Behind Every Good Male Author…

By Kim Childress

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I’ve been a Scott Westerfeld fan since I first read Uglies in 2002—before it hit legendary status, I might add. Seriously, Scott writes young-adult literature that makes you think. He creates sci-fi, steampunk, dystopian, fantastical worlds that readers fall into and don’t want to leave. His Uglies and Leviathan series are included in my all-time favorites. So when I saw that he and his Zeroes coauthors were appearing at a bookstore near my home, I called to reserve my seat.

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I told everyone in my family, “Put it on your calendar—we’re going to see Scott Westerfeld,” because we’re all fans! In fact, when Zeroes first appeared at my house, both my sons (ages 16 and 19) and husband (he’s 48) fought over who got to read it first. My husband won. It just goes to show that Scott’s books appeal to generations, and we know that whatever Scott writes is worth checking out.

The day before the bookstore event, at 4:30 p.m. exactly, I wondered, If I call the book’s publicist, could I possibly get an interview? I made the call and lined up an in-person meeting with Scott and his two amazing Zeroes coauthors Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti.

How did you come by co-writing, and what is it like co-writing?

Scott Westerfield: We all met in Australia, somewhere around 2002. We’ve known each other a long time around those circles of Australian science-fiction writers. I started going to Comic-Con a few years ago and hanging out with TV writers, who always gave great stories from the writers’ room. They get around a table, arguing and yelling, and I thought it would be a fun way to use the social part of the brain when you write. And I was just complaining about the loneliness of a novelist’s life, with Deb, and she said…

Deborah Biancotti: I had actually done the workshop on TV writing and basically had proven in effect that, yeah, it’s wonderful fun instead of just sitting around on your own and trying to come up with a story yourself. So part of that workshop was getting together with strangers and trying to write, and it was just so invigorating. It was so hilarious and energizing. It was brilliant fun. And so Scott had said, “Why don’t we try to apply that model to writing prose and come up with a novel with a TV-writing approach? Who else can we wrangle into this crazy idea?”

Margo Lanagan: So they came to me and said, “Do you want to come write a book with us. It’s going to be a novel for teens, it’s going to be this TV-writers’ model, and it’s going to be about superpowers.” I was fine with the teen-novel theme, because I’ve done a couple of them. But I knew nothing about TV, and I knew nothing about superpowers. I didn’t tell them because I really liked the idea of this getting together and writing. So none of us really knew if it was all going to work, whether we were going to work together well as a team. We knew each other and had knocked around in a sense, but you just never know how you’re going to work together.

How did you decide which characters each of you would write?

Scott Westerfield: We each wrote two characters, because there are six—that’s like a comic-book superpower-team size. But we started off very collectively. We sat around once a week and talked about superpowers and just came up with ways to fit together a thematic link between them. We didn’t want flight and bulletproofness and super strength. We wanted a collective take, so all of these powers are social and crowd-sourced. The characters are powerful when they’re in a crowd, drawing their powers from other people in various ways. For example, one is called Flicker, and she is blind so she can’t see through her own eyes, but she can see through anybody else’s eyes in the room. When she’s alone she’s blind; when she’s in a crowd she becomes almost omniscient and can find anything for anyone instantly.

How did you decide which super powers each character would have?

Margo Lanagan: We had to work out how far they would go, how complex they were, give them distinct personalities.

Scott Westerfield: In a way it’s a little easier when there are three different people writing. If I was writing a book with six characters, I’d probably make two of them the main characters, two of them a little more peripheral, and maybe kind of forget about a couple of them. But because we each just had two characters, everybody has a champion—this person needs to have a back story, brothers and sisters and family—so the characters are a lot richer collectively than I probably would have done on my own.

How did you start the book?

Margo Lanagan: We had a rollicking start, and then we kind of fell flat and realized we really had to get our act together. So then we went off to a borrowed beach house and stayed there for three days, and that’s where we wrote the rest of the plot. And that was real TV writing, lots of negotiations, hilarity, laughing.

It’s clear these three had a great time writing together. I am particularly interested in their coauthoring process, because I’m seeing a trend of more and more writers blending their talents together. “It turns the lonely writerness into a social routine,” says Scott. “But be careful who you use for co-writers.”

Margo and Deborah agreed it was intimidating at first to share their work with one another, and they had a few kinks to work out, but their efforts succeeded in Zeroes, the first of a trilogy about six kids who have supernatural abilities they use to their advantage. They are anti-heroes, flawed characters in their own way, forced to work together and use their abilities to save the world—well, sort of.

Reprinted with permission from .


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