Friday, May 7, 2010

Interview with Carroll Morris and Nancy Anderson

Thanks for stopping by, blog friends, because the word of the day is 'co-author' and I've got a treat in store. Have you ever wondered what would possess someone to co-author a book? (I'm a teensy bit possessive of my scenes and imagery and characters, basically all of it, so I'm talking about myself here!) Sisters Carroll and Nancy have co-authored Leaning Into Curves and have co-authored three previous books with YA co-author Lael Littke in the Company of Good Women series, which has been a best seller in the LDS (Mormon) market. I learned so much from their responses that I'll give you as much of it as I can here. I have a hunch that 'pantsers' such as myself aren't likely to co-author, at least not repeatedly, because the other co-author would end up with no hair. Have I said co-author enough yet? Ready to learn how they divide and conquer? Here we go!
The Cover. It's a perfect match to the story, which is about an older woman, Molly, and her husband, Hank's, relationship as he enters retirement and she adjusts to his new deathtrap, er, motorcycle.
(Deathtrap is Molly's idea of a motorcycle, not necessarily mine.)

Kelly: So, I'm having a hard time imagining how co-authoring works. How do you get a first draft? (You like my hat, readers? I had to find a picture that would be distinct from Nancy and Carroll. I wouldn't want you to get confused about which one was me;) And in a very quick side note, any copy editors out there know if the proper punctuation should be smiley face AND closing parenthesis or does the smile close the parenthesis? Ahem. Sorry. What were we saying about first drafts?

Nancy: Writing a first draft is all about getting it down on paper. You can't move forward until you have something to work with. We call it throwing up on the page. When we're first starting out we sometimes write parallel version of the same scene. For example we each wrote our own versions of the first chapter.

Further on in the manuscript we each took scenes we were most interested it, editing and refining each other's work in turn. Particularly difficult and intense scenes were often worked word for word over the phone. The final fight scene was rewritten half a dozen times until the tension and pacing were acceptable to both of us. Sometimes a scene would have my words and vision and Carroll's pacing or visa versa.

During the final rewrites of Leaning with deadline looming large we availed ourselves of I was in Atlanta and Carroll in Arizona. We had the googledoc up on each of our screens and speaker phones on. It was quite a production!

Kelly: It sounds like it. I've never used Googledoc, but that sounds like a perfect application. What advantages do you see in working so closely with another writer? Any disadvantages?

Nancy: The biggest advantage to having a co-author, besides the obvious one of having an excuse to take long visits to my sister's, is drawing on two different skill sets. My strengths lie in generating ideas, finding alternate and concise ways of stating a scene, fleshing out characters, and adding humor. Having been a copy editor for many years, Carroll has prodigious skill in cleaning up a page (syntax and grammar) plumbing the depths of interpersonal relationships (see Broken Covenant, Deseret Book's first women's issues novel written by Carroll), and murdering our darlings.
We also compliment each other's work style. Carroll is more of an ectomorph-high energy, can stay up all night kind of gal. I'm more the round chubby bubba endomorph, need a nap in the afternoon, kind of grandma. She lives on caffeine--one can has me swinging from the rafters. She gets me going and I keep her calmed down. Our energies seem to feed off of each other in the best manner. We also share a love of quiet mediation, breathing in the desert air and playing our Native American Flutes together. So despite our vast differences, our down times together are wonderfully refreshing.

The biggest icky in being a co-author is loss of autonomy and control over one's personal vision for the story. This was a bigger issue for me in Leaning than in the trilogy. With the first three books we each had almost complete control over the path our individual characters, and shared control over the scenes in common.

Carroll: I’ve learned that it’s important to listen to what a co-author or member of a critique group has to say. Even when I think I’m right, a compromise solution usually turns out to be better than the original text.

Despite the distance between us—Nancy’s in Sandy, Utah, and I’m in Green Valley, Arizona—the technical part of working together is actually quite easy. We use the e-mail a lot for exchanging files, comments, and To-Do lists. And thanks to unlimited long distance calling, we can talk as long as we need to when making corrections or working through issues.

Kelly: Whose brain child was this? How did you decide to start the project?

Nancy: The idea for Leaning was completely my baby. I had asked Carroll to come on board while we were finishing up on the last book in the trilogy, but I had not intended to begin work for a least a year due to health issues. However, Carroll revved up her engines and had fingers to the keyboard without taking a breath. She also had very definite ideas about the direction the story should take, ideas that varied a great deal from my original intent.

Her ideas were good ideas and were the starting point for new and different scenes and conversations we generated together that enriched the story. It is also important to note that without her jumpstarting the project we would still be in the talking stage instead of having a new novel on the shelves. And that's all good and I'm glad for it.

But bringing in another author when you already have a firm story line in mind and as a result having to compromise every step of the way feels rather like knowing you gave birth to a blue eyed blonde baby and being sent home with dark eyed child with red curly hair. Everyone's assuring you that indeed that's your child and on some level you know it's true but you can't help but wonder what in the world happened.

That being said, co-authoring this book has taught me a lot about standing up for myself and my characters when I need to, acknowledging a better idea when it comes along, understanding that while this may not be exactly the book that I planned on, it's a better book for all the shared work and ideas, and realizing that producing a successful novel with another author is more about telling the story the best way you can and than it is about ego strokes. Although I'll be happy to accept any ego stroking I can get!

Carroll: Nancy had the idea for the book first. Then when I saw an article about the 20th anniversary rally of the Temple Rider’s Association, I got the bug, too. It was a story just waiting to be told. But while Nancy wasn’t thinking about jumping right into it, I was concerned that if we didn’t get a proposal in, someone else would beat us to it.

So I send a proposal to Jana Erickson of Deseret Book. She said they were interested in it and gave us a target date to have the manuscript done. For various reasons that turned out to be a shifting target. Right up until the book went to press, we weren’t actually sure when it would be printed. And then we ran into a problem because we’d neglected to get some permissions. The book sat in the warehouse a couple of weeks while we got people to send back signed forms to Deseret Book.

Kelly: Thank you both so much for sharing your process and your story with us!
I like all kinds of books, but tend to savor my YA fantasy and science fiction the most. I wasn't sure if Leaning Into Curves would be a good fit for me because it is about a woman's fear of her newly retired husband's motorcycle and how it fits into their Mormon lifestyle. But when I got into the relationship between Molly and Hank and how beautifully Carrol and Nancy got the dynamics between them, I forgot my preconceptions and really enjoyed the story. And yes, there really is a Mormon motorcycle gang, called the Temple Riders Association. Who knew? And, for full disclosure, I received a free copy of Leaning Into Curves but I wouldn't tell you that I liked it if I didn't.  

Also, check out this post about finding your twist on their blog, Crusty Old Broads. Good stuff to think about as you start cooking a new idea!


  1. This is fascinating because their process is SO different than ours! Still, co-authors rule!!! Congrats on your book, ladies!

  2. So interesting. Thanks for the interview!

  3. Great interview, Kelly, and an interesting look into the life of a co-author. Thanks.

  4. Thanks for blogging about the adventures Nancy and I had writing together. And for giving our book, Leaning into the Curves, a plug. Love the hat!

    In case anyone wonders about the unusual photo of Gary and me, the photographer (our son, David) insisted we do something goofy rather than pose! So we did.

  5. Thanks, Carroll. I loved your pic, too! Good luck!

    And Krista- nice to see you