13 YA Author Collaborations that Prove 2 Heads Are Better Than One
This month two collaborative novels from popular YA authors are hitting the shelves. Amie Kaufman, author of the upcoming Illuminae trilogy, and Meagan Spooner, who wrote the recent Skylark trilogy, met online and have traveled the world together in the past several years, despite Kaufman living in Australia and Spooner in North Carolina. Their novel These Broken Stars hits the shelves December 10, the first in a companion trilogy called Starbound that's set in a corporation-run galaxy and is part love story, part science fiction.
Not to be outdone, Sara Zarr, a National Book Award finalist for Story of a Girl, is releasing a book this month with The Pursuit of Happiness author Tara Altebrando called Roomies. The novel centers around two girls — with each author writing from one of their perspectives — who find out that they are going to be college roommates.
Collaborative YA novels aren't just a short-lived trend. Kaufman, Spooner, Zarr, and Altebrando are only joining the long list of YA authors who seek to prove that sometimes two (or three) heads can be better than one when it comes to writing a book. There are husband-and-wife, best friend, and even mother-daughter collaborations. And it's clear that David Levithan has a seriously long list of YA novelist friends.
Image: Mima Antic/Fotolia
'Will Grayson, Will Grayson' by John Green and David Levithan
Levithan had already worked on a handful of YA novel collaborations when he tapped Green for Will Grayson, Will Grayson, the story of a teenage boy who crosses paths with another boy with the same name. Green, of course, later catapulted into YA stardom with the successes of Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars. According to Levithan, the story is based on meeting another teenager at Brown college with a very similar name to his.
In the novel, the odd chapters belong to Green and the even ones to Levithan. They would work more collaboratively when the two Wills spoke to each other, but there was barely anything set in stone when they began writing.
"When we decided to try this story with two-guys-with-the-same-name, we picked a name (David picked Will, I picked Grayson), David picked a time of year (late February, early March), and I picked a location where the two guys would meet (Frenchy’s)," wrote Green on his blog. "Other than that, nothing was planned."
'Frozen' by Melissa de la Cruz and Michael Johnston
While some married couples test their relationship with a Saturday mid-morning trip to Home Depot, de la Cruz and Johnson tested their relationship by writing a novel together. Although de la Cruz claims that Johnson has been her behind-the-scenes collaborator since her Blue Bloods series, Frozen is the first book for which he appears on the jacket. In an interview with Publishers Weekly, de la Cruz said that she and her husband were discussing Frozen for five years before they sat down to write.
The book, the first in the upcoming Heart of Dread series, is a post-apocalyptic story in which Earth has frozen over. It centers on a blackjack dealer Natasha in "New Vegas," an outpost of civilization, who is seeking a place where the sun still shines. The setting was based, unsurprisingly, on Las Vegas, a place de la Cruz and her husband Johnson used to visit every year — they even went there on their honeymoon.
'Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist' by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
Before it was a movie starring Michael Cera and Kat Dennings, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist was an idea in the minds of YA authors Rachel Cohen and David Levithan. The story takes place over one night in New York City, as friends try to find an elusive band's secret concert location.This wild night of music, adventure, and a very long first date is told in alternating chapters by the two main characters. According to an interview with NPR, Cohn called upon Levithan with her idea, needing a male voice to lend legitimacy to her character Nick.
Music is a main driver in the novel, and Levithan and Cohn had disagreements in how to properly write about it. In the NPR interview Levithan joked that Cohn kept trying to sneak in references to Color Me Badd — the boy band from the 1990s. "And I was like, it's just NOT going to fly," he said.
Cohn discussed her collaboration with Levithan on Teen Book Review, highlighting the importance of trust and chemistry when partnering in writing — something she and Levithan must have in spades, because they've teamed up twice more.
'Fire with Fire' by Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian
Best friends from a graduate program at the New School, Han and Vivian teamed up for the Burn for Burn trilogy. Their second novel, this year's Fire with Fire, centers on the aftermath of several friends' plot to exact revenge at their Homecoming dance on people who have wronged them. Han and Vivian are working on the final installment, Ashes to Ashes, currently.
Han and Vivian had perhaps a different approach to collaboration than many authors.
"We knew other writers who’d trade off on chapters, but we wanted to plan everything out and really own every word together," Han told Parade in August. "So we went back and forth and gave notes as we wrote and edit each other's pages, too."
'Invisibility' by Andrea Cremer and David Levithan
David Levithan struck again with this year's Invisibility, a novel written with Andrea Cremer. Invisibility is about a boy cursed with being invisible, but he encounters one girl who can see him.
How did this particular collaboration come to be? According to their interview with Ravenous Reader on Books, Inc., Cremer, author of the Nightshade novels, was on an author panel with Levithan in the summer of 2010, after which she jokingly blogged, "David Levithan, when are you going to write a book with me?" The rest is history.
When they met, Cremer mentioned that Levithan never wrote anything paranormal, Levithan said in the interview, which got him thinking about what paranormal themes he'd be interested in writing about, and he came upon invisibility.
Levithan, as was the case in his other collaborations, believes in different voices writing different characters, and so he took on the chapters of Stephen, the invisible boy, and Cremer wrote for Elizabeth.
