(Suitably subtitled by the Tart: Co-Writing for Fun and Profit—or I hope it's profitable, anyway)
Note: I know I usually have a fresh blog Monday morning, but I this is a good one and I wanted to make sure Mary and John got some weekday eyes.
FIRST, I have to extend a HUGE apology to Mary and John—I was totally supposed to post this Thursday, but had a family member juvenile delinquent incident which drove all else from my mind... I am SO SORRY!)
Still.... this is a fabulous story. John and Mary are friends of mine from the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest and they are both FABULOUS people. I adore them... and recently they've undertaken something that totally sounds like a hoot to me... they wrote a book... TOGETHER. Mary is in Canada, John in New Mexico... they've never met in person... but they decided to undertake this thing... so TODAY, YOU are going to learn how that went (and be jealous—you're welcome, just another service I offer around here).
So without further ado... THEIR Story:
A Team Is Born
Mary: I had read few if any “dime store westerns.” I hadn’t even watched all that many western movies. John’s novel was a real eye-opener for me. I began to learn about the history and mythology of the American West, and to appreciate its huge capacity to take hold of the imagination. John is very knowledgeable about his region’s history, politics and culture, its flora, fauna and geography, and about Western books and films. But more than anything, the warmth and humour of his writing appealed to me.
John: Our friendship grew and we shared books that we enjoyed. I learn a lot from Mary. I hope she learns from me too.
Mary: With any luck, he will eventually learn to locate Canada on a world map.
John: We really enjoy talking to each other about literature – and theology, philosophy, politics, the weather, you name it. Mostly we really laugh a lot when we talk. I made her read westerns and she made me read a bunch of literary stuff. (I never did make it through Under The Volcano.)
John: At some point we started talking about writing a novel together. I don’t know how the idea came to me, but I thought it might be fun to do a western sort of loosely based on Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. Mary liked the idea.
Mary: I’d always meant to read Don Quixote. This gave me the impetus I’d needed, and what a book it is! It’s been called “the first European novel” and I think it’s also the first post-modern novel. I was amazed at how Cervantes was teasing the line between reality and fiction, between truth and madness, way back in 1600. There are so many intellectual and philosophical layers to that book, and it’s also hilarious and moving.
John: We wanted to write something really funny, as humor is such an important part of our relationship. But you can’t “send up” the pulp western genre without a lot of action either, so we knew that the novel would have to have lots of murders and hangings and gunfights. Lots of western action.
When Mary was on a family vacation in the southern U.S. a couple of years ago, she was able to stop in Santa Fe for a few days and we got to work. We started with a rough outline, which we wrote one night in my backyard over a bottle of tequila. (Well, I drank the tequila. Mary probably drank water.) Then we began work on a chapter near the middle of the book, in which Don Valiente and Roz mistake a film shoot for reality – with dramatic and hilarious results. Boy, did we laugh.
Mary: After I returned to Canada, we finished the book by phone and Skype. (We thanked Skype and Cricket in the Acknowledgments.) We spent hours and hours and hours on it – almost always in the evenings because we had "real work" to do during the day.
Mary: I type faster than John so I did the transcription, and he did the pacing back and forth. After we’d got a full first draft of a passage down, I’d email it to him, and then we’d go over it line by line until we agreed that it was exactly right before we moved on to the next section. We dithered over almost very word of it . . . in some cases, every comma. When we’d argued and argued over a phrase, neither of us willing to give up until it was right, and then we nailed it – and we both knew we’d nailed it – we were ecstatic.
John: I remember one time, after working on a sentence for about thirty minutes, we both laughed with pleasure at what we’d done. Mary said, “It sings.”
Mary: It wasn’t always easy to get to work. Half the time, one of us would be exhausted and want to take the evening off, so the other one would need to persuade him or her that we had to keep going if we didn’t want to lose our momentum.
John: It took about 18 months, I think. First we finished the chapter we’d started, which is now Chapter XXV. Then we went back and started on Chapter I. We never looked back.
Mary: Never in my life did I imagine that I’d be involved in writing a Western, but even less did I ever think that I could write a novel with another person. Both writers have to be totally on the same wavelength for something like this to work, but fortunately we were (well, about most things. We may never agree on the Oxford comma). The experience was exhausting and challenging, but it was fantastic fun as well.
John: And we are very proud of the book that we have written: The Adventures of Don Valiente and the Apache Canyon Kid.
John A. Aragon was born in Española, New Mexico. A former Forest Service "Hotshot" firefighter and Hall of Fame rugby player, he attended Saint John's College in Santa Fe and the University of New Mexico. John A. Aragon is the father of two young adults and a practicing trial lawyer for thirty years. John’s first novel, Billy The Kid’s Last Ride, was published by Sunstone Press in 2011. He works and writes in Santa Fe. Visit Billy the Kid’s Last Ride website at http://billythekidslastride.com
Mary W. Walters is the award-winning author of three novels (The Woman Upstairs, Bitters and The Whole Clove Diet), a collection of short stories (Cool) and one book of non-fiction (Write an Effective Funding Application: A Guide for Researchers and Scholars, The Johns Hopkins University Press). Mary works as an editor, specializing in funding applications and research-related writing for books and scholarly journals. She maintains several blogs, including The Militant Writer (http://maryww.wordpress.com). She lives in Toronto, and her website is located at http://marywwalters.com