A Meeting of the Minds Interview
by Carol Matas and Perry Nodelman
Of Two Minds (S and S, 1995) is a young adult fantasy about the Princess Lenora, who shares the ability of her fellow Gepethians: making whatever they imagine real, just by thinking it into existence. Unfortunately, these soberminded people have all agreed to the same reality, and none of them ever use their wonderful power—except the rebellious Lenora. Fearing the chaos that could result from Lenora's deliciously uncontrolled imaginings, her parents resolve to marry her to Prince Coren of Andilla as soon as possible. The Andillans lack the mental power of the Gepethians, but their ability to read others' thoughts creates almost as much trouble for Coren as Lenora's own power, and the interaction of two minds with two differing powers leads to an unexpected voyage to another country and some thrilling and comical adventures. The adventures of Lenora and Coren continue in two sequels, More Minds, and Out of Their Minds. A fourth book, A Meeting of Minds, will appear in the Fall of 1999.
PERRY: Carol, we worked on Of Two Minds off and on over so many years that it's all gotten fuzzy in my head—and when I read the finished book, I honestly can't remember which of us actually contributed any specific words or phrases or ideas. Can you?
CAROL: Perry, me, remember anything, ever? I wish.
PERRY: Maybe that's the first secret of our collaboration—our bad memories. We can't be protective about our individual contributions, since we can't actual recall what they are.
CAROL: I do remember, though, how the book got started. It began with a dream. I dreamed that crazy opening—a young girl standing in front of the mirror, exactly how she was dressed, the coloured puppies, the chase, the polar bear, the handsome knights saying "at it, at it, at it."
PERRY: That was something you dreamed? Really?
PERRY: I never knew that. How strange, not to know something so important about a book with your name on the cover.
CAROL: Anyway, once I'd dreamed it, I had to know what else. What else was there to that little odd image? So I wrote a first draft, the bulk of which I thought up while lying on an air mattress at Falcon Lake. Then I gave it to you to read, just as I always do—I won't do a second draft until you've critiqued my first one. And you critiqued it with your usual insight. Do you remember what you said?
PERRY: Well, I loved the idea—people with the ability of actually making whatever they imagined real—but I didn't think much of the way the idea was being used. I was disappointed that you hadn't taken any of all those wonderful opportunities to have fun with it.
CAROL: It's true my draft wasn't much fun. It concentrated on Lenora and her interactions when she goes into the "grey" world. That world was more graphic—the little people were imprisoned in concentration camps and Lenora had to free them.
PERRY: And Lenora was so busy learning first-hand about the horrors of racial prejudice and extermination that her intriguing abilities were very much in the background. Also, I remember worrying about Coren, who hardly even existed in that first draft. It seemed to me he could be made into a much more interesting and central character.
CAROL: I agreed with that, and went away to do my rewrites. And then I returned, manuscript basically unchanged—somehow, I just couldn't see Coren. And you said you could see him.
PERRY: Yes, I could see, inside my head, exactly what Coren should sound like and be like and do.
CAROL: So I said something like, "Okay, Smarty Pants, you seem so sure about how it should go, why don't you do it?" And you accepted the challenge.
PERRY: Yes, I did, because it seemed a harmless thing to do: our first plan was that we would leave the book exactly the way you wrote it—so it would still be there intact if my intrusions didn't work out. But I would write chapters from Coren's point of view that would appear in between each of your chapters. We envisioned this as a sort of "he said, she said" thing: the whole point of it would be that Lenora and Coren were always misinterpreting each other, because they lacked complete knowledge of each other's lives and characters. I did a number of chapters like that, and we both thought they were pretty good—not bad at all for the first fiction writing I'd attempted in many years. But we quickly realized there was just one thing wrong with all this: it wasn't working.
CAROL: That's true. You developed Coren really well, but he wasn't integrated into the story. So I went away with your draft and tried to incorporate it into a more seamless story—the third draft, or was it the fourth?
PERRY: And that was the first time one of us actually changed anything the other had written—the first time Matas and Nodelman had both worked on the same passage, the moment at which our actual collaboration began.
CAROL: Yes. And it was definitely an improvement—except for one thing. Coren had become an all-knowing, generally unattractive kind of guy. This was, in a way, inevitable because of his power—he could read minds. Therefore he always knew what Lenora was thinking just as she did, and since he was a more thoughtful person, he was always one step ahead of her.
PERRY: And the way I'd written my interwoven chapters made that even worse—he was always knowing something more than Lenora did, seeing a bigger picture—something I'd done in the first place because it was the only way to make my added chapters interesting in terms of plot.
