Monday, October 14, 2013

Jonathan Santlofer: Creating Inherit the Dead, a serial novel

I'm a sucker for a serial novel, especially when's it's written by some of my favorite writers. Today I welcome Jonathan Santlofer, artist, writer, and editor of Inherit the Dead. What a challenge! 

Jonathan Santlofer:
Creating INHERIT THE DEAD, a serial novel 

Organizing a serial novel with 20 authors could have been a nightmare. I took on the job of editor thinking, Now you’re in for it, though I have to admit I have always liked working with groups of writers and artists. Maybe it’s the fascist in me but the idea of getting a collection of great writers to do what I want is pretty heady stuff. And none of them complained. (Okay, there were a few complaints but I will not say who or why.)

This is how it worked… I started by asking a bunch of writers if they were willing to participate in the project and for a good cause – in this case, donate their royalties to a charity of my choosing, (again, I was calling the shots). I chose Safe Horizon, an organization that helps victim of violent crime and abuse. I figured that writers who made money writing about crime (often violent crime) should want to give something back – and every one of these writers enthusiastically said YES. If you don’t believe the crime fiction world is a kind & gentle place this novel is proof (read Lee Child’s savvy and touching Introduction to the book that talks about just this).

Once I had the cast assembled I had a little work to do, like, write a story, break it down into 20 chapters, and do character sketches—I wanted to make it as easy as possible for the writers.

For a story, I paid homage to the greats, writers like Hammett, Chandler and MacDonald, borrowing (okay, practically stealing) a tried and true plot line but one that could be modernized and reinvented. I knew the writers would recognize the various allusions and references, have a good time, and they did. You’ll see brilliant touches of noir sleaze, humor and atmosphere on every page, and not a single author disappoints.

Everyone set their ego aside in favor of the joint effort, and yet the individual voices sing. Each author advances the plot but makes the chapter his or her own. And honestly, I don’t know how they did it. I didn’t sit on them or browbeat them (at least I don’t think so)—and they all had to write at the same time. This was no “exquisite corpse” where you get to see at least some of what came before you. The authors had to write with only my brief outlines, one for the general story and one for their individual chapter—talk about trust—to guide them. And yet the plot not only hangs together, it dips and whirls and builds to a heart-stopping and very surprising climax. It’s as if everyone was writing with the preceding author sitting beside then or whispering in their ear.

Many of the authors told me they had fun writing their chapters, and it shows. Hey, I ain’t no communist but I think there’s something to be said for being part of a collective. You have to give up some control and play well with others, for once it’s not just about you and your work.

Some of the biggest and best writers in this business are also the most generous and ones who always show up. Just look at the list of contributors and you will know exactly who I am talking about.

The Contributors:

Mark Billingham
Lawrence Block
CJ Box
Ken Bruen
Alafair Burke
Stephen L. Carter
Mary Higgins Clark
Marcia Clark
Max Allan Collins
John Connolly
James Grady
Bryan Gruley
Heather Graham
Charlaine Harris
Val McDermid
SJ Rozan
Jonathan Santlofer
Dana Stabenow
Lisa Unger
Sarah Weinman
Introduction by Lee Child
Afterward by Linda Fairstein

Links to the book, publisher, events, etc.

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