We’ve all seen the memes and jokes on social media. Being an author is great except for…editing, re-writes, plot holes, characters who misbehave, marketing, dealing with writer’s block, and the list goes on and on. We laugh, maybe a little self-consciously, because deep down we know there is a little grain of truth in the humor. Being an author can often be (and is usually portrayed – at least in movies, television, etc.) a solitary profession. The popular image we are given is of the lone author sitting in front of (insert notebook, typewriter, computer here) and pouring out their soul into the written word. And for many authors this is true. But there is a small group who write collaboratively as co-authors. I know of several co-authors off the top of my head (A.E. Lowan, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, Kathleen and W. Michael Gear, Angella Cormier and Pierre C Arseneault). On Twitter I recently asked for people to name co-authors and people there were able to identify many others.
Being an author can be a hard, lonely struggle, but being a co-author is actually great, at least in our opinions. Coy and I enjoy being co-authors, even though we have a long-distance relationship. (He’s in Kansas City. I’m in Albuquerque.) As co-authors, we have a built-in support network, and we can keep each other motivated and can avoid some of the more common obstructions to writing – like writer’s block, plot holes, editing, and characters who don’t want to listen to us.
So, what is our process? How do we get from idea to a finished book? We have known each other, and been friends, since high school, and this really helps in our writing. We started out doing game design together, developing role-playing games, and card and board games. This allowed us to develop our skills while working together and made it so that when we started writing fiction, we knew what our strengths and weaknesses were. I tend to be the more creative one and I do the bulk of the initial draft for each story, while Coy is the one that keeps me on track and the continuity flowing. I’m not an editor (I’ve never met a comma that I either put in the wrong place or didn’t put where it belonged) while proofreading, dialogue, and story and character continuity are Coy’s strengths.
We start with an idea or a concept. The Saul Imbierowicz trilogy started from an idea we had while driving back from Chicago. What vampire tropes hadn’t been done to death? (Pun intended.) What if the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre had been done to take out a group of vampires? From that little nugget we’ve created a whole noir/pulp world of gangsters and vampires. During the idea phase – which we usually do when we are in the same place – we can bounce our ideas and thoughts off each other. We can come up with a cool idea, then reject it for something even cooler. We can block out the basic plot and story structure, identify characters, and get a feel for what the story will be about.
Then I take that little nugget and write the first draft, usually (but not always) alone. If I get stuck or hit a plot hole, I send a text to Coy and he can straighten me out and get me back on track. Once the first draft is finished, I send it to Coy. He does the polishing – fixing the plot holes, bad grammar and spelling, and making sure that the character’s voices remain true to who they are.
Once that is done, we then work together to edit the whole story. We get together via video chat or sometimes (gasp) even in person if we can time things right, and we then hack away, continuing to revise and polish. We often read aloud during this phase to help catch the little errors. Our strengths are very complimentary and when we work together it is like our powers merge and we become super-writers.
And it’s that simple. It may not be how other co-authors work, but it works for us. And so far I think it has worked out quite well.