Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Two Authors, One Book

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This week’s release party for Diamond in the Rough is a bit different from any other we’ve hosted here on Inwkell. We’ve never had a double-Inky book before. One book. Two Inkwell authors working in tandem. Writing partnerships remind me of two people playing the same piano together. How do they keep from bumping into each other and messing up the other person’s rhythm?

Writing can be a lonely business when the writer is one-on-one with a computer for hours on end, so sharing the workload—especially with a friend—sounds fun and interesting. However, authors are often control freaks. One of the advantages of creating our own “worlds” is that we have absolute power. We can make our characters do anything. (Just try getting that kind of obedience from your children!) Sharing the work means having to share control.

We thought it would be interesting if Jennifer AlLee and Lisa Karon Richardson would tell us a bit about their co-writing partnership. Welcome to the hot seat, er, interview, Jen and Lisa!

Let’s start with a little background. Can you share how long you’ve been writing and how many books you’d published before Diamond in the Rough? Was this the first book you co-wrote as part of a team? (Unpublished manuscripts hidden under the bed still count since you’d have had to learn how to work with another person.) How did this partnership come about?

Jen: I’ve co-written plays before, but never a novel. Lisa and I have been crit partners since we met at our first ACFW conference in 2007. Usually, I write contemporary, but I had an idea for a historical novel. Naturally, I turned to Lisa for help, because she’s a historical fount of wisdom. I was asking so many questions, I finally thought, “Hey, we need to write this together.” So I asked her if she was interested, and thank heaven, she was. The rest is literary history.

Lisa: Where to start? I had a novella and a novel published before Diamond in the Rough came out. (Several other manuscripts are waiting for their turn in the sun!) Diamond in the Rough is our first effort at partnership. And that all came about because Jen is a genius.

She had a brilliant idea for what would have been her first historical, but the idea of the research she’d have to do to pull it off was… daunting. Meanwhile, I was thinking, “Man that is such a good premise. Wish, I’d thought of it!” When she finally got the telepathic signals I was sending her, she e-mailed me to see whether I’d be interested in co-writing it. I jumped at the opportunity (If she’d been anywhere near, she would have practically been tackled!)

Oh, dear. Perhaps it's not totally a bad thing (for Jen's health) this was primarily a long-distance relationship. But that must have added to the challenge. So tell us a bit about how two authors created a story together. How did you come up with the ideas for the plot and characters? How did you synthesize each person’s ideas into a coherent whole that left both of you satisfied with the story? Did you have any good ideas that had to be left “on the cutting room floor”?

1870 Currier and Ives of California miners
Jen: It started off with the setting. Eureka, California was a boom town and lent itself to all kinds of interesting possibilities. In the very first rough synopsis of the story, Grant was pretty much the same. But Lily was a shopkeeper’s daughter and Carter didn’t even exist. Lisa & I batted around lots of different ideas about how to develop the story and what would work the best considering the history of the period.  This resulted in lots of cool characters who really wouldn’t fit this particular story. Chinese immigrants, miners, soiled doves… they really all deserve books of their own.

Lisa: Jen selected the setting initially because it had a cool name—Eureka, California. With that starting point and the seed idea of a man trying to flee his past by assuming the identity of a dead preacher, we had a good starting point. Next thing to consider was what elements would make the seed idea work and that gave us the time frame. Then we did a lot of research on the area in that time period and from that brainstormed our plot. There was a lot of back and forth, e-mails: what about this? Nah, but we could…

In the end I think we were both happy. We had put together a 3 page summary for the proposal to Whitaker House. And that left lots of wiggle room for maneuvering the story in new directions and we (by that I mean Jen) came up with twists that surprised the other.

And we definitely have a lot of good stuff that could be used for another story of adventure and passion—for example, about 30 years after our story is set Eureka had the largest Chinatown in California aside from San Francisco. There were some incidents and essentially a pogrom was undertaken against the Chinese. But a few righteous individuals stood up to the attackers and saved many lives. There has got to be a good story in there. 

Yes, it definitely sounds like Eureka has a lot more characters that need books of their own! Speaking of books, can you tell us a bit about the actual writing of this one? How did you divide the work?

