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Sharing our love for authors, and the stories they are inspired to tell.

‘Togetherness At The Keyboard’ …………… by Carolyn J. Rose and Mike Nettleton

Image Of Carolyn J. Rose, Mike Nettleton and dogWhen 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

Photograph of author Carolyn J. RoseI 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

Image Of Author Mike NettletonI 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

Picture Of Authors Carolyn J. Rose and Mike Nettleton

WRITING TOGETHER

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

Photograph of author Carolyn J. Rose

Carolyn:
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.

Image Of Author Mike NettletonMike:
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.

Picture Of Authors Carolyn J. Rose and Mike Nettleton

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.

Written by
Yvonne

I can’t remember a time, even as a child, when I haven’t been passionate about books and reading.
I began blogging, when I realised just how many other people out there shared my passion for the written word and I have been continually amazed at the wealth of books that are available and the amount of great new friends I have made, from literally 'The Four Corners Of The World'.

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31 comments
    • Hi Carolyn,

      I don’t believe any married couple who say that they have never had an argument or harsh word, in all their time together. The notion that two people can live and work together as closely as you and Mike do, is a testament to a strong relationship, despite the small differences and spats you might have from time to time.

      I love number 3 of your ‘Rule Guide’

      I wonder if the guy in Portland, ever realised that he had been used as the central character, in ‘The Hard Karma Shuffle’?

      Have a great weekend and an enjoyable few days away.

  • Carolyn and I just observed our 25th anniversary with a little jaunt to the Oregon Coast. Hit a rare nice day (This spring has been rainy) walked the beach, at a great dinner together and celebrated our love for one another. Although we don’t write together much, anymore, we still kick ideas back and forth and share our writing with each other. She helped me finish a screenplay for a competition by doing a read-through of parts of it and contributed stuff toward a stage play I’m starting as we drove along Highway 101. Having recently reread all of our jointly written stuff, I’m still proud of it. It makes me laugh and I’m still very fond of the characters we created.

    • Hi Mike,

      It’s 35 years for us this April, although we probably won’t be doing anything special this time, we did all that for our 25th and 30th, the next big one is 40!!

      Spring so far has been quite mild and relatively dry, after all the winter flooding and winds, although there are a few wet days forecast over this weekend, just when we needed to get out and about for work!

      I should imagine it almost impossible to live and work so closely together and not share ideas and writing with each other. At least you know you will probably have already met your potential worst critic, before anything gets as far as publishing and is watched, or read, by the world at large.

      Thanks for contributing such a candidly open account of writing together. With a set of rules that ensure give and take on both sides of the table, success in both career and marriage is almost certainly assured. Maybe more couples should try this approach, after all, a good partnership needs to be worked at!

      Have a great weekend.

  • I can testify–I know Carolyn and Mike very well, and everything they’ve written in this post is 99% true. What is amazing and admirable is that through all of the disagreement and strong feelings (on occasion), they persisted–all the way through to the finish. Didn’t give up.

    I don’t have a significant, or non-significant other, but much of what they described as their process can happen between me, myself, and I.

    Thanks Carolyn & Mike

    • Hi Elizabeth,

      Only 99% true ….. what juicy morsels of gossip am I missing out on, I ask myself? (LOL Just Joking)

      As I said to Carolyn, any couple who say they have the perfect relationship, either professionally or personally, with never a disagreement nor harsh word between them, is probably seeing life through very rose-tinted glasses. It is having the maturity to work through any issues and move on, that’s a sign of a strong and stable partnership.

      Although I very much have a husband around, I actually don’t mind my own company too much. I can vouch for the fact that it is quite possible to argue with oneself, and it is always good to know that I am going to come up with the outcome I would like!

      I am not so sure that hubbie and I could work too closely together though … after all, we are both Gemini (Latin for twins), so all four of us need to agree!!

      Thanks for stopping by, I had real fun with this post.

  • Having read my first novel co-written by two authors I had wondered how it might work. Now thanks to Carolyn and Mike I now at least know how it works for them. Interesting post, thank you.

    • Hi Tracy,

      Some time ago, I featured author P. J. Parrish, who it transpired, was in fact two sisters who co-authored ….

      “P.J. Parrish is another example of an author (or, in this case, two authors), being required by an agent to adopt a pen name, to avoid the reading audience knowing who (or what) they are! The writing team actually comprises a ‘double-act’, of two sisters, Kristy Montee and Kelly Nichols, who try to dispel the reader myth, that P.J. Parrish is actually a black male author, whilst also trying to break down the bias that still exists against female crime/thriller writers, because of their gutsy, gritty writing style. Ironically though, both women, who have since early childhood been avid story writers, tried their hand at writing romance, with little success, before summoning their character of Louis Kincaid into print. Their differing styles and individual unique qualities of writing complement each other, more so as time has passed and each has become a stonger writer; until now, the collaboration has produced an almost seamless manuscript that blends effectively, the more amazing when you consider that the ladies live states apart and only exchange ideas via the telephone and internet.”

