I’m not sure how I stumbled across BLOOD HOWL by Robin Saxon and Alex Kidwell but I bought the book and settled in for a read one afternoon. I finished the book hours later, grabbed something to eat and started re-reading it over again. It had everything I like: strong characters, buckets of sexual tension, and smart, witty dialogue. Then, I started to stalk . . . umm . . . friend . . Alex & Robin on Facebook and I got little glimpses of their writing partnership and realized that their writing process was absolutely fascinating. That’s when I knew I had to have them here at RU.
Note: Today is Robin’s birthday so in honor of the special day, I’m giving away a copy of BLOOD HOWL to a lucky commenter. Happy Birthday Robin!
Writing With a Partner:
It Takes Two to Make a Thing Go Right
Or Doing it Alone Will Make You Go Blind
by Robin Saxon and Alex Kidwell
The stereotypical image of a writer is a solitary one—a person hunched over a typewriter, frantically plinking away, capturing words on paper and ink, surrounded by an array of discarded coffee mugs and wine glasses. We see the author as a shut in, kept company by his creations and nothing more. Ideas exist in one brain, after all, and for many the idea of sharing the load of writing seems impossible.
We have been writing as a team for years. Our recent first novel, Blood Howl, and the next in the series, Blood in the Sand, were written completely in tandem. We may use two laptops—and two times the dirty mugs and wine glasses—and there might be two brains involved, but the story comes out as one cohesive whole. In our opinion, it makes our characters stronger, our plot-lines more varied, and our stories richer than if we’d worked alone.
We do, of course, have occasionally clashing ideas. We have long and wandering documents and notes on plotting, scribbled ideas by both of us, and though we usually run along the same lines of thought, we are two individuals with occasionally differing tastes. For example, one of us who shall remain nameless (Robin) occasionally enjoys watching horror movies and over the top action movies with no redeeming plots. While the other party enjoys medical soap operas and chick flicks with no shame at all. In our approaches to the writing side of entertainment we’re often the same—we combine short, to the point, well edited dialogue with often expansive narration. We take the two things we’re best at and allow those sides to combine, tempering each other and causing the end product to be better than its parts.
Which isn’t to say that we don’t want completely different things to happen in our books sometimes. A good example would be the recently finished Blood in the Sand. We wrote the opening chapter, and one of us liked the rather abrupt start that threw the readers right into the mystery, and the other thought we should start with a prologue instead.
So we had countless fights and neither of us refused to budge on the point at all because we loved our ideas too much. Eventually there was a slap-fest, an arm wrestling contest, and several jell-o shots. When we woke up in Fiji…
No, actually, we didn’t. Unfortunately. Fiji is quite nice! In reality, we talked it out, and decided that instead of pushing our separate ideas, we should figure out which one served the story better. The idea of an abrupt start was a good one, we kept that. The thought of easing our reader back into a familiar setting—Redford and Jed working together—also seemed to show rather than tell the progress of their relationship over the months between the last book and this one. We wrote that prologue, the one that incorporated the things both of us were hoping to achieve, and both of us loved it.
So you want to try it? Writing with a partner, or multiple partners, is a bit like sex. No, really, it is. It requires communication, forethought, more communication, the ability to laugh, and no egos. You have to be focused on the point of why you’re doing what you’re doing rather than your own individual wants or needs or goals. The only way everyone gets off and happy is if you are willing to work together. So here’s a few things we’ve learned.
1. Find a way that you can easily write together. For us, Google Documents is an invaluable tool, it allowed us to type simultaneously in the same document. It also allows us to sit back and lazily watch the other person typing. The great thing about is that it’s saved not on one hard drive but as part of the Google cloud, so you can access it from any computer, anywhere. And unless Google suddenly loses all of their money, there’s no chance of losing your manuscript.
It doesn’t have to be that, though! Anything—a pad of paper, a shared napkin, sitting next to each other with your laptops at a coffee house. Whatever gets you working at the same time at the same place in the story. It is possible to write chunks yourself and put them in a doc for feedback, but be wary of doing that to a huge extent. It’s a bit like painting one section of your wall and then a week later painting an adjoining section. Even if you use the exact same color of paint, it could dry slightly differently and you’ll always be able to see the seam.
2. Identify each others strengths and weaknesses and work with them. This step requires one to be rather ruthless in your view of yourself, but it’s worth it in the end. For us, one of us tends to write too short and too much to the point, and the other says in three sentences what could be said in one. One of us is absolutely terrible at coming up with plots, one of us should not be allowed to name things (see: the title of our article). But we balance. Where one goes on and on, the other can help with brevity. We work on plots together, we take a critical eye to how realistic our narration is.
