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‘The Pirate Union,’ collaboration, and Questlove’s ‘Creative Quest’

Skull wearing jester's cap with crossed swords underneath

When Edward Allen and I wrote “The Pirate Union,” we were in college. We passed the manuscript back and forth at least once a week with a reading for our friends on the weekend. Fast forward to years later, and Questlove describes the collaboration process for creativity (and “The Pirate Union”) perfectly.

“This was a collaboration,” writes Questlove in “Creative Quest” (p. 102) about working with Tariq, “We negotiated briefly, but most of the energy in the process was spent participating. He waited eagerly for my beat so that he could get going with his lyrics. I excitedly assembled my beat because I couldn’t wait to hear it with his lyrics.”

Ed and I weren’t writing music. We were writing a story, but the feel was the same. We only had one rule: We couldn’t kill the other person’s characters. This kept us from having to start over and having a book full of dead characters (though with the success of “Game of Thrones” maybe we should have killed each other’s characters).

What we did instead was try to find situations that would stump the other author. Sometimes, one of us would write just one sentence. Other times the situation would be much direr. “He leveled the gun at Chantel and pulled the trigger, firing three shots. ‘Three in the head, you know they’re dead.’ Chantel jolted back, dropping Charlie, her head cracked hard against the floor. Mr. Bigbottom smiled down at them and grotesquely blew on the end of his pistol like a cliché cowboy.”

Chantel wasn’t my character, so I couldn’t technically kill her. Ed’s jaw dropped; how could he write her out of this situation? I thought for sure, I had him. And then he smiled, he came up with a solution in seconds and took the manuscript from me. “I know exactly what I’m going to do,” he said. I was afraid and excited. How would he get her out of that situation? Chantel grew into one of my favorite characters.

“Collaborations work best this way, when there’s a mutual desire to see what the other adds,” writes QuestLove.

Like Tariq and Questlove in school, Ed and I had an audience who was also waiting for the next installment, and “The Pirate Union” is better for it.