Candice Proctor on collaboration
Six years ago I would have told you there was simply no way I could ever write a book with a partner. Impossible. Unthinkable. Ridiculous even to contemplate. I’m a loner by nature and I have this thing about control—both in my writing, and in my life. So how did I end up as part of C.S. Graham?
Well…I met this guy named Steve Harris. Turned out he was an ex-spy. Not only that, but he’d been involved in a bizarre but very real program run by the U.S. Army: the remote viewing project at Fort Meade. It all sounded like a great starting point for a thriller series. Unfortunately — or maybe fortunately — it wasn’t something I personally felt up to writing. Verisimilitude and accuracy are important to me, and I knew that if I tried to write those kinds of books by myself, I’d be making a lot of embarrassing mistakes. So the idea went on the back burner.
At the time, I was just starting to write a new series of my own — the Sebastian St. Cyr historical mystery series — which I publish under the name C. S. Harris (the name "Harris" is a clue to the evolution of our relationship: we got married). But while the Sebastian books are very much my own, I quickly discovered that Steve makes a great plotting partner. He was particularly helpful when it came to orchestrating chase scenes, fight scenes, and what I call "macho strut" scenes (you know, those testosterone-laden posturing scenes, where male characters show each other how tough they are). We worked so well together that I started thinking, Well, maybe I could write a book with a partner.
Thus, the team known as "C.S. Graham" was born. Our first collaboration, The Archangel Project, hit the stores this fall, earned a starred Publishers Weekly review, is an Indie Next pick, and is attracting a lot of attention from Hollywood.
So how do two people write one book? I suspect there are as many different ways of collaborating with a writing partner as there are writing teams. Our particular method is one that is best suited to our own individual strengths. We brainstorm ideas together, then plot out our books together, first laying down the general outlines of the story before fine-tuning individual scenes. We talk about characterization and motivation; sometimes we even lay down stretches of dialogue. We both do research. But when it comes to the actual writing, I’m still the one who sits down at the computer and puts the words on paper.
We like this approach because it gives the book a uniform voice, and because it, ahem, satisfies my need for control. If Steve were a Type A control freak like me, the partnership would never work. But because he’s mellow, and very wise, and very diplomatic, it works just fine.
People frequently ask, So how do you handle disagreements? The truth is, Steve and I rarely disagree. When we do, we go with the opinion of whoever is the expert. Since I’ve written more than a dozen books, my opinion carries more weight on things like story arc and pacing, and Steve will bow to my superior wisdom in those areas. But Steve is the acknowledged expert on everything from spycraft to Washington, D.C., politics to guns. So if I come up with an idea and he says, "That’s impossible," or, "They wouldn’t do it that way," I drop it. Each of us also has the deciding word on characters of our own gender. If Steve suggests a line of dialogue or a course of action for Tobie, our female protagonist, and I say, "A woman like Tobie would never say or do that," he drops it. And when I’m writing a scene involving a lot of the aforementioned masculine strut, we work the action and dialogue out together in meticulous detail, to make sure I get it right.
Because our series involves both a female and male protagonist—remote viewer October (Tobie) Guinness and disgraced CIA agent Jax Alexander—some people think that Tobie is me and Jax is Steve. The truth is, both characters are a blending of both our personalities, combined with histories and quirks and talents that are all their own. In some ways, Steve is actually more like Tobie, and I’m more like Jax. Tobie has an inner peace and wisdom that reminds me in many ways of Steve; Jax is the hothead, the avowed realist with a secret dedication to truth and justice who’s been described as "one mistake away from being fired."
One of the benefits of writing together that came as a surprise to both of us is just how much fun we have "working" on our books, devising twisted new plots, doing on-sight research, choreographing fight scenes, weaving fact into fiction. Writing can be a very lonely profession, but writing together turns the books into something we share. The truth is, neither of us could have written The Archangel Project or its sequel, The Deadlight Connection (coming in the fall of 2009) by ourselves. And I’ve found that the more we work together on the Jax and Tobie series, the more I tend to turn to Steve when it comes time to write my Sebastian St. Cyr mystery series. Because the truth is, when it comes to creating fiction, two imaginations are better than one.