CAN COLLABORATING RUIN A FRIENDSHIP?
They say that friends should never live together or start a business, because it’ll ruin the friendship. We’ve seen it happen. Good buddies who decide to split the rent on a nice apartment, only to find themselves at each other’s throat within a couple of months. A pair of lifelong pals who start a restaurant or an online venture and eventually wind up on opposite sides of a nasty lawsuit.
So when Brett Battles suggested that we write a book together, I found myself hesitating. Just for a moment. The idea seemed like a good one—a great one, in fact—and after that initial hesitation, I readily agreed. But a quiet, somewhat nervous voice in my head kept saying to me, “What if this doesn’t work?”
Brett and I have known each other for several years now. We met online through our blogs and through Killer Year, the author collective that Brett founded with a few of our friends. There were about thirteen of us, and we all had debut thrillers coming out in 2007, so we decided to band together, brand ourselves, and cross promote. And for a while there, Killer Year was kind of a big thing in the thriller world.
At Thrillerfest Arizona, the first and (to my mind) the best of the Thrillerfests, Brett and I finally met in person and found ourselves bonding like brothers. In fact, people sometimes mistake us for brothers, which amuses—and sometimes annoys—both of us. So, several solo books later, we agreed it was time to collaborate.
But what would the book be about?
It took us nearly two years to figure it out. We kicked around a couple of ideas—one based on an old TV pitch of mine called LINGER—but neither of them caught fire. Then one day Brett said, “Hey, you know that series concept you had about a kick-ass female bounty hunter who gets recruited to infiltrate a women’s prison in Europe? Why don’t we do that one?”
I did remember, of course. It was one of those back burner ideas that I’d never gotten around to writing, so it seemed like the perfect fit for us.
The question, however, was how exactly were we going to do this? I still had the niggling concern about ruining our friendship, because, let’s face it, we’re both pretty opinionated guys. What would we do if we got in the middle of this thing and started to clash on the direction of the story?
But the immediate question was logistics. We have friends who have collaborated by using Google Docs, working live, over the web, writing and rewriting at the same time. But that process seemed like a nightmare. And since sitting down side by side was pretty much impossible—we live in different cities—how would we write this damn thing? Would we alternate chapters? And what about the difference in writing styles? Would it be evident to the reader?
What we ultimately decided to do was alternate drafts. The idea was conceived as a series from the very beginning, so we’d make sure to do a detailed outline first (something neither of us do when working solo), then one of us would take the outline and run with it, hammering out a first draft.
Once that draft was done (with a lot of phone calls in between), the other would come in and do a rewrite, then the final polish would be left in the hands of the original writer. And with the next book, we’d simply reverse roles.
It was a good strategy, but I was still concerned about possible friction between us. To his credit, Brett says he was never worried about it, but I had been in a couple of less than perfect collaborative situations in the past, and was a little gun shy. So, right from the start I told Brett that we both needed to check our egos at the door. We needed to treat this book as if it were a solo project and be as ruthless with each other’s writing as we are with our own—no hard feelings allowed.
Brett agreed, and fortunately, my concerns turned out to be much ado about nothing. The process was so smooth and conflict free that it seemed almost effortless. From the very beginning Brett and I were in agreement on every scene, every character motivation, every plot conflict, and when one of us came up with a change, the other readily welcomed it.
Voice was also never a problem. It got to the point where we’d read a draft and couldn’t remember who had written what.
In many ways, the collaborative process was better than writing solo because I now had a sounding board that was just as invested in the outcome as I was. And through it all, we’ve still managed to remain friends. Good friends. In fact, we’re both looking forward to working together again, writing the next book in the series.
So I guess Brett and I are proof that what “they” say isn’t always true.
Or maybe we just got lucky.
I met both Rob and Brett at that first Thrillerfest in Arizona and I concur–it was the best conference ever. Rob and Brett are both amazing men and talented writers. I’m so excited they came to visit today at Murder HE Writes! You can check out their websites and books here: Rob, Brett — ask any question you want! They’ll both be around to chat. I for one was fascinated by this process — especially how two organic writers ended up plotting out a book together!