Writing in Books with Boys

So I wrote a book with a guy. You may be wondering how that happened. Many of my friends are. Actually, they’re just wondering how he survived; I think they thought I’d lose it midway, bite his head off, and lay eggs in his neck. Which is odd because, really, I’m a cupcake to work with.

So here’s the story.

A long time ago, I worked on a dissertation on the differences in the way men and women tell stories, or to put it in academese, the impact of gender on narrative strategies. As part of the research, I read one hundred romance novels, which is what made me switch my diss to romance, and then shortly after that begin writing romance. But I really loved that diss topic, and the stuff I discovered was great: men tell stories in linear plots and women tell them in patterns, men privilege action and women privilege relationship (not only between people but also between things and events), men are about getting to the goal and women are about the journey, men want to tell the big picture and women want to tell the detail . . . really, it was fascinating. And of course these are all gross generalities because there are men who like detail and women who want the big picture, but still from what I observed and what I read, the differences were real and had a huge impact on not only publishing but also TV, film, video games, you name it.

But then I sold a romance novel and went into the MFA program and wrote two more novels and then I teamed up with a fellow MFA student, Jeff MacGregor, who’s a terrific essayist and short story writer, to write a novel in which I’d do the woman’s POV and he’d do the guy’s because I wanted to see what would happen with two different gender voices in a text. I don’t know why he agreed, I probably had my knee on his neck and he wanted to breathe. We came up with a premise and I wrote the first scene, which was stellar. Then he wrote the second scene, which was funny as all hell. Then I wrote the third scene and turned it back over to him, and he said, “You know, I think I’m done.” Moral: Do not ask a short story writer to write a novel. (Although in Jeff’s defense, he did write a great non-fiction book on NASCAR called Sunday Money, in your bookstores now.)

I went on to finish the MFA and fifteen novels and then, ten years after my first book was published, I stalled. Flat out hit the wall. I got 60,000 words into a book called You Again and could not find my way out. Which did not mean I didn’t keep pitching, boy, I even took it with me to the Maui Writer’s conference last August (2004) and that’s where, while the surf lapped the sand, I realized that I was Finished. Over. Done with. Kaput. Fifteen books is a career, I told myself. Fifteen damn good books, too, if I do say so myself. Nothing to be ashamed of. Everything must end. Nothing to see here. Move it along.

Wait, you’re saying. That’s not funny. Isn’t this blog supposed to be funny? No. Get over that, okay? Sometimes I feel like making fun of Susan Elizabeth Phillips, and sometimes I don’t.

Basically, I was deep in a menopausal depression and didn’t realize it. Well, I knew I wasn’t tap-dancing down the road of life, but I thought it was business as usual. I should have recognized something was wrong when I got up one morning, went out onto the balcony, looked at the sun sparkling on the Pacific from a sky so blue it hurt my eyes, and thought, “Another fucking day in paradise,” but no, I just thought I was grumpy.

So that night I went up to the presenters lounge which was full of some of the best people you could ever meet–I love the Maui Writers faculty, those people know how to party–and tried to be Positive and Upbeat while sucking down white wine like a sump pump. If there’d been an IV there, I’d have jammed it in. Which is when Bob Mayer sat down beside me and said, “We should collaborate.” And I looked at him and thought, “This is the guy who’s been gaslighting me all week but he’s written thirty novels so he knows how to get to the end of one.” And then I remembered the reality of my life and realized there was no way I could be that lucky and he had to be gaslighting me again, so I laughed and said, “Good one, Bob.”

Then later Mollie said, “That was kind of mean,” and I said, “What? He was kidding,” and she said, “No, he was serious,” and I thought, “Damn,” and the next day I hunted him down and said,” Save me.” Okay, I wasn’t quite that blatant, but I think he could tell I needed somebody to throw me a rope, and he was a Green Beret so that’s pretty much what he does. Or as Karen Harbaugh said after meeting him, “He’s a German Shepherd.” Except not as chatty. And thank you, Jesus, he barked, “Yes.”

And then because I’m me, I told him how we were going to do it. Because I was still hooked on that failed MFA project, I said, “Two points of view. You write the hero’s and I write the heroine’s and we’ll do a romantic thriller in which the characters are true to gender.” And he said, “Oh-kay,” which I have since come to recognize as BobSpeak for, “Not what I had in mind, but let’s see how it works.” Then I said, “So we probably write really different books, right?” and he said, “I don’t know, what do you write?” And he wasn’t kidding.

I know, you’re thinking, how arrogant are you, Crusie, you’re not famous, but I figured he must have read something of mine because he was asking me to collaborate, right? But no. He liked the way I talked. Which was damn smart of him because it turned out that we have the same speech rhythms which is why the people who have read the book can’t tell that two different people wrote it, but at the time I was just dumbfounded. Except I’d never read anything he’d written either. Self-centered R Us.

So he got a copy of Faking It in the bookstore and handed me an ARC of Bodyguard of Lies, the hardcover he had coming out next (published March of 2005). And we retired to our respective corners and got our rude awakenings. Well, not that rude. I really liked Bodyguard of Lies–the guy is one hell of a writer, his action crackles on the page, plus it was about a kickass FEMALE adventure hero, and I loved her–but it was omniscient and violent and had a lot of infodump and a very high body count. Plus no shoes and no dogs. So we met again at a table in the lanai, and I held up Bodyguard and said, “Lotta infodump,” and he held up Faking It and said, “Lotta dialogue,” and we looked at each other. And then I said, “What the hell, I’m in,” and he said, “Yep,” and we got started on Don’t Look Down.