Jen: We start out by batting around ideas. Then we write a moderately detailed synopsis so we know where we’re headed. Then we dive into the book. Lisa starts us off with the first chapter, firmly establishing the time period and setting. When she’s done, it comes to me. I read her chapter, edit if necessary, then write mine. I send it to her. She reads my notes on her chapter, reads my chapter, edits if necessary, then writes her next chapter. And so on and so forth. Sometimes, one of us will be on a roll and will write two chapters in a row. I think this method of ongoing writing and editing results in a well-blended, cohesive manuscript. There are times when I can’t even tell now which one of us wrote what.

Lisa: Since we were starting from whole cloth and had no idea how precisely to approach the project we thought of several different ways of approaching the work. One of the first was that we could each write the scenes from a specific character’s perspective. But we ended up discarding that idea pretty quickly, because it just was wasn’t very practical. In the end, we took turns. I wrote chapter one, sent it to Jen for critique, comment, and tweaking. Which she did, then wrote chapter 2 and sent it back to me to repeat the process. 

Based on Diamond in the Rough’s setting, I’m guessing this book involved historical research. How did you divide that task? Did one person take the lead? Did each person just research the parts she needed? One of the difficulties with research is that sources can be contradictory. Did you run into issues where one person’s research contradicted the other’s? If so, how did you resolve them?

Jen: I defer to Lisa on all points historical (which sounds a bit like Gilbert & Sullivan). And I confess, sometimes I’m lazy and instead of looking it up myself, I ask Lisa, “Could this have happened?”

I don’t recall any instances when our sources contradicted. But personally, there were times when I wanted something to happen, and then I found out it couldn’t have at that time.  Because my usual approach to writing is so organic (i.e. I plot out as little as possible ahead of time) historical fiction stretches me in a whole new direction!

Lisa: For Diamond in the Rough, I did more of the initial research, but as you know with historicals there are tons of niggling little questions that pop up during the writing and we mostly handled those on our own. I don’t think we ran into any contradictory research in this one, so we lucked out. If we had, I’m sure the response would have been pistols at dawn. 

Other than the potential for violence (or is that historical research?) how would you compare writing solo vs. a writing partnership? What things do you find easier/faster for each? What did you find more difficult than you expected? Any tips you could share for writers considering a partnership?

Jen: In general, the writing life is solitary. You write and write, and sometimes you wonder if what you’re writing makes sense to anyone but you. When you collaborate with a partner, you have almost instant feedback. If your words don’t make sense, your partner will let you know. Also, being accountable to someone else means you can’t put off writing until the last minute. That’s particularly good for me, because I can procrastinate like you wouldn’t believe.

Honestly, I wouldn’t call any part of the process difficult. But it does get challenging when we have different ideas where the plot should go, and one of us springs it on the other. That doesn’t happen often (and I’ll admit, when it does, it’s usually me doing it) but it makes for a lot of emails flying back and forth. LOL

If anybody out there is thinking about writing with a partner, I would recommend talking about the process first. Are your goals the same? Can you give and receive criticism objectively? How will you divvy up the work? The more questions you deal with ahead of time, the smoother the writing road will be.

Lisa: It’s kind of difficult to compare the one to the other. One of the great benefits of the partnership and the way we traded off the work was that there was constant accountability for getting the writing done. We couldn’t procrastinate (well not much) and that was a good thing. And there’s definitely something comforting about knowing that Jen’s working on it , while I take time to focus on another project.

One of the challenges was letting go of the story when the chapter was done and I felt like I was in a good groove. Probably the biggest challenge was getting back a chapter that contained a twist and having to readjust the brain to the “new” story, then wondering what to do next. But that was fun and when we do that to the other we started tacking on a little note about how we thought it worked.

Truly the biggest thing if you’re considering a partnership is that you really have to trust the other person’s sense of storytelling and their work ethic. 

Trusting another person sure can be difficult! Let’s get a little personal with this next question. Can you share one area (or more, if you wish) of the creative/writing process where your partner’s strength complemented a weakness of yours? How did this make the book better as a whole?

