The Authors Collection. The trials of writing a mystery novel with your daughter.

James R. Callan
James R. Callan

Our youngest daughter, Diane Bailey, writes young adult and middle reader non-fiction books. She has about 40 published now.  Some years ago, she also sang with the Sweet Adelines.  In case you don’t know, Sweet Adelines are the female equivalent of the Barbershop Harmony Society, formerly known as the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America.

One year, her chorus qualified for the International Competition and wound up winning fifth place.  Of course, we went to hear the finals.  It was a very entertaining week, with nearly 10,000 women invading San Antonio, Texas – all in bright and beautiful costumes.  That week, if you were in a restaurant, there was an excellent chance that before the meal was over, some group of women would stand up and start singing.  Or walk along the River Walk and a group of women would be on one of the bridges singing.  Or on the stairs of the hotels.  A fun week.

Afterwards, we decided it might be interesting to weave a murder mystery through the international contest.  Let some members of a chorus be murdered, and another in that chorus be working at a police department in another town.  She must prepare for and sing in the various rounds leading up to the finals, but her personality and job force her to become involved in finding the murderer.

Then a scary thought popped into my mind.  Diane and I had a very good relationship.  But we were both strong willed persons.  Would this joint venture damage our relationship?  I had heard of friends who tried to write a book together and not only did the book never get finished, but the friendship was destroyed.  Even if we turned out a good book, it would not be worth harming our relationship.

cover-MACNonetheless, we embarked on the project.  A book takes a long time to write.  With two people, would it only take half as long?  No.  There were many differences of opinions to be ironed out.

We actually wrote the first few chapters sitting side by side at a computer.  After that, as we lived in different states, we wrote separately.  Diane would write scenes which required her “behind the scenes” knowledge of the Sweet Adelines and the competition.  I would write scenes which focused more on the murder and the solution.  Once a scene was finished, it would be sent to the other writer for review.  Corrections and suggestions would be returned to the original creator of the scene.  Sometimes, this process was repeated more than once on a scene.

When the book was finished, each of us read through the entire manuscript and offered suggestions for improvement.  This actually happened several times.

We felt it important to have a consistent voice throughout the book.  So, we agreed that Diane would make a “final” pass for voice.  Once that was completed, we sat together and read the entire book.  That turned up very few places where a change was needed.  When those were incorporated, it was ready to send to the agent.

It was a different approach to writing for each of us.  As it turned out, the experience strengthened our relationship.  Would we do it again?  The answer is yes, if we get a contract for another book.

Would it work for everybody?  I know there are many pairs of authors who write together and have produced many books.  But in spite of our experience, I still view joint authorship as a risky venture. The two would need to decide in advance how disputes, different opinions, opposite viewpoints would be handled.  Perhaps there should even be an understanding of how the existing manuscript would be handled if the partnership broke up.

But the bottom line for us was – a good experience and a good book.  Oh, the book – it is Murder a Cappella (Wayside Press, an imprint of Written World Communications).  It combines the glitz and glamour of international singing competition with murder.  It is on Amazon in paper and Kindle, plus Barnes and Noble in paper and Nook.  You can find more about it at www.sweetadelinesmystery.com.  There is an interesting trailer at:  http://www.vimeo.com/38414180.

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  • Jim: I think that writing a novel with a daughter, a son, or a wife would have to be one of life’s most frustrating, yet rewarding, experiences. Come to think of it, writing alone has the same problems. I probably argue with myself more than I would argue with a child or a wife. I know I’m less forgiving with myself.

  • Congrats, Jim. I can imagine how challenging it would be to write a book with a relative! I love the cover, by the way.

  • Jim, It is a very interesting concept, fraught with peril. I started to say I couldn’t do a joint project, then I remembered I already had. Caleb and I wrote a how to book last year, but we used a different method. We talked about the structure of the book and each of us had our assignments. Since it was non-fiction, it was easier to segregate the writing into discreet units. At the end we shared it back and forth a few times, polished it and sent it out into the cold cruel world. It was a good experience and our friendship survived.
    However, I think it would be a horse of a different color to do as you and your daughter did and collaborate on a work of fiction.

  • What a great way to work. Different points of view and you get to spend time with your daughter!

  • marta chausée

    What a wonderful post. How good your relationship with your daughter is, and I’m sure this venture strengthened it even more. I could only dream of one day being allowed to write with either of my sons, each an excellent writer.

    You live right, Jim!

  • I think it’s great that it worked out so well for you. Picking up a sample now.

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