I began pondering how to describe what it’s like writing with my brother with the metaphor of a river flowing into a sea in mind. It provokes the notion of something vast and abstract, like cognition, that is then contextualized as a specific memory. I next found myself staring at my morning coffee, wondering just how grandiose our ideas tend to be. A French press stood not far behind with more “liquid gold.” The aha moment during my routine will be found herein. This sort of pivoting is a hallmark of our creative endeavors.
Anyone with a sibling can imagine how uncompromising writing with one could become. And yet one could also likely imagine how rich the experience could be because of an inextricable common bond. Ehsan and I are not “classically” trained writers, and that was a major challenge for us as first-time authors. Writing in the service of story can take on a life of its own. Going into writing the Wild Sun series with procedural naiveties—unencumbered by knowledge about the “right” way to craft a story—was arguably the greatest benefit to our collaboration. We gave each other the confidence to create whatever was boiling to the surface. There were no expectations.
Well, that is not totally true. We expected to find our taste translated onto the page. That is something that we have found to be immensely satisfying. Taste is subjective—for the most part. “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” At the same time, it becomes objective within context.
We overcame initial collaborative hurdles with a tremendous amount of preproduction planning... and bourbon... and edibles. The one thing I can say about Ehsan and me is that we are dreamers. Not necessarily fantastical or ideological—more so in regard to the depth of a singular idea. Imagine worldbuilding as breadth and narrative as depth. We relish being 15,000 feet up in the air. High, if you will. This is where the abstract and tectonic elements of a story often dwell. The “river flowing into a sea” stuff. Spending so much time in the clouds growing up together allowed us to envision how the coffee would (should) taste when back on the ground.
This process has also been a look into how meandering thoughts eventually find a way back home. And how I need to explain writing with Ehsan through a French press metaphor.
It begins with a trip to the café for coffee beans. They are whole and require a good deal of grinding before they reach their grittier final form. Emphasis on grinding. This would essentially be our preproduction stage. (Ehsan and I began cutting our teeth on writing with a screenplay concept we had been tinkering with. Wild Sun is actually a fully realized backstory to one of the characters from this movie idea.) I personally have a proclivity to visualize story, and fortunately, while Ehsan also does so, he is more into studying plot and structure. We would take our burgeoning formal understanding of writing and apply it to works we love, film or novels. It is how we began to formulate our concept of taste and what we could actually do with what was in our heads.
Once we take the grounds and add them to a French press, it requires boiling water as the vehicle for creating the coffee. Consider this element of heat as one of the more challenging parts of us writing in tandem. It is often grueling at first. We would both take shots at opening the novel, and once combined it would feel dense, slow. We were too mechanical in the initial goings, and pacing suffered. This caused a good deal of frustration for us, because our taste was completely unmoored from what was landing on the page.
We discovered that after heading back into the clouds the writing portion of the journey could be as free-flowing as an ideation discussion over drinks on the Lower East Side. We could wield “no expectations” as a powerful weapon against creative insecurities. Now, if you were to play back the tape on our writing sessions, I am certain that it would be way less interesting or insightful than anything I’ve attempted to relay here. This speaks to the power of crafting a through line to anything. It begins in a river of thoughts that pours itself out into a rich cup of coffee to imbibe and uplift your day.
Shakil Ahmad and Ehsan Ahmad grew up in New York City as the first-generation American children of immigrants from Pakistan. They are the authors of the 'Wild Sun' series, including 'Wild Sun: Unbound.'