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FYI Features: UTSA staff member and brother collaborate on sci-fi collection

By Rebecca Luther
Editor, Sombrilla Magazine

(Aug. 23, 2006)--When they were boys, Lawrence and John Buentello's mother used to take them to the public library, where her children would pick out armloads of books and check out as many as library policy allowed. Their tastes in reading were diverse; whatever they could get their hands on was what they were interested in.

"We'd read everything from Kipling to Shakespeare to Isaac Asimov," John said, his brother Lawrence adding with a laugh, "Fortunately, at the time we didn't have any idea there was an academic dividing line between types of literature."

Their diverse interests as readers have carried over to having diverse interests as writers. In 2004, Lawrence, who works as a library assistant in the reference department at UTSA's John Peace Library, and John, a Ph.D. student in English at UTSA, together published a collection of science fiction, fantasy and horror stories, "Binary Tales." Now they have co-written a sci-fi novel, "Reproduction Rights," that they are currently marketing to publishers.

The Buentello brothers, who both earned undergraduate English degrees from the University of the Incarnate Word, began collaborating on genre fiction stories when John was 12 and Lawrence only 10. By the time they were teenagers they were regularly submitting their stories to publishers.

Though they've honed their writing skills over the years, they say their collaboration process has remained pretty much the same; one of them comes up with an idea, together they brainstorm a plot, and then they take turns writing until the manuscript is finished. When they were kids, they tooks turns at the family's typewriter; these days they pass manuscripts back and forth through e-mail.

After writing together for 25 years, they say, they've learned to set their own egos as writers aside and to trust each other's opinions.

"We've come to the point where we handle collaborations very professionally, I think," Lawrence said. "We both understand that our aim in the end is to produce the best work possible."

"It just means we use bigger words when we fight," John adds, with a laugh.

They both have their own writing projects. John, who also is a third-grade teacher at Jackson-Keller Elementary, enjoys writing children's stories and has written a number of biographies for a children's biographical encyclopedia.

Lawrence published his own short story collection, "Ghosts of the American Dream" in 2003 and has finished writing a mainstream literary novel, "South of the Moon." But, they say, they still have as much fun collaborating on stories as they did when they were kids.

"My brother has his own voice [as a writer], I have my own voice," Lawrence said. "But the stories we collaborate on have a unique voice of their own. It's almost like having a third writer."

John adds that having a writing partner is a certain remedy for writer's block. "You always, as writers, reach a point in the story where you say, 'What next?' When you're writing with someone, they'll answer that question for you."

Though they are continuing with their own writing projects -- and juggling those with work and family obligations -- Lawrence and John's priority now is to get "Reproduction Rights" published.

Of the novel, John said, "It looks at issues of cloning, personal identity, the ability to choose your own destiny -- and it turns it all into this politically-intrigued, backstabbing, nailbiting, rollercoaster ride that takes you all the way from the Supreme Court to island jungles to stormy deserts to the heart of New York City."

Though both Lawrence's and their collaborative short story collections were published through print-on-demand publisher iUniverse, they are marketing the novel to traditional publishing houses in hopes of reaching a wider audience. They hope that their writing can inspire young readers the way they were when they went to the public library.

"When I was a kid, one of my most favorite things was to open up a book and read something that changed the world for me." John said. "To be able to say maybe that's what I'm doing for another reader, that's a pretty good life."

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Editor's note: "Binary Tales" and "Ghosts of the American Dream" are available at the UTSA Library.

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