Josh and Rose are unique in that they have collaborated on a fantasy book , but are also mother and son. We talk about what it’s like to work with someone that’s related to you.
Since Josh is focused on a very connected universe, we talk about his worldbuilding. Below is a link to the wiki he is building for this.
And here is Rose’s book on writing speculative fiction
Transcription by otter.ai
Welcome back to discover word Smith, second half of the podcast with Josh and Rose. This time, we’re gonna be talking about the their writing together cooperatively. So we’ll get into that in a little bit. But first, um, what are some things you guys learned? Writing together? Because rose, you said that you’ve written before, but now you’re writing with somebody and it just happens to be your son. So what are some things you’ve learned differently? Writing with somebody as opposed to writing on your own?
Actually, I think it’s easier for me to write with somebody because then I have a direction that I know instead of where in the whole world am I gonna go? I like that part. I like assignments, I think some people would really hate to have an assigned plot given to them, or assigned character. But I like it. That’s how I write most of my books worth what he does, first, we come up with this this species, human or otherwise, then we come up with its physiology, how it interacts with its its surroundings. And then we ask, what would make life hard for this thing? And, and then how does this thing overcome, based on its thought processes, and physiology, and etc. I mean, if you lay 1000 eggs, and one grows up to maturity, you have an entirely different concept of parity than, say, human debts. And so that’s, that’s fun for me.
And it sounds like though, that you’ve still had that room to expand and grow, because you were saying how you basically came up with the one character, and you take some of what he has and refine it. So it sounds like you’ve got some constrict constraints, but you’re still free to come up with new stuff and new directions. You both throw ideas off each other is what it sounds like.
Yeah. So to me, it’s important for, you know, like I’ve been talking about, I’m trying to design a franchise at the same time, that we’re developing stories. And part an important part of a franchise is how are you working with collaborators? And so to me, that’s as fundamental a question is, how do we make a good story. And so, in order to collaborate, to truly collaborate, you need to have a lot of freedom, be able to emotionally give a lot of freedom to your collaborators, otherwise, it’s not a collaborative collaboration. It’s a, you know, because sort of a I it’s like a creative dictatorship, which I’m just not interested in that. That’s, um, I, again, probably getting back to my career in video games, no one makes a video game alone. There’s not one guy who sits in an armchair and says, I want to make a game about a spaceship flying through mines, shooting robots, you know, that’s not how these ideas develop. It’s, the programmer has come up with this amazing way to make a door that opens and the designer says, ooh, that would look good in the sight of a mountain. And the artist says, oh, what if there’s, you know, a robot behind it, you know, and, and then it develops into something that, you know, no one individually expected to happen. And I love that creative chaos. The challenge is to create a conceptual framework that all of that can work inside of, and that’s just an exciting place for me to try to navigate and I love you know, I just am very blessed that I have someone very close to me, you know, my mom, by my teacher, you know, she was she homeschooled me for many years. Who you know knows me intimately and so we have a rep back and forth that is very easy to navigate and negotiate. I realized this isn’t the case with all parent, child. relationships but are ours it is or collaboration. Yeah. And so this is great practice for me to say, Okay, how am I going to work with outside collaborators once we get this this snowballing, and we have authors and artists coming to us and saying, Oh, can I please? You know, in the same way, you know, if I was offered a job on Star on a Star Wars movie, I would say, absolutely. You know, what, what are the creative constraints helped me, I’m happy to live without within them. Because I’m working on Star Wars. That’s, that’s my goal is that I often say, free telephone, please let me I don’t care about the constraints. Let me write a little, you know, a story in your world.
That’s been a learning process for me, because yeah, I used to write my stories, and then what was written was written, and to have someone say, No, and then, you know, rework it, I think it’s been a very good lesson for me. But it’s also been very difficult to understand the process of many collaborators, many physical concerns about how things can be displayed. Plus, he keeps changing my characters. You know, I describe him one way, and then he draws him a completely different way. And so we have to go change the descriptions.
