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We survived the wild ride

Editor Andrew Wetmore writes:

In early 2022, I was casting about for a project that would help Moose House authors, isolated under the necessary restrictions related to the COVID-19 epidemic, feel more connected. I wanted something that would engage a group of writers in writing, which, d'oh, is what we do. We already had a short-story anthology in the works, but I was looking for something with a different sizzle.

This problem was rattling around in my mind while I should have been paying attention to the conversation in an online meeting at my other job with the Apache Software Foundation. We were discussing a problem that turned out to be less serious than we had first thought.

And the idea for this book appeared in my head. I therefore consider Greg Stein, the head of the Foundation's Infrastructure team, as its literary godparent.

Now I had the title, at least. I wrote to the forty writers whom Moose House had published to that point, to invite them to join me in writing a 'progressive novel' (like a progressive supper):

  • The first writer would create chapter 1 and then pass it to the second writer.

  • The second writer would write chapter 2 and send chapters 1 and 2 to the third writer.

  • ...and so on until we reached the end of the book.

  • There would be no story outline prepared in advance. Each writer would use the 'yes, and' principle of improvisation theatre, accepting everything already written and trying to build on that. We would let the story tell us where it wanted to go.

Crazy idea, but not without precedent. In the 1930s in England, a group of prominent mystery writers used the same plan to create several novels, including The Floating Admiral. In the 1960s in the United States, a team of journalists co-wrote the spoof erotic novel, Naked Came the Stranger, that was a best-seller and the basis for a movie.

Twenty of our writers indicated they would like to take part in this adventure. I set a very few additional guidelines (the story takes place during the COVID lockdown in 2020, each chapter should be about 3,000 words, each writer would have one week to write their chapter, and so on), and then I wrote the first chapter.

We created a 'story bible' to track details ranging from characters' hair colour to who was related to whom, and highlighting what interesting threads were dangling in the text that the next writer might want to use. I updated the story bible as each new chapter came in.

I started writing chapter 1 on January 31, 2022. MJ Foulks turned in the final chapter on July 17. A couple of authors had to leave the project due to other commitments, so MJ, Rhoda Hill, and I ended up writing two chapters each.

I believe that for most of us the experience was a combination of a fun parlour game and a terrifying, blindfolded ride on a toboggan down a forested hill. We hope you, gentle reader, find it more of the former and less of the latter.

We rooted for our favourite characters, experienced shock or delight when they turned out to be not as we had thought, and grieved when some of them became terminally unavailable. There is even talk of spin-off stories about the earlier adventures of Gin Buttons and some of the other characters.

When I wrote chapter 1, I had a certain type of adventure in mind. Almost nothing of what I had thought would happen came to pass. All in all, though, I think the book you hold in your hands is better, wilder, and more fun than the one I would have come up with, writing all by myself.

I also cannot think of a smarter, braver, more engaged crew of co-authors than the 'innocents', as we came to call ourselves.

An androgynous person, with a surgical mask, looking startled at the viewer
the cover of Less Than Innocent


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