Throwback Thursdays: Ian C. Esslemont on Collaboration

Welcome to Throwback Thursdays on the Tor/Forge blog! Every other week, we’re delving into our newsletter archives and sharing some of our favorite posts.

The world of the Malazan Empire is beloved by many, many fans—for good reason. The world, co-created by Ian C. Esslemont and Steven Erikson, has been well developed over the course of many books and multiple series. Now, with the publication of Assail, a new Malazan novel, we thought we’d dive into our archives and share a piece that Esslemont wrote in May of 2011. In it, he explains how his long-time collaboration with Erikson works. We hope you enjoy this blast from the past, and be sure to check back every other Thursday for more!

In a recent interview I commented that Steven Erikson and I have often been approached by people expressing surprise, even disbelief, at our long-standing collaboration in a co-created world (The Malazan Empire). These comments always come as a surprise to us because in retrospect the process seemed an entirely natural one. It simply unfolded organically—we worked the world out together, bouncing ideas off each other and laughing an awful lot in the process.

In many ways writing is actually a profoundly lonely and isolating undertaking. For me it was a privilege and a pleasure to have someone to share the material with. And I benefited enormously. I hope Steve did so, too. And I’m sure the product, the stories themselves, benefited as well. The give and take, the topping of ideas and undermining of each other’s characters’ goals, all added an extra layer of complexity and—dare I say realism—to so many threads. So many times one of us picked up what the other had added only to turn it completely inside out, or reverse it entirely, all to the surprise and enjoyment of both. I remember one particular immortal exchange between us (one that has yet to see print) wherein I explained that the paranoid Kellanved, then owner of a bar named Smiley’s, was spying and listening in on his employees by drilling holes in the floor of his office over the bar. Later, Steve had Dancer come upstairs, see Kellanved with his ear pressed to a hole and his bum in the air, and promptly kick him across the room. We threw that scene at each other across a table in Victoria, B.C.

After those early years the material lay fallow for quite a while. Yet the dream of writing never went entirely away for either of us. In the end it was Steve’s stubborn determination (and extraordinary talent!) that dragged it through to its eventual realization. Then, even though time had intervened, it was the natural thing to simply pick up the material once again knowing full well what had to be done. And since then, for me, it has all been a matter of attempting to do justice to what we begun. All I hope to do is give fullest depth and emotional truth to what we created.

This article is originally from the May 2011 Tor/Forge Newsletter. Sign up for the Tor/Forge newsletter now, and get similar content in your inbox every month!