3. Talk about everything. No, really. Everything. Plot points, character backgrounds, motivations, anything that’s even tangentially relevant to your book, you have to discuss. This is a person you trust, presumably, or you wouldn’t be writing with them. So they need to know your character or plot ideas or story motivations as well as you do. You can’t keep book-related secrets from your writing partner. If the character you’re bringing to the table has a long lost sister whose disappearance is the reason they’re afraid of water, your writing partner should know that, even if said sister is never mentioned or made reference to. Why? Because you’re not writing alone, nor are you only responsible for your ideas, your characters. In the course of the project, what was yours or theirs becomes blurred together until it’s simply ours. That’s the point of this kind of writing. It’s not just your head anymore, it’s yours and your partner’s, and that means your ideas get to become bigger, bolder, more filled out. Ideas you never would have thought of now are integrated with your own, and the entire world you’ve envisioned gets new boarders, new horizons, until it’s something else entirely.
4. No egos. This one is simple, but it’s the most important. What might start off as Person A’s idea should, eventually, become an idea you both love. If you find yourself really attached to an idea that you think is great, but your writing partner doesn’t, you can’t cling to that idea and insist that it absolutely happens—if you write like that, your book will become a series of A’s ideas and B’s ideas, and sometimes that doesn’t flow all that well.
We resolve differing ideas by figuring out what serves the story best. That, for us, is the most crucial thing about writing, and it’s what makes a book flow. We incorporate parts of A’s idea, and parts of B’s idea, until it becomes one, cohesive plot point or scene. If you’re that passionate about an idea, try it out. But also listen to your partner’s feedback. Find out what you really find so important about your idea. Is it a mood you’re trying to capture? An idea you feel you should get across? A plot point you think should be incorporated at that juncture? Communicate all of that to your partner, not just that your idea is what you want to happen but why and what you’re trying to achieve. Listen to their reasons why they don’t agree and then come to a consensus.
Once, an interviewer asked us who won more of the fights in how Blood Howl came together. The answer was it was never about winning. It wasn’t about whose idea it was. All roads have to lead to the characters, staying true to them, and the story we’re trying to tell. If one of us disagreed, we found out why, we talked about how to accomplish those things, and we found an answer that wasn’t one or the other, but both.
We get a lot of questions about how exactly we managed to sit down and write Blood Howl together. A lot of people seem completely mystified that we managed to do it without breaking out into mud wrestling. In reality, the idea of how we’d write the book started very differently. We thought that Robin would write Redford’s chapters, and that Alex would write Jed’s chapters, but it didn’t turn out that way at all. As we started writing the first chapter, one of us would write a partial sentence, and the other would fill the rest of that sentence out. One would write the start of a paragraph, the other would finish it.
It’s true that the idea of the character of Redford, originally, came from Robin’s mind, like the character of Jed was Alex’s idea. But we know both of those characters as if they were both our own, because we talk about them. A lot.
In the end, Blood Howl and its characters, all of them, are from both of us. The original concept of Jed was very different from how he turned out in the book. The same for Redford and David and Victor—we began as two individuals with separate concepts of how things would go and we ended as one cohesive unit, writing a story that came out of both of us. And for us, it turned out to be one that was bigger than either one of us imagined on our own, deeper than we could have written singularly.
There are many reasons to write alone. For many people, it works, and it works well. For us, though, writing together lets us achieve things and drive each other to better places than we would have reached alone. If you’re thinking about taking the plunge into writing with others, we believe that with a little work, it can be an entirely satisfying experience.
Have you ever considered writing as a team? If you’ve done it, what was your experience? Do you have any questions for Robin and Alex?
Harlequin Special Editions author Lynne Marshall is here with us on Monday. See you then!
Robin Saxon and Alex Kidwell live in the Midwest with their two cats. They spend their time between writing, pursuing nerdy interests, and taming lions. And by taming lions, we mean watching documentaries about people that film lions. They also spend an inordinate amount of time looking up recipes for new baking ideas, and cocktails.
BLOOD HOWL: Gun for hire Jed Walker doesn’t figure it for a difficult job—a simple smash and grab retrieval—except his new client doesn’t want money or goods. He wants shy, gorgeous Redford Reed, a man who turns Jed’s world upside down inside a day. He is in no way prepared to fall hard and fast for his newest assignment.
Redford Reed lives his life locked in his grandmother’s house, haunted by a terrible curse and watching the world pass him by until Jed shows up, sent by a man who will stop at nothing to claim Redford as his own. Teaming up with Jed is Redford’s only chance at survival, but as the violence escalates, so does the tension between them. Even though they each finally have something to live for, now it’s going to take all Jed’s skill and every bit of courage Redford has just to stay alive.
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