Friday, April 26, 2013

How to Co-Write a Mystery Novel

As interest in our recently-published second book has grown, I’ve been questioned about how my co-author, Dimity Hammon, and I have been able to write these mysteries as a team.  I have heard stories about the difficulties--broken friendships, mounting tension, vying for control, giving up, legal action, and worse.  It hasn’t seemed all that difficult for Dimity and me, though one of the first “how-to” books I picked up on writing said, “If you’re considering co-authoring a book, don’t!”  Too late for us as we had already committed to making it work. 

My advice to those “thinking” about collaborating with someone else on a book is to be clear about why you want to write it with someone else.  Make sure your motives are reasonable.  And those motives might be:  the other person has some expertise in an area that you do not; the other person has experience writing that you do not; or best of all, you love the concept of being creative with another person.  If you’re satisfied that you’re doing it for the right reasons, get the practical details settled up front.  Those details include at least the following topics:

1.    What is the basic story line and how do you create it? 

We created our story threads together, using an initial idea from one of us and building on that.  It’s a stimulating and productive process when co-authors can feed on each other’s ideas.  It can be exciting and fun, but it only works if both parties are open to the rejection of their ideas.  While the creative process is all wrapped up in ego, it’s not possible to write together if your ego gets in the way. 

2.    How will you communicate? 
My writing space

For Dimity and me, we began by exchanging e-mails—many e-mails.  Over a short time, we began to use Skype—primarily without video so we could have a document on the screen while talking about it.  Since starting the first book, we have been together face to face a few times.  It would have been preferable to spend more time together than we did.  It worked for us, but it won’t work for everyone.

3.    How often will you communicate? 

This will vary according to how much time you both spend writing.  For us, there were times of great intensity when we would talk every day or every other day.  Dimity works part-time from her home, so our connections worked around that.  Now we both work part-time, which makes it a little more difficult.  But your own situation will dictate the frequency with which you can be in touch.  And we were respectful of one another’s obligations with family, work, travel.  While we both wanted the books to proceed expeditiously, we had to be flexible about the “down time.” 

4.    Who will be the “keeper” of the documents? 

We housed the drafts and finals on my computer, but we sent them back and forth via e-mail, which gave us comfort that nothing would be irretrievably lost if my computer crashed.  I don’t believe it would have mattered where the document had been kept.  I just happen to be a little more controlling than my co-author so I kept them. 

5.    Who will submit the work for publishing?

We published through Amazon and CreateSpace (Amazon’s paper publishing arm).  I submitted and edited the work that had been submitted, when necessary.  For both books, the preparation for final submission was tricky and took many hours of collaboration of both of us on Skype. 

6.    Who will receive the royalties (and may incur the tax liability depending on what kind of agreement you have) and how will the profits be divided? 

This, of course, is a basic decision that should be made up front.  Do you form a partnership or enter into a joint venture agreement?  There are resources available on line, and, of course, I would never dissuade anyone from consulting an attorney.  Regardless, you have to make decisions about this key issue, including what happens in the event of your death. 

7.    Who will edit?

We both both edited separately using “track changes” in Microsoft Word, then combined our edits, agreeing on each one as it was accepted or rejected or changed (while talking on Skype).  Except for few instances, we agreed on each other’s suggestions.  There were occasional stubborn disagreements over a word or a phrase, but we worked it out without rancor and in the end were both satisfied.  Regardless what each of us has written, we have to be totally honest about what works and what doesn’t.  And each of us has to be willing—really willing—to be steered away from one idea and accepting of another.  The co-authoring experience does not thrive on obstinacy and inflexibility.   

Dimity and I write differently, but we both have strengths and we take full advantage of those.  The stories have a way of growing and changing until they’re where we want them to be.  That wouldn’t have happened the same way without the charge of energy that we give each other when coming up with new ideas, allowing ourselves to wind through a story concept until we get to the right place, rejecting and accepting each other's ideas as we go.  The process worked for us and we continue to write together.  Our writing has improved over the two books, and will continue to get better with practice.  It has certainly worked for us. 

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Driven to Overload

On my desk is an open book with my glasses in the open spine, my Kindle to which I just downloaded and began reading a new book, my France Eyewitness guide, a map of the south of France—both being used in the writing of my solo book, my garden journal, my notebook with heretofore unrealized marketing ideas, a folder from my paid part-time employment with a piece of work for one person and an article with which I will prepare something for another, my laptop, and my breakfast. 

I’m waiting for a call from my co-author with whom I’m working on a third book; and in an hour and a half I will pick up my father to spend the day with me.  Once he’s here, all the rest of this goes by the wayside except perhaps the open book.  That’s an English translation of a French book I’m reading with my friends, and since it’s a loan from a library in another state, I’m pressed to finish it before I have to send it back.  I will sit with my father for a little while now and again through the day to chat or just be together in between the lunch and dinner “performances” in the kitchen and at the table.  I expect six at the table for dinner.

I think this is overload.  It’s what I’ve always done.  Do I think it’s the right way to live?  Who cares?   It’s my way.  And it has afforded me a life full of love and laughter, adventure and challenges, risks and triumphs, failures and wisdom, friendships and good food. 

There’s a certain denial that comes with a life like mine.  Denial about our vulnerability, about my need for activity and my doggedness about cramming it all in.  I refuse to relinquish any thought to slowing down.   And the rest be damned!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Milo on Speed

One in the mouth, one on the run.
This is what it looks like when all you care about is a colorful plastic disc that flies through the air at the hand of the man who feeds you.  Milo is maniacal for his Frisbees.  In fact, in order to avoid any escape from us while on the road, we keep a few Frisbees in the trunk of the car.  He'll fall for that Frisbee chase in lieu of food, cats, other dogs, squirrels, fast-moving cars.  Anything. . .  We have successfully lured him away from danger on several occasions.

Bring on the next one!
Our back yard is large enough to really let the Frisbee fly, and Milo takes full advantage of it.  As small as he is, he sounds like a trotting horse across the ground.  Thump, thumpety, thump.  It’s louder than you think such a small animal could make.  And while he's running after the Frisbee on the fly, he won't give up on the one he has in his mouth.  Nothing gets him going like a flying plastic disc--or the promise of a flying plastic disc.

Some dogs are motivated by treats that emerge from crinkly plastic bags.  All Milo wants in life is a little love from his owners and that round plastic thing.  Thank goodness for such enticement in his otherwise not-so-thrilling days.  

Milo lives for Frisbees.