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The Collaborative Marriage:

Creating a piece of fiction that smells faintly of fact

Münir and Stan, still frame from film, Chapter 16 Phosphorescent

Every project has its challenges — communication challenges, creativity challenges, team leadership challenges.

Collaboration crosses over all of these discrete disciplines, making it perhaps the most tricky challenge of all.

There are unique challenges to working with your spouse on projects, like I do. But, as I’ve written about before, a few decades provide more than enough time to work out most of the kinks.

A few decades of collaboration also sneaks in some surprises. As I discovered several years ago when I began to write a story called Positano.

I’ve read, from more than one writing guru, that sometimes the story you tell is not the one you thought you were going to tell.

Sometimes, the story is a piece of fiction that smells faintly of fact.

When that story is about a married couple who are creative partners, and a lot of ugly shit goes down, well, people start with the side-eye and questioning just what, if anything, actually happened.

What is fact and what is fiction?

Positano started as my project, when, after a long hard stretch of work, and an even longer, harder stretch of eye surgeries, I took a much needed break. On that break I started a story. Mostly, I just wanted to make something of my own. Something that didn’t have the challenges of clients and producers and project managers and creative teams. Just me, making up a story and waiting for my eyes to heal.

Then it became our project.

The story had taken on a life of its own, so collaborating on it would be particularly tricky. Because it’s personal, because there are no clients with final say, because it’s about a couple and their problems, because I wove bits of personal truth into the fictional conflicts — truth that emanates from my relationship with my husband, Hal. Tricky.

To write it felt very naked. And very one sided.

I value Hal’s criticism and feedback on work — maybe more than I value my own opinion sometimes, so again, tricky. Hal is a fair and deeply productive critic. I listen to what he has to say, trusting as much as I trust in anything that his insights will make the work better. And with this story in particular, I had to really listen.

A personal project offers, if taken, an opportunity to understand your own thoughts and beliefs, a moment to hear your own voice. The surprise? I was required to handle criticism differently because there were aspects of us woven into the work — my writing made him naked, too.

The project that started out as mine had become ours, which is, at its heart, the nature of collaboration. Ours.

It’s interesting, the people who have read Positano that know us, they dance around their questions about facts. I can feel the unspoken “which parts are true?”

It’s all true, of human nature.

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