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Harnessing the Power of Collaboration

Judy Burgarella and Dawn Mill combine their talents to create a multi-panel mural illustrating Vero Beach’s diverse ecosystem.

Judy Burgarella and Dawn Mill combine their talents to create a multi-panel mural illustrating Vero Beach’s diverse ecosystem.

Writing is usually a solitary pursuit. Most writers chain themselves to a desk, a club chair, a kitchen table or the corner of a tearoom like J. K. Rowling, who finished Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone on an old manual typewriter. They perform this act of self-immolation for a variety of reasons. Seeing their name in print is the least of these. No writer I have ever known writes to see his name in print, principally because they already know their name and second, writing is difficult and frustrating work. If you want your name in print, shoplifting is an easier way to do it.

For many, toying with words and their permutations is an obsession. Oscar Wilde called the writer’s life a “long and lovely suicide.” James Joyce said he wrote to “create life out of life.” Virginia Woolf believed that nothing happened until it was described. Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote to keep Herman Melville, who was as obsessed with Hawthorne as he was with Moby Dick, out of his parlor.

Although I write alone, I have been a partner in a few collaborations. The first was with artist Robert Rauschenberg, the Neo-dadist forerunner of pop art who wintered on Captiva Island. It was my only foray into photojournalism. We had been asked by Marquee, a Florida-based magazine, to join forces on a piece about the Florida Everglades. What little we had to say to one another we said on the phone during the kind of terse exchanges you might give to someone calling from Nigeria who needs money to get out of the airport.

In any case, there wasn’t much to talk about. I liked his pictures – beautiful, haunting photographs of a familiar terrain. Rauschenberg liked my prose. The whole thing was put together in a month. As the old man in the hooded parka said in the movie Fargo, “End of story.”

While I was still in Miami, the editor of Tropic Magazine, a weekly section of the Miami Herald, called to ask if I would be one of 13 authors, including Carl Hiaasen, Dave Barry, Elmore Leonard, Paul Levine and my good friend Edna Buchanan, a former crime reporter. The idea was to collaborate on a novel to be titled Naked Came the Manatee – 13 voices, 13 chapters.

Read the entire article in the January 2012 issue