March 20, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Tag Team: Collaborations in Books


Jim Di Bartolo and Kiersten White are the authors behind the Scholastic title “In the Shadows.”

Collaboration has been in the air this past year, from authors Twig and Craig George working together to finish the Ice Whale (Penguin, 2014), the last book left behind by their late mother, Jean Craighead George, to young adult writers such as David Levithan and Andrea Cremer coming together. While the success of almost every novel represents a collaborative effort—with agents, editors, reviewers, and many others working to ensure that the book gets out there—some reflect an even greater degree of teamwork than others. For collaborative teams, such as author Lex Hrabe and novelist and painter Thomas Voorhies as well as illustrator Jim Di Bartolo—who has previously collaborated with wife Laini Taylor on the National Book Award finalist Lips Touch: Three Times (Scholastic, 2009)—and Kiersten White, author of the best-selling “Paranormalcy” trilogy (HarperCollins), who have recently worked together with awe-inspiring and creative results, working with others is paying off. These teams, who will be participating in SLJ’s SummerTeen panel July 24, shared the rewards, challenges, and secrets to working together.

With In the Shadows, which SLJ called a “dark, moody, and mysterious hybrid novella,” collaborative team, Bartolo and White, took a unique approach. Comprised of two entirely separate narratives—one wordless, consisting of images (drawn by Di Bartolo) and one prose (written by White). Involving a witch, a possible death, and many unsolved secrets, this is a haunting, intricately crafted work that should intrigue readers—and keep them coming back for a second or even third read to see how each piece of the puzzle fits together. For White, the opportunity to work with a visual artist had always interested her, and when she met Di Bartolo, an illustrator—at Comic Con several years ago, they discussed the possibility of collaboration. When Di Bartolo’s agent contacted White, the possibility became a reality, and White says, “There was much awkward, joyful kitchen dancing that day.”

Though the authors did get to work together, White says that what made collaboration so easy was that “we were both more or less in charge of our own half of the story, so we mainly talked how the two time lines would match up, timing of reveals, while having artistic freedom within our own sections. It was all fun with no butting heads!” Technology facilitated the dialogue, and the two relied primarily on Skype conversations, before switching over to email later on.

In-depth planning and outlining before getting started led to an easier process when it came down to the actual writing and drawing. “It was some tight plotting and a lot of back-and-forth on the outline to create a mystery that unfolded exactly how we wanted it to,” says White, “but all the time spent hammering it out made it so that when it was time to create everything, we had smooth sailing.”


Both Lex Hrabe and Thomas Voorhies make up the author Lex Thomas of Scholastic’s “Quarantine” series.

The idea of working together came a little more organically for authors Voorhies and Hrabe, who together, under the name Lex Thomas, have written the successful, dystopic “Quarantine” series, about a high adrenaline, take-no-prisoners Mad Max–esque world in which an out-of-control virus results in the closing off of a high school.

“In our case, it was a little bit of luck,” Hrabe says. “We had friends in common, and among our friends, we particularly bonded over certain movies and books from our childhood, ones that most people didn’t feel nearly as passionately about as we did.” The two originally started writing comedic screenplays together, which taught them the basics of story craft and structure—and made them realize how enjoyable working together was: as Hrabe says, “It was fun just coming up with scenarios and jokes that cracked us up.”

The concept that would become “Quarantine” came not out of a rigid planning session but was the unintended consequence of their method for working under deadline: procrastination. “We talk about movies, life, new ideas sometimes for hours before getting down to business.” During one of those moments, Voorhies came up with the idea of a story where high school was literally dangerous, where, as Hrabe later put it “walking from your locker to class alone might be enough to get you killed.” Sitting in traffic days later, Hrabe, who loved the idea of the setting as a metaphor for how perilous high school can be, tried to come up with reasons why such a threatening environment would exist. “But why would students be abandoned by adults yet still be in school?” he asked. “Everything I came up with required too much explanation…until I thought: What if they were toxic? And they needed to be quarantined first?”

Coming up with the concept is crucial for them, after which they jointly sketch out an outline. After coming up with an idea, one writer will work on a draft, sending it to the other for revisions, talking through their thoughts on the manuscript. It’s admittedly a high-stress venture, says Voorhies. After working through a draft, “Usually our deadline is looming at this point, and we are so strapped for time that we can’t afford to disagree on an issue for very long.”

For all authors, the end result remains the same: a single, cohesive work. Says Voorhies, “I think when you’re writing with a partner, the objective is to revise the thing until it has one vision, one take on a story, and one voice to the writing, despite the fact that two people wrote it.”

SummerTeen 2014

Check out Matthew Quick, Gayle Foreman, and other YA authors in the upcoming July 24 SLJ SummerTeen virtual online event. Register at: (For those unable to watch and participate on July 24, the event will be in our archives.)

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Mahnaz Dar About Mahnaz Dar

Mahnaz Dar ( is Assistant Managing Editor for Library Journal and School Library Journal and can be found on Twitter @DibblyFresh.