The Chaotic Joy Of Co-Writing A Series

About a year ago my business partner and fellow indie author, Sim Alec Sansford, messaged me asking if I had ever considered writing a book with someone else. The answer was no. It had never occurred to me and I have always wondered how on earth writers manage collaborative writing projects. It just seemed far too complicated and not at all something I would ever want to try. Sim had an idea for a book and wondered if I would consider writing it with him. I think if anyone else had asked me I would have given an instant no. But Sim and I get on really well as business partners at Chasing Driftwood Writing Group and feel the same passion for writing and for our characters. I’d read some of his work and he’d read some of mine, and I had to admit, it felt like we could possibly pull it off.

So, I agreed. I figured, at the very least it would be an interesting experience and one I could learn from! Little was I to know how Sim’s tentative request and fledgling book idea would snowball!

Roughly a year later, we have completed two books in a paranormal YA series and we are currently racing towards the finish line of the final book in the trilogy. We never set out to write a series, but we soon realised that’s exactly what it was becoming.

I’ll probably blog again when the books are finished and I’ll spend more time telling you about them, but for now I just wanted to write about how the whole process has worked. Because it’s worked in a really strange and unexpected, dare I say, chaotic way!

So, as you probably already know, I have a certain process when I write a book. It goes a bit like this:

I get a character in my head who grows and grows until they get so real and so noisy, I have to start writing it down.

I start a notebook and start adding the ideas for a story, and it’s the character suggesting the ideas, not me.

When I’m able to start the book, I plan out a certain amount of chapters, write all my character bios, and get going.

I do any research along the way, as and when I need to. The first draft normally takes me about three months then I will spend probably about a year doing further drafts, edits and rewrites. By about draft 5 or 6 I will send it to beta readers and then do another rewrite/draft depending on what they said. Eventually it will go to my wonderful editor and proof-reader, then back to me for another round and then finally I will start to organise the publishing process.

Everything goes in the notebook, so I can have it there handy as I write and can jot down future ideas for chapters and scenes, character info and more. In my head at least, it’s kind of an organised process. It might look messy to anyone else, but it works well for me.

Writing books with another author has been so different!

We started off with good intentions and I even started a little notebook of ideas and character bios so we could keep track of who was who and so on. I also started writing chapter outlines to send back and forth so we could keep an eye on what we had written and ideas we had coming up.

All of this fell by the wayside though as the story took control!

Somehow, and I am really not sure how, we have managed to write almost three books in a year purely by swapping messages with each other on Facebook!

Initially Sim had a vague idea and we started creating a character each. He wanted to write the female character, Darcie and I wanted to write the male, JJ. I’m not sure when we decided that they would have super powers, but we did! I wrote the first chapter purely by instinct and luckily it seemed to be what Sim was thinking too. He quickly responded and off we went. Mostly it has been a really fast process, with us swapping chapters most days or every couple of days. We both work and write our own books too, so I am surprised we got so much done. We did keep each chapter fairly short and snappy and ended most on cliff hangers to set up the next chapter, so I guess we helped each other out a bit there! We really didn’t get too stuck too often.

Every time we read the other’s chapter, we would send a message asking what ideas would work in ours so we didn’t mess up the flow of scenes. We would both suggest stuff that could happen and with every chapter we wrote, more and more of the story unfolded before us. We got really excited and our messages reflect this! Once we got going, there was really no stopping us. We whizzed through the first two books and inevitably our original ideas grew more complex, we introduced more characters and storylines and sub-plots.

I think it’s fair to say that we are both totally in love with these characters we have created and the world they live in. We have created a strange little town called Fortune’s Well, which is loosely based on Sim’s childhood home of Dorchester. I recently visited Dorchester and was so excited to see in person some of the locations we have used in the books!

To start with we were both a bit nervous when writing the other person’s character into our chapter. But as the story grew and the characters evolved, we both felt we knew JJ and Darcie equally. Now I think it just feels natural to write both characters and we don’t feel we have to check with each other that we got their mannerisms or speech right.

So, the usual way I write books kind of fell aside and our original plans for writing these books also got left behind. Somehow we just muddled our way through using messages. I’m surprised it worked but there you are, we are nearly at the end of the trilogy and both of us are so excited to share it with everyone when it’s ready.

It’s been a really refreshing and fun addition to my writing life. Most evenings I work on my current WIP, but if I get sent a chapter from Sim, I will read it, digest it and then respond as soon as I have an idea. This way we have both managed to carry on with our own work as well as our co-writing project. Our series is so different to anything I have written before (paranormal, kids with super powers!!) and that’s been really exciting as well. We both love YA but I normally stick to gritty realism, so to dip into supernatural/paranormal/super powers territory has been the best fun ever. I really love this series and these characters and it’s inspired me to try these genres more in the future.