      Check out the full post …
      https://www.fiction-books.biz/reviews/my-thoughts-about-south-of-hell-by-p-j-parrish/

      Carolyn and Mike’s arrangement seems much more sensible. Only having to walk to another room in the house with your completed portion of the story and discussing the final outcome of the plot over dinner, is much more civilised … unless of course you can’t agree and you are facing each other, eyeball to eyeball!

      I hope that you enjoyed your co-authored experience and thanks for stopping by, I appreciate your comment.

  • What a great post! I love how “people watching” became the inspiration for Paladin.

    The Hard Karma Shuffle now waits for me in my Kindle.

    • Hi Kelly,

      A sunny day, a table outside a good beachfront restaurant, a nice big glass of dry white wine and time to people watch ….. what could be better I ask myself!

      I am not sure exactly what I would have thought if a character like Paladin had passed by though, as I can’t stand middle aged men, or even worse old men, with ponytails!

      I am not too sure just how long it will be until I get to read ‘The Hard Karma Shuffle’, however I have plenty of Carolyn’s other books to keep me occupied before then!

      I hope that you enjoy the story and have a great weekend.

  • I have known Mike for over 45 years. We met in college where Mike would show up for classes occasionally, but found his love in doing radio while in college. He quit college and had a very successful career as one of the popular talk radio hosts in Albuquerque and Portland. I lived with Mike for a while while he was working and I was attending college (read that as playing cards in the student union). How Carolyn puts up with Mike is no mystery, to me at least. He is extremely smart, well read and has a killer sense of humor. Why they get along, when you have two people with IQ’s that run in the stratosphere, have a wickedly interesting view of the world, compassionate beyond belief, and just see life as an adventure, it is not hard to believe that they are still together even with trying to co-author a book or two. I admire and care for these two “characters” as they are such wonderful human beings. Loved the interview, love the books, love Mike and Carolyn!

    • Hi Mike,

      You are preaching to the converted in your praise and estimation of Carolyn and Mike ….. And I don’t even know them in person, although the opportunity to spend some time in their company, would surely be entertaining and most edifying.

      On a professional level, their commitment to their work and their sense of humour in not taking themselves too seriously, is obvious for even the casual observer to pick up on. Whilst their support for the folks such as myself, who are only too happy to promote and feature their work, is there for all too see, in the lovely responses to comments and posts, their keen interest in participating in author guest posts, is formidable and spontaneous.

      Their books aren’t bad either! I have quite a little collection growing and every so often another Kindle git will arrive in my in tray, unannounced, yet very welcome.

      Thank you for taking the time to stop by and for your personal testamonial to a lovely couple. Most people would be delighted to have such a loyal froiend in their corner.

      Have a great weekend.

  • What, Mike you can comment on a blog but can’t call or write in person? (Just joking, I talk to Michael every week). What Michael doesn’t mention is how important he and my other close friends have been in nurturing our writerishness and encouraging us to continue. He’s one of those friends who is a true brother and I would wish for everyone to have at least one.

    • Good friends are an important asset to all of us in the cut and thrust of modern life and the hectic pace we are forced to live it at, they help to keep us sane!

  • Ooooh I haven’t heard of these authors, think I will try and keep an eye out for this one. I think my only known joint author read is Nicci French but now I think about it I am sure there are more I either just don’t remember or haven’t noticed. Certainly is likely considering how many I have read.

    Lainy http://www.alwaysreading.net

    • Hi Lainy,

      I had quite forgotten about Nicci French until you mentioned them, so thanks for that.

      I wonder why it is that some ‘joint authors’ feel the need to write under a single combined name, or a derivative which is totally unrecognizable as being either of their names; whilst others such as Carolyn and Mike are quite happy to let the world know, that as two named individuals, they have written a book together?

      I guess that’s just down to personal choice, or maybe a reflection of their individual personalities. Either way, Carolyn and Mike definitely have oodles of personality and plenty of talent, whether writing together, or as individuals.

      Thanks for stopping by and joining the discussion, I appreciate your comments.

  • Writing under one name may be a marketing decision. Or it could be that they couldn’t decide who got top billing so they picked a third name.

    I sense a mission for you, Yvonne – letting writing teams know they have some explaining to do. (LOL)

    • Hi Carolyn,

      I never even thought about your second suggestion!

      How do you decide who gets top billing on the book cover? In an ideal ‘traditional’ world, the gentleman would always allow the lady to take the lead, but I guess that in this age of equality most men would be standing on the shoulders of the women to get star billing!

