It’s my pleasure to welcome one half of the writing duo of K.D. Hays and Meg Weidman as the special guest blogger here at Thoughts in Progress today.
Author K.D. Hays stops by on the pair’s virtual book tour of TOTO’S TALE to talk about ‘writing with a partner.
Since I’m celebrating the release of TOTO'S TALE, a book I wrote with my twelve-year-old daughter, Meg, I thought I’d take this opportunity to write about working with a partner. Toto’s Tale tells the story of the Wizard of Oz from Toto’s point of view. It was a project we started years ago to give us something to do during my son’s basketball practices, and now neither of us can remember where we got the idea. So I guess that’s the first thing I can say about working with a partner - don’t expect your partner to always pick up the slack and remember things you’ve forgotten or take care of things you’ve forgotten to do. It’s nice when it happens, but your partner is just as human as you are and just as apt to forget things or be too busy to get something finished.
I should also include the caveat that I’m hardly an expert on the subject of working with a partner. Toto’s Tale is my first partner project since I was assigned to write a paragraph with the long-haired boy in my creative writing class in 1983.
Even today, I still remember how we fussed over that paragraph, and kept discussing and refining our words until we had it just right. The finished product was much stronger than anything either of us would have written on our own. But working closely with a partner on a paragraph is one thing – working together on an entire novel is something else. If Meg and I had tackled every paragraph of our book that way, we’d still be in chapter two. At best.
In the case of our story, we really had to take a different approach. For starters, it was extremely difficult to find the time when both of us could sit down and work on the project at the same time. When we started, Meg was in about grade and we worked together on the bleachers during those basketball practices. I carried a notepad and a copy of L Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and we went through the story chapter by chapter deciding what would be in our version. And then we’d each start suggesting sentences. This took forever and most of it ended up in the delete file anyway during rewrites. But it gave us a start.
Initially, we stuck to the plot of already written book, so that gave us a huge crutch to lean on. A crutch can be a helpful, often essential tool. But it also holds you back. The story really started to grow as we moved away from Baum’s story and started to build our own.
We chose certain episodes to delete and others to expand on. We created our own characters for those expanded scenes. In our early discussions, Meg figured out something that would prove to be a key theme in our book. When the witch sends out wolves to attack Dorothy, Meg realized that Toto would be able to talk to them.
Communication gradually became one of the most important aspects of the story. Toto can understand most of what Dorothy and the others say in human speech, but he misunderstands some of what he hears. He understands other creatures such as wolves quite clearly. But Dorothy cannot speak Toto’s language at all and he thinks she doesn’t understand him. I thought this would resonate well with readers, especially kids who often feel like the adults in their lives don’t understand them. I’m sure my kids — and my dogs — often feel this way. And to a certain extent, they’re right. In any case, it was Meg’s early observation that brought all this to light. So taking time to discuss the story with your partner is probably just as important as making time to write it.
When basketball season was over, it wasn’t always easy for us to sit down to do the actual writing together. Sometimes we’d both sit at my computer and Meg would slowly start to back out of the room because she was bored. Only one person can type at a time, after all, and since I was the better typist, guess who was at “the controls” most of the time? So this method, writing together, stopped working for us fairly early on in the process.
What did work was discussing and plotting together. Then I would write out scenes, but they’d be scenes full of holes. Often I left out descriptions and let Meg fill those in later. She’s much more creative than I am. And it was not just her ideas, but the way she expressed them. This procedure seemed to work pretty well for us, so that’s how we completed the rest of the book and the rewrites to the beginning.. I sometimes had to remind myself that just because I had more experience, that did not necessarily make my choices superior to hers. Often I could phrase something better, but not always. And many times her choice of words was better. So it was essential to make time to get her input and to respect it.
When it came time to work with our editor, we worked together in real time using a shared document program. Often our sessions would take place while Meg was in school, but we scheduled a few sessions later in the day so she could be included in the process, this time sitting at a computer in the living room while I sat in my office and our editor worked from her office in Texas.
Just as with that paragraph in my creative writing class long ago, this partnership experience resulted in a product that was much stronger than anything I could have written on my own. Meg’s insight and creativity were absolutely invaluable. We definitely want to write more together and have discussed some ideas. Her schedule is even busier now that it was when we wrote Toto’s Tale, however, so we will have to be very disciplined in carving out time to work together. Because the together time was the key.
Thanks for letting me share what I learned while writing TOTO'S TALE!
K.D., thanks for stopping by today and sharing this with us. It’s fun to find out how stories come about and the fact that you wrote it with your daughter makes it even more special.
Now a little bit of background on the writing team. K.D. and Meg are a mother-daughter team who aspire to be professional roller coaster riders and who can tell you exactly what not to put in your pockets when you ride El Toro at Six Flags. Meg is studying art in a middle school magnet program. For fun, she jumps on a precision jump rope team and reads anything not associated with school work.
K.D., who writes historical fiction under the name Kate Dolan, has been writing professionally since 1992. She holds a law degree from the University of Richmond and consequently hopes that her children will pursue studies in more prestigious fields such as plumbing or waste management. They live in a suburb of Baltimore where the weather is ideally suited for the four major seasons: riding roller coasters in the spring and fall, waterslides in the summer and snow tubes in the winter.
Although Meg resents the fact that her mother has dragged her to every historical site within a 200-mile radius, she will consent to dress in colonial garb and participate in living history demonstrations if she is allowed to be a laundry thief. For more on this writing duo, check out their website at www.totostale.com.