Today I’m pleased to welcome Very Special Guest Star Line and Orbit co-author Lisa to the blog-like object. She’s going to talk about our book and how we made it happen. EVERYONE PAY ATTENTION BECAUSE SHE IS AWESOME
Lisa here, Sunny’s lurking-in-the-shadows co-author on the forthcoming Line and Orbit. Sunny is far better at marketing and interneting than I, so I’ve been mostly clinging to their coattails throughout the entire publication process and watching them work. When they offered me a guest spot on their blog, I was hard-pressed to find a topic I thought would be interesting for you guys. But, after explaining the book to my mother (and, eventually, I’ll probably have to explain it to the Priest and Rosary Altar Society in my home town, as that’s who she’s recommended it to), I realized that the fact that we’ve written and published a book together is, in and of itself, kind of unusual.
Co-authored books aren’t regulars on the best sellers, especially in fiction. From what I can remember of my Borders days, the only examples that jump out at me are when authors like James Patterson work with lesser-known co-authors, an arrangement that’s certainly facilitated by Patterson’s NYT top ten history.
So, basically, in the words of momma-Soem, how does all that work?
Well, Sunny and I met up as players in a large online Role-Playing Game (RPG). RPGs take on a lot of forms, but this one in particular was a community of players voicing characters from various fiction outlets – TV, movies, books, etc. Basically, say, I wanted to play Snooki from the Jersey shore (not exactly allowed by the rules of our old RPG, since you had to play human characters, but you get the idea). Let’s say Sunny’s character was Snape. [note from Sunny: I SWEAR THIS IS NOT ACTUALLY WHO WE PLAYED OKAY] One of us would make the first post, the other would frame a response in a comment on the post, and a conversation between the characters will have started.
Snooki (me): Snooki was sitting on the beach with a Nalgene full of RedBull and Vodka and smearing canola oil over her chest and ample thighs.
“Oh my god,” she said heavily, “I like, seriously cannot believe the swim suit you’re wearing!”
Snape (Sunny): Snape looked at the foul creature, a wretched being of probable Gremlin descent that had never soiled any Bestiary he’d seen.
His lip twitched and he raised his wand. “Avada Kedavra.”
Aside from giving the authors the satisfaction of dispatching those that besmirch the proud NJ name, this style of RPG makes the construction of conversations and events equal responsibilities for both players. It’s really good for building your dialogue skills. Your wording gets more realistic, you start to convey a lot of information and emotion with fewer words.
The other major benefit of playing this form is that it is entirely character driven. Hang-ups like world building and plot points take backseat to how you think your character would respond to certain events, be they mundane or extraordinary. How does your character talk to their lovers? Is it the same way they talk to friends? Frenimes? Sometimes when I’m stuck in a story, it’s because I know I want my character to reach this One Amazing Scene, but the character is shuffling her feet around going, uh, nope, sorry, that’s not me.
When we did plan our plots out a head of the time, Sunny and I would sit down and basically have conversations like this:
Me: Our characters are too happy, let’s fuck them up somehow.
Sunny: Okay! How about Drama-Lama III from Character’s A’s past shows up and fucks shit up?
Me: Oh man, totally, Character B would totally react like XYZ!
Sunny: And Character A would be all D: D: D: We should have the main fight scene at the beach, what do we need to accomplish to get them there?
Me: Well, first we should blah, blah, blah…
This kind of planning and development set the stage for how we’d write L&O. One day, Sunny messaged me and said, “We should write a novel! This is the rough sketch of the world I had in mind. Who should our characters be?” And I fell all over myself, because that kind of opening is like being able to build the Colosseum and design it down to the filigreed borders on the bathroom stalls. It can be as huge and as finished as you want it to be, and there’s always room for expansion. Sunny has mentioned before that L&O used to be a lot longer; so much of that was trivia about our universe. The tattoos the Bideshi wear have their own storied tradition, Kae and Lock’s history is fully fleshed out, Ixchel and the customs of the Aalims are established. There’s just not enough room in every story for all the things we’ve dreamed up.
(but that is what shorts and sequels are for, hm?)
So basically, we started playing in the same sandbox. Or, in this case, the same Google Doc titled “SPACE NOMADS!!”. At the very beginning, we divided our two leads between us, Sunny took Adam, I took Lock. As we filled our cast list and had more complex relationships developing, we moved fluidly between the characters, but I’d still ping Sunny for reassurance once in a while for how I was having Adam react in a certain scene. I think one of the more amazing things about our writing relationship is that we never clashed majorly on how a character acted. Lock and Adam were basically dudes we both knew pretty well, mutual friends that we knew inside an out.
The benefit of our history in RPGs was also one of the most frustrating aspects of getting through L&O. We had our world, we had our characters, but the over arching story arc wasn’t one of the first things we planned out. We had landmarks we had to hit, but the in-betweens were nebulous areas that were easy to get lost in. Sunny basically had the experience of catching me hanging pictures in the foyer when we hadn’t even put walls up in the dining room yet. One of the symptoms of this was all the fat we trimmed to get to our final manuscript. The final story is a tight, well-constructed plot, but it didn’t start out that way. Another minor glitch is that we didn’t always have seamless handoffs between scenes, so one of us would end up completing a scene that the other had planned on doing themselves. It didn’t really affect the outcome of the story, but it made the actual writing of it a bit bumpier.
With the drop date of L&O fast approaching, Sunny and I are already working on the as yet-untitled sequel. We learned a lot with L&O, which makes Book II both more and less intimidating. We know it’s going to take a while, and that now we have some standard to meet a second time, but we’ve also solved some of the things that laid us up the first time around. Before we wrote even one sentence, we had a conversation that included a lot of flailing but nonetheless plotted out what every chapter needed to do between Chapter One and The End. We know who is coming in where, which of us will be doing which chapters, what the major plot lines are, and what threads we’ll leave unfinished at the end (Book III, anyone?).
So, how did Sunny and I write a book together? I don’t really know. We’ve got complementary strengths and weaknesses, we didn’t get territorial, and we managed to have a lot of fun. I will say that this book would never, ever have seen the light of day without Sunny tirelessly courting publishers, working re-drafts, and editing while I did the equivalent of playing with a bouncy ball in the corner. They rock. Looking forward to another glorious 150,000 words.
PS. If anyone has specific questions, we’d be happy to answer in comments! Lay ‘em on us.