'The Rise and Fall of a 10th Grade Social Climber' by Lauren Mechling and Laura Moser
Mechling and Moser are friends who have collaborated on YA novels for nearly a decade, including a long-running, serialized vampire novel posted on Slate.com. They wrote one of their print novels, The Rise and Fall of a 10th Grade Social Climber, which spun two sequels, when they were 24. It's a coming-of-age story about friendship and fitting in in a new, big city.
Mechling noted in an interview with Publishing Perspectives that people often question the two women about their work together.
"I always suspect they imagine the two of us sitting on the same bench, passing a quill pen back and forth," said Mechling, joking. But their long-term partnership doesn't mean they're always on the same page.
"Oddly, being told that an idea sucks is one of my favorite parts of co-writing," said Mechling to Moser. "I can always count on you to make a lousy passage at least twice as good."
'The Future of Us' by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler
Jay Asher had already found major YA success with his novel Thirteen Reasons Why when he teamed up with Carolyn Mackler, who wrote Printz Honor book The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things. The Future of Us follows two high school students who power up their computer in 1996 and see their Facebook pages 15 years in the future. The idea for their collaboration came from an audience member question at a New York Public Library event: What would her dream project be? Her answer? A collaborative novel. And the first person she thought of to make this dream project a reality was Asher.
In an interview with Publishers Weekly, Asher talked about this collaborative process with Mackler.
"I could usually tell why Carolyn had made the changes she made, but if I didn’t totally like what she’d done, I’d change it again," Asher said. "We had done so much brainstorming ahead of time that nothing in the book came as a surprise to either of us, except for some details."
'Team Human' by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan
Tired of swoony vampire novels? So were Larbalestier and Rees Brennan, who teamed up to write hilarious vampire novel spoof that still manages to be suspenseful in spite of itself. The novel mocks the sparkly, cold vampires of Twilight and other paranormal romances.
Rees Brennan and Larbalestier both had plenty of YA novels behind them before Team Human. They were introduced via mutual friends in New York, and after discussing their viewing experiences of New Moon, they knew they had to collaborate.
"Neither of us would want to be bossed around by an undead boyfriend," Brennan SAID in an interview with The Huffington Post. They describe their choice of a main vampire character as, "like if Edward Cullen and Ashley from Gone with the Wind had a baby."
'Messy' by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan
Cocks and Morgan's friendship first blossomed when they were young enough to be devouring Sweet Valley High books, but they didn't start writing together until 2004. They also co-run a snarky fashion website called Go Fug Yourself, so working together wasn't new. In an interview with Publishers Weekly, Cocks said that their YA novel collaboration was sparked when their agent was shopping around their website for a book deal. He was turned down, but many publishing houses were more interested in seeing if the women could carry their irreverent blogging voices into fiction.
The first of their collaborations was Spoiled, followed by Messy. Both center on a teenage girl with a movie-star father who writes a blog to position herself as a popular voice in Hollywood. Their favorite parts of collaboration are the mini inside jokes they are able to throw in.
"One of my favorite jokes that no one has picked up on is that we named a character after Marty McFly’s girlfriend in Back to the Future," Cocks said to PW. "And that makes me giggle every time the characters say her name, because it’s like 'Teehee, it’s Jennifer Parker!' Who in the world other than us is going to know that?"
'Revealed' by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast
Mother-daughter writing duo P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast co-authored the House of Night Series, which wrapped up with this year's Revealed, its 11th installment. This prolific series, which began with Marked, is about a fledging young vampire named Zoey who goes to the House of Night school to sharpen her skills.
P.C. and Kristin discussed their collaboration and relationship with Entertainment Weekly's Shelf Life, where Kristin admitted to making edits to her mother's work, often changing terms that teenagers wouldn't use.
"Initially sometimes I say, 'You’re breaking your mother’s heart,' and I throw a big fit. But no, we kid around back and forth with each other," P.C. said in response to questions about her daughter's edits.
'Just Like Fate' by Cat Patrick and Suzanne Young
Patrick and Young's novel Just Like Fate often draws comparison's to Sliding Doors; it analyzes the consequences of one small decision. Teenage Caroline is at her ailing grandmother's bedside, but her friend invites her to a party, so the novel looks at the outcomes of her choosing to stay with her Gram or leave for the party for a few hours.
Both authors have prior YA writing experience, and Young even released the YA novel, The Program, in August — the same week Just Like Fate was released.
Young described her collaboration with Patrick as "perfect" in an interview with a YA fiction blog.
"Cat is a great storyteller and together I think we really did something special," Young said. "We alternated chapters at first, surprising and entertaining each other, and then we both revised and edited to keep the voice seamless."
'How to Be Bad' by Lauren Myracle, E Lockhart, and Sarah Mlynowski
The authors of How to Be Bad took collaborative writing to the next level by writing not in a duo, but a trio of critically acclaimed novelists. Myracle, Lockhart, and Mlynowski's novel is about (appropriately) three girls on a roadtrip, who all have different reasons for hitting the road.
Collaborating on a novel can be difficult, particularly with three unique voices, the three writers said in a Q&A. But Mlynowski took a path that most of us took with our homework in college.
"I hate first drafts. So I TiVo hundreds of episodes of Law & Order and leave them on in the background while I write them," she said. "This tricks me into thinking I’m not really writing."
Lockhard agreed: "It’s first drafts that are agony."