Community Writing

I may have invented another new English term.  As opposed to “Committee Writing”, where two or more authors collaborate on a book, or books, Community Writing is when a group of authors each produce a book or books in a large series, by themselves.

About 1974, I read a science-fiction book titled The Guns of Terra 10, by an author named Don Pendleton.  Heavy on both sidearm and particle-beam weapons, and light on character development, it wasn’t the worst book I’d ever read, but, having been spoiled by the likes of Asimov and Heinlein, it was well down the list.

Several years later, I was attending a Christmas get-together at my sister’s.  The gals were cooking, setting tables and general women stuff.  The guys were downstairs in the rec-room, watching an exciting (Yawn!) hockey game.  I stayed in the living-room, hoping to score a snack before the real eating began.

I spotted a book that one of my nephews was reading and tried a couple of chapters.  It was by Don Pendleton and was number 15 in a series about an ex-army Special Forces who was waging war against the Mafia, who had destroyed his family.

Liberally stocked with things that go boom, but with much better character portrayal, it wasn’t long before I was haunting second-hand book stores to acquire the series from the beginning.  It took a while for word of mouth to let the series take off.  Pendleton wrote about 56 of these books before he, or his publisher, decided to farm them out.  They were being released on a monthly basis to keep up to the now-popular demand.

A group of 8 or 9 production writers was engaged to write individual books.  All Pendleton had to do was create story arc, co-ordinate timing and establish limits.  At about book number 85, some genius saw the limitations of a protracted fight against the Mafia, and “killed” the hero off, to have him reborn as Colonel John Phoenix, scourge of terrorists everywhere.

As well as the 250/300 page, numbered books, there were dozens of 450/500 page Superbooks.  I quit buying after number 216, and 30 or 40 of the Superbooks.  Finally dying off, the numbers approach 400.  To support the hero, Pendleton invented a three-man domestic team, and a five-man foreign-soil team, headed by a fox-faced Canadian, eh.

They were so popular that two other authors were handed the task of writing a series about each.  One guy got to 36 books, and the other to 52, before interest or writing ability died.

Besides ennui, one of the reasons I gave up that series was the discovery of another.  Jack Adrian dreamed up a series about a four-man, two woman, survival group in post-apocalypse America.  He wrote the first couple and then let his hired guns write about these hired guns.  The author name used is James Axler, but none of the 8/9 pet writers is named that.

The writing in the Pendleton series is so smooth and even, that all the books might have been written by the same person.  Not so with the Axler series!  It’s hit and miss.  Some are great.  The Mars Arena contained every literary reference imaginable.  Both Tom Sawyer and Mark Twain showed up, smooooth!  Hell Road Warriors, on the other hand, contained historical and geographical errors, as well as questionable technology.  Also, every chapter, sometimes almost every page, contained English usage errors.

This series is essentially about the man on the outside.  Adrian then dreamed up another series, set another hundred years in the future, basically about the man on the inside, who wants to get out.  Another group of 8/9 writers was hired to pump these babies out each month.  There is a bit of cross-pollination.  Occasionally one of the A-series writers produces a B-series book, and vice-versa.  At last count, there were 112 of series A published, and exactly half of that, 56, of series B.

Having followed the older series for ten years, and the newer one for five, through a total of almost 160 books, I’ve finally decided to stop buying them.  They’ve both become soap-opera-ish, especially the newer series; multi-dimensional sauroid space aliens called Annunaki, from Earth’s unseen twin planet Nibiru, controlling Man’s development for the past 30,000 years with the help of an evil dwarf named Sindri.  Every old superstitious story is woven in to sell more books.  Fun’s fun, but I’ve had enough.

I’m eight books behind and no chance of catching up.  I have 10 Clive Cussler books, and about twenty others to read, including the two “Locator” novels, and Pouringmyartout’s e-book, Saloon at the Edge of Everywhere stranded on Kobo.  My son has introduced me to some nice new books, including the 1632 series(?).

This started as a stand-alone book, positing a small Virginia town, suddenly stranded in 1632 Germany.  Having established the parameters, the author, Eric Flint, has invited other writers like David Weber, Virginia DeMarce (the irony), and Marilyn Kosmatka to take a bite out of his little universe and write connected stories from their literary viewpoint.  The print copies since 2000 number 26.

There is a strong online presence to these books, with a website and very active discussion page where fan-boys, and –girls, submit detailed short stories about mentioned characters and occurrences, to flesh out the narrative.  Flint reads them all, chooses the best, edits and accumulates them, and publishes them in print as The Grantville Gazette, I thru XII.

This is a different type of Community Writing from the above, and the wealth of detail makes the stories, and the people in them, as real as your neighbors, and a treasure trove of historical social study, from war, politics and religion, to love and marriage.

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