Tag Team: YA Authors Mechling, Moser on Collaboration in the Digital Age

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Lauren Mechling and Laura Moser have been co-authors of teen novels for nearly a decade. Their latest collaboration My Darklyng is a young adult novel running on Slate.com (with enhanced features unfolding on Facebook, Twitter, and other dark corners of the Internet) throughout the summer. Pros as tag-team fiction-writing, Mechling and Moser are taking their first a stab at co-authored investigative journalism. The subject: themselves!

Lauren Mechling: Why exactly am I interviewing you again?

Laura Moser: You’re not interviewing me. We’re interviewing each other. This is a piece about collaboration, after all.

Lauren: OK, so people always ask me how we collaborate, if we alternate paragraphs or something. I always suspect they imagine the two of us sitting on the same bench, passing a quill pen back and forth.

Laura: So romantic! It must be a letdown for them to hear the truth, that we just email documents back and forth, back and forth, sometimes several times a day, and hardly ever see each other during the composition process.

Lauren: It’s not that different from the relationship between an editor and writer.

Laura: Except we both write and we both edit and our relationship is more symbiotic. There aren’t periods of time where we are out of touch. We’re equal, and both of us have full veto power over the other.

Lauren: Which is the only way it could possibly work. And really, co-writing has become second nature to us by this point. We’ve been writing as a team since we were children, or close enough. We wrote The Rise and Fall of a 10th Grade Social Climber at the tender age of 24, and its two sequels — All Q, No A: More Tales of a 10th Grade Social Climber and Foreign Exposure: The Social Climber Abroad — not long afterward.

Laura: True, that. I’m curious: what’s the difference between writing your solo books — the brilliant Dream Girl and Dream Life — and working with me?

Lauren: Honestly? It’s about a million times more pleasurable to work with you. Because even though we’re rarely in the same state anymore, I love having your virtual company, or even writing a sentence that I know is going to earn a giggle from you.

Laura: Your parodies of bad vampire books always do that. I was DYING yesterday when I read the Tweet you wrote as the bestselling vampire novelist Fiona St. Claire, who’s one of the finest creations in our latest project, My Darklyng. “Zen koan: does it count as a dystopia if it’s your version of paradise?”

Lauren: That was a good one. To turn the tables, what would you say the main difference between co-writing and ghostwriting is?

Laura: The level of candor permitted. We’re equals, and if you have an idea that totally sucks, I can just say, “Sorry, Lauren, that idea totally sucks.” Not so easy to do that with the celebrities.

Lauren: Oddly, being told that an idea sucks is one of my favorite parts of co-writing. I can always count on you to make a lousy passage at least twice as good.

Laura: And I can always count on you to send me things without rereading them first. Kidding! People always want to know if we get mad when somebody changes something the other one wrote.

Lauren: More like the opposite. The number-one rule we’ve developed over the years: Grow a thick skin. Even if you’ve spent all day fine-tuning the most brilliant sentence ever to appear in English, if your co-author cuts it, then it’s gone, and it was for a reason.

Laura: Right, if your biggest fan can’t make sense of something you just wrote, then no one else will, either. We’re both quite merciless about making cuts, but only because we both have the same goal in mind, which is to write the best book possible.

Lauren: One can always dream. Luckily, we have very similar sensibilities and senses of humor. So our disagreements tend to be more technical than philosophical.

Laura: That’s the most ridiculous falsehood I’ve ever heard. Not.

Lauren. Har-har. Now back to our latest project, My Darklyng, the online young adult thriller running as a serialized novel on Slate Magazine all summer. It takes the idea of collaboration to a whole new level, wouldn’t you say?

Laura: Definitely. It’s not just a matter of emailing a document back and forth. As soon as we started working on this, the rules of the game changed completely. And even though we always focus on the story first, it often feels as if we’re producing a movie in addition to writing a book.

Lauren: A shoestring-budget, but totally amazing movie. Because the book is rolling out entirely online at Slate, which is on the beautiful new frontier called “The Internet,” we’ve had the luxury (or curse) to work on many different platforms simultaneously.

Laura: The project launched on June 4, and Slate will be running three chapters every Friday for the rest of the summer — 11 installments in total. In the good Dickensian tradition, we’ve tried to end each chapter on a cliffhanger of sorts, to keep people hooked for the next week.

Lauren: Right — it’s our first stab (ha!) at writing a thriller, and we’ve been having a lot of fun with it. The story’s about Natalie Pollock, a normal 16-year-old girl in New Jersey whose life starts to unravel when she goes into New York to try out as a cover model for her favorite series of vampire novels, Dark Shadows.

Laura: At the audition, Natalie meets the model who plays her all-time favorite fictional character, and they become fast friends, or something like that. And from that point on, everything else in Natalie’s life falls to pieces bit by bit.

Lauren: That’s enough! No disclosing any of our shocking plot twists. Let’s get back to the fun — and exhausting — multimedia aspects of the project.

Laura: Right. So we’ve recruited real-live teenagers “play” our characters on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, and we really lucked out with our choice of amateur thespians. They’re hardworking, hilarious, and endlessly creative.

Lauren: But still, there’s always something that has to be done. If Laura is working on the book-book, I can’t just traipse off to the gym or grocery store as I did in past collaborations. I need to be updating our protagonist’s Facebook page, or IM-ing with our teenage models, or tweeting in the character of our insane vampire novelist, who has a lot on her plate.

Laura: Yeah, I saw the recent updates about her bunion surgery. As soon as I send the document back to Laura, I immediately get to work on organizing our multimedia files so that we don’t run any pictures out of order or accidentally give away the book’s surprise ending with an ill-considered Facebook status update that would let everyone know that Natalie is actually . . .

Lauren: Don’t you dare.

Lauren Mechling is the author of the Claire Voyante mystery series. She has also written for The New York Times, New York, and Seventeen magazine and is now a commissioning editor at the Wall Street Journal. Laura Moser is the author of a Bette Davis biography and has ghostwritten New York Times bestsellers for various celebrities. Together, they wrote the Tenth-Grade Social Climber series. Lauren lives in New York City and Laura in Washington, DC.

DISCUSS: Is not crediting a co-writer/ghostwriter disingenuous?

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