Interview with “Drifting Isle Chronicles” Collaborator MeiLin Miranda
This is the fifth in a series of interviews regarding “The Drifting Isle Chronicles” shared world project. In this interview, we meet another of the collaborating authors, MeiLin Miranda, who shares her thoughts on DRM, collaborative worldbuilding, and something called an “angler bug.”
What were the influencing factors and/or your motivation for deciding to explore collaborative world building and storytelling?
I have always wanted to collaborate on a fiction project. My background is broadcast journalism, which is a nice mix of collaboration and solo work especially in TV. Writing is such a solitary affair that it’s fun to do something with others.
Add to that wanting to force myself out of my comfort zone, and there you have it.
A lot of creatives emphasize story first and warn about the dangers of letting worldbuilding distract from telling a solid narrative. How are you finding the two separate but related activities of storytelling and worldbuilding unfolding for the Drifting Isle Chronicles? Did you find yourself making worldbuilding decisions based solely on the story you told, did you always put worldbuilding first, or was it more of a mix?
We started with the bones of the world, and as our stories came together the flesh sort of accreted on its own. The initial process was borderline hilarious; we did it by vote. Joe Lewis would say, for instance, here’s a bunch of choices for genre, send me yours. Then he’d put the list out, we’d vote for two, then vote again for one.
I often didn’t like the results, but I’d agreed to go with the flow. In the case of genre, I like reading steampunk occasionally, and I’m as fond of bustles and goggles and brass as the next person, but I wasn’t interested in writing it. I was overruled. Comfort zone pushed. :)
As the stories have progressed, we’ve found missing bits of the world and have come to the group to fill it out with us or to “present our findings” if we’ve already figured it out and want to share what we’ve come up with. Some of the bits I like best have come about that way.
For instance, and I can’t remember how or why, someone needed a bug. We came up with angler bugs, large beetles with a lure like an angler fish. The anglers have turned into a fun bit for me to play with. Since our floating island folk have to use every resource they can, the bugs are on the menu! I’m figuring out a real-world recipe for “angler mash” that will definitely not be bug-based. :) I’ll be offering the recipe as part of my upcoming Kickstarter campaign.
Do you think the sci-fi and fantasy genres are easier for use in shared worlds compared to other genres (say, romance or mystery)?
I think so; they’re made up, aren’t they? But you could make a strong case for the others, if you treated them like a TV show. Those are the ultimate in collaborative storytelling. You just have to think of the world building differently–not so literally.
When you’re working in a contemporary genre, your world building isn’t so much WORLD building–the real world is already built–as character and situation building. To share a world like that, you need to work out a “show bible” as one would working on a TV show or a shared fantasy world–who the characters are, their motivations and relationships to one another (and what they look like, since you’re working with prose not actors); major locations and their descriptions; major themes.
You need to keep updating that bible as the “show” unfolds, and you have to agree to stick with that bible through thick and thin. It’s called a bible because it has to be gospel. To diverge from it breaks the contract between reader and writer. That’s why we use a wiki on this project; it’s our show bible.
What have you learned about storytelling through collaborative world building (and vice versa)?
What this has taught me is to be open to ideas I’d otherwise dismiss.
You describe your work as “stories of mystery, intrigue, and sex.” I think it’s fair to say the other collaborators in Drifting Isle Chronicles each come from different writing backgrounds or focus on different aspects of genre. How has it been working with other writers who bring different writing styles/elements?
I write about politics, sex* and religion a lot, and I obsess on getting the world’s details just so (once I worked out what kinds of cheeses were from which duchies in my main series’ world). Katherine writes a lot of crime and detective stuff, kinda dark. Coral is very character focused. Joe writes action. Charlotte is probably the purest fantasy writer of us all. It’s given the universe a very rounded flavor, I think. Katherine and I have been working together the most lately, just because our two books share the island setting more than the other three.
*Interestingly, this book doesn’t have so much as a kiss on the cheek.
You’re well in to the Drifting Isle Chronicles project – how are things going with your novel?
I’m about halfway through–a little more–and the rest is fully outlined. It’s going well, though I’ve had a difficult/busy summer. I have two kids at home, we homeschool, and one of my girls had surgery last month. But I’m committed to getting it to my editor in mid-September, and I am about to start a Kickstarter presale to cover editing and artwork.
Did you take a different approach for your Drifting Isle novel (e.g., used an outline when you normally don’t)?
I’m experimenting with heavily outlining this year for the first time in an effort to up my production, and I’m finding I really like it. I originally wrote webserials, which are kinda seat-of-the-pants by definition, and it carried over to my books. I naturally outline my nonfiction writing, though, so I decided to push myself into outlining my fiction. It’s working really well. I’ve produced a lot this year compared to last.
Can you share a pleasant surprise you have had with Drifting Isle Chronicles?
How damn fun it’s been! I didn’t expect to enjoy it this much, in fact I’m hoping to do it again some time soon. I’m gonna miss having people to bounce things off and work things through with.
The best example, though: one of the elements for the world we voted on was a machine god. I voted against it. What the hell is a machine god, I asked. I don’t know, says Joe, but I like the sound of it! Everyone else did, too, so machine god it was. As we were working out our story ideas, the machine god kept coming up over and over–what are we going to do with it? We were discussing who specialized in what themes and elements. Does anyone here write about religion or mythology? Naively, I said yes–those are main elements in my work.
So guess who got stuck with the machine god?
The joke was on me, though. I worked out exactly who and what was the machine god and liked the results enough that my book is called…”The Machine God.” I’m really happy with and excited about the story I’m telling.
Another big surprise is how essentially conflict-free it’s been. I don’t always agree with the other four and they with me, but it never gets heated; not long ago when I brought up what were for me some insurmountable politics (that I think mainly affect my story but that might spill into the others) I don’t think I was too popular for a while. :) But no one’s been huffy or critical within the group. I think we’re all pros.
What was an unexpected challenge with Drifting Isle Chronicles?
Honestly? Remembering to copy everyone on all the emails! :)
What advice would you offer writers about to embark on a shared world creative journey?
Keep a wiki. Be flexible, be willing to be overruled, be willing to be wrong, be ready to stand strong on issues you believe in (but pick those issues very, very carefully). Lean on the others and let them lean on you. Most of all, have fun.
What is your view about the future of collaborative commercial entertainment? Has it changed since you started working on the Drifting Isle Chronicles project?
Honestly, I’ve been so busy writing I couldn’t say! Writers have always collaborated. What makes ours exciting is that we’re sharing the world but keeping our own IP. We don’t have to worry about managing the royalties.
I couldn’t help but notice you use a Creative Commons license for your works (BY-NC-ND). You also proudly proclaim that all of your works are DRM-free. Why do release your works under these terms?
It goes back to my roots in webserials. I wrote those for donations but let everyone read them. It worked pretty well for a long time, but that model eventually died for me.
My problem isn’t being pirated, my problem is being discovered. If one of my fans wants to “enable” someone else into being my fan, he should be able to do so. Please, folks, enable your friends. :) It’s cheap advertising. And I see no reason why someone shouldn’t be able to use the file on any device he chooses, without my forcing him into being a criminal.
That said, of course I’d prefer if people bought my work. I’ve had some people send me money when they’ve gotten the book for free, which is cool, and one person just last week who sent me $15 even though she’d legitimately bought the book because it was “better than stuff I’d paid twice the amount for.” Always a great feeling.