Monday, October 15, 2012

Partners in Crime: Rebecca Cantrell and James Rollins

Just in time for Halloween, I welcome "Partners in Crime" thriller writers Rebecca Cantrell and James Rollins, co-authors of The  Blood Gospel. 

JAMES ROLLINS is the New York Times bestselling author of international thrillers. His Sigma series has been lauded as one of the “top crowd pleasers” (New York Times) and one of the “hottest summer reads” (People Magazine). In each novel, acclaimed for its originality, Rollins unveils unseen worlds, scientific breakthroughs, and historical secrets--and he does it all at breakneck speed and with stunning insight. Find James Rollins on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and at

REBECCA CANTRELL’S Hannah Vogel mystery/thriller novels have won the Bruce Alexander and Macavity awards and been nominated for the Barry and RT Reviewers Choice awards; her critically-acclaimed cell phone novel, iDrakula, was nominated for the APPY award and listed on Booklist’s Top 10 Horror Fiction for Youth. She and her husband and son just left Hawaii’s sunny shores for adventures in Berlin. Find Rebecca Cantrell on Facebook, Twitter, and at



The last time I, Rebecca, blogged here for Halloween I wrote about the scariest experience I ever had while traveling. It involved a Cairo hotel, exhaustion, a bloody handprint appearing on the inside of my hotel room while I was sleeping, and a bloody trail that led down dark deserted stairs.

That was less scary than writing a book with someone else.

Writing a book is a very intimate process. It’s not all “which word goes here?” or “what’s the coolest way to kill a massive enraged black bear?” or “what if we blew up this giant landmark?”  or even “what’s the best way to end Act II?” There is plenty of that, but that’s the treat part of trick-or-treat.

For me, Rebecca, the trick was talking about sex and death and love and what would a character do if you dragged her through the worst experiences in her life, what would it mean, how would she be changed? And you can’t talk about that or write about that without revealing a lot about yourself, no matter how hard you try to pretend it’s just the character, it’s all of your experience and opinions going into making her. And, since Jim’s a writer too, he knows that.

When I write alone, I’m just about those things inside my own head, and I know the people in there really well. I trust them. At the start of the collaboration I didn’t know Jim that well. In fact, I know very, very few people that well. So, for me, writing The Blood Gospel was a giant scary trust exercise where I had to be honest and vulnerable and hope he didn’t laugh or sit in stunned silence thinking “what did I get myself into? She ought to be committed. Why did I give her my phone number?” If he did think that, he was smart enough to keep it to himself, and so by this point, Jim is practically a voice in my head too.

And speaking of that “voice,” here he is.


This whole collaboration process was an eye-opener for me, too.  I first met Rebecca when she was work-shopping a new thriller at a writing retreat where I was teaching. I respected her as a writer then, and over the intervening years, meeting at conferences around the country, as a friend. So surely this collaboration would be a simple process. We knew each other well enough. Well, it quickly became a learning curve about how “open” to be about the depth necessary to tell this story. Prior to this project, writing had always been a solitary experience, where the best and worst of yourself could be kept under wraps and dabbled with in private.

It took a while to reach that stage with each other, where we could drop our guards with one another: to be brutally honest, emotionally sincere, and willing to trust. But I think for any true collaboration to work, it’s an emotional Rubicon that must be crossed.

But we did, and I’m glad we did, because the book that came out of it wasn’t something either of us would have written on our own--and surprisingly, we had a lot of fun getting there.  And I learned a bunch of new ways to kill people.

(Rebecca again: I wonder if he thought up all those ways while we argued about the book? Not that I’m nervous. Too nervous.)

1 comment:

Dean Kutzler said...

I think this experience will have only enhanced the book. I can't wait for January to Coe so I can read it!! Very excited.

If anyone wants to give up an ARC.... Jus' sayin'....