It’s been crazy, unexpected, exciting, challenging, messy, and above all else chaotic, but I have loved every moment of it. So much so, that we have already decided to work on another series together when this one is finished. This time its based on an idea I had that came from a short story I wrote. I think that if writing together worked once, there is every chance it will work again!

I will post about these books another time but for now, here is the blurb Sim came up with!

In the town of Fortune’s Well a dangerous storm is brewing, and two unsuspecting teenagers are standing right at the heart of it.

For JJ Carson, life has not been easy. His father is dead, his mother arrested for the murder, and he has been forced to live on the farm with his alcoholic uncle, Henry. Just when things could not get any worse, JJ discovers his living situation is not the only thing that makes him different from the other kids. A dark, swirling mist has made itself at home inside him and it is slowly changing him from the inside out.

Enter Darcie Duffield. Beautiful, popular, and incredibly misunderstood. Darcie is sick of the status quo and wants to make a difference. After a chance meeting with a strange boy at the river she becomes tangled in a web of lies and deceit as she tries to help save him from the darkness lurking within.

Why is this happening?

Where has it come from?

And why is Darcie the only one who can see it?

Author Interview: Q.L Pearce

Q. L Pearce is the author of over 120 books for middle grade and young adult readers, and I was lucky enough to receive a copy of her latest short story collection, Spinechillers to review. I enjoyed this book immensely and can’t wait to delve into more books by Q.L. Q.L also kindly agreed to be interview for my blog, and here she talks about her writing and publishing journey, what attracts her to scary stories, where her ideas come from and more! Enjoy!

spinechillerscover

1) What attracts you to the spooky and the paranormal? What makes it your favourite genre?

As a reader I am drawn to plot-driven books. That doesn’t mean that the characters aren’t important, but the central story is what I love. I have found that paranormal tales often have a strong plot at the core. As a writer, middle grade to YA horror, sci-fi and mystery are my favorites. I enjoy the world building and the suspension of disbelief required in a ghost story. Things that go bump in the night are part of my British heritage and I enjoy researching creepy tales and urban legends.

2) Who are your favourite authors and why?

Ray Bradbury, George Orwell and Roald Dahl are among my favorite classic masters. I love Bradbury’s writing style and, of course, he was amazing when it came to short stories. The clarity and intelligence of Orwell’s work, and his focus on social injustice places him at the top of my list. Animal Farm is an all time favorite book for me. Roald Dahl’s books for children worked on so many levels and he wrote some of my favorite children’s books, like The Witches and The Twits. His work could be sweet and sentimental, whimsical or darkly humorous. Sometimes all in the same book.

Neil Gaiman, Holly Black and Ransom Riggs are some of my favorites modern authors. They are all so great at world building and creating unique characters. Coraline and The Graveyard Book are a couple of books that I wish I had written.

3) Can you tell us where you get your ideas from?

Ideas come from everywhere…magazines, newspapers, travel. An offbeat article about Scottish castles or crop circles might catch my eye. I might see a strangely shaped tree while on a hike and wonder what lurks at its roots. I enjoy prowling through antique stores for curious objects or photographs that might spark an idea, or hiking around in new environments to use as settings. My dear friend, author Tamara Thorne, and I sometimes take road trips. We visit haunted hotels, abandoned buildings and ghost towns, all for inspiration.

4) When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve been writing since I could first scribble a story on paper. I won my first school writing contest in third grade and my first city sponsored contest at age eleven. I actually got into a little trouble when I was a kid for telling scary stories that frightened my friends.

 

5) Can you tell us a bit about your writing and publishing journey so far?

When I was in my twenties I decides to start sending short stories to magazines. Once I began seriously submitting I gathered an extensive collection of rejections. Over the course of ten years or so the rejections went from definite “no” to “no, but keep submitting.” My first contract with a major publisher was for an activity book about dinosaurs. It was with Price Stern Sloan. My first contract for fiction also came from Price Stern Sloan when they published Scary Stories for Sleep-Overs. It did very well and I wrote quite a few books in the series.

To date I have written more than 120 books for young readers including educational, nonfiction, biography, and fiction for all age ranges. Spinechillers is my latest. It is a collection of short stories that includes classic ghosts, a monster or two, urban legends and one tale that is an homage to The Twilight Zone. The stories are perfect for reading aloud at a sleep-over, or under the covers with a flashlight. The book is in the tradition of Scary Stories for Sleep-Overs. Spinechillers is for a new generation of tweens to teens.

6) What would you say have been the highs and the lows? What are you excited about?

I like all of the elements of the writing process. I enjoy the research, “meeting” my characters for the first time and getting to know them, sketching out the first draft, and shifting the elements like pieces of a puzzle.

Some of the best memories in my career are meeting young fans of my books. Red Bird Sings is a title that stands out for me. It is an adaptation of the autobiographical works of Zitkala Sa, an important Native American writer and activist. My co-author and illustrator, Gina Capaldi and I worked hard to honor her story. I’m very proud of the book and it received many awards including the Carter G. Woodson gold medal for picture books.

