Authors Matthew Kressel & Mercurio D. Rivera make their first appearance in Analog this issue with their collaborative story “The Walk to Distant Suns,” on sale now. Lucky for you, they have engaged in a dialogue here on the the blog that demonstrates what exactly cowriting a story entails….
by Matthew Kressel & Mercurio D. Rivera
MK: For a long time, Mercurio and I had discussed writing a graphic novel together. And at one point on a flight to Wisconsin we actually outlined the whole thing! But then we both got busy and never did anything with it. Fast forward years later to early 2018. We were driving up to Arisia in Boston and I said, “We’re never going to do this comic. Let’s write a story instead!” I told him about this idea I had been toying with: The protagonist was an engineer on a space station that had a wormhole people used to travel across the galaxy. But, for some reason, the engineer was unable to travel himself. (Back then the protagonist was male.) The story developed from that initial seed.
MR: As I recall, we batted around a number of different story ideas on that long car ride from New York to Boston. But the concept of a protagonist who’s tasked with handling the logistics of interstellar travels—and who dreams of taking the trip himself but is forbidden from doing so—really resonated with me. Matt and I agreed to meet one afternoon at Argo Tea in Greenwich Village to outline the story. I’m a compulsive story outliner myself so I really enjoyed sitting down and rolling up our sleeves to create the characters and break out the story scenes. It took us three or four hours to develop the basic plot.
MK: The plot pretty much wrote itself! Mercurio and I have been in the Altered Fluid writers group together for years. I’ve read most or all of his work, and he’s read most or all of mine. We both have a good sense of each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
MR: Wait. “Weaknesses”? No, seriously, Matt is absolutely right. I’ve been a big admirer of his stories so I looked forward to collaborating with him.
MK: Yeah, and I was excited too! I’d always thought we’d have good synergy if we worked on something together because we both have a strong sense of what makes a compelling narrative. Anyway, all the beats of the story just flowed out onto the page. It was pretty magical. But still we were surprised at how the story ended up being about immigration. It makes sense when you think about it, because we wrote it around the time of Trump’s so-called “Muslim Ban.” But at the time we weren’t thinking consciously about those themes. The ideas were just roiling around in our subconscious, apparently.
MR: That’s right. We never sat down and said, “Let’s write an immigration story!” That’s not the way either of us approaches science fiction or storytelling in general. Our first priority is character and plot. In fact, when we finished the first draft I was surprised by the theme. As Matt points out, it was all in our subconscious. But once we realized the topic we were tackling, we went back and made some adjustments. I especially enjoyed the logistics of writing this story.
MK: Once we had the outline, I was tasked with writing the first section. I used the outline, but had to flesh out more details like character names, the day-to-day functioning of the space station, and some of the more subtle relationships between characters. Sometimes people think an outline can be constraining, and I used to think so too, but now I find that if you have the plot details already mapped out you have room to focus your attention on the other details that draw the reader in, the rich descriptions of setting and the nuanced character relationships that make a story come “alive.” Once I had that first section, maybe a thousand words or so, I sent it off to Mercurio.
MR: I went through the draft of the opening scene—which was exactly as we’d conceived it—made some minor revisions, and sent off the second scene to Matt. He, in turn, revised the second scene and sent me back the third, etc. Each time one of us took a turn, we went back to the beginning and revised the whole story. It was exciting whenever I saw the next draft. By the time we were finished, each of us felt we had written the entire story ourselves.
MK: I remember once or twice Mercurio tried to slip in a reference to one of his other stories, the name of a corporation or something (EncelaCorp.?), and I was like, Hey, wait a minute! Though I think in revenge I might have slipped in one or two subtle references to my stories as well. But overall, it went swimmingly. This was my first collaboration, and I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was. It was also a lot of fun to see how Mercurio interpreted the outline, and how he added the cool subtleties, nuances, and layering he’s known for. Maybe a handful of times I wanted to change what he wrote. But honestly those times were so rare I don’t really remember them. We used Word’s track changes for the first few drafts, so we could see what the other wrote. But after we finished a full draft we turned it off. And that’s when, as Mercurio said, we both felt as if we had written the entire thing ourselves.
MR: And I couldn’t be happier that MY story found such a great home in Analog.
MK: [flips table]