Pull up a chair, pour some Irish Cream (or tea), and let’s listen in on a conversation between two authors who cowrite a series. Authors Alistair Cross and Tamara Thorne stopped by the ePen and shared some insider tips and tidbits on collaboration. And they also have really cool websites. Read, click, enjoy!
Tamara: I never intended to collaborate again, then I met you, Alistair. There was something different about you and even though you were relatively new to publishing, I knew you were my equal. The way you wrote was certainly a part of it – but the other reason was your personality. You seemed … sane. And your sensibilities, from your take on life to your commitment to writing, were so similar to mine that I felt like we’d been separated at birth.
Alistair: Me, too. I never planned to collaborate, either. It’s not something I set out to do, and I never envisioned it when I dreamed about my life as a writer. But I love it now. I made no secret of the fact that I’d been reading your books since the 90s, so when you asked, it was a dream-come-true for me. My worst fear was, of course, that it wouldn’t work. But somehow, it did.
Alistair: We both realized very quickly that we weren’t “short” writers, and that a short story was not going to happen. But what did happen was a full-length novel. Then another one. And another one. When asked what some of the difficulties we have are, I am always stumped. I honestly don’t know how our partnership could be smoother. In my opinion, it comes down to the ego. I believe our egos are such that we can collaborate without getting possessive or wanting to dominate. What do you think?
Tamara: I must agree with you. We both knew from previous experiences that we each tend to be “nice guys,” and will put up with an awful lot to avoid drama. We both hate tantrums. Together, our egos are safe because neither of us possesses that drama gene. Our only problem is our mutual hatred of mornings – but we both hate them so it’s not a problem. I think we have a unique relationship – there’s never any stress between us. I used to wonder if we’d encounter problems simply because of the vast amount of time we spend together in our daily routine. But no, it makes no difference. If we take a couple of days off, we simply end up missing each other and working together.
Alistair: It’s true, and as we always say, “Drama belongs on the page.” We live by that. We’ve each known our share of histrionic types, and having achieved peace of mind and peace in our lives, we know that drama is not an option. Isn’t it nice to know I won’t threaten suicide if I don’t get to give one of our characters a purple sweater? And I so appreciate knowing you won’t throw a tantrum and leave nasty reviews of my books if I say that no, I do not think the sheriff of our story should have a blond buzz cut. We talk it all out. So that’s our foundation: Respect. For ourselves and for each other. After that, our priority is to produce the best work we can.
Tamara: One of my favorite things about you is that you don’t try to cling to author’s pets like many writers do. You’re always willing to change for the betterment of the book we’re writing. And you’re not one of those who insists that every single adverb must be left on the cutting room floor. That’s very refreshing. Grammar Police are one thing – our beloved copy editors fit that bill. But Word Nazis are writers who are terrified of breaking any rules they’ve learned over the years. Certainly, you must know the rules before you can break them, and that you do, my friend.
Alistair: The goal is always to write a good story. That’s the part that can’t be taught, and that’s the part that matters when it comes to writing the kinds of books people want to read. Using proper English is imperative – unless a character doesn’t use proper English herself, of course – and I agree that 90% of all adverbs can be removed – but now and then they need to stay put. We share that goal, and that’s a big part of the reason this works. I couldn’t spend eight to ten hours a day with someone who didn’t share my vision for the project at hand and for the future. Having a vision for the future, I believe, is the single most important key in any endeavor, and I think it’s very rare to find someone with the same hopes and dreams. And someone with the same work ethics, and the same sensibilities.
Tamara: I agree. These things are all vital. Plus, we have the best “water cooler,” breaks, don’t we? In our virtual office? It’s the only way to write!
Alistair: Yes, we do. Every morning, we get on Skype and open the Cloud, where we work in the same document at the same time. Thanks to Skype, we are in constant communication, and discuss what we’re doing as we do it. It took us a while to figure out this system, but once we did, we haven’t looked back. Now, I can’t imagine doing it any other way.
Tamara: Even if we were working together in the same room, we’d still be in the Cloud because it’s the most wonderful way to work we’ve ever found. We usually work, not only in the same file and chapter, but on the same page. We pick up after each other, add things to what the other wrote, and most importantly, create together, often in the same paragraph. I love when we’re so excited that we jump in mid-sentence. It feels like a Vulcan mind meld, we’re so connected. It makes the high we get from writing soar even higher. There’s nothing else like it.
Alistair: Agreed. Aside from respect, mutual sensibilities, a no-drama policy, and a shared vision, I think trust is probably also worth mentioning here. Trust for each other in business, of course, but also trusting each other with the characters and the stories. Somehow, I don’t bat an eye when you take Belinda (from The Ghosts of Ravencrest) or Michael or Winter (from The Crimson Corset and the current Candle Bay collaboration) and start putting words in their mouths, or moving them along. I don’t bat an eye, because I know that if I don’t like what you do, it doesn’t have to stay, but more importantly, because I trust you with them. I think this is where the similar sensibilities comes in. You generally do exactly what I was going for, anyway.
Tamara: Same here. How many times have we watched each other write, saying, “Yes, exactly,” over and over? And it’s more than that. While we each have favorite characters, neither of us is possessive of them and we always share. We pretty much share everything from the craziest ideas to serious notions, thoughts, humor and ideals. We have no secrets and that’s about as refreshing as it gets. Everything is shared, whether it’s about a collaboration or a solo. When we write, we are deeply connected.
Alistair: And I don’t think that’s something you can force. It either is, or it isn’t. So, in short, when it comes to collaboration, my advice would be a) Choose your collaborator wisely, and b) Don’t try to force it. If it isn’t there, it isn’t there. What advice would you give?
Tamara: I’d like to advise would-be collaborators not to expect miracles. What Alistair and I are lucky enough to have together is atypical; we know that and are grateful for it. But you can collaborate without being as this close as long as you don’t fall victim to passive-aggressive personalities or similar problems. To make a collaboration work, you must be on the same page, and share the same goals and visions. You may need to lay down ground rules and stick to them, and you may need to stand up for yourself – never acquiesce to another’s idea unless you agree with it. And don’t pick a partner who doesn’t believe in sorting out details until you are both happy. To collaborate, you must be able to compromise.
Big thanks to Alistair and Tamara for sharing a glimpse into their writing process. How do you collaborate? If you have any questions for the authors, they can be reached at http://www.tamarathorne.com/ and http://www.alistaircross.com/ or right in the comment box below. Also take a look at Berlin Malcom’s literary page here. Then download this PDF for more information. Enjoy!