Today my special guests are collaborative writers, Laura Baumbach and Josh Lanyon. They’re are also among my favorite authors, and I asked them to talk about writing partnerships since the idea of working on a joint project fascinates me. Read on to hear about their writing adventures. Their book Mexican Heat is due out in September from MLR Press.
When it works, it’s a beautiful thing.
A few months ago, I hit a stumbling block on a story I had been dabbling at getting finished for over two years. I asked good friend and accomplished peer Josh Lanyon if he would take a looksee and give me some suggestions on how to work past the problem.
Suggestions moved to plotting and character arc discussion, then turned into writing scenes, exploring dialog and creating fictional family trees for the heroes. Which in turned led to our discussing writing the story together. I admit the thought was so frightening to me at first I ignored the suggestion altogether. But the idea kept poking at me so I finally took the plunge and talked to Josh about.
He had tried it once before and it hadn’t worked out. There is always that risk that two people that can get along fine together can’t write together. Sharing your most prized baby with someone else can be difficult especially if sharing involves criticism and suggestions for improvement. Not everyone thinks along the same creative lines.
Josh and I were lucky and maybe more suited for collaboration that the average author pairing. We already had a history of writing very similar story elements as we did in with the ghost stories in the Scared Stiff anthology.
We even named a character the same uncommon name in those two ghost stories. It was like we channeled the same ghost.
Then in a separate situation we both wrote short stories, without discussing them with each other, about cops (both named Matt!) who were attracted to partners who were wounded people. Not so much physically injured as emotionally, though the physical was there as well. It was uncanny they way we worked in parallel, creative lines. Our stories are way different because Josh is a better author, but in the building blocks they are very much alike. So that gave us an edge for collaboration.
Another factor is the different way Josh and I write. The entire book, chapter by chapter was plotted out before we start. We both know exactly what direction the story is going, what the character arcs are, and where romantic elements go. Pivotal scenes are noted and we make sure there is a balance of the mystery/crime plot and the erotic moments. I do a quick and dirty story dump in a first draft. Then I like to think I’m done until an editor looks at it. Truth. Josh is such an extreme opposite, the consummate pro who works his writing over and over, refining and fine-tuning it so it is near perfection before an editor ever sees it. And he likes edits. Crazy man!
So we worked out an intelligent system for us. I follow the chapter outline to write the story — down and dirty, quick and wordy. I call it ‘lush’. He gets it next and fleshes it out, adds his voice, refines the manuscript, gives it a new feel and voice, not all mine, not all his, but a joining of our style. Third voice, we hope.
If there are points he doesn’t agree with, we talk and resolve the issue, but those have been few so far. It helps that I’m not married to anything I write and he doesn’t pick at little points. We both understand plotting, pacing, balance and the need for give and take.
So far, we’re 65,000 words into the first of the new series and collaborative life has been amazingly smooth. Some may be keeping their fingers crossed it lasts but I think this series and working with Josh has been the best part of my writing to date. I hope readers feel the same.
This is the story of a partnership no one planned.
So…once upon a time not so long ago…okay, about a year ago since you’re a stickler for accuracy…I had no notion what M/M fiction was. I think I had some vague idea that it melted in your mouth and not in your hands. But in the interests of promoting The Hell You Say, which I’d finished five minutes earlier, I rejoined a lot of GLBT discussion lists and loops that I had dropped out of when I ran off to join the circus. And I noticed that on these lists with me were these women writers who were apparently writing gay love stories, except they called them M/M. And they were only in electronic format.
Which I thought was ghastly and pointless — electronic format, I mean. But we’ll leave that for now.
Then one day a really nice woman who kept praising my Adrien English stories to the sky happened to mention that she had a new story out, and I thought in the interests of courtesy I should go buy this story and read it.
Which I did. The story was called South of the Border by Laura Baumbach. It took about three minutes to read — I think it was maybe ten pages long. Basically it’s the story about two guys — two former cops who happen to also be lovers — in a hot tub. One of them is now blind, and the other one is going off on some dangerous unknown operation, and they…um…say good-bye. A lot.
And I loved it.
Yes, that’s right. Take away my PBS charter membership. I loved it. I loved the characters and I loved this nutty little premise, I loved the hint of backstory that she conveyed, I loved the mood, the sex. I loved it. And I told her so. And that was how Laura and I got to be pals, and that was also my introduction to M/M writing — and the second phase of my writing career.
So fast forward a bit. I kept hounding Laura to write the novel about these two guys, Gabriel and Antonio, that she kept promising. Sounds kind of familiar, doesn’t it — she had the audacity to even say that to me once: that she’d write the book as soon as I finished Adrien 4. HA. And at one point she mentioned not being quite sure what to do with a mystery/crime plot. So I said the obvious: BRING IT ON, BABY!
But she didn’t bring it on. And I actually forgot all about her writing that book, tentatively titled Mexican Heat.
And then finally, one day, she sends an attachment and mentions she’s written herself into a little bit of a corner, and could I take a look? Which I do. Eagerly.
I love the story. Love it. It’s totally insane, of course, but so what? We’re not talking hard-hitting crime drama here, we’re talking…crime romance or something. Is there such a genre? Anyway, I love the characters, love the story — what there is of it — and I’m so totally roped into how these two guys get together, we reach a penultimate point,
I turn the page and she’s written - brace yourself — One Year Later.
ONE. YEAR. LATER.
At the key point of the book.
You think I’m ever going to let her live that down?
But I read over her notes, and I instantly see the problem.
She’s written two books and tried to fit them into one. And being the arrogant, opinionated — though kindly intentioned — Know-It-All that I am, I sit down and I outline her plot for her and her character arcs, and blah, blah, blah — pages and pages of this stuff. But I can’t stop. I’m so totally into the characters. I’m so excited by this story. Even though I see that it is…well, goofy. It IS goofy, but it’s just got something about it. Anyway, poor Laura. I send off my masters thesis on her story…
For hours. This is not like Laura. Unless she’s at work.
And she’s not.
And I start thinking about how I would take this kind of action on the part of another writer. Essentially: Here, write what I want you to write.
So I send a little tentative email and she writes back that she knows the story has problems, etc. Basically trying to be nice about it while she restrains herself from screaming at me. And I know what she wants to scream — I asked you for help and you gave me another book to write, you &^%$#@!
Of course she feels like that. Perfectly reasonable. I’d want to strangle me if I were her.
And so I send more emails. Jokey emails, and then not jokey emails. I nervously, awkwardly start trying to explain why I think the way I do, and — adding insult to injury, but I really was just trying to be helpful at that point — that I’ll help her. Yes, I even said — because I was truly freaking at the silent treatment (damn you, Laura) H-H-H-Hey, want a partner?
Which I sincerely meant because having written all that stuff about the story and they guys, yes, I was starting to feel invested. But mostly I was wishing I’d kept my mouth shut because I love Laura and I’d hate to ruin a great friendship and a great partnership over something ultimately as trivial as…yes…a book.
Two fatal phrases that will define us forever:
One. Year. Later.
Hey. wanna partner?
So finally she recovered enough to say she loved the plot, loved the character arc, thank you very much…etc. etc. She’ll dedicate the series to me, more etcetera…
Whew! And I resolve to keep my big mouth shut in the future.
And about a week later she writes and says…So what exactly did you mean by “partner.”
And that is how a new series by Laura Baumbach and Josh Lanyon began.