Yeah, so so this is an interesting thing that I think most authors never deal with, which is visual development. Um, you know, it has to happen on on visual mediums, TV shows, graphic novels, video games, my whole career has been this, I’ll come up with an idea. As a designer, the artists will go work on it for a while and come back with something and it has two more arms than I expected. And as the designer, I say, Oh, well, I guess that should change the attack pattern, then or is it you know, and so it’s a constant iterative process, in my case, the archetypes that we came up with it, you know, 20 years ago, um, they were very rough sketches. And so that’s what she, what she’s been working off of, is these rough sketches. And then as we start developing the story, I think, to myself, ooh, I really need to nail what that specific is because it potentially impacts a story. And I don’t want to get to the point 10 years down the road, where we’re developing a TV series, and they realize this thing is forearms not to. And now this changes, some plot, you know, that breaks my whole idea of having everything be cannon. So I’m very meticulously trying to design to my limit, you know, do the visual development as far as I as I can, personally, I’m not a professional visual developer. I’m, I’m good enough at it, that I could get it to the point where once we get to that stage, where it’s it’s time to become a TV show, or whatever, you know, animated characters come out of it, that it’s, you know, 80% of the way there, and a real professional will take it to the 100%. Mark.
One of the illustrations in the book that is also different about this book. Oh, yeah. Sort of economically shot us in the foot. Yeah, he’s put over 80 illustrations in there. Nice. Nice. Yeah. Strange.
It’s meticulously It looks great. And way, way too much. And the, but again, so much of that is happening because of what I was just talking about needing to take everything to that 80%. Mark. But I wanted to get back to something you said, Rose and asked you specifically, because you said it’s, it’s uncomfortable for you to develop a thing and then be told no. And I want to say, Now, when I say no, this is this is a serious like, franchise design. Problem. There are there are two ways you can be told no two broad categories. One is simply no. And nothing after that, right? It’s just like, Oh, great. Now, you know, and I’ve had art directors like this. Now I have to Intuit what in their brain led them to the No, and I have to guess what to do differently next time. Right? As opposed to No, that doesn’t work. Because there’s this other consideration that’s coming down the pipe we need to think of or No, that doesn’t work. Because in the fourth novel, this character was described as swimming in salt water instead of fresh water. And you know, that’s sort of right. So I like in my mind, I am always doing that second category of no when I when I have to, though, I try to minimize how many times I say no, but do you get that impression, mom that there’s a reason for the nose? Oh, yeah.
Oh, yeah. Just not happy with it all the time.
But the word When, why should our best one was when he wrote the chapter for me and said it to me, and I tore it all apart. And then he got a pack and he tore it apart again. And we just went back and forth, hurt, making each other’s feelings hurt, but then we got over it.
And I would say, from my perspective, I never felt like my feelings were hurt. I always felt like I was trying to get a particular theme across, or a particular visual composition that I have in my head. I
was being stubborn about things.
And that collaborators need to have that room to be stubborn sometimes.
Yeah, yeah. I was gonna say, first of all, one, your earlier comment, Josh, about, you know, it takes a lot of people to make a video game is extremely true. Except for Axiom Verge. Wasn’t that one guy that did that one? So there’s always that except, yeah, in the indie space, there
are several notable games that have been made by one person. And that’s, that’s incredible.
But it doesn’t work out. So
the time they spent the decade on it,
right, right. What you’re saying about collaboration, and working together, I think is a good thing for others to hear. Because you’re, you’re you got to get let go of some of the ego. And I know a lot of writers put a lot of their self and ego into the stories. And I know writers who, well, I don’t want to give it to an editor because they’ll want to change things I want to do. Well, maybe they want to do what’s best for the story. And that sounds like both of you. Even if you’re pushing back a bit at times, you’re like, Okay, but what’s best for the story? What do we want to do for the franchise and the overall arc of everything? That’s what’s important? yes, no, or whoever decided, what, what part of anything? And I think a great example is, like you said, you know, I’ll say no, but there’s a reason because of these other stories. But on the flip side, your mom came up with a character that you hadn’t even thought about, and you integrated that in the world. So again, I think what I’m hearing that works well is it’s for the story, and we’re working together on it, and there’s nothing personal about it. Any attacks, right, you can still get together for Sunday brunch?
