Like Hanging Wallpaper: Christine Matthews & Robert J. Randisi on Collaboration

Here’s the sixth interview on collaboration.  This series celebrates collaborative creativity in honor of the Shared Worlds summer camp, which challenges teenagers to build and share imaginary worlds.

Neither Christine Matthews nor Robert J. Randisi likes to collaborate.  Their second co-authored novel The Masks of Auntie Laveau, begins with one protagonist saying to the other, “’Don’t you dare bring me back to this wicked place again.’” It’s easy enough to imagine Matthews saying these very same words to Randisi.

Yet, Matthews and Randisi, who are husband and wife, have collaborated on three novels and a growing number of other projects.  That’s right.  They don’t like it, but they’ve done it, and they keep on doing it.  Why?  I’m not sure.  But they sure do it well.

Christine Matthews is the penname of Marthayn Pelegrimas, a prolific writer of speculative short fiction.  As Christine Matthews, she is the co-author with Robert J. Randisi of three mystery novels featuring Gil and Claire Hunt and the author of the story collection, Gentle Insanities and Other States of Mind.

The author of more than 540 books, Robert J. Randisi writes across the genres, though he is probably best known these days as the founding president of The Private Eye Writers of America and as the author of the Rat Pack Mysteries.

In 1982, Randisi created The Gunsmith action-western series and, under the name J. R. Roberts, has written at least a novel a month ever since.  Though he claims that no one has read every book he has written, including himself, he does point to The Ham Reporter as a personal favorite.  The Ham Reporter tells the story of Bat Masterson in the years after the legendary lawman left the Wild West to become a sports writer back East.

Below, Matthews and Randisi talk about the benefits and the pitfalls of collaborative fiction writing.


What are the benefits of collaborating on fiction writing?  How do you do it?  When does it work?  How does it positively affect the final product?

Robert J. Randisi: The benefits depend on who you’re collaborating with. If you are working with someone more famous than you, then you benefit from that.  However, if you’re writing with someone less known than you, then the benefit is theirs, not yours. If you’re working with a celebrity, your benefit is their celebrity.  Their benefit is your writing skill and experience.

How you do it again depends on who you do it with.  With another writer you’ll try to split the writing 50-50. With the three books I’ve done with Christine Matthews we worked differently on each book.  Sometimes one person would just write until they got stuck, then pass it on.  Other times one person would be in charge and call the tune. Sometimes one person plots, the other writes, or both plot and one writes

It works when you respect each other’s input.

And if you respect each other’s input it positively affects the final outcome.

Christine Matthews: The obvious benefit is having to only do half the work.  Since I live and work with a writing maniac, we decided from the start that he’d have to work at my speed. We sat down to plot the book (loosely) and I started writing it.  When I hit the wall…or was just bored…I tossed it over to Bob.  Because of his photographic memory and the fact that I’m only human, I would type over his pages into my computer so I could get a feel for where he was going with the story and to edit.  When that was finished, I’d start writing from that point.  Back and forth we went until the books were done. Since our styles are so similar, we can’t tell which parts I wrote and which are his. Our two brains affected the book positively in the plotting. Sitting down and talking through the story was the most fun.


Can you share some advice (and maybe some words of caution) for fiction writers setting out to collaborate?

Robert J. Randisi: First, I don’t know why you’d set out to collaborate. I’ve written with Christine Matthews because we are a couple, we live together, and I didn’t know what we could share that would be more personal. Other couples may feel the same.

But I don’t think I’ve ever known a writer who “set out” to collaborate. It’s almost like hanging wallpaper–a deal breaker for relationships.

Christine Matthews: To be honest, I don’t really see any advantage to collaborating, other than efficiency (if you work well as a team) and sharing the load. I think it can cause more problems than pleasures. Writing is a solitary endeavor…at least it should be.  So unless you have great love for your partner or an over abundance of patience… don’t.


Jeremy L. C. Jones is a freelance writer, editor, and part-time professor.  Jones is a frequent contributor to Clarkesworld Magazine.  He is also the director of Shared Worlds, a creative writing and world-building camp for teenagers that he and Jeff VanderMeer designed in 2006.