Wednesday, January 20, 2010

GUEST POST: Greg Leitich Smith

Greg Leitich Smith is the author of NINJAS, PIRANHAS, AND GALILEO and its companion book, TOFU AND T.REX, in addition to co-writing SANTA KNOWS with his incredibly talented wife, Cynthia Leitich Smith. Greg and Cynthia collaborated on the short story The Wrath of Dawn for GEEKTASTIC, and Greg shared with us some insights about that process.

The Making of The Wrath of Dawn

Cynthia and I suffer from that most traumatic of impediments to marital bliss: an “intergeek” relationship. She is a big “Star Wars” fan, while I have always been inclined more toward “Star Trek”. It took a great deal of patience and forbearance to overcome. Of course, we knew we were meant for each other when we realized that both our favorite episodes of “Fantasy Island” were the ones with Roddy McDowell as the devil.

We first became involved in Geektastic when Cyn received an e-mail from Cecil and Holly describing the project and inviting us to submit a story based on a chosen “geekdom.”

So, that weekend, Cyn and I decided to sit down and do some brainstorming. We needed to pick a geekdom, and, really, we wanted to work out at least a broad plot outline. We headed out to lunch at a restaurant called The Oasis, located on a cliff overlooking Lake Travis (I think every city has a place like this: adequate food and spectacular views). Of course, in all of Austin, The Oasis is probably the restaurant least likely to be associated with the term or concept of “literary salon.” But somehow that seemed thematic.

Now, since we were writing the story together, we of course had to come up with a joint geekdom. “Star Trek” or “Star Wars” would’ve been a bit too obvious and, besides, we might’ve come to blows (Also, Holly and Cecil already had a great Trek/Wars story in mind :-)). And then Cynthia mentioned “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” which we are both tremendous fans of.

For some reason, conversation got around to the character of Dawn and the fandom’s reaction to her: we’d recently gone to a Buffy Sing-Along with some writer friends and had been a little taken aback at the visceral hatred directed toward her (We were never particular fans of her, either, but the hoots and hisses and catcalls were surprising).

So, we discussed, why do some people hate Dawn? What is it that engenders such fierce hostility? We hit on a few reasons: she whines and she acts a lot younger than her age, which could be kind of charming except that, oh yeah, she whines. Also, in first season “Buffy” the characters were sophomores in high school and way more on the ball than when Dawn was similarly aged. Part of it, too, from what I understand, is that the actress who was cast for the role was significantly older than the character was originally written. For some reason, they didn’t rewrite for the older girl.

But Dawn was also part of a couple of more common phenomena that we touch on in the story: the annoying child character, usually a sibling, who is sprung on the audience and brought in to TV shows relatively late in their runs (generally to up the “youth-audience” identification factor) and, of course, the equally annoying science fiction child genius (of whom Wesley from ““Star Trek”: The Next Generation” is perhaps the most odious example). In fact, it became clear that many of the most annoying attributes of Dawn were shared by Wesley.

Now, it was all very fun to talk about examples and how much we loathed, say, Jason Todd Robin or Dr. Z from “Galactica 1980”, but we didn’t actually have a story. So one of us (I don’t remember who) hit on the idea: what if there’s this girl named Dawn, who’s younger sister in a blended family and who goes to a Buffy Sing Along and encounters the Dawn-hostility? What happens next?

I took a shot at the first draft, and when I was satisfied, gave it to Cyn. We had a couple back-and-forths with a complete draft, until finally we were both pleased. (I have to say, though, that she did take out a few of my best lines…grrr). Once we got the editorial letter, it was Cyn’s turn to start over with a new “first” draft, and then we exchanged again until we were happy with it.

Now, if we could only get someone to buy “Dawn II: The Vampire Strikes Back.”

Thanks so much, Greg, for sharing with us! We'd like to close with a tip:

StorySleuths Tip #40: When writing collaboratively, try brainstorming together then taking turns drafting and revising.