Friday, January 15, 2010
GET TO KNOW YOUR CO-AUTHOR
For our guest post here at Murder By 4 JB Kohl and I decided to go about it much in the same way we wrote our novel – by email. You see, we've never met face to face. Never even spoken on the phone. We live on opposite coasts, write at opposite hours and yet somehow we made it work. Quite effortlessly I might add.
So now it's your turn, Eric. You masterfully described a scene of violence involving a deadly shotgun blast delivered by an unexpected character. The scene is gruesome and dark and it created one of the more vivid pictures of Ray Ward in my head. Do you have to psych yourself up to write a scene like that or are you comfortable diving in and putting it down on paper?
Eric: Oh I have to constantly censor myself for fear of going way too dark. Scenes like that flow all too easily out of me. It scares my wife. It just doesn’t bother me for some reason. In screenwriting class during college I had another student pull me aside after one class where I read a section of my script and he told me if he was in the theater he would have walked out. And that was just over a guy cutting off a woman's thumb with a steak knife.
You know you were free to tone down anything too extreme, right?
Y'know I, like all writers, struggle sometimes with motivation. One of the best things about our collaboration was the way it was a kind of forced motivation. With someone else waiting on my pages it was a great spur to the side to get off my ass and write. I think it's one big reason we finished so quickly. How long did it take you to write THE DEPUTY'S WIDOW (JB's first published novel)?
JB: I guess it took me about three months to get a rough draft and another six to get it to where I felt it had a chance of being published. So nine months roughly. And I changed story lines two or three times when I was getting started as well, so that took some time. The final ended up being quite different from the rough draft.
So let's talk about characters . . . We don't have what I'd call a "femme fatale" in our book, but we do have a "femme" :0) . . . what was your inspiration for Glenda?
Eric: Well, I think we needed a woman in there to soften it a bit. It is a very hard edged story so I think having a female somewhere in there provided good balance. But then again she turns out to be such a tough dame maybe it didn't soften it too much. I wish I could take credit for her nickname though. That was 100% you and I think it is brilliant. (you'll have to read the book to find it. No spoilers here) I am glad we got to do her dialogue the way I wanted. She's got that jazz noir patter that I feared could go to parody but I think we kept it interesting without being hokey.
Here's one for you – it was important for me to keep Ray likable despite many of his actions. Same thing with Fokoli in your chapters which I think you did extremely well. He's a guy with a questionable past but he stays very sympathetic to the reader. Do you find Ray a likable character?
JB: I really liked Ray. What I liked most about him is that even though the book was written in first person narrative, an air of mystery remained around Ray. The reader is able to identify with his feelings and actions and sympathize with him . . . in addition, the reader wants to know more about him. You have a knack of giving just enough to the reader to make him/her want more. I always rate a book by the way I feel when I've finished reading. If I find myself thinking about the characters--maybe even feeling like I'm going to miss them now that I'm done reading about them, then the writer has done his job. I know readers probably feel that way about Ray when they close the cover of his story.
You are a good short story writer--and some of your shorter works, although dark, make me laugh. Do you try to be darkly funny when you're writing or does it just happen?
Eric: I think a dose of humor is essential to a story with a dark plot and actions. I love writing stuff that is morbidly funny but I cannot write jokes at all. A straight up comedy is not my thing. I've tried. Comedy is so subjective that I find it impossible not to second guess myself to death.
You don't really write shorts. Why not?
JB: I guess I don't write shorts because I take a long time to say the things I have to say. I seem to be unable to get what I want to say out there. I've written a couple of shorts over the last couple of years, but I find that I can't get a character across to readers in 20K words or less. I've tried to figure this out. I don't describe too much of the setting at any one time. I do tend to write a lot of dialog but mostly I think I have a tendency to work a character over pretty good and I'm not refined enough to do that in 2000-4000 words.
So which do you prefer to write: novels or shorts?
Eric: I guess the accomplishment of the novel outweighs the instant pleasure of the short. I like reading novels better (good ones anyway) because you get that lasting relationship with the characters. Presumably if you go to the trouble to write a whole book you are writing characters you like and want to spend time with so that part of the process is really fun.
Next up - our next book. How psyched are you to start writing together again? (please don't say, "not at all.")
JB: I'm completely ready to get going. I agree with what you said earlier about it being more motivating to write when someone else is depending on your pages. I also find that I miss the characters we created. It'll be fun to bring them back and test their mettle again. I think a good writing partnership is a rare thing and I'm not only thankful for our collaboration, I'm also amazed at how easy it is to write with you.
What about you?
Eric: Yep. Ready to get to it. New Year, new book. Let’s make a habit out of this.
First things first though is getting people to read ONE TOO MANY BLOWS TO THE HEAD. I really think if a solid noir crime story is what you’re after you will really like this book. But then again, I am biased.
About the authors:
J.B. Kohl is the author of The Deputy’s Widow, published in 2008 by Arctic Wolf Publishing. In the spring of 2008, she read a short story by Eric Beetner and decided to pester him until he agreed to collaborate on something. Resistance was futile. And so, One Too Many Blows to the Head was created—to live and thrive in the dark alleys of 1939 Kansas City.
In addition to writing fiction, she works as a technical and fiction editor. She lives in Virginia with her husband and three children.
Eric Beetner is an award-winning short story and screenwriter. He and J.B. connected through his work with the Film Noir Foundation and he wrote to tell her how much he liked The Deputy’s Widow. From that simple correspondence came a bicoastal collaboration and a quickly finished novel, despite the fact that they have never met in person. Eric is also a TV and film editor, director and producer who lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two daughters.