Jen: Besides her skill in keeping us historically accurate, Lisa is great at upping the adventure quotient of our stories and keeping the pace moving. She knows how to make life difficult for our characters!

Lisa: Well I can think of a lot of them, but I will restrain myself to one. Jen is way better at developing the romance/relationship between the hero and heroine. The poor thing was forever adding small gestures, or longing thoughts to my more goal oriented prose. I’d be like, and then there’s an explosion, and she’s like, but the hero hugs her and tells her it’s ok at the end right? 

Overall, I think the combination made the book more well-rounded. There is plenty of adventure but also a more satisfying arc to the relationships. 

Many Inkwell readers aren’t writers. Are there any lessons you learned from the experience of working with another person that you can use outside the realm of writing—for instance, in your relationships with family members?

Jen: Communication! The older I get, the more I realize how important clear, honest communication is. If Lisa or I didn’t like the direction the story was going, we’d talk about it. It’s no different in any other relationship. So many times, we allow ourselves to be hurt over someone’s words or actions, but instead of going to them and discussing it, we hold it in. That just makes it worse. Imagine what the world would be like if we always took the time to talk through our problems. (I’ll be breaking out in song, soon.)

Lisa: Partnership of any sort requires give and take. And of course, there is a need to consider the other person’s perspective. Remember that you have a common goal. And then trust that the other person has good intentions, they want to achieve that goal too! Then if the partnership is strong you can rely on their strengths when you’re weak. 

 Thank you, ladies, for sharing with us. Let's run that blurb one more time, shall we?

Grant Diamond is a professional gambler on the run from his past. When he comes across a wagon wreck, the chance to escape his pursuers is too good a gamble to pass up, and he assumes the identity of the dead wagon driver. His plan takes an unexpected turn when local heiress Lily Rose mistakes him for the missionary she had asked to come work with the Wiyot Indians. Seeing Eureka as a promising place to lay low, Grant plays along. Before he knows it, he's bluffing his way through sermons and building an Indian school. But with a Pinkerton on his trail and a rancher rousing fresh hatred against the Indians, Grant fears the new life he's built may soon crumple like a house of cards.

Have you tried a partnership for an activity that you normally do alone? How did it go? What lessons did you learn? Do you have any questions for our intrepid co-writers?

FREE BOOK REMINDER! To enter the drawing for a free (that's $0!) book, leave a comment with your email address (in the format: name at provider dot extension so you aren't the recipient of unwelcome spam) in the comments section. Purchase not required. Offered not valid where prohibited by law.


  1. Well done, Lisa and Jen. CJ asked some really good questions, questions I'd wondered about. It's a fascinating process and I enjoyed learning how you two took this on. I honestly don't know if I could collaborate like this. I'm very impressed.

  2. Thanks for popping in Suzie. I'll be honest, I don't think I would be able to collaborate successfully with just anyone. Jen is very gracious and like I said, I trust her sense of storytelling.

  3. Thanks, Suzie. Glad I could channel some of your questions. I'm just waiting for the day when my name is so famous I can assign my co-worker to do 90% of the work for the privilege of appearing on the same cover as I. Um, okay, no one ever wants to be my co-writer now, huh???

    Lisa, congratulations on the new book! I think I could only write with someone who had a similar voice (or wanted the book to sound like me -- she says modestly). Otherwise, I'd probably find the stylistic differences too weird.

  4. I loved this interview and learning MORE about this process and how it worked for two amazing writers. I'd love to try to co-author some day. Can a pantster work within a plotter's outline? Can I give up control when, as Lisa says, I'm in the groove. You two have proven it can work and succeed and be a smash!

  5. wow. what great insight into tandem writing. i think your having been crit partners first helped develop that trust for working together. so cool to see how you each were able to allow your unique strengths create a more well rounded story.

    so want to read this book... putting it on wish list @ Amazon should i not be so lucky to "win".

  6. Deb, it can work. I know Jen is more of a pantster. I'm not a huge outliner, but I do need a roadmap so I can sort of see where I'm headed. Since publishers require a synopsis anyway we were able to put together a three page synopsis for each story which provided enough freedom for Jen and enough structure for me.

