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.


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.




38 responses to “Collaboration: How NOT to Commit Murder”

  1. Elisa Beatty says:

    What a story about the birth of your story, Gwynlyn!!!

    It sounds terrific, and the early reviews are great. I’m eager to get reading!

    And how cool that you’re diving in for books 2 and 3. Hopefully the next one will go far more smoothl.

    Congrats on getting Book 1 out there in the world!

    • Gwyn says:

      Thanks, Elisa. I do hope you enjoy the story; it’s a far cry from historical romance despite the warrior hero. It is, however, one of those stories that spawns more, so I’m thinking The Earth Colony Chronicles may have a long life span.

  2. Vivi Andrews says:

    Congratulations, Gwyn! (And Cuz!)

    I am in awe of your ability to collaborate – it’s such a challenge to mesh creative styles. Such a brilliant point that any collaboration must begin with respect. Thanks for sharing your experience and wishing you lots of success with this book and any future collaborations!

  3. Gwyn says:

    Thank you, Vivi. Cuz was thrilled to see the book on the site, btw. This journey proved long and arduous, but so worth it.

  4. Wow! Amazing that you stuck to it! I’m such a loner when it comes to writing, I can’t imagine going through something like that. Your book was definitely a journey! Congratulations to both of you! What a fantastic exercise in compromise! You must be exhausted : )


    • Gwyn says:

      We didn’t actually write together, Heather, which is another thing that helped it to work. Talk, brainstorm, debate, and then back to work, each in our own space. While the collaboration didn’t kill anyone, interrupting me when I’m deep in the story very well could have. It’s like being shocked awake. Dependent upon the scene, that can be hazardous. *G*

  5. Hope Ramsay says:

    Congratulations on the long and arduous birth of this book, which sounds utterly fantastic. It’s going on the TBR list (just as soon as I make it through this big pile of RITA books I’m reading right at the moment.)

    I tried a collaboration once. I was the plotter she was a pantser, but it seemed to work. Unfortunately we became victims of our own success — each of us selling a series to a traditional publisher. But every time we get together we talk about our story. One day I intend to get back to it. Collaboration was not easy, but it was very interesting (and liberating in some ways) to get that up close and personal to another author’s writing style.

    • Gwyn says:

      Communication is key on so many levels, isn’t it? I love the “Wow. I wish I’d thought of that” moments. I hope the day comes for you and your friend. Liberating? Yes, in some ways. It certainly stretches you beyond the norm—which isn’t necessarily a bad thing!

  6. Kate Parker says:

    Congrats on not committing murder, but then you are one of the most patient people I know. I wish you much success and a peaceful process for books 2 and 3.

    • Gwyn says:

      Thank you, Kate. Peaceful would be lovely, but I doubt it would be good for the book. A good conflict always makes it better. *G*

  7. Laurie Kellogg says:

    I’m so proud of you and your baby! I know you’re not really ready for the limelight but BRAVO anyway!

  8. What a beautiful story of perseverance (and patience!). I’m so happy you came out with a beautiful finished product! And impressed you’re starting on books 2 & 3 – yay!

    And this cracked me up:

    “Oh, and my heroine would not have given Cuz’s hero a second glance—except to insure her aim when she shot him.”

    LOL – You do have a way with words, Gwynlyn!

  9. June Love says:

    What an amazing journey! Congratulations to you and to Cuz! I love that the story was strong enough to call you both back to it.

    I agree with AM. That same line cracked me up when I read it. You do have a way with words!

    Not only do I wish you the best for this book, but also with the follow-up books. I think maybe you and Cuz have found a gold mine. 🙂

  10. This is a fantastic post! My friend Tracy Wolff and I have been collaborating on a book for well…let me think about it…4 or 5 years. The trouble is, we enjoy each other’s company so much that when we get together all we want to do is talk, make fun of the other people in the restaurant, and hold any tiny babies we can get our hands on (we meet at La Madeleine where new mothers seem to flock probably because they know that they two crazy ladies in the back are willing to hold their babies for hours).

    Tracy bless her heart, offered to collaborate with me before I was published because she felt sorry for me. I love her to death and one day, we’re going to finish that book. Y’all watch for it…really…it’s going to happen any day now.

    One of the funniest books ever written about collaboration isn’t about collaborate at all. It’s a novel by Lisa Lutz and David Hayward called Heads You Lose. This is Lisa and her ex-boyfriend trying to write a book together. He does even and she does odd chapters. The trouble is, they hate each other. The best part of this book is the editorial notes they write back and forth. If you haven’t read this book, you need to.

    I love the idea of swords and spaceships.Totally just bought it.

    • Gwyn says:

      I hope you and your friend get to finish that book soon, Katie, and thanks for the book recommendation. I must admit, knowing my Rubies are reading the book is almost as unsettling as handing it to my mother; I don’t care what most folks think, but the opinions here matter. Praying you LOVE it.

  11. Rita Henuber says:

    Wow! What a journey. So glad you made it. Congrats and wishing you many sales.

  12. Elizabeth Langston says:

    I’m collaborating on a story with a friend and we are having some of the same issues. I’m the plotter; she’s the pantser. I write the end, then the middle, then the beginning, then jump around; she writes in straight chronological order.

    So it does make us a little crazy. But we also feed off each other’s energy. I hope we do well. (Of course, we could “divorce” each other at the end; it would be hard to divorce your Cuz.)

    • Gwyn says:

      That’s so true, Elizabeth. You feed off the energy, and it often becomes a springboard for more ideas. Reining them in can be quite the task! I didn’t realize when we began the danger posed to family ties. Good thing. Fools go where angels fear to tread. Thank heaven, we came through it okay.

  13. I remember you talking about this book at RWA last year! I’m so glad your baby was finally born! 😀

  14. Tamara Hogan says:

    Happy book birthday, Gwyn! I can’t wait to read this. And congratulations to you and Cuz. So glad you’re both still alive. 😉

    • Gwyn says:

      Thanks, Tammy. If you click on the first photo, it will enlarge enough to actually read it. The legal pad in the pocket is a PARTIAL list of the acronyms in the first draft of the story. Most are tongue in cheek, like the RIP. I hated cutting the Hygiene And Grooming niche. It made me chuckle.

  15. jbrayweber says:

    Congratulations, Gwyn! It has been a long time coming. I’m so happy for you and Cuz. What a journey it has been for you both. I envy you, too. I really don’t think my personality would allow for collaborating with another. Kudos to you!

    May your sales skyrocket!

  16. Gwyn says:

    Thank you, Jenn. Being oldest of a tribe, I learned early where to draw lines and where to give way. I think that helped, too. Love smooths many roads.

  17. I’m grinning from ear to ear for you, and your cuz. What a story. I’m not sure I’d have the patience. Congrats!!


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