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by Trisha Speed Shaskan & Stephen Shaskan

Writing is often thought of as a solo process. Picture a beret-clad, tortured artist in a dimly-lit room typing on a laptop with a bottle of Absinthe on hand. But it doesn’t need to be that way. Every book is made by a team—the author and editor for starters. So why not collaborate with someone from the start of your story?

Since we first met while working at an elementary school, we’ve been collaborators. We became friends, eventually married (but that’s another story), and formed a rock band together. Stephen played guitar. Trisha played drums.

At school, we co-taught a class. We eventually co-taught classes where we encouraged students to collaborate on creating stories and comics. But it wasn’t until we had both published books—Stephen as an author/illustrator and Trisha as an author—that we began collaborating from the start of the story process.  After our agents submitted an early chapter book for us that was rejected, an editor asked if we were interested in submitting a new chapter book series idea. In the past, Trisha had written the story, then Stephen read it and illustrated it. This time, we decided to collaborate from the start. Since then, we’ve found the process is really beneficial; it helped us create our graphic novel series Q & RAY and our picture book PUNK SKUNKS. This process could help you too.

When choosing someone to collaborate with on brainstorming story ideas, choose someone you fully trust. Once you’ve chosen a person, there are ground rules.

First: Collaborators need to find equal value. Brainstorm mutual interests that could be the subject of a story—basket weaving, sky diving. This allows each collaborator to have the maximum amount of investment in the story. When we first brainstormed a list of ideas to work on collaboratively, “rock bands” was one of the first subjects we both agreed on. Stephen wasn’t so keen on tea parties.

Second: Maintain mutual respect with your collaborator(s). Allow ample space for everyone’s ideas. Remember to keep things positive. There aren’t bad ideas when brainstorming (except for bands that throw tea parties according to Stephen). Think of the brainstorming session as a large pot of soup. Your collaborative cook throws in rutabaga. You don’t like rutabaga, but this is the first time you’re trying this recipe. When the soup is done, you’ll be able to see if the rutabaga works or not. When we brainstormed which animals might play in a rock band, we tried moles, then badgers who looked much better as folk rockers than rockers when sketched, before choosing punk skunks for our story.

Third: Have a sense of humor. Don’t take anything too seriously. Try to laugh at yourself. Even if you seriously want the band to throw a tea party.

Once we’ve brainstormed a story idea together, we also brainstorm the conflict. For PUNK SKUNKS, the natural conflict was one skunk wanted to sing about one topic, while the other skunk disagreed. Together we brainstormed what the characters’ personalities might be and came up with a possible outline for the story. But when it was time to write, Trisha wrote the story on her own, then Stephen illustrated it on his own.

Our first collaborative story idea that became PUNK SKUNKS was rejected as a chapter book as was our second idea, Q & Ray. We loved the stories so we switched the formats. We sold (and have now published) PUNK SKUNKS as a picture book and Q & Ray as a 3-book graphic novel series for young readers. Plus, we learned the benefits of collaborating. There’s group investment in the story. We’ve combined our expertise. The process forced each of us to think outside ourselves and to maybe let go of the tea parties. We hope you try collaborating too.

Trisha Speed Shaskan has written over forty books for children, including the picture book PUNK SKUNKS and the Q & RAY graphic novel series, which are all illustrated by her husband Stephen Shaskan. Trisha is also the author of the upcoming picture book THE ITTY-BITTY WITCH illustrated by Xindi Yan releasing in July (Two Lions/Amazon). Trisha and Stephen, their cat Eartha, and dog Beatrix live in Minnesota. Visit Trisha online at: trishaspeedshaskan.com or on Facebook.

Stephen Shaskan is the author and illustrator of several picture books including: BIG CHOO, TOAD ON THE ROAD, MAX SPEED, THE THREE TRICERATOPS TUFF, and A DOG IS A DOG. He is also the illustrator of the picture book PUNK SKUNKS and the graphic novel series Q and Ray, both written by his wife Trisha Speed Shaskan. Stephen lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota with Trisha, and their cat Eartha and dog Bea. Find him at stephenshaskan.com or on Facebook.

You can also follow Trisha and Stephen together on Facebook here.

  

Trisha and Stephen are giving away a signed copy of PUNK SKUNKS and a signed copy of Q & RAY CASE #1: THE MISSING MOLA LISA. There will be two winners of one book each.

Simply leave ONE COMMENT below to enter.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!

 

7ate9
Winner of the 2018 Irma S. Black Award and the SCBWI Crystal Kite!
black kite

As a children's book author and mother of two, I'm pushing a stroller along the path to publication. I collect shiny doodads on the journey and share them here. You've found a kidlit treasure box.

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My Picture Books

COMING SOON:


illus by Melissa Crowton
Tundra/PRH Canada
June 4, 2019

THE UPPER CASE:
TROUBLE IN CAPITAL CITY
illus by Ross MacDonald
Disney*Hyperion
October 1, 2019

THREE WAYS TO TRAP A LEPRECHAUN
illus by Vivienne To
HarperCollins
Spring 2020

THE WHIZBANG WORDBOOK
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
August 2020

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