It’s been very cold here in Central New York. I’m talking below zero on a regular basis cold. When it’s this cold there are only a few things I enjoy doing, and most of them I can’t talk about here. Because they involve things like shoe sales and peel and eat shrimp.
I also like to write.
I’m sure if you’ve ever been to this blog before you’ve probably heard me talk about Craig Hart, my writing partner on the SpyCo novella series. We’ve been friends for a very a long time (300 years), and we took the plunge to start writing books together last year. Why wait 299 years before starting, you ask? I wanted to make sure he was the real deal. You can never be too careful about these things. I mean, look at the guy!
Of course, I really can’t complain too much. I mean, look at what he has to work with!
Craig and I were talking earlier today on Facebook Messenger. This, then, is your first earth-shaking behind the scenes revelation: we do 99% of our communicating on Messenger. (The other 1% is email, but I cringe whenever he sends me one because the subject line is always “You’re Fired!” And somehow he actually writes it in Trump’s voice!)
While we were talking, goofing around actually, an idea emerged for a future character. This is not the first time this has happened. As a matter of fact, character genesis via the two of us being wise-asses is a fairly common occurrence. Want to know a character that was spawned this way? Secret #2, the very popular Dot started out as a joke. I’m paraphrasing here, but it went something like this:
S: I saw the world’s most crotchety old woman today. I thought she was going to punch me in the face.
C: I would have paid to see that.
C: Wouldn’t it be great to have a cantankerous old lady in the organization somewhere?
S: Oh my god, yea! I can picture her with bright red lips and nails, cigarette hanging out of her mouth.
C: Every other word out of her mouth would be an obscenity.
S: But when push comes to shove she’s amazingly badass. Stone cold killer.
I could have gone back through our Messenger history and found the exact conversation, but I’d probably have to use a lot of comic book swear symbols. And anyway you get the idea.
Those Messenger conversations, which often occur late at night when our families are tucked comfortably into their beds, are sometimes as exciting as anything you read in the books themselves. A random comment will spark an idea. That idea will lead to another, and so on. One night before we knew what had happened we had sketched out ideas for at least four future books. Boom.
There are several “types” of writers when it comes to the topic of planning a book. There are people who know before they type the first word exactly everything that’s going to happen. They map everything out in detail and they never deviate. Then there are those by-the-seat-of-their-pants writers, who fire up Word and start writing.
We fall somewhere in the middle. We start out with some definite ideas about certain aspects of the book, like where it’s going to be set, who’s going to be featured, etc. The very cool thing about this was that before we started working together this was the style each of us already employed. The fact that the merger of our techniques and skills worked so well was a very happy surprise for us. And here comes the next big secret revealed:
Our partnership began as the result of… wait for it… a Messenger conversation in mid-September 2017. Craig was tossing out little questions about the possibility of my interest in working on the series, which at that point consisted of one book (Assignment: Athens), so I suppose it was not yet technically a series. Interestingly I had already been toying the with the idea of doing something in the action/espionage genre and had yet to pull the string and start it, so I thought this might be a good way to dip my toe so to speak.
Craig knew I was working on something else, and asked what sort of time frame would work for me. We agreed I’d start writing on October 1st, with the goal of having it finished by the beginning of November. Of course, I started writing the day after we first talked about it.
I delivered my manuscript, Assignment: Paris a couple weeks ahead of the deadline. Sue me. It was a pretty good story and it introduced a very good character, Perry Hall. Craig took what I wrote and turned it into a very good book. And then he said, “Hey, do you think you’d like to do this again, together this time?” I’d like to tell you that I thought about my answer for a long time, asking myself questions like, “Is this something I really want to commit to?” or “Can I work that closely with another writer, especially one as successful as Craig?” I’d like to tell you I was worried about clashing egos and vastly different styles and techniques. That would have been the responsible, grown-up things to do.
But what I actually did was answer immediately, “When can we start?”
We began working on Assignment: Istanbul a day or so later, and the rest has been a whirlwind ride, leading us to Assignment: Dublin, which is very close to completion.
What has been the oddest part of working with Craig, you ask? Oh, you asked. I heard you.
My very honest answer to that is the oddest part is actually having people read what I’m writing. Before working with Craig I’d published a book of short fiction and two novels in the fantasy genre. They were, I thought, pretty decent books, and since publishing the first of these in January of 2017, I’ve come to realize that approximately 25 people agree with me. Let’s just say sales were not overwhelming. With the SpyCo novellas, things were different. By working with a far more established author with an established readership I walked into a franchise that provided me with new readers, new friends, and a new determination to keep writing books, which since I was about 12 years old was basically the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do.
So that’s it. That’s all you’re getting out of me.
OK, OK. I’ll give you one more secret:
To this point in Assignment: Dublin there have been at least ten killings, and we’re not done yet…