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[GUEST POST] Scarlett Amaris & Melissa St. Hilaire on The Pros and Cons of Co-Writing

Scarlett Amaris likes playing devil’s advocate on the dark side of the moon. She spends a large amount of time tracking through ancient ruins and decoding old texts in the Pyrenees. Her more esoteric work can be found at www.shadowtheatre13.com and www.terraumbra13.blogspot.com. She’s also co-written scripts for the infamous horror anthology, The Theatre Bizarre (2011), the award winning, critically acclaimed documentary The Otherworld (2013) and the upcoming feature films, H.P. Lovecraft’s The Colour Out of Space (director: Richard Stanley), and Replace (director: Norbert Keil). Saurimonde is her first novel and she’s currently finishing up Saurimonde II before getting started on Demon Priest – The Misadventures of Abbe Sauniere, her next erotic horror endeavor.

Melissa St. Hilaire likes to bask in the center of chaos watching supernova explosions. She spends most of her time daydreaming, researching, and scribbling. She wrote film and music reviews for The Heights Inc. Her poetry has appeared in the periodicals Shards, The Outer Fringe, and The Laughing Medusa. She co-authored several scripts for Tone-East Productions. Her debut book, a memoir titled In The Now, was released in 2012. In 2013 she released Saurimonde, a dark fantasy novel, with co-author Scarlett Amaris. After finishing up Saurimonde II, her next projects will include a follow-up to In the Now called Medicated and a sci-fi epic called Xodus.

The Pros and Cons of Co-Writing

by Scarlett Amaris and Melissa St. Hilaire

The Pros

Scarlett: Collaborating is a tricky beast. Especially on a writing project.

Melissa and I were in a pretty unique situation when working on SAURIMONDE because we had worked together many times before building websites, making images, and roughing out script ideas. In some of these projects we’d get that weird ESP thing going where we would literally finish each other’s sentences at times. I also knew we had very similar tastes in fantasy literature, and I knew she had the writing chops for the job and that she’d remain upbeat throughout the process, but also would interject if things were taking a left turn to nowhere. I appreciate her brutal honesty which is always said in the nicest possible way. I like having someone to bounce ideas off of. Writing is a very solitary business and all of us get a little crazy if we’re locked inside our thoughts for extended periods of time. Having people that you trust to be a fresh pair of eyes and ears is crucial for any kind of creative endeavour. And there’s something so fulfilling about when those ideas come together and the story takes form and the characters start walking and talking. I guess it’s a little like literary birth. For me personally, and I know this sounds childish, but I need deadlines and just knowing there is someone out there waiting on you to get those pages in is motivation enough for me to get my ass in gear and get down to business. This is especially true of a first book as I really had no idea of the ride I was in for. There’s also a certain camaraderie which builds when you are working on a project with someone else. I know when Melissa first sent me the snake sex scene from the first SAURIMONDE book she was a little tentative about it, but I about died when I first read it and I absolutely loved it as it was so creative and over-the-top. I think we were really good at encouraging each other to really ‘go there’ as writers and to not hold back.

The second book was a different situation and I was staying in this lavish 50 room 500 year-old village château in the south of France and it was like literally being dropped into Gormenghast. Since we were on different time zones, I would spend the morning sketching out ideas in the garden and then write everything down after lunch until it got dark and then I would send the material off to Melissa who was just waking up in LA. We’d have a short Skype conversation about it, and she would then add or delete what she felt was needed and continue on from there. Then I’d wake up to her material and start the process all over again. We were able to work very quickly this way and within a month and a half we had about three-quarters of the first draft finished. It was fabulous and it was flowing. Some of our conversations on Skype should have been recorded because they were downright hilarious as we had created this demonic priest character, Bazak, who kept stealing the show and we would have these discussions about what to do about him. How do we rein him? How do we get him to behave? He became like a troublesome boyfriend or badly behaving family member that you gossip about around the dinner table.

Melissa: I am frequently asked about what it’s like to collaborate with other writers, as writing is so often seen as a solo occupation. I have written both alone and with others numerous times – some worked out, many did not.

For me, writing is like breathing – I couldn’t live without doing it. However, for years I was crippled by fear and insecurity that kept me from sharing much of my writing with others, but then I experienced a traumatic, life-changing event that made me realize life is short and only you can make your dreams come true. So, I decided to revisit a book called, IN THE NOW, that I had begun writing over a decade ago. I shared it first with my friend, Lloyd Kaufman, who, upon reading it, encouraged me to self-publish. I then asked another good friend, the late Amy Wallace, to help me clean it up a little bit. Without Lloyd’s encouragement and Amy’s collaboration, my first book never would have seen the light of day. They were my foundation.

After publishing that book, which was a deeply personal and candid memoir, I wanted to write something fun and fictional, but my confidence was still too low to go it alone. That’s when Scarlett entered the picture. She read my book and immediately realized I’d be the perfect person to help tell Saurimonde’s story. As she stated above, we had collaborated on other projects and both noticed that we were on a similar wavelength. I found the act of co-writing with her to be extremely gratifying. We bolstered each other’s confidence and kept each other in check if we strayed too far. She also exceedingly helped me to let go often, as I’m a perfectionist and will nitpick for an eternity if allowed.

However, not all collaborations run quite as smoothly as ours did…

The Cons

Scarlett: Sometimes the process of collaboration doesn’t work. People don’t connect. There’s always a problem with competitiveness. A little competition is a healthy thing as long as people are being supportive of each other, but when egos get involved it turns into one ugly monster. I’ve co-written a few scripts for movie projects which have gotten made and some which didn’t get made and others which are in pre-production. I’m immensely proud of the work my collaborators and I did on these scripts and I’ve had the good fortune to write with some extremely talented and lovely people. But it hasn’t all been champagne and roses. I’ve come across directors who love my ideas and tell me it’s okay if I work on their projects – they just don’t want my name attached (or any woman’s name for that matter). That totally sucks. And there was almost nothing I could do about it because at the end of the day the horror genre film scene can sometimes be a boy’s club. I applaud the less than five percent of female horror genre directors and scriptwriters out there who are trying to make a difference. Slowly the paradigm is changing and there is a handful of brave ladies and good guys out there who are fighting the good fight. This inequality was one of the decisions which made me switch to writing books as it seems to be a much more even playing field. I’ll still keep writing scripts with people who I trust and admire because at the end of the day there’s a satisfaction of seeing your story come to life on the big screen which cannot be beat.

Melissa: Prior to collaborating on SAURIMONDE with Scarlett, I, too, tried collaborating on a few different projects, mostly scripts, with several others. I have found two truths that seem to consistently pop up in such situations: (1) egos clash and/or (2) there is an unequal balance of workload. It can become increasingly difficult to collaborate with someone else if you feel that your ideas are not being taken seriously or ignored. Likewise, it can become annoying and frustrating if you find that you are alone in laboring over the words while the other person is off in the clouds barely contributing.

Thankfully, with Scarlett, we have a unique balance of strengths and weaknesses that complement each other, as well as an ability to cast off our egos for the sake of what’s best for the story. Overall, I would not blindly recommend collaborating to just anyone. However, when you find the right person, it can be most rewarding.

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