    We didn't fill out any extensive character worksheets. The thought made us both shiver. But we did talk about the characters at length and did a short document so that we could keep track of the main details. I think one of the most helpful things we did in terms of keeping us on the same page was to "cast" the novel. We picked out celebs who fit our characters and that helped us to keep things unified. For example, Lily's mom is played by Andie McDowell in the story. We could picture her movements, expressions, etc as we wrote her character.

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  8. I've always wondered about co-writing and how that would work. Very interesting! Thanks, C.J., for putting together excellent interview questions!

  9. Sounds like a case of two brains are better than one! I'm really enjoying it so far and can't wait to continue.

  10. I am late to this week's party but glad I can still join in! To catch up, thank you for the background on the book, the area and the process of writing. It was all very interesting The book sounds great! I think I was through Eureka, CA on a holiday a few years ago. Please enter my name in the draw. Thank you!
    elaineking1 at hotmail dot com

  11. Hi Elaine! Thanks for stopping in! You're entered in the drawing! What, if anything, do you remember about Eureka? It's gone through some tough times in the past couple of decades.

  12. Deb Marvin -- Isn't it interesting? And great question about the seat-of-the-pants vs those who have to plot out the book before writing.

    DebH -- I think you hit on something important. Lisa and Jen had a pretty close relationship before they tried co-writing, so they knew something about each other's writing styles before trying it.

  13. Niki -- glad you found the interview interesting and useful.

    Dina, there are days I could REALLY use an extra brain!

    Elaine, glad you could make it after all!

  14. I had to double-check but all I really remember about Eureka is that my friends and I made it a priority to stop at Samoa's Cookhouse for a meal so we could eat in this logger's cookhouse. What fun and great food! And some history at the same time!

  15. Elaine, that sounds really neat. I'd love to eat at such a place. Jen and I really do need to visit!

  16. CJ, Jen and Lisa, this is a great interview!

    I enjoy learning about other writing processes, but especially when it's from people I admire.


  17. CJ, Jen and Lisa, this is a great interview!

    I enjoy learning about other writing processes, but especially when it's from people I admire.


  18. This book sounds great! Last year I was involved in a co-authoring project with three other writers. We had a blast putting our novel together and it is selling well. All the best with Diamond in the Rough. :)

  19. Hello, All! Sorry I'm late to the party.

    Like Lisa said, I couldn't co-write with just anybody. We've been friends long enough, and know each other well enough, that the idea of writing together felt natural. That makes a huge difference.

  20. Deb, I'm a pantser for sure, and Lisa is more of a plotter, so YES, the two styles can work together quite well. Although, in Vanishing Act (book two, out in September) when I wrote a twist that we hadn't discussed and kind of took the story in a new direction, I was a little worried. But Lisa went with it. If I threw her at all, she never let me know it!

  21. Elaine, thanks for the tip about Samoa's Cookhouse. One more reason to head out to Eureka!

  22. Hey Amanda, how cool! Did four of you write one novel, or each one of you wrote one novel in a series?

  23. CJ, whenever I see something co-written by a famous person, I always wonder just how much that person wrote :)

    thanks a bunch for doing the interview, CJ! It was fun.

  24. Thanks, Anita!

    Amanda, I can't imagine trying to co-write with 4 people. I suspect most writers got that "unsatisfactory" mark in kindergarten on the "plays well with others" line -- which is why we became writers.

    Jen, yes it was fun -- and informative. Thanks for being a good sport about all my (many, many) questions.

  25. C.J., great interview!

    Co-writing sounds fun, but I think it would take a special relationship of trust and good timing to make it work. Jen and Lisa definitely make a great writing team!

  26. Oh, and here's another fun fact about Lisa and I... we share the same birthday! Different years, of course, (I'm the old lady) but we were both born on June 20th. Cool, huh?

  27. I've always been fascinated by people living in other periods of history, and this sounds like such a great scenario. I must admit I have always had a soft spot for Pinkertons...
    Please enter me in the drawing.


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