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Collaboration: How NOT to Commit Murder

dreamstime_crow on gravestoneMany moons ago, a younger cousin requested help with his writing.  He’s a marvelous storyteller, enjoys roll-playing games, and, like me, is a Ren Faire denizen, but his writing was what he calls organic—aka weak, wordy, and wandering, in need of industrial-strength honing.  Since he’s more like a brother than a cousin, I agreed.

I had several advantages:  

I am the elder.  Cousin remembers the days he, along with my brothers, was put in my charge.  Old habits die hard.

I have more experience.  At the time, I wrote a quarterly magazine column, handled publicity for several youth related organizations, and had two books under contract—which I, later (with cause), withdrew.

Cousin wanted to learn.  No question about who had final authority.

A word of warning:  No matter how well you think you know someone, be prepared to learn more about both that person and yourself.  Not all of it will be good.  There will be days you won’t like the face across the desk.  Worse, you won’t like the one in the mirror.

One of the first things we did was attend a local RWA® meeting where writing friends, Jim and Nikoo McGoldrick, gave a talk on collaboration.  A husband and wife team who write as May McGoldrick (historical) and Jan Coffey (romantic suspense), they punctuated the discussion with audience roll-play.  The first warning bells tolled, but we moved blithely on, confident family ties would ease our way.

They didn’t.

Knowing Cuz wasn’t keen on Historical Romance, and being a closet Sci-fi geek who once dreamed of being an MD—and studied accordingly—I whistled up an idea that combined our interests.  Next, a comprehensive outline complete with character profiles, the particulars of two disparate worlds, and enough conflict to set those worlds aflame.  Since the Sci-fi romance genre did not yet exist, I considered it a fun exercise to hone Cuz’s wordsmithing skills.

Hah!

SAM_0159First mistake:  The outline. (Photos are of the original chapter by chapter concept.)

I’m a pantser.  Dyed-in-the-wool, can’t-write-any-other-way type.  I wanted to get us thinking along the same lines, not strangle us with them.  Cuz’s writing style and mine went to war.  Finding a way to mesh diametrically opposed processes took a wee while.  

If you are a plotter, run from collaboration with a pantser.  All those nice bullet points you put in your outline will become points of contention.  Baldness will be the least onerous outcome.  And two pantsers?  I’m thinking chaos, but it would be interesting to see the final result—if one didn’t cosh the other.SAM_0160

 

Second mistake:  I wrote the heroine.  Cuz got the hero.  

Never would the twain meet.  Narrative passages had to be worked and reworked ad nauseum.  Oh, and my heroine would not have given Cuz’s hero a second glance—except to insure her aim when she shot him.

The list goes on, but this post is supposed to be about how NOT to commit murder, not the myriad reasons why doing so will cross your mind—repeatedly—so let’s move on.

SAM_0161As I said, being the experienced elder gave me leverage.  You may not have that, but it’s important to recognize strengths and weaknesses and step forward or back accordingly.

Cuz took my ideas and ran with them, coming up with things that would never have occurred to me (Sentient androids?  Really?).  His aerospace industry experience provided a knowledge base alien to me.  His perspective also added a depth I would have missed.

I am a word junkie.  Words delight me with their shades of meaning and inherent strength.  Putting them together just so is crack for my addiction.  Add a creative streak that makes the Atlantic look like spit on the sidewalk, and storytelling comes naturally.  And, since the hero is fashioned after a 12th century Scots warrior, my infatuation with history proved handy.

We began to achieve balance.

That’s not to say we didn’t argue.  We did.  Often.  For hours.  Sometimes Cuz’s writing didn’t accurately convey his ideas.  I’d rework a scene, adding continuity and strengthening prose, only to have him come back with a resounding, “That’s not what I meant.”  Frustrating—for both of us.  He threw ideas at me like a pitching machine run amuck (thank you, Donald Maas).  I couldn’t simply dodge them; I had to explain why I wouldn’t swing.  We’d argue—again.

Then there are the small things, the previously written bits that trip you if you aren’t wary.  I have a mind for such details and often scoured the manuscript to find what precluded Cuz’s latest idea or snippet of heroic dialogue.  It didn’t help that life intervened mid-story.  The manuscript languished, all but forgotten–except at family functions when we’d unfailingly end up discussing it—for nearly a decade.

Thus, we call it The-Story-That-Wouldn’t-Die.

Things we’ve learned:

The strongest glue for any collaboration is respect.  Respect for the other person’s ideas, talents, strengths, and opinions.  Without it, clashes will destroy the partnership before it can mature.

Life happens.  Death, illness, accidents don’t care about commitments.  And when two people are involved, twice as much can go wrong.  Add the give and take necessary to determine the best story solutions, and flexibility is a must.

When words won’t come to explain or an idea won’t gel into something easily shared, patience saves lives.  After a time, you learn to hear past the words.

Sometimes you must be willing to see where the wrong road leads.  When time comes to backtrack, you might find yourself with a treasure taking the right road probably wouldn’t have revealed.  If not, there’s always the childish satifaction of, “I told you so.”

Collaboration isn’t for everyone.  Truth is, had Cuz been anyone else, I doubt we would have stuck it out, but I didn’t kill him, he didn’t kill me, and our exercise is now a full-fledged book.  The feedback from those few who’ve read it is encouraging.  One reader, who prefers suspense to romance of any kind, called it gripping and admitted, despite reservations, she read it in one sitting.  It’s a long book!  Have to say, that one earned a cheer and a tear or two.

So, let me introduce you to a brainchild conceived in the 90s, nurtured off and on as life allowed since late 2009, and finally, brought into the world January 2015.

Does she have a soul?SwordandtheStarshipDigital2Smaller

 Genetically engineered to blend with a sophisticated, aristocratic society, Valara F’al-ten awakens from her hibernetic sleep in an uncharted star system, orbiting a planet rich in resources Earth Colony 5 needs, but how does one negotiate inter-galactic trade agreements with a society that still wields swords?

Clan High Chieftain, Gordain Ryn Phellan, has problems—an outlawed clan, a rival chieftain, and a despot with mind-control capabilities—even before he captures the bewitching female who claims to have a flying ship.  That she could be kin to his greatest foe and was assembled rather than born should repel him.  It doesn’t.  Instead, he finds himself torn between his responsibility to the clans and his escalating desire for her.

Despite unnerving physical and emotional changes, Lara needs to complete her mission, but Dain’s enemies have other plans.  Past and future collide as they work together to neutralize the threats, leaving Lara caught between duty and the yearning of her awakening heart. 

Currently available for Kindle, but alternate formats will follow in a few days.

We also have a website.  It’s a bit sparse at the moment, but books 2 & 3 are already in the mental womb.  Shorter gestation should make birthing these new babies—(choke) interesting.

 

 

 

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