The down side of writing is rejection. I’ve had manuscripts turned down, books in work cancelled, and negative reviews. I try to find the lesson in each rejection that can make my work stronger. I’ve developed a thick skin over the years.

I think as writers we can learn from every review, good or bad as long as you don’t take it personally. You have to use what helps you to grow and leave the rest. I remember when Scary Stories for Sleep-Overs came out it received a “bad” review early on. The reviewer said that it seemed that before writing the collection I had downed a bottle of wine and watched a Twilight Zone marathon. I actually took that as a compliment since I loved Rod Serling. The series went on to sell in the millions.

7) What is the scariest story/book you have ever come across?

I can’t decide between two books. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson is so dark and atmospheric. I think it’s one of the best haunted house stories ever written because it leaves so much to the reader. It has all the elements of a ghost story but there is an underlying question about the true nature of the haunting.

One of Stephen King’s early books, Salem’s Lot, terrified me! It’s a vampire novel and I was only able to read it during the day. For a while I also kept a nightlight on because I was so creeped out.

8) What is a normal writing day like for you? Tell us about the process

When I write I usually sit at my dining room table. I have an actual home office with a desk, but my dogs prefer the main room and I like to work with them close by. I begin my day with meditation even before my first cup of coffee. I start my reading and research mid-morning then spend two or three hours writing. My dogs take me out for walks a couple of times a day and I use that time to brainstorm. I usually write for another hour or so at the end of the day.

I hate an empty page so when I’m working on a first draft I just keep going. I write anything as long as words are going on the page. Once I have something to work with I can go back and edit and tweak the manuscript into shape. Sometimes that approach can take your work in surprising directions.

9) What are you working on right now?

I’m working on a few things including the next volume of Spinechillers. I have three fact-based fiction picturebooks in work with coauthor/illustrator Gina Capaldi, a middle grade mystery adventure with coauthor Francesca Rusackas, and a YA horror novel.

10) What advice would you give to other writers who enjoy writing creepy stories?

The advice I give to working writers is finish what you start. I have several manuscripts that are sitting in a file folder because I didn’t push through when I hit a weak spot. Once that happens I start second-guessing and lose momentum.

The advice I would give to those who enjoy writing horror is to let the readers do some of the work. The unknown is deeply emotional. Provide the story, the characters, atmosphere, the dread, but don’t fill in every detail. Leave some room for the reader’s imagination to personalize the fear.

11) What are your plans and dreams for the future?

My husband is a physiologist and a huge sci-fi fan. We have a plan to someday write a book together. I remember one night we went out to dinner and spent the evening coming up with an alien world and determining what sort of species would populate such a planet. We wrote notes on napkins. It was a fabulous evening!

Recently I was thrilled to be join Tamara Thorne and Alistair Cross as co-host for YA nights on Thorne and Cross Haunted Nights LIVE, part of the Authors on the Air: Radio Network. I’m looking forward to inviting some terrific authors to be the show!

12) Tell us three interesting things about yourself

Years ago I was an assistant SCUBA instructor. That’s how I met my husband.

I’m not happy about flying but I love to travel. In the past couple of years we’ve visited Florence, Vancouver, Shanghai, Lhasa, and Cambridge, England.

I’m currently completing my meditation teacher training. I would like to work with writers and other creative people who want to be able to find a calm inner space when faced with deadlines, rejections, blank pages and other stressors.

Thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed, Q. L! 

You can find out more about Q.L Pearce below!

About Q.L Pearce

Q.L.Pearce is the author of more than 120 books for young readers, from picture books to YA, as well as film tie-in books for the Fox animated film Titan AE and the Universal animated series Land Before Time. Red Bird Sings: The Story of Zitkala Sa (Carolrhoda Books, with co-author and illustrator, Gina Capaldi), received several awards including a Carter G. Woodson Book Award gold medal from NCSS and a Moonbeam Children’s Book Award gold medal. Her fiction includes the popular middle grade series, Scary Stories for Sleep-Overs italisize (Price, Stern, Sloan). Q believes strongly in the value of scary books for young readers. When asked what credentials she has which qualify her as an expert in this area she replies, “I was a child once. That was very scary.”

Link to Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/RedBirdSings

Buy Links: Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Spine-Chillers-Hair-Raising-Tales-Book-ebook/dp/B01M7U859N/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1477782518&sr=8-1&keywords=ql+pearce+spine+chillers

Author Info:

Author’s contact info: contact@bamliterature.com or http://www.qlpearce.com/contact

Author’s social media links:

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Q.-L.-Pearce/e/B001H9RTXO

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=db4aQLSyKMg&feature=youtu.be

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ql.pearce

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/q-l-pearce-7926604