When I asked Carolyn and Mike what title they would like their guest post to have, they came up with a couple of suggestions, so when I tell you that the idea which came a close second and was only beaten because of the way it looked in the title bar space, was:
‘She’s a lot shorter, that’s how you can tell them apart’…
you can imagine what a fun time I had organising this event!
When I featured the couple and the latest re-release of one of their collaboratively written mystery books, myself and several of my fellow bloggers who took the time to stop by and read the post, commented on the potential difficulties of writing as a duo and wondered aloud if there was a secret to their successful partnership.
Knowing Carolyn as I do, I should have instantly realised that I was opening a whole can of worms with that question, especially when both she and Mike decided to take up the challenge and chat about their respective roles in the dual writing process.
Every time I attempted to edit their copy into a post format, I couldn’t do it for laughing out loud at some of their spontaneous answers and candid observations about, ‘Love, Life and Writing, Together’. I hope that you come away with that same feelgood factor when you have finished reading …
Ladies First …
Hi, I’m Carolyn J. Rose
I am the author of more than a dozen novels, including the ‘Subbing isn’t for Sissies’ series (No Substitute for Murder. No Substitute for Money and No Substitute for Maturity), and the ‘Catskill Mountains Mysteries’ (Hemlock Lake and Though a Yellow Wood).
I grew up in New York’s Catskill Mountains and graduated from the University of Arizona. I logged two years in Arkansas, with Volunteers in Service to America and spent twenty five years as a television news researcher, writer, producer and assignment editor, in Arkansas, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington.
I founded the Vancouver Writers’ Mixers and am an active supporter of my local bookstore, Cover to Cover.
My interests are reading, gardening and NOT cooking.
And I’m Mike Nettleton
I am the author of The Shotgun Kiss and co-author of Drum Warrior, Death at Devil’s Harbor, Deception at Devil’s Harbor, The Hard Karma Shuffle and The Crushed Velvet Miasma.
I grew up in Brandon and Grants Pass, Oregon.
A stint at a college station in Ashland, led to a multi-state radio odyssey, with on-air gigs in Oregon, California and New Mexico, under the air name, Mike Phillips.
In 1989 I returned to the Northwest and in 1994 joined KEX radio in Portland.
Recently retired, my hobbies are golf, pool, Texas hold-em poker and community theater productions.
Together, we are The Deadly Duo Mysteries and you can keep up with all our latest news here
Mike: Much to the amazement of friends and relatives, we collaborated on 5 novels without inflicting serious bodily harm on one another or shelling out enough to buy a new car for a divorce lawyer.
Carolyn: Let’s face it—marriage isn’t for the faint of heart, and working together as a married couple isn’t for those who shrink at the sight of a little blood drawn by a barbed comment or the sound of doors slamming and tires burning rubber as the other spouse roars off to the closest tavern or pub.
Mike: But in a writing “marriage,” your child is your manuscript. If the marriage founders, that “child” suffers the most and may not survive. So you try to hold things together for “the kids.” That’s not easy, given that we’re very different people
He’s a man. I’m a woman
He’s the baby of his family. I’m the oldest
I like to move furniture around occasionally. He thinks it should be nailed to the floor
I can identify 30 shades of white. He can tell white from black
I nest. He’s a hobo who happens to have a permanent address
I make lists. He wings it.
She alphabetizes the dirty laundry. I’ve been known to make a tornado look organized.
I eat squid. She calls it “bait.”
I think the 3 Stooges are funny.
I love eclectic music, especially the Blues. She’s tone deaf and claims it all sounds like “King Bee.”
She made the honor roll. I made the police blotter.
Carolyn: And yet we wrote those five books as a team. To tell you the truth, I can’t remember how we decided to collaborate. Perhaps it was the result temporary insanity. Or, perhaps, after spending years arguing about why one of us couldn’t master the art of putting the toilet seat down or getting the paper on the roll the correct way, we needed to expand the battlefield.
And the process of figuring out how to collaborate certainly did that.
Mike: My idea of collaborative writing was influenced by memories of the Dick Van Dyke Show. Dick played Rob Petrie the lead writer for the Alan Brady show. Rob and his co-writers Buddy and Sally (Morey Amsterdam and Rosemarie) would dream up sketches, Rob pacing thoughtfully, Sally exchanging wisecracks with Buddy. Finally Rob would pound his fist and shout “I’ve got it.” Buddy would hunch over the typewriter and Rob would say something like, “Alan finds himself trapped in a harem in Arabia.”
Point is, this is how I dreamed Carolyn and I would write together. She would sit at the computer keyboard—only fair since she’s a much faster typist—and I would say brilliant stuff, and she’d take it down and then add some of her own brilliant stuff. At the end, we’d print it all out, send it off, get a huge advance, and our careers as co-writers would be off to the races.
Carolyn: My idea of collaboration wasn’t 180 degrees off from his. But it was about 170 degrees away—mainly because his idea seemed like more work for me. So we tabled the idea until we saw the guy on the street.
Mike: He was on a bicycle, weaving in and out of traffic in downtown Portland. He was in his late forties, with long hair tied in a ponytail and wearing a tie-dyed T-shirt. It was like wow, man, the 60s live.
