My favourite character in Zeroes is Crash. She’s observant, thoughtful, basically good-hearted and trying really hard to be responsible. Her power is that she can sense any networked systems around her—any phones, computers, security systems, anything relying on a satellite, wifi, broadband or even a humble optical fibre cable. What’s bad about this power is that:
(a) It hurts to feel all these things—being in a big crowd is like being stung by a swarm of bees, with everyone’s phone’s attacking her, and places with big complex networks are torture for her
(b) If she doesn’t actually make an effort to keep these systems functioning, they crash—hence her code name. So she can do a lot of damage.
She’s also got a very strong moral sense. She’s caught between loving the cleansing relief of crashing things that have been bugging her, and trying to obey her Mom’s rule of Do no harm. She’s an interesting character!
Compared to writing a novel by myself, I have to say, writing a three-author novel was a piece of cake. I was only technically writing a third of it, even though I still had to be fully engaged with Scott’s and Deborah’s chapters. We all read each other’s chapters, noting where things don’t chime with our own chapters, or where we feel our characters haven’t been done right. Pointing out the number of times Scott used the words “sparkling” or “sputtered”…
Generating the plot was so much easier than my usual method, where I spend months drawing plot maps that don’t work, and drafting screeds of material that never gets used. Not that we didn’t throw stuff away—sometimes our plot got superseded by something cooler. But it all happened so fast! And sitting around at Plot Camp making each other laugh with stupid plot ideas is the best fun. I can highly recommend collaboration.
My favorite character is probably Scam. His power is “the voice,” which says whatever will get him what he wants. In a way, the voice reminds me of smart-talking detectives in the pulp era, who could disarm the bad guys just by saying the right thing, or convince the cops to let them go if they were found in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Alas for Scam, he’s not as cool as Sam Spade. Growing up with the voice on his side has left him not very proficient with words. He’s never had to learn! So he’s sort of like a kid who’s big brother always protected him, and has never fought his own battles.
For me, collaborating is like going back in time. When I was a younger novelist, the bad days of writing were dark and horrible and full of despair. The good days were the most amazing I’ve ever had. That’s how things work when you’re new at something–the highs are very high, the lows disastrous.
But since then I’ve written twenty-something novels, and the lows aren’t really that bad anymore. I know from experience that I will get through this. Alas, this also means the highs aren’t as great. But writing with Deb and Margo has brought back those highs. There are sentences and scenes in this book that I never would have managed on my own. And the bad times? Well, let’s just say there are three times as many people to get annoyed with.
My favourite character is Flicker, because she’s the one I can most imagine having lunch with. She seems like she’s the sanest and most well-grounded. Maybe it’s a result of having to—literally!—see through other people’s eyes. Despite being born blind, she can see—but only when there’s someone else nearby whose eyes are open.
Of course, every power has a price. Flicker can become overwhelmed by all the different viewpoints that she’s trying to parse in her head. Imagine trying to see a dozen things at once, or a dozen viewpoints on the same thing. And sometimes, she ends up seeing something she really, really doesn’t want to see.
For me, collaborations are the way of the future. They’re like supercharged writing. TV writers learned this before novelists did. Collaboration lets you air your craziest, wildest ideas. It lets you short-circuit the plotting exercise. You can throw a half-baked idea at your team and then bounce it around between you until it becomes something great. Or you can have your idea shot down in flames within a matter of minutes. That happens.
The best part of the Zeroes collaboration has been what we call Plot Camps. We leave our ordinary lives and come together for three or four days of detailed planning. We work out what will happen and which character will be most affected, and whose point of view chapter this will be. It’s only when you’re back home, alone, trying to make your chapters fit the glamorous ideas of Plot Camp that the doubt begins to creep in. “Why did I agree to this?” and “Can I even pull this off?” are constant companions.