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When we heard about Margaret Stohl and Kami Garcia's method of writing novels together, we couldn't help but be interested, since Jane and I are a writing partnership of sorts too (although sadly, nowhere near as rich).
The ladies write the Caster Chronicals together ('paranormal romance' according to the publishing world), fantasy tales of darkly magic goings on, set in the tradition-filled deep South of the USA, with a bit of teen romance thrown in. Not something I would have gone anywhere near under normal circumstances, but this week I have found myself sneaking off to quiet places where no one can find me to finish Beautiful Darkness, which was released here on the 28th October (Penguin sent us the book to review).
They write by working on their own chapters, handing it over to the other to be re written/edited, then handing it back again for more re writing, continuing until they are happy.
Kami told us (that would be the ladies speaking exclusively to us here, oh yes....) "We compare our writing process to a running stitch in sewing, because we write over each other's work so many times. But really, it's more like Jedi editing. Lots of hack and slash. A sentence usually ends up with some of Margie's words and some of mine, but it has to be good to stand up to that many passes. We draft really quickly, and revise very slowly."
How did you both start writing like this?
"Every person who has ever had any kind of business partner – writing or otherwise – will tell you to make friends with your partners, rather than to partner up with your friends. We didn’t know or follow that rule anymore than we knew or followed any of the rules of writing a first novel. As one reader helpfully pointed out to us, Beautiful Creatures (the first book) is twice as long as it should be, opens with a prologue, then a dream, then talks about the weather. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong! But we didn’t know the rules.
We wrote it on a dare, and our only goal was to give our teen readers (Margie’s daughters and Kami’s English students) what they asked for. No vampires or werewolves. No female narrators in need of rescuing. A supernatural girl instead of a boy. Above all else, nothing generic. Those were the rules we followed.
Instead of writing a book, we wrote a story. And since we handed over the daily quota of pages to the teens most nights, it became a bedtime story of sorts. As everyone knows, a bedtime story is nothing if not collaborative. By asking what happened next, our teen readers actually changed what happened next. We didn’t consider ourselves authors, we were just the two people in charge of telling the story—the last people talking at the end of the day."
How did you keep control of the way the plot unfolded then?
"The story itself, as all Gothic stories go, was something bigger than the both of us. A story as big as ours—with as many quirky characters and shadowy secrets and century-old curses and strange twists of fate—has a way of making its writers feel small. Small as a small Southern town.
Feeling small kept us going, kept us able to hear when one scene wasn’t working or another felt wrong, kept us listening to our seven readers, and to each other. Feeling small meant we had nothing to lose by the choices we made, and no reason to stop writing.
The Caster Chronicles are now bestsellers, selling in 38 countries and 27 languages and are on their way to the big screen (thanks to Warner Brothers), what happens now?
"There are two more installments (if you check out their blogs it looks like they've just finished drafting book three). Some of our original seven readers are off to university, others to work. Our partners are dropping like flies. But the spirit of partnership remains. We still feel like our story is bigger than we are. At the end of the day, we still feel like two friends having a conversation that becomes a story that becomes a book that becomes a movie, or whatever else it needs or wants or gets to be. We still feel like we write for our readers, whether they are seven or seven hundred thousand."
Amanda is only three quarters of the way through Beautiful Darkness as she write this, but it's a cracking fantasy story that is pure escapism and I think would appeal to teen daughters as well as their mums, especially over Halloween, although Beautiful Creatures is the one to start with really.
Beautiful Darkness by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl is out on 28th October
PS, Finished it this morning, cracking. Please move quickly on with the next one, ladies.....