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Monday, September 27, 2010

Guest Author(s) Post: Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett on Writing Collaboration

Fantasy Book Critic is pleased to present Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett. They are the authors of the "Mechanical Dragons" series, of which Havemercy was published in 2008, Shadow Magic in 2009, Dragon Soul in June 2010, while the fourth installment Steelhands is on track for a 2011 publication date.


The one thing people ask about Havemercy most often is, "Wait—you wrote the manuscript in how many days?" And then, sheepishly, one of us answers the same as always: "Well… Yeah, it was eighteen days, I guess." Because it's true, and that's exactly how long it took to write the first draft of the first book we'd ever manage to get published. It was a frenzy of ideas, of trying to make our schedules fit, of writing in between shifts at Starbucks or while editing a country decorating magazine. From start to finish, we didn't eat much or sleep much, and our entire lives were spent waiting for the next part to show up in our inboxes. At no point did we have any idea how the book was going to end. We just had a handful of characters, a whole lot of enthusiasm, and the desire to figure out what was going to happen for ourselves. Except when we were finished, we just didn't want to let go. Our brains were still firing on all cylinders; we were going a million miles a minute, just because we felt too lonely to let those characters go.

As much fun as it was at the time, and as fondly as we do speak of those blissful days, we never wrote a book like that again. And there are so, so many reasons why.

Havemercy underwent a lot of transformations after those eighteen days, first with a few trustworthy readers, then with our agent, then with our editor. And, admittedly, that process might have been a whole lot easier if we hadn't written the book in (yeah, we guess) eighteen days. It was the first time either of us had to edit something more than a college paper, where the most you have to do is tweak for grammar and maybe change the conclusion to be a little punchier.

Massive rewrites? A ten page edit letter? What did our agent see in us? What did our editor see in us? Maybe they'd all made some horrible mistake—and maybe we'd made a horrible mistake, too. It was pretty overwhelming at the time, and if we hadn't been working together, afraid of letting each other down by dropping the ball, we might just as easily have let the panic take control. Who knows where that manuscript would be right now if we'd let that happen? Who knows where we'd be?

Fortunately, we did have each other, three packages of multicolored post-it notes, and that same nervous thrill as when we finished the "final" page of Havemercy: not to let the characters we loved so much down by keeping them hidden away on some word document, buried in our inboxes.

Still, a lot has changed since that first manuscript and the two most recent ones we turned in, our third and fourth books—Dragon Soul and Steelhands, respectively. Both were ideas we had right when we finished Havemercy and we needed to combat that sudden loneliness, and both were ideas that changed massively from the first inception to the final draft that our editor gave her mark of approval. Not that we knew what was happening at the time, but in writing multiple manuscripts, we actually started to learn something about writing. Crazy when that happens, right?

For two people who used to feel like the magic spark of a good idea would die if we didn't pound out the pages as fast as we possibly could to start slowing down and planning things seemed pretty impossible at first. We're both incredibly impatient writers, who like to discover things as we go along, and neither of us likes to be kept waiting. But a book doesn't exactly work like that. The reader needs to experience that surprise, but it's probably not for the best if the writers are just as surprised as the readers are every step of the way. Neither of us worked too well with a plan—we liked to think of ourselves as being charmingly spontaneous—but because we'd had these ideas for so long, it became natural to do the unthinkable…and start working with an outline.

Not only that, but we wanted to get back to telling all the tales we'd missed out on in Havemercy. We wanted to get back to the stories that had fallen by the wayside because we were moving so fast, afraid we'd lose steam if we started to slow down. There are so many details we only had the chance to touch upon in our first book that we find ourselves coming back to, time and time again, searching to expand and, hopefully, to improve upon that original ideal, that spark that really got our engines going. Mechanical dragons.

It worked out the first time, crazy as it sounded at the time. But we still want to make it better. We want to make it work even more.

There's something in between slamming on the brakes and stepping on the gas, even if neither of us is all that good at cruise control. The problem for us has never been a lack of ideas, but of trying to refine them, not to mention trying to find the right pace. If we've learned anything between writing our first book and writing our fourth, it's that not everything has to happen immediately. If we're not able to write a book in a month, it's not the end of the world, but rather a sign that we're taking the time to do some self-editing. And hopefully our editor ends up grateful, too.

Collaborating on a book definitely allows us, as writers, to work at a more rapid tempo than either of us would be able to do separately. However, we've also learned a lot about how to maximize our productivity so that the end result is something we can be proud of—or at least something we can criticize a little less. We both like to think that it's no coincidence that our fourth book, Steelhands, had the least structural edits to date. (But it still had a ten page edit letter.)


Lawrence Vincent said...

Many congratulations on your success! I certainly spent more than 18 days on my first manuscript, but I appreciate that working with another writer would allow you to drum out ideas and plot lines more efficiently. What other benefits have you found in your collaboration?

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