Monday, March 20, 2017

To Team or not to Team, That is the Question: guest post by Steve Hockensmith

Steve Hockensmith is the (solo) author of more than a dozen books, including the Edgar finalist Holmes on the Range. In addition to the two mystery series he's worked on with collaborators, he also created the "Secret Smithsonian Adventures" graphic novels with co-writer Chris Kientz. So maybe he's not as much of a collaboration-hating prima donna as he sometimes pretends. Maybe. 

Steve Hockensmith (and no one else):
To Team or Not to Team, That Is the Question

Until a few years ago, there were only three writing partners I had any interest in working with: Me, Myself and I. And I had my doubts about I, to be honest. Seemed a bit needy and lazy. But Me and Myself…those two I knew and trusted. Sure, they had their faults and quirks, but together we'd always gotten the job done.

At the time, I couldn't even understand how a writing team would work. Bringing in a partner for writing made as much sense as bringing in a partner for making toast. I'm a grownup. I know how to do this. And I don't need someone looking over my shoulder and saying, "Does it smell like it's burning?"

Then I had a revelation. I wish I could say it was about the importance of open-mindedness and the creative vitality that comes from embracing fresh ideas and new perspectives. Nope. It was "I really want to cash this check. Guess I'll have to give that open-mindedness malarkey a try."

The check was from Quirk Books and it was for a series of middle grade mysteries with do-it-yourself science projects woven into the plot. My problem: When it comes to science projects, I am not a do-it-yourself kind of guy. I'm a try-to-do-it-yourself-until-you-break-everything-then-give-up-cursing kind of guy. So if I wanted the new series to happen, I'd have to learn to work with someone other than Me and Myself and that jerk I.

Fortunately, I found a collaborator who was so good with science it was practically his middle name. In fact, it was practically his first name. "Science Bob" Pflugfelder was an educator and do-it-yourself enthusiast who shared my enthusiasm both for middle-grade fiction and cashing checks. So we teamed up to write Nick and Tesla's High-Voltage Danger Lab. Science Bob came up with the projects and science facts. Mystery Steve figured out how to build plots around them. And since we didn't kill each other in the process, we kept doing it, creating six "Nick and Tesla" mysteries in all.

With apologies to Science Bob, I will admit that, although homicide was never a serious possibility, there were times when I did consider a little light assault and battery. Take the time Science Bob suggested that we include a solar-powered hot dog cooker in a book. Would anyone have asked Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to throw some sun-baked weenies into The Hound of the Baskervilles? Could Raymond Chandler have worked out a way to make a delicious, sun-warmed frankfurter an integral plot point in The Big Sleep? I think not. (By the way, the sixth book in the series is Nick and Tesla's Solar-Powered Showdown…and there's a solar hot dog cooker in it. It is not, however, integral to the plot. What am I — better than Chandler?)

With the success of the Nick and Tesla books (which I call a success because we got an Edgar nomination for one of them and I never did kill Science Bob), I felt empowered to branch out beyond Me, Myself and I again. So when a friend told me about a fantastic idea she had — a book about a tarot reader who uses her abilities to help her clients — I said, "That sounds like a mystery. Wanna do it together?"

This April, the third book in the Tarot Mystery series, Give the Devil His Due, was released by Midnight Ink. Both I and my co-author, Lisa Falco, remain very much alive. (For the record, Me and Myself are still alive, too.) So maybe I've gotten the hang of this collaboration thing after all.

Just don't tell me how to make toast.

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