About ten years ago, my work required that I frequently go back and forth to L.A. from Austin, four hours of travel on a non-stop flight. I would work on my laptop for about an hour then indulge myself in a guilty pleasure for the rest of the flight. But I could never finish a full length novel before I landed in California.
I remember thinking, why doesn’t somebody write good page turners that can be read in two to three hours? I wanted engaging stories that made me want to stick to the end, not just fast reads. That’s how Bullet Books Speed Reads (Bullet Books) arrived on my list of someday writing.
Bringing in co-authors …
Two years ago, I began the process of writing Bullet Book #1 with my spouse, Bill Rodgers who is also co-owner with me of Starpath Books, LLC, our Austin based publishing company. The experience was so positive, I decided to invite other writers to co-author the Bullet Books.
Eighteen months later, the first twelve Bullet Books were launched at the Texas Book Festival and Bouchercon2019. Additional short reads are planned for 2020, for a total of twenty-five Bullet Books.
All books, by prescription, are modern day crime fiction in settings around the world. Audio books have been published or are in various stages of production.
The first twelve authors are all people on my radar, either a part of the Austin writing community, associates from writer’s groups or contacts in Texas, or former artistic clients from my law practice.
The second round of authors are from all over the U.S. and one in the U.K. The first group joined primarily because of our personal relationships, those in the second group have been attracted to the project itself and the benefits to their writing careers.
The writing process…
The actual writing has been organic, and working with each co-author has been a different experience. I ask that the co-author come up with an idea of what they would like to write then we brainstorm the plot together. Some begin with a short story that was expanded to a full concept. One story began as a complete but outdated novel that was shortened, re-worked, and brought into modern time. In all cases, the concept, working title, and basic plot were nailed down before the book was written... although in most cases, there was not a full outline. The plot evolved as we wrote, as it does with all books, but having a path to completion helped keep us on track with the story.
All of the books were written in the style of co-authoring, as opposed to paired writing. We wanted to find a blended voice in an effort to make each Bullet Book unique.
I read the other writer’s work and then followed their writing style. Some used short staccato sentence structure, some stuttering ellipses, and others hammered home cliffhangers or punctuated the ending of each paragraph. Each co-author had a style and rhythm to their sentence structure, and I adapted my writing as much as possible so as to not change that.
One co-author is known for his love of noir and I had never written in that style, which presented a challenge. On my turn, it was required that I add words, but not go too far afield of the genre restrictions.
What I did strongly insert into each book was structure. I put in three acts early on and continuously worked the story into them on my turns to write. Once I put in the beginning, middle, and end notations, the missing plot points and areas that dragged began to show themselves and were easily repaired during re-writes. Most co-authors either already had a sense of the design or expressed their appreciation for the methodology and found it useful.
A big asset of co-authoring was the necessity to meet deadlines and be accountable in order to keep the process moving. Although deadlines were not rigid, we were all highly motivated to have the entire first dozen for sale and for signing by the end of October 2019.
What didn’t work so well…
As a dedicated Scrivener user, I briefly experimented with bringing the co-authors into the app for writing. It didn’t take with a single non-Scrivener user. Even those who tried the software abandoned it at the first opportunity and went back to Word.
The books that fell out of development were those where the plot was not firmly agreed upon in advance, proving to me that a “meeting of the minds” to begin a project is probably the most important step.
The second area that lead to failure was when the idea was made “too precious”. The tight grip didn’t allow for the book to breathe and develop organically.
These two areas of difficulty are naturally in conflict and require a balancing act. Not having a plan at all didn’t work, and rigidity in the concept might not have been the kiss of death, but it was definitely the kiss of paralysis.
It was fun and everyone learned in the process …
Missteps aside, it became thrilling to send off a draft of the story with new sections written and get back a draft with passages that played off the new scenes or dialogue. It was also fascinating to watch the mind of another author at play. Each of the dozen co-authors had a different approach, mindset and developmental style. All were a joy to experience through the process of co-writing.