in 2011 I was told that I wasn’t a very good collaborator, by someone who turned out to not be a very good collaborator. True, I hadn’t had much experience being creative with other people, but that seemed like telling someone who hadn’t ridden a bicycle before that they were no good at bicycles. Practice! So, after excepting the traditional ‘you can’t tell me what I’m like’ challenge, I actively encouraged myself to seek out and start collaborative projects. I wrote a book I had a bunch of other people illustrate, and learned a lot about micromanaging vs relinquishing control, and got back just a ton of amazing work I couldn’t in a million years have made by myself. This was Fairy Tales I Just Made Up. I am extremely proud of it.
I also decided to do the opposite, and I Would illustrate a bunch of stories not written by me. This was Cats Committing Crimes. The opposite side of the same coin. I also did two projects where they idea didn’t start with me - my adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s DiscworldTM novel Small Gods - I had source material to adapt, but was very much aware I was getting to fool about with someone else’s Masterpiece, and that I better do everything in my power to get it right. I also collaborated with the Josh Kirby estate to create Marmaduke Mousington - another adaptation, this time with incomplete source material, with an author I couldn’t really confer with (I had some preliminary story consultations with Sir Terry Pratchett before he shook hands with death). So an altogether different experience, but in a similar direction. We also, as part of that kickstarter project, were able to create the audio adaptation of that - and the amazing Stephen Briggs, who’s audio work I was extremely familiar with through Discworld, read the words that I had written based on the words someone else had written - and made everything sound even more funny and wonderful. The most surreal experience, hearing jokes I had unconsciously written in American being read at me in British!
And all that brings us to the next phase, which is J. Bartholomew Hivemind. So. A few years back, I read an article about the Hardy Boys. The mystery series I had read all the copies of in my local library as a kid, and then not thought about at all in the decades since. Does it surprise you to learn that their author, Franklin W. Dixon, doesn’t exist? It was a pseudonym owned by a publishing company, that allowed them to churn out mystery novels at the furious pace of whoever was in the office at the moment. The first six were apparently wildly different in tone, until they were all rewritten and made to be on a consistent style, once a consistent style existed. I was fascinated. Having a mysterious pseudonym that could write different sort of things than the sort of things I normally wrote, already wildly inconsistent in tone, had been something I’d wanted to do for a long time. I didn’t have the energy to go full Lemony Snicker and maintain the nom de plume for years and years, my fake name would be very upfront about the fact he (they? It? they’re mysterious you know.) were not a real person, but several people in a trench coat and fedora trying to only pay one ticket price to get into the movies.
And thus, J.Bartholomew Hivemind was born. The J. doesn’t stand for anything, and the last name is pronounced Hiv-uh-mund. The idea would be that the people working under this pseudonym, me and a roving supply of my friends could churn out 27 novels a minute, found a vast pulsating publishing empire, and rake in dozens of dollars, all of which we would fritter away on candy.
Our first effort, written by myself, my pal Joe Heath, and my swedish pal Vincent E.L. was ‘The Princess and the Pterodactyls’. I wrote a weird beginning to a thing, and then sent it to Joe to write the next bit, and then after having done that, Joe sent it to Vince, Vince wrote 2 1/2 more bits, and sent it on to me. We proceeded in that fashion, until we reached a very logical conclusion, and then we kept going for another 50 pages. It was great fun. It’s a big mess. It’s hilarious and almost makes sense, in parts.
We released it into the wild, with no fanfare whatsoever, and a couple people saw it. I constantly struggle to promote things, it’s the most important, least interesting part of any project, for me. But we had fun. And wanted to do another book. “Let’s set in in space.” Vince said. “Let’s make it really weird and freaky - kinda trippy.” And so we started writing ‘Space Trippy.’ or ‘There’s No Such Thing As Space.” Or ‘The Quantum Entangled Man.” or “Quantum Bullshit.” We never settled on a title, because we’ve yet to finish it. We got about halfway through and realized none of us could understand the plot. We’ll reboot it at some point. But while Me, Joe, and Vince were working on this, our friend Chris said ‘hey, I wanna be involved in this too.” or maybe Joe said ‘Hey, we should talk Chris into doing a collab with us, that would be fun.” or Maybe I said “Cower before me Mortals, and tremble! Heed my words and do my bidding!” It’s the sort of thing I say. I’m mad with power. Anyway, while me and Joe were working on Space Trippy with Vince, we started working on a separate book with Chris. It was immediately way more grounded, taking place on this planet, in a car, with mostly real and normal people, instead of magic space people. We titled the shared googledoc ‘Road Trippy’ just to keep things confusing, sure we were going to change the title as soon as we thought of a better one.
Well. Where Space Trippy stalled out, Road Trippy revved up. I had just taken a screenwriting class, and Joe and Chris were both able scriptwriters already, so we all had movie script formatting on the brain. First act, introduce the world. 2nd act create drama and peril. Act 3: try and wrap everything up in a satisfying way. We accidentally wrote a redemption arc, with characters that learn and grow, as they leap from one crazy situation to another. It didn’t feel like a loose plot there to service a bunch of mostly unrelated sketches, it was a Story. I’ve had a lot of fun being creative with people, and enjoyed everything I’ve ever done, but this was special. We were still making it up as we went along, but we had some sort of map, and it all came together. It wasn’t a 100 page novella either. It was a 250 page novel. We wrote a novel!
And then we sat on it. For a while. Life got in the way, wasn’t sure how we were going to release it. All of us ended up moving to new states, and working at day jobs, and being distracted. Joe wrote a movie screenplay adaptation of Road Trippy. We gathered with a bunch of friends for other reasons, and made them all perform the script for our amusement. 4 hours to read, but the chuckles lasted forever. We filmed some bits, with the three of us gathered in one place, that we could use to promote the book when we did a kickstarter. That was a year ago. And we all still look exactly the same, so you can’t tell. I’m pretty sure Joe has a painting in his basement that ages instead of him.