Friday, August 23, 2013

The (co)Writing Life

"How do you write with a co-author?" Readers and writers alike seem curious about the co-authoring experience. It certainly tops my most-asked list, right up there with, "where do you get your ideas?"

Writing tends to be a solitary pursuit and we writers are often perceived as anti-social or, at the very least, somewhat peculiar of habit, so it's not surprising that the idea of collaboration between two such odd creatures is met with some fascination.

Those who know the two of us well won't argue with the "odd creatures" or "peculiar of habit" labels. Anne and I wear them proudly. A shared sense of humour helps, as does a willingness to listen and negotiate. Ego becomes (w)ego in the story-building process. You might think proximity is important, too, but when Anne and I were writing together full-time we lived in different cities, hours apart. This made logistics, shall we say, interesting. Here's how it worked for us.

Like most writers, our stories began with the germ of an idea – sometimes a character, sometimes a situation – and the Big Question: what if…?

At our first in-person meeting, we would brainstorm the possibilities, develop a cast of characters, outline a very rough plot, and together write the first few pages of chapter one. This process involved the better part of a weekend, a borrowed office in a town mid-way between our homes, at least one bottle of wine (maybe it was a bottle each, my memory is foggy on that point), and a lot of laughter. By the end of that initial meeting, we knew our characters and our setting and had a good idea of where the story would take us.

From that point on, we alternated chapters. One of us would finish the rough first draft of chapter one and send it on its way to the other. She would read and comment on that draft and pick up the story at chapter two. We were never strict about the switchover and would often carry on into the next chapter if the featured character was one with whom we felt a particular affinity. In the end the division of work was surprisingly equal.

We'd meet again after the half-way point to thrash out tricky plot problems, smooth out transitions, refine our synopsis and, yes, do a little more drinking and laughing before getting back to our long distance writing relationship. We became each other's most trusted critics and by the time we wrote "the end" our story had been thoroughly edited, proofed and polished.

There are always surprises in writing – characters do and say the most unexpected things – but the co-writing process is particularly dynamic. The anticipation of that next, unknown chapter kept the story fresh and exciting for us. Our combined author voice is distinctly different from our individual voices and many readers have said they can't identify who wrote what. For a writing team, that's the best of all compliments.

Our new publisher, Montlake Romance, has re-released two Avalon Romances by Anne Norman and Cheryl Cooke Harrington for Kindle. We hope you'll check them out and let us know what you think. 

ROCK SOLID – small town landscape architect meets her match in an abandoned quarry.

FAST FOCUS – photographer tangles with kidnappers in a lively New York City caper.

Rock Solid and Fast Focus, by Cheryl Cooke Harrington and Anne Norman


Sandy Cody said...

Fascinating. I've always wondered how the process works. Congratulations to you and your partner on finding the right mix. Nice that you could blend your egos into a single(w)ego. The books look and sound like fun. Good luck with them.

Sofie Couch said...

"Wego" - my new favorite word of the week! Fabulous. The books sound fun and the cover art is bee-u-tee-ful. Who did the artwork or was that a happy pairing arranged by Avalon?

Cheryl said...

Thanks, Sandy and Sofie, for stopping by to read. Glad you enjoyed my made-up word!

I love the cover art, too. Both of them are by a wonderful painter, J. Ken Spenser, who did a lot of work for Avalon at the time. I think his New York image on Fast Focus is just right for setting the scene. And even though the quarry image on Rock Solid is nothing like the quarry in my mind, I still love the cover.

Ken also painted the forest fire/float plane cover for my solo book, Sparks Fly, and it's so dramatic - stunningly perfect.

I was very fortunate with my Avalon covers.