We started talking about what this guy’s life must be like, how he supported himself, the kinds of people he hung out with, and whether he was still into the love, peace, and harmony vibe. We decided he never held a salaried job, had no identification, no Social Security card, and no driver’s license. We decided he ran off to Woodstock at 15, turned on, and followed the Grateful Dead around the country before he landed in Portland.
Carolyn: Being writers and all, we decided to use this guy as the central character in a mystery-detective novel (The Hard Karma Shuffle). And that decision led to the first of several dozen disagreements about a joint creative process.
Mike: Unable to break her down with my superior logic, heart-felt arguments or even the old reliable groveling, whining, and pleading, I gave up and went off to sulk while she wrote yet another novel on her own. Overachiever, I thought. Who needed her? I’d write the book myself.
I turned on my computer, pouted, and began to do what I do best—procrastinate. I managed to work up a more complete character profile and even, in a flash of bright creative light, decide what we’d call him. Inspired, I wrote a decent first chapter. And then I bogged down and started plotting how I would talk Carolyn into co-writing. I was certain she hadn’t really meant that “over my dead body” comment she made the last four times I’d proposed the idea.
Carolyn: I finally caved because I liked the character and the fish-out-of-water concept. But I insisted on a few rules.
Mike: And I insisted we didn’t need no stinking rules!
Carolyn: I’m a Virgo. I’m all about rules.
Mike: I’m a Scorpio. I think rules ______ (insert word of your choice here).
Carolyn: But I held out, because the man who jams the silverware in the dishwasher upside down isn’t going to flinch at slamming commas in where they don’t belong. He’s going to tell you, with a straight face, that he knows the rules for using semicolons, and then use them in place of commas or dashes. And as for planning and organization—
Mike: Okay, I admit I spew stuff onto the page. And I’ll write on anything. A computer, a yellow note pad, sticky notes, candy wrappers, toilet paper, tree bark. And who thinks about spelling, grammar, punctuation, and logic in a first draft?
Carolyn: And that’s great because it works for him. But when I read a manuscript loaded with errors, it feels like trying to sleep in a bed full of kitty litter. It may be clean, fresh, kitty litter. But it’s still scratchy.
Misspellings, faulty parallel structure, run-on sentences, and punctuation errors don’t faze Mike in the least. He reads right past them. But I sweat the small stuff. I can’t read what he’s written until I vacuum up the kitty litter and straighten the sheets. In other words, until I clean up the manuscript.
Mike: So, being a sensitive New Age guy, I gave in and agreed to a few rules.
Carolyn: To be honest, there were more than a few. And the list grew as we went along. It was a learn-as-you-go project, and what we learned can apply to anyone who wants to write with a partner and who recognizes their idiosyncrasies and their limits.
1. Make sure you really want to do this. Make a list of the pros and cons and what each of you brings to the table.
2. Decide who gets top billing if it sells. Decide how you’ll handle defeat if you end up with second billing. What will the other person have to do to make it up to you?
3. Decide whether you can divorce yourself from your ego so you don’t end up divorcing yourself from your writing partner.
4. Decide how you’ll resolve disputes over a favorite word, a turn of phrase you can’t live without, or a plot twist you’re not willing to alter. This can be as simple as flipping a coin, or as complex as keeping track of who gave in the last time.
5. Decide how you’ll make changes to the drafts. Will you write on a paper copy of the manuscript, or get into the computer and rearrange blocks of text? We work both ways depending on who takes the lead on the project.
6. Decide if you’re able to isolate this experience from the rest of your relationship. If it slops over, you’re risking more than the book.
7. Decide how much time you’re able to commit. If one of you works on it 25 hours a week and the other works 2, you’ve got trouble.
8. Decide whether you’ll share a workspace and computer. If you do, I guarantee you’ll find that techno-togetherness will breed disputes over who gets to work when, whether you’re allowed to eat potato chips and grease up the keyboard while you’re working, and how much clutter is too much. (We have separate offices at opposite ends of the house and on different floors.)
9. Have a plan before you begin. A blueprint of where the book is going will keep you focused. And, let’s face it, if you can’t get a blueprint out of your committee of two, there’s no way you’re going to write a book together.
10. Decide how the words will get onto the paper. Will one of you write and one edit? Or will you both write? On The Hard Karma Shuffle, Carolyn took the lead and wrote the first draft. Mike made changes and edits on hard copy.
11. Set a timeline for when you’ll complete each chapter. That will keep you focused and keep excuses to a minimum.
12. Set limits on when you’ll talk shop and when you’ll stick your fingers in your ears. (A perfect time to talk and even make notes is when we’re stuck in traffic.)
THE HARD KARMA SHUFFLE
Paladin – that’s his only name now – is a gray-haired and pony-tailed love-child who has grown up and opted out of mainstream life for nearly 30 years. He’s got no social security number, no driver’s license, and has never paid a cent to the IRS.
Now in his forties, Paladin takes care of his minimal needs through barter and payments under the table for delivering packages on his bicycle in the weather-cursed city of Portland. One ugly afternoon, Paladin is sent to deliver an envelope to a software company and then ordered by the sender to “undeliver” it. Upon his return, Paladin finds his client – a good friend – dead.
What happens to this counterculture and innocent soul, and the envelope in his possession, is the stuff of the mystery.
Somehow, we managed to do all this. And now, when we thumb through the book, we have no idea which words, phrases, and sentences originated with which co-author.