
Bob Gottlieb, Rick Boatright, Drew Clark and Marcus Mulkins, who provided us with a great deal of assistance on matters relating to chemistry, steel production, medicine and antibiotics. Rick was also our radio expert, and guided us through the complexities of that part of the story.
Ralph Tacoma and Conrad Chu, for general advice on matters of engineering.
And, finally, I'd like to thank Judith Lasker. Not for any particular thing involving 1633, but just for the help and encouragement she's given me for a long time now.
NOTE: Those of you who enjoyed this book and would be interested in participating in the online discussion regarding the 1632 series are welcome to join it. You can do so as follows:
1) On the Internet, using your web browser, go to: http://www.baen.com
2) Select "Baen's Bar" from the menu across the top.
3) Fill out a quick and simple registration. Thereafter, you can simply log in.