      If you have two authors of the same sex, then a third totally unique name might well be the way to go!

      Interesting thread to the discussion, thanks Carolyn

  • What a nice post and how interesting that they write together! Five books together is very impressive. Advice #6 “isolate this experience from the rest of your relationship” I think is a great one. I can only imagine it would be very stressful otherwise.
    My husband also thinks 3 Stooges are funny, I just don’t understand it. lol

    • Hi Naida,

      I’m with you in not understanding the comedy of ‘The Three Stooges’, but then I am not a huge fan of ‘slapstick’ comedy of any kind, I can’t see the point of it!

      The twelve tips to ‘total togetherness’ really made me smile, but thinking about them logically, if they were applied to most ordinary people’s everyday lives, then perhaps there wouldn’t be so many relationship issues and breakdowns, as many of the points were just plain commonsense.

      It sounds as though there is never a dull moment in the Nettleton household, doesn’t it?

  • What’s not to understand about the three students. One of them pokes the other in the eye. That one slaps the other one alongside the head. The slapee says “nyuk, nyuk, nyuk, hey Moe!” It that’s not big time high-lair-it-tee I don’t know what is. Actually Carolyn and I having very different senses of humor is a plus. She reins in my tendency toward creating over-the-top characters and situations and I reinforce her right to have characters do strange things in the quest of a cheap laugh

    • Hi Mike,

      Dave and I have broadly similar tastes in comedy. Generally, observational comedy about everyday events, things and people, tends to be our favourite.

      Neither of us are prudes by any stretch of imagination, however we do both have an aversion to comedy or comedians, where every other word is the *f* or *c* word, that will always see us both reaching for the remote.

      We have been the butt of a comedians routine on more than one occasion, when some relatives, who shall remain nameless but know who they are!, have bought us tickets to a show as a gift and have strategically placed us in the front row of the audience, whilst they all sit several rows back, watching us squirm!

      Some cheap laughs are acceptable and can be very funny, both to the direct recipient of their content and to the wider audience at large, however there is a very fine line which any good comedian should know not to cross, in my opinion, between humour and abuse.

  • Yvonne, I’m with you on your side of that line between humor and abuse. I knew too many kids who imitated all that slapping and nose twisting and hair pulling. And it wasn’t funny.

  • Love this post! Both authors seem to have a great sense of humor and truly enjoy each other…in their marriage and writing.

    I don’t get the Three Stooges either. It’s just corny, and not funny. My cousin on the other hand thinks they are hilarious! To each his own, right?

    • Hi Vicki,

      Definitely! If we were all the same, the world would be a boring place!

      I really do think that a great sense of humour, together with the give and take which seems to be missing from so many partnerships these days, is what has made Carolyn and Mike the successes they are, both in their personal and public partnerships …. Oh! and of course their excellent storytelling and writing skills!

      Thanks for stopping by and joining the discussion and I hope that you have enjoyed your weekend.

  • Just noticed I said 3 students instead of 3 stooges. See what I mean about being easily distracted. Actually, I was being tongue-in-cheek about the stooges. I found them hilarious when I was 12, not so much now. I, too, like humor that springs from life. Just finished doing sound for a play called “The Dixie Swim Club” about 5 women who were on a college swim team and reunite every year to catch up. Hilarious, touching and poignant.

    There’s humor all around us. We just need to keep the antenna up.

    • I wasn’t going to be so impolite as to say anything, although I quite like the sound of the three students, conjures up a whole different image in my mind!

      I checked out ‘The Dixie Swim Club’, I am assuming that the couple of YouTube excerpts relate to the show, unless the name has been used before … it looks and sounds great and I wish you every success with the production.

      I am not a huge fan of sitcoms, or humorous films and plays, I prefer my humour to be of the stand-up variety and focusing on real life.

      • Yvonne, I think that’s one of the keys to getting through the day – being able to find humor in real life. This wasn’t funny an hour ago when we were (finally) cleaning our cars, but it is now – while tossing junk from my trunk, I also somehow tossed my keys. Eventually I concluded there was only one place they could be, and had to dive into the trash can. Fortunately there was nothing in the can that called for me to don a hazmat suit. But, naturally, the keys had migrated to the very bottom. Given that I’m short, there was quite a bit of contorting going on before I retrieved them.

        • Now does this come under humour, or abuse?

          I could find the entire scenario very funny and get a cheap laugh at your expense ….. or I could decide that, being taller than yourself, Mike should have been the gentleman and dived into the rubbish for you!

          We have also had a car cleaning binge over the weekend and guess what … I have woken to strong winds and rain this morning, so that exercise was a bit of a wasted effort!

          Have a good trip and thanks for being such good sports.

Written by Yvonne

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