CAROL: So Lenora ended up looking stupid. On the other hand, you felt Lenora not only looked stupid, she acted stupid, too. You felt she was too wild. So we tackled it again. This time I went after Coren and made him more spunky and less wimpy (I kept cutting it when you had Lenora accuse him of being a coward). And then you tackled Lenora and tried to tone her down a bit.
PERRY: Interesting, isn't it, that I kept wanting to create more sympathy for Coren by making him weaker, and you kept wanting to create more sympathy for Lenora by making her stronger? It was the fiction-writing version of the battle of the sexes? Anyway, we finally got to the book we wanted to produce when we came to our senses and each stopped trying to make the character whose gender we shared win—stopping even thinking of it as a contest.
CAROL: And while all this was going on, we did a major rewrite in terms of plot. You're right, my original was heavy, heavy, heavy. I totally credit you with lightening it up.
PERRY: Thank you. I was always good at not being serious.
CAROL: And then you had a complete brainwave when you suddenly came up with that great ending! (Don't give it away).
PERRY: I won't, but I do recall that it meant one more trip through the text for each of us, making sure that everything that happened before then would fit into this new explanation of it all. Come to think of it, this book sure was rewritten a lot, wasn't it?
CAROL: Yes, and by this time it was getting hard for us to figure out who had written what. We'd both reworked everything by then. I'd write and you'd read and edit, or you'd write and I'd read and edit—and we'd discuss it over the phone, and then go through the same process again.
PERRY: But up to that point, we never actually sat down together to write in the same room. We hadn't worked together.
CAROL: That's true, isn't it? Anyway, finally it was finished enough to send off for consideration, and a Canadian publisher, Bain and Cox, took the book.
PERRY: And then we rewrote it again. Peter Atwood, the editor, called us into a meeting, and mentioned one or two fairly minor things he wasn't happy about. And we immediately realized he was right, and started talking. Peter kept saying, no, no, I just want few little changes here and there—but he was happy with the entirely new book he got a month or so later.
CAROL: By that time, we'd learned how to write as a team, so it didn't take so long to redo it all. And we were happy with the new version too—the plot was much tighter and more interesting.
PERRY: Yes, until then, Lenora had travelled all over the land of Grag, having fairly disconnected encounters with a lot of different people; we decided instead to keep her inside the castle, and to concentrate on her relationships with Hevak and with the little people.
CAROL: Much better—and Simon and Schuster were showing interest in it, too.
PERRY: But before David Gale, the editor there, would take the book, he wanted answers to some difficult questions he had for us, about why things happened the way they did and why the characters' powers sometimes worked and sometimes didn't.
CAROL: I remember his call. It came while we were working on the final editing for the Canadian edition—it was the first time we'd actually sat down to work together, at your dining room table. We sat there looking uncomfortably at each other as we realized we really didn't have the vaguest idea about how to answer those questions.
PERRY: That's when we went for a walk in the park across from my house, to clear our heads. Somewhere out there in Churchill Drive Park, we decided to go through the whole thing backwards, from effects back to their causes—and, magically, we solved all the problems, right there and then, and integrated the answers into the book in a way that persuaded David to take it.
CAROL: Then we worked together, once more, for the final copy-edit. We sat in your lovely screened-in porch one long summer afternoon and read the manuscript aloud to each other, each reading alternating chapters. As I read, you suggested the changes, and as you read, I did the changes.
PERRY: As I recall, most of those changes had to do with speech rhythms—making sure the narrator who was telling this story always sounded like him or herself—whoever he or she was. Because by then, that narrator had become a whole separate person, and sounded like neither you or me writing on our own. And we had to eliminate the occasional sentences here or there that did still sound like either you or me, to preserve this new style.
CAROL: And we also worked together one more time, on the galleys.
PERRY: Yes, the end of a verrrrrry long process. But More Minds, the sequel, was an entirely different experience.
CAROL: It sure was. Although after we developed the idea together, about strange events disturbing the Gepethian Balance, we decided that I, again, would tackle the first draft, since that was what happened by accident the first time around. But this time, the whole process was so easy!
PERRY: Yes. We were a lot more confident about the characters and about our own writing about those characters, and it took a lot less time. Not, as you say, that we didn't follow more or less the same procedures.
CAROL: Yes, because I tend to underwrite a little, and you overwrite a lot
PERRY: No, no, you underwrite a lot and I tend to overwrite a little.
CAROL: Whatever. But Of Two Minds is a lot longer than my own books because of all the stuff you added. And the first draft of More Minds was only ninety pages when I gave it to you, and it came back to me at 300. I cut it back by half, you took it back and added again, I took it back and cut again—but it works. You develop scenes that I leave thin, and I try to keep the story moving, cutting out repetitions, etc. I think we balance each other very well.
PERRY: Did you say balance?
CAROL: Yes, I did. And that's a good way to end because it's all about the Balance, isn't it?