Better Together: Anna Leahy and Douglas R. Dechow on Co-Authoring & Space

By Evan Roberts

“Hers, mine, and ours,” says Douglas R. Dechow, co-author of Stillhouse Press’ Generation Space, a memoir that follows the beginning and end of NASA’s space shuttle program. These are three distinct writing methods that exist between Dechow and his co-author and poet, Anna Leahy. Both together and apart, the couple has a long and prolific history of space exploration coverage and authorship, including Leahy’s book Constituents of Matter (Kent State University Press, 2007) and Dechow’s SQUEAK: A Quick Trip to Objectland (Addison-Wesley Professional, 2001).

“Anna writes to learn and her writing process is overtly one of discovery,” Dechow says. “I could contrast that with my own process, which is more an attempt to codify something that I already know or believe, to see what I know or to test what I believe.” But together they are greater than the sum of their parts, explains Dechow. In the process of their joint authorship, a “deep intermingling” of their writing methods occurs and produces new, collaborative writing intentions.

But apart, the writers are just as different as their methods. Generation Space alternates between their disparate perspectives: Leahy has the mind and experience of a poet, and Dechow of a scientist. But Leahy claims their perspectives are not irrevocably different. “Our differences emphasize each other’s strengths, which may be why we were attracted to each other in the first place. As a scientist, Doug keeps a lot of detail organized in his head. For instance, he recognizes technological objects—aircraft, rockets—at a glance and often can rattle off the historical or engineering contexts of artifacts. Over the years, I’ve let myself off the hook a bit for doing that sort of work, knowing that I could count on Doug.”

Much like their shared passion for space exploration, their passion for writing provides a firm foundation for the couple’s personal lives. “We disagree regularly and sometimes irritate each other, but we rarely argue—writing together has strengthened our ability to disagree and keep moving forward. Being able to revise a sentence together—to treat something external to ourselves as the most important task—probably helps us keep the rest of our relationship in perspective," Dechow says.

There’s a certain proof of compatibility that can be found in the co-authoring process, he explains. “We have grown to know each other’s voices so well that there are undoubtedly sentences that I suggested to Anna that wound up in her chapters and vice versa. Of course, every so often, I would catch a sentence and say, ‘I can’t believe you wrote that. But, it’s your chapter, so you can say it the way you want.”’

“Our first conversations, when we were getting to know each other, were about writing,” says Leahy, who admits that the writing process can sometimes be strenuous on a relationship. “If we had tried writing together early on in our relationship... I think we would have botched both the writing and the relationship. For us, the relationship had become strong before we became co-authors.”

Regarding future space exploration, particularly commercial space’s part in that future, Leahy says their interest has always been predominantly with the government-funded NASA. "In a competition between NASA and capitalist ventures, our hearts were with NASA, its rich history, and the importance of its programs to science. In Generation Space, we talk about our initial resentment of commercial space and a conversation with Garrett Reisman, a former Shuttle astronaut who now directs crew operations for SpaceX."

But commercial ventures certainly have their place, Leahy says. "As we looked more deeply into commercial space, we understood its potential to pick up the technology that NASA had developed and run with it — NASA had taken the risks, and NASA’s work belongs to all of us. Commercial space is set to complement NASA’s ongoing efforts.”

From the dawn of human civilization, we have always had our eyes set on the constellations. The cause of our enduring fascination with the stars, according to Leahy, “Humans are a curious bunch, in both senses of the word curious. We want to know the unknown. We want to understand what’s out there. When we explore what surrounds us—the universe—we push our thinking to its limits... In Generation Space, we grapple with what that really means—with what it means to be here because there exists an out there of space.”

Anna Leahy and Douglas R. Dechow work and teach at Chapman University in Orange, California. Anna's first book, Constituents of Matter (Kent State University Press, 2007) won the Wick Poetry Prize. They have written the Lofty Ambitions blog together since 2010.  Anna is the author of the chapbook, Sharp Miracles (Blue Lyra Press, 2016), and her nonfiction book Tumor is forthcoming from Bloomsbury in 2017.  Doug is the co-author of SQEAK: A Quick Trip to Objectland (Addison-Wesley Professional, 2001) and Intertwingled: The Work and Influence of Ted Nelson (Springer, 2015).

Evan Roberts is the former editor of Moonshine Murmurs and has worked as an editorial assistant, reader, and media contributor for Stillhouse Press. He graduated from George Mason in the fall of 2016 with his Bachelors of Art in English.