Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Laura Eve Engel & Adam Peterson

Laura Eve Engel's work has recently appeared in or is forthcoming from Denver Quarterly, LIT, Cincinnati Review, Cream City Review and elsewhere. She is the 2011 Jay C. and Ruth Halls Poetry Fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Adam Peterson’s work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Southern Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Camera Obscura, Denver Quarterly, and elsewhere. He lives in Houston, Texas, where he is the co-editor of The Cupboard, a quarterly prose chapbook series.


We’re not going to make it to the center of the Earth. Surrounded by lava, it seems so obvious the ways in which our team was incorrectly assembled. We’re all the best at something, but it turns out none of the things we are best at are the right things for tunneling to the center of the Earth. Jonah was a child spelling prodigy, but no one thinks that is going to come in handy except Rachel who checks with Jonah to make sure the words she’s spelled in dominoes on the floor are right. Who even made this drill and why aren’t they on the mission? Simone says as she pirouettes through Rachel’s dominoes without upsetting a single one. Ted writes classical music. Marilyn is the world’s foremost marine biologist. Judy wins eating contests. Percival is an owl, but he’s also the only one of us who knows that knocking them over isn’t really how you play dominoes. And we’re all on this ship drilling down but we’re not going to make it. Going below the Earth’s surface takes a different kind of skill than falling but we don’t know what it is. Maybe Percival knows but he’s not saying. It’s getting hotter. When the dominoes spell What more could we have done? we pucker our lips to blow but nothing falls, not here. Once the lights start to flicker and the oxygen goes, Judy figures it out and cries We’re the best at getting to heaven! Percival nods in affirmation, but by this point up and down are the same direction.

-forthcoming from Dzanc Books

How did your collaboration begin?

We’d talked about collaborating on a chapbook manuscript for awhile and were trying to find a form when we stumbled upon [SPOILER ALERT]. We wanted something that would allow us to write them back-and-forth individually before coming together during the editing process.

Have you collaborated before? If so, how was this different than other collaborations?

We’d previously given each other titles. Or, we guess, Adam gave Laura Eve titles and made Laura Eve write them before cruelly stealing the titles back. [SPOILER ALERT] was different in the sense that we actually discussed what the pieces should be and how they should work together. Then, of course, we edited them together to the point where we don’t really remember whose is whose.

What were the rules or parameters for the collaboration?

We each wrote batches of three then traded so that we could see what the other person was doing. Sometimes this meant that we’d write ones directly responding to one another. Sometimes it meant Adam would write them on his phone in front of Laura Eve to be a jerk. Mostly we just sat in coffee shops daring each other to see who could write the most aggressively unedited piece the fastest. We then waited until we had, more or less, a full manuscript before editing.

Did the collaboration affect your own work?

Sure, we think. It’s likely that both of us put ideas or sentences or whaleghosts we would have otherwise used in our own work into the manuscript. More than that, we think working with each other—especially in editing—made us aware of certain patterns or tropes in our own work. Adam made Laura Eve stop using the word “thing.” Laura Eve made Adam stop. Just stop.

Did anything happen in your collaboration that surprised you?

That it came together so quickly, we think. The most difficult aspect of it was really finding the idea, but once we had that, the writing process was fast and fun. The editing of them was great in its own way. We were sort of merciless at pointing out what we thought was working or not. The Word documents on which we were tracking changes got absurdly complicated to the point where we stopped tracking and started trusting that the other person knew what they were doing. Or realizing they didn’t, changing things back, and hoping they wouldn’t notice.

And that the pieces had any success at all, of course. We are infinitely grateful to Matt Bell and everyone at The Collagist/Dzanc.

How do you feel about the finished product?

Worse than they did, apparently. Not that we don’t love it, just that both of us feel very lucky. And admittedly, we might be slightly more detached from it than if we’d written it individually, as weird as that is. It’s like the opposite of how parents must feel about having a kid together. We both think it’s the other person’s fault. Or maybe that’s exactly how parents feel. Let’s ask some.

Are there any collaborations you'd recommend reading/hearing/seeing?

Recently, we’ve enjoyed the collaborations we’ve seen between Elisa Gabbert and Kathleen Rooney. Also, Jon Cotner and Andy Fitch’s Ten Walks/Two Talks. We do not recommend seeing Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito’s collaboration Junior. We strongly recommend Twins, however.

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