Have I mentioned that my first book in the multi-author Danger Cove series comes out in less than two weeks now? June 16. FOUR-PATCH OF TROUBLE, a Danger Cove Quilting Mystery, and I’ll also have a short story, A Killing in the Market, set in Danger Cove (Danger Cove Farmer’s Market Mysteries) in the Killer Beach Reads anthology available July 16.
Based on reviews of the three Danger Cove books already published, readers seem to be enjoying the combination of continuity (setting and secondary characters) and fresh protagonists. I know I’ve had a lot of fun writing the stories and sharing the brainstorming.
I’ve been fascinated by the idea of collaborating for years, at least since I read the now-defunct “He Wrote, She Wrote” blog by Jenny Crusie and Bob Mayer, when they were collaborating in the early 2000s. Or possibly it was when I read the description of Terry Pratchett’s and Neil Gaiman’s work together on Good Omens. In both cases, it seemed like the collaborators’ enthusiasm for the story fed on each other’s enthusiasm, and they each brought different experiences to the work create a richer story than neither of them could have written alone. (Which is really saying something, because they’re all such brilliant authors to start with!)
I wanted to experience that feedback loop and to be part of a project that was bigger than what I could do by myself. But I’m a control freak, especially with my stories. I’ve seen writers brainstorming in groups, even tried it a few times, but mostly it just made me want to go hide somewhere in the dark, on a fainting couch with an icy towel on my forehead and lots of chocolate close at hand. Once or twice, it made me want to slap someone, which isn’t a nice thing to do to someone who’s honestly trying to be helpful.
So. How to have the best of both worlds: all the energy of a collaboration, where there’s always someone excited about the story, but without having to give up control of my characters and plots?
Enter Gemma Halliday. She came up with a basic setting in the Pacific Northwest and a general concept of a small, touristy town, Then she invited six authors (breaking news: two more have been added to the line-up) to each write about a different piece of that little town.
We get to share the setting and the secondary characters (cops, business owners, and the local eccentrics, including the fictional “author” of the series, Elizabeth Ashby), but we also each have a separate protagonist and romantic interest, and a separate cozy hook. For instance, I write the quilting mysteries with a quilt appraiser, and Christina Burke writes about a home renovator, and Sibel Hodge writes about the tavern owner. There’s also a bakery owner and a beauty salon and a B&B.
We’ve got complete autonomy with our protagonists and plots, but they interact with the other protagonists and shared secondary characters. And we have great editors who keep an eye out for continuity errors and do their best to keep the books consistent!
Still, it’s not entirely angst-free for the control freak in me. For example, we were brainstorming the name of the town’s mayor recently. We knew he was Native American, but we hadn’t chosen a name. I did some research and found a person of the right background whose last name was King Bird, and I thought that just “bird” would make a good last name, since Mayor King Bird would be too odd. Someone else didn’t think Bird sounded Native American enough, so she suggested a real chief’s last name, which I didn’t think sounded Native American enough! We agreed on the first name, though: Edward. Then another member of our group found the appropriate tribe’s word for bird, Kallakala, and bingo! We had our mayor’s name.
For the most part, though, we’ve been able to share our toys. In fact, there’s a scene in Traci Andrighetti’s Deadly Dye and a Soy Chai where her protagonist is talking to a couple members of my quilt guild, Dee and Emma. Traci sent me a draft of the scene to make sure she hadn’t gotten any of the quilting or characterization stuff wrong, She nailed it, so as I was reading it, I kept thinking, “I don’t remember when Dee and Emma did this.” It was just a bit surreal to see “my” characters doing stuff that I hadn’t set in motion.