Well, I ended and I’m writing in his universe, which is why he gets the final say,
yeah, so that’s, that’s another important sort of distinction, again, going back to the idea that I’m trying to manage a franchise, eventually, um, and, and seeing this as, as kind of the nascent practice run at it, this is this is the incubator, as as it were, so I’m trying to practice all the skills that I will need to to execute even better when I’m working with outside collaborators. And one of those things I look, you know, like, like I said, and you repeated and I think I want to drill down even further on that is, the process of articulating the whys is so important. And I think any author can get value from this, if they get a note back from their editor that says, I cut this entire character, or I blended these two characters, or, you know, whatever, cut this entire chapter, um, one of the one of the things that is very helpful is not to react, you know, out of an emotional place of like, you know, every word is my baby and is precious. But instead, what, you know, what were these elements serving in my overall in the themes that I’m trying to evoke? And often that articulation process, you’ll find, Oh, actually, I agree with the editor, because they saw that theme that I maybe didn’t see. Or you come back with a better argument, and you could convince your editor. Oh, yes, I see what you’re trying to do there. And so it just helps communication in general, to do that. And in the times where I’ve been in leadership positions in the video game industry, um, that that’s a skill that I’ve just kind of honed over a couple decades is how do you articulate the whys that’s just so important in maintaining good relationships with with your collaborators.
We’re very fortunate that Josh knows half the people in the world he was able to obtain some, I don’t want to say sensitivity reader, but that’s sort of what they were people who do about things we didn’t know because of our upbringing or whatever. Like once one person wrote in it said they were shaking and crying because I said such a racist thing in my book. I’m like, What? So I had to find That was the problem. Well, what I wrote was totally innocent in my mind. Because I was, you know, it was about this this tribe of people, they named their kids after they’re born when they do something cute or whatever. They’re very casual about how they named their kids. So I named one yard big wood, and I was thinking of how a kid y’all do you take a picture? It is just so cute. And I made another one. Hanging pulled tight, you know, and I was thinking that the baby head holding the finger. Okay, so that was my mind. It never even occurred to me that someone else in another setting would read that and think that was saying that natives are lazy and dishonest. Ad so well, that was an easy fix, change it in 10 toes or walk fast it that that was such a shock to me. And I’m glad that Josh has acquaintances that could tell me these things that I’m not aware of, because I didn’t grow up that way I didn’t write.
Yeah, and like you said, That totally innocent, not thinking of it just but other people, in other circumstances interpret differently. That’s probably an important thing. And I know sensitivity readers are becoming much bigger in today’s world to catch things like that, that is unintentional, that could totally get somebody upset. And they could be very vindictive, and come after you or whatever. And you’re like, you didn’t even mean it. And working together. You know, it sounds like that’s also good. I also like, because you’re from like two different age groups. So you can catch things that others each other may not. If you’re writing with somebody that’s in your same age group, there might be things you would totally Miss for outside age groups. Not that you catch everything. But again, that’s a definite benefit.
Yeah, I’m apostle. So I write things. And Josh writes back and says, You didn’t want to say it that way. And I don’t even ask him why I just change it.
Yeah. Well, I tell my kids all the time, I might you know, when I was learning to drive, I took a $10 bill filled up my gas tank and bought tacos at Taco Bell. Now, you can’t even fill up your gas tank. So you’re not too much of a fossil over me that says we’re all good.
Yeah, I think it’s both having worked in the entertainment industry and being Generation X, which I think me, I don’t know if this is unique to our generation. I definitely know generations after us continue to do this. But there is this process by which completely innocent words and phrases have been twisted into mostly sexual innuendo. Yeah. And
it’s something we know.
Yeah. And that’s an inevitable erosion that will just you know, at some point, you just have to cut it off and say, Sorry, people just grow up and accept. That’s not the intended mean.
Yeah, I agree. So when you’re writing, oh, what software and services do you guys use? I’m wondering if you’re using anything different. Rose, what do you use when you write? Like,
when you ready? Like I I’m not using Word. Okay. You use
Word. Josh, what do you use?
Yeah, so we, we use word because we can do that thing where we can track each other’s changes.
Yeah. My Drive. One Drive. Okay.
Yeah, so so that and then I use a lot of Google Docs. for tracking. I have a document for logistics for you know, what clothes people are wearing, how long their hair is at what stage of the journey, you know, all these just ridiculous logistics that no one will ever care about are tucked away in their own little cubby hole. On my Google Drive, I I keep being told by my friends that this is the perfect thing for Scrivener, and I need to get on that. And it’s just you know, already my day job working on video games. I have to know 30 programs, at least and that’s probably low balling it. I do not want to learn another program on my free
time. Yeah, and and yeah, I downloaded the Scrivener ones because it’s supposed to be so handy for authors. And yeah, no, I quickly saw that it was gonna take me months and months and months to learn and I could have spent that time Writing, so I just stayed with Word.
