One of those funny words: it meant a really bad thing during the war, but in most contexts it’s seen as terribly good – even some sort of panacea. Organizations love to describe themselves as collaborative, and it’s a substantial area of competition for tech companies (I think collaboration services is estimated to be a $40bn market in the next couple years). But helpful as it might be, and intuitive as it seems, it’s really not that easy. I spent most of this year on a collaborative project, in a core team of 4 people drawn from two organizations, and while I think we produced something good in the end, it was kinda hard work. There are some substantial transaction costs involved in collaborating, especially when more than one person is trying to actually write something – as opposed to, say, brainstorm an idea. And look, hey presto, there’s this piece on the Millions, all about “the art and science of collaboration.” It says things like:
To paraphrase Nelson, my feelings about collaborating with another writer were I’m glad I did it once, but I’ll never do it again.
But it’s mostly about a new initiative at Columbia University, called Neuwrite. It came about because someone there had the revelation that while scientists must communicate their research to one another and the outside world at least in part through the medium of writing, yet many of them are not that good at it. So they are pairing up with students from the university’s creative non-fiction MFA to work together on science articles. By the looks of it it’s going pretty well: this NYT article on optogenetics (which seems really cool! They control a mouse’s mind using light!) is one of the outputs.
Which brings us, by way of changing the subject, to a crime novel that has 26 authors. It’s the result of a lot of work by Andrew Gulli (editor of crime specialising Strand Magazine) and his sister Lamia. They got these 26 bestselling crime writers each to contribute a chapter, wrote several themselves, and stitched it into one mighty whole. It’s a cool experiment – kind of like a game because the authors only knew the outlines of their scenes, not what each other had written – but to me it says the crime genre must be pretty stale if the work of 26 different people can be shoved together to make something coherent. Is there a style guide for the genre, or does everyone just write the same?
So finally, George Pelecanos. The Millions has this interesting review of his latest novel, The Cut. It sounds pretty good. Pelecanos has a long back catalogue of successful and well-regarded crime novels, but might be best known for being one of the writers of The Wire. So he’s got to be good. For me, the key part of the review was this:
Unlike literary authors such as Michael Chabon and Colson Whitehead, who make calculated bombing runs at the fortress of genre from on high, Pelecanos is slowly blasting his way out, not abandoning the kinds of stories and characters that have served him so well, but deepening them, getting inside them in new ways.
I like this notion that there’s a group of writers going about dismantling this edifice of genre: it seems to be a bit of a hang-up of literature (or at least of people who talk about publishing), and it could probably do with getting over it. Having authors themselves, through a sort of internal-external pincer movement, take on this task, seems appropriate.
I’m kind of tired; apologies for the dodgy prose. Merry holidays.