This guest post and giveaway comes from our next
victim author to appear on the Crime Cafe podcast, Frank Zafiro., who sends his greetings from Spokane River City! 🙂
And he’s offering a free sample of the novel Charlie-316, pictured to the left.
To get in on the giveaway, just click here to download your sample of the book.
And don’t miss his guest post, in which the subject is collaboration! (Or “How to write half a book and still get paid”. How’s that for a title?!)
With that, I cede the
floor blog to Frank Zafiro!
Write Half a Book
(Don’t worry, it still counts)
Besides, I cheated.
Okay, not in a way that would get me in trouble. Nor is it likely to lessen your opinion of me. All I’m saying is that I got some help along the way, and not just in terms of beta readers, editing, and brainstorming.
For fifteen of those novels I was bragging about a couple of paragraphs ago, I collaborated with another author.
I wrote half a book.
Now, let’s be clear on a couple of things. One is that each of these collaborations was a true fifty-fifty proposition. I did half the work and so did my co-author. None of this “lend me your name and I’ll write the thing” sort of arrangements that high profile authors have the luxury of exploring. No, this was a true partnership in every case.
The second thing there should be no doubt about is that while about half of the word count in each of those books originated with me, I edited and revised one hundred percent of them. Luckily, so did my partner, so the books got some serious attention.
With that out of the way, let’s explore this strange beast called collaboration.
I said fifteen novels, didn’t I? What I didn’t say up front was that was with five different authors.
You might think that means three books per collaborator but alas, no. I didn’t know it was mathematically possible, but I have a different number of books with each partner, ranging from only one to five. (For those completionists or math sticklers out there, the totals are: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1… hey, look at that… I didn’t realize it did that until just now. Oh well, by the end of the year, that pattern will be shot all to hell).
These partnerships differ in other ways, too. One is a woman and four are men. One lives on the east coast, one in Texas, one in California, one in my old hometown in Washington, and the last in Idaho. Most have their own catalogs outside of our collaborative works (one doesn’t, aside from a short story collection). Most write crime fiction (one doesn’t, except for our book). Two of the partnerships are on hold right now in terms of new projects. I’ve got a book out to agents with one (we may go indie, though). There’s a planned project for the fall/winter with another. And I’m gearing up for a five-book sci-fi project with the fifth.
I realize that’s a whirlwind tour. You’re probably still stuck back at “What? Write a book together? How’s that work?”
Let me address that for a moment. How does it work? All sorts of different ways. But the two most common were:
- Dual first person narrative. For this process, each of us wrote a single POV character in the first person, alternating chapters in the storytelling. So my detective’s narrative might go first (“I went to the crime scene.”) in chapter one, then chapter two would be my co-author’s character (“I hid in the bushes and watched the detective at the crime scene.”). We alternated back and forth for the entire book. The great thing about this method is that the reader get the intimacy of the first person yet the dual character part gives her a wider perspective than in a traditional first person narrative. She knows things the narrators don’t, courtesy of the other narrator.
- Multiple limited third narrative: Here, we might divide the workload by character or by scenes, depending. But we wrote all characters in the limited third person (“Detective Tower went to the crime scene.”). The benefit of this is the increased number of viewpoints allowed us to tell the tale from many different angles.
These weren’t the only two methods. I wrote one book in which we employed a single narrator in the first person, and you’d think two different authors writing “I, I, I” would be a little schizophrenic. In fact, I was worried about that! But because of the heavy-handed editing approach we both took, what emerged was a singular, third voice all its own. It worked.
Which brings me to an important final point – editing and ego. (Okay, two points).
In all of my collaborations, we both took an active hand in the editing process. Nothing was off limits. We treated one hundred percent of the book as if we each wrote the whole thing ourselves and edited accordingly.
Now, that sounds grand but let me throw in a wrinkle or two. First, I have to admit that, early on, when the process was a dual first person narrative, I took a lighter hand with my co-author’s chapters. In those chapters, I always deferred on all but the most pressing of hills to die on™. However, as my collaboration journey progressed, I ditched this approach and went after every word and phrase as if it were my own and encouraged my co-author to do the same.
Why? Because it made the book better.
But here’s the other wrinkle – ego. For this approach to be successful, both authors need to check their ego at the door. You’ve got to accept or at least entertain every thought, whim, idea, and especially every edit your partner presents. That’s how you get the best book possible.
It can be daunting. As writers, we condition ourselves to take criticism during the revision process from outside, but to get it from within the creative process is an entirely different experience. Our callouses may not be as well developed on that tender skin.
Put another way, they say that during the editing process, you sometimes must “kill your darlings.” That means revising or cutting something you may love – a passage, a line, even a scene or subplot – for the greater good of the book. It’s tough to do.
In a collaboration, though, it gets more complex because some other writer is also murdering those same darlings.
Luckily, it’s for the same reasons. What I mean is, it helps to always know what’s behind your partner’s intent. That should be easy to decipher since it’s the same intent you have – the best book possible. The partner isn’t trying to lord over you or impose his/her will, or prove their superiority by cutting you down (or holding your darlings hostage and killing them in retaliation for you killing theirs, for that matter). You’re in this together.
So on the one hand, my advice when your partner critiques or edits something you wrote is toughen up, buttercup.
But on the other hand, I’ll also say have a good partner.
As in life, not every partnership is meant to be, or meant to work in the fashion you might hope. I’ve been fortunate in my co-authors. The creative link was there, the trust was there, and egos got checked, so the projects all worked. Even with that, some were easier than others. But I think I’ve beaten the odds, if you want the truth. Collaboration is fraught with pitfalls (that’s another blog post entirely). In fact, one of my co-authors resisted working together for years because he’d collaborated once, had a good experience, and figured he’d already tempted fate enough.
Obviously, this is a topic I could go on and on about, but this isn’t even my blog, so I’ll shut it down here. I’ll end with something very positive, though. You know how it feels when you meet another author (or enthusiast, regardless of your interest) for coffee and talk about writing? You talk about your work, her work, and get excited about being a writer? After that meeting, you want to go home and write about a hundred thousand words, no?
Well, that’s pretty much how it feels (to me, anyway) during the collaboration process. Every time I get a chapter back from my partner, I get excited. Excited to read it, excited to write mine. I want to do my best work so I don’t let him down. I want to jump right on it so she doesn’t have to wait. And I firmly believe that kind of enthusiasm translates directly to the finished product.
One of the best books I’ve written was a collaboration. We wrote an almost one hundred thousand word first draft in about three weeks. That’s synergy and momentum, my friend.
So yeah, I guess I technically cheated on fifteen novels. Wrote half a book, got credit for a full one. But hey, I only get half royalties, so it evens out.
And it was definitely worth it.
Frank Zafiro was a police officer from 1993 to 2013, holding many different positions and ranks. He retired as a captain. Frank is the author of over thirty novels, most of them crime fiction, including the River City series and the Charlie-316 series. In addition to writing, Frank hosts the crime fiction podcast Wrong Place, Write Crime. He is an avid hockey fan and a tortured guitarist. He currently lives in Redmond, Oregon.