Got it. And I and I know Scrivener probably isn’t the best choice for collaboration. It’s not the easiest to share. Scrivener files and yeah, that
Ah, okay, well OneDrive is great for sharing.
Yes. OneDrive. I know a lot of authors use Google Docs. So that that’s about what same things lots of others are using. So your book is out? How are you marketing it? And how are you getting the word out for the book and the series.
So on my end, what I’m doing is being a million places at once, on I’m on Twitter, I’m on Facebook, I’m on YouTube, I’m on Twitch, I’m on Instagram, I’m on Discord. We’ve got our website, we’ve got our world Advil, um, and I’m probably forgetting a few. So because I’m doing all this visual development anyway, I turn that into content that can hook people and draw them into the world that I’m creating. So I have a YouTube channel that is 28,000 subscribers that I’ve been building for a decade, just doing art tutorials. And I’m going to be increasingly bending that towards Tales from California, the franchise, so the art that I’ll be doing and you know, before it was a lot of random stuff, you know, I like last month I modded my baby Yoda, to make them pozible right. And I’ve I’ve done things where I took my Oh, I built a Colossus from the game Shadow of the Colossus a massive one. Oh, I
love that. Oh,
yummy worm tutorial.
Yeah, so when I worked on Guild Wars, we created a i was i was in charge of one of the living world episodes, where we were putting new content into you know, it’s an MMO. So we have to always be injecting new stuff. And one of the things we had was a worm boss that the big giant kind of Dune like worm that comes up and Yep, you know, the big world event everyone has to gather together to defeat it. And so our marketing team was looking at their marketing budget and saying, Okay, how do we how do we talk to all the press outlets about this and get them excited about it? What about giant gummy worms? And and this is where I thought to myself, you know what, I can make a better gummy worm that actually looks like our worms from the game and so I turned that into a video where I sculpted it meticulously you know, it’s it’s not just a big you know, lump it’s got all these little tendrils and and a big like glowing spit ball and and all this kind of stuff so so I created a load for it and made the gelatin actual like edible gummy giant gummy worms that we sent those out to the press outlets, but that’s really what got the my youtube channel rolling is I got I asked them to link to my channel. So I have that video out there. And suddenly 1000s of Guild Wars players were directed to it. So I’ve had a strong contingent of Guild Wars support. Ever since then.
Nice. Nice. All right. Um, so before we go, and it’s been a really great talk with you guys. Besides all the wonderful things you’ve said and advice you’ve given, do you have any last specific advice for new authors?
Be be teachable.
Oh, I like that.
That’s really good. Um, this is something that I see in because I teach on my YouTube channel and I get a lot of questions and also on my my discord channel, I get a lot of new people are just getting into things. And yeah, that is the To me, the single biggest problem with improving is feeling is getting your feelings hurt when someone says those eyes are asymmetrical or maybe if you make the nose a little bit, you know, whatever. So yeah, I agree with be teachable. Oh, and yeah, can
you see this? Yeah, hold
it up a little bit. Writing speculative fiction by Oh, I’ve seen that. Who’s that by?
by yours truly?
Yeah, writing speculative fiction, science fiction, fantasy and horror. And it’s not my advice. I took advice from dozens of people got permission from them, and put it together. And what’s different about this writing book is there’s there’s 200 excerpts from books in here. to, to, to show a concept. And again, I get permission from everybody. This took me a year because it takes forever sometimes to track down an author and get permission. from them,
right? That’s great off to make sure I’m put a link in the show notes for that. Also,
it is really good. I’m very proud of the work she did on that. Because, yeah, that she has this broad range of the novels that she’s written throughout her life, plus all the work that she did in collaboration with me. And then I think she brought all that to bear on this amazing book that I think will help. Yeah. And it gets written for high school students. Is that right? But
I was aiming at the high school homeschool market, but I’ve had lots of different ages read it and tell me it was useful to them.
Nice. Yeah, it’s
really fundamentals, which any beginner at any age is going to be useful.
I recognize the cover. So I think I’ve run into it, either online or somewhere. So so it’s an out there, cuz I’ve seen it. So that’s great. All right. Well, Josh, and rose, it’s been great talking to you guys. Your book looks really wonderful. I love everything you were telling us about cooperative writing with others. So I really do wish you guys luck. And hopefully we can touch base after you get a couple more of the books out. See how things are going.
Yeah. Thank you for having us. This has been really fun.
That’s been great.