So I have many stories about this collaboration which I will probably be writing later–there was the struggle over infodump, the jacket debacle, the time we discussed his character’s behavior during a sex scene (that one will live in infamy)–but we wrote an outstanding book, I think maybe the best one I’ve ever done, and I am happy again. And Mollie is going to put up a PDF of the promos for it with the first chapter tomorrow night (Tuesday) so people can see what happened when Bob met Jenny, although DLD is not going to be out until May of 2006. (Look in the blue box on the home page on the website for the link. Oh, and if you’ve read the chapter on the mini-CD or the chapter that used to be on Bob’s website, you have not read the current first chapter. We changed it. A lot. Although you might want to go to Bob’s website just to read the story of the collaboration from his point of view. Warning: His blog is terse. (Click on the Updates link on www.bobmayer.org.)

Mostly this blog entry is just to say: I owe Bob Mayer. The guy’s a hero, a real German Shepherd, he saved my literary butt, and I’m grateful because I not only finished a great book, I FINALLY got to test out my diss thesis and I was dead on right. I love it when that happens.

And now we’re writing Agnes and the Hitman. Or as Bob likes to call it, Shane and the Food Columnist. She cooks, he kills, they have great sex. And the shoes are to die for. Literally.

I am having SUCH a good time.

So thank you very much, Bob Mayer.
And I’m sorry about last week when I told you that you had the sensitivity of a warthog. That was wrong of me.

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29 thoughts on “Writing in Books with Boys

  1. “…men are about getting to the goal and women are about the journey…”

    This was pretty much of a WTF for me, because in much of my writing, I’m writing protags who are about getting to the goal, for whom the journey is not significant. I’m not sure what this means, especially to my career as a romance/womens fiction writer, but there it is. I guess it explains why a lot of women don’t get my protags and guys do.

    Thank you, Jenny, for providing that insight just when I needed it. Love this blog, btw.

  2. Wait, you’re saying. That’s not funny. Isn’t this blog supposed to be funny? No. Get over that, okay? Sometimes I feel like making fun of Susan Elizabeth Phillips, and sometimes I don’t.

    Nah. Being funny all the time isn’t part of the blogger/blog reader unspoken contract. Your blog is meant to be about you, whatever parts of yourself you want to share. You don’t have to worry about amusing people. You can say pretty much whatever you want, and there’ll be folks who’ll get something out of it.

    I, for instance, really like your prose style. I also love hearing about the trials and triumphs of writing. Really, hearing about the creative process is like crack to me.

    So I have many stories about this collaboration which I will probably be writing later–there was the struggle over infodump, the jacket debacle, the time we discussed his character’s behavior during a sex scene (that one will live in infamy)–but we wrote an outstanding book, I think maybe the best one I’ve ever done, and I am happy again.

    Awesome. 🙂 I look forward to hearing more collaboration!anacdotes, and reading Don’t Look Down.

  3. I couldn’t agree more about the reason for a blog….it’s not about always being funny.

    I can’t wait to read this book. It sounds like a real winner.

  4. Jenny – I loved this post. I wasn’t really sure what to think about your collaborating with a male author (who I’d never heard of), but after reading this post, I’m looking forward to checking the book out!

  5. So when will you guys write a non-fiction book about collaborating? If it’s anything like your workshop, it would be a real winner!

  6. I just hope the winner of the ‘lotta dialogue vs lotta infodump’ match was ‘lotta dialogue’ because I will actually scan a book to see how much dialogue there is. Mostly I just do it with authors I’ve never read, but if I don’t see enough quotation marks to suit me, the book goes back on the shelf – which is the reason, I think, I’ve never finished a non-fiction book. Of course, I’ll buy your book either way because you’ve made the auto-buy list.

  7. Thank you for the story. I was wondering how it came about. Loved the dueling bios and can’t wait for the other stories, particularly regarding the sex since Bob-the-terse doesn’t seem to be enthousiastic about writing them…

  8. Enjoying reading your blog, mostly because I love your work, but also because, oddly enough, we’re both suffering from the same symptoms (menopausal depression). I’m well behind you career wise (only 1 novel, 1 award-nominated short story and an anthology I edted), but still with the stall.

    Reading your blog helps greatly, since I’m not the only writer in this predicament.

    Enjoying reading you!

  9. What about this entry wasn’t funny? {looks around}

    Okay, I realize living through it wasn’t at all funny. You still have a funny delivery, which is why I adore you (even when I’m disagreeing with you! {g})

  10. I’m glad you got your joy of writing back. And it’s great when God, fate, the universe sends us the lifeline just when we need it most. As they say, been there, done there, bought the T-shirt. 🙂

  11. I can feel your joy in this post and it’s so cool, Jenny. The collaborating workshop that you and Bob did in Reno was really faboo. I’ll admit, the idea that you were working on a book with another writer upset me at first, but now I’m really jazzed (particularly after Reno) that you did/are. Bob is great and the two of you seem to work really well together. Go you!

  12. hi jenny! i just want to say.. i soooooo love ur book..BET ME…it’s so funny and I just can’t stop reading it.. what can I say? i got addicted to it.. my friend got me that book and whoa.. i’m so attached to it!haha.. btw its my fave book from now on!!–Marcia, Philippines

  13. hi jenny,
    just wanted to let you know that you are my favourite author. I love your books because i can read them over and over again and never get bored! I was REALLY excited when ir ead that you were writing a book with Bob cos i love romantic fiction…but i love action and “guy” boks to so a combo should be great!

    I am from the land of Oz (Australia… not the one where dorothy lived :P) and am really looking forward to you coming to visit in August next year…please come to Perth, WA so i can see you. If not ill have to start saving to go interstate!!!
    Cheers, Mel

  14. Do you have to apologize to warthogs, too? Maybe they’re more sensitive than we know. *g*

    I’d heard of Bob Mayer, although I’ve not yet read his books. I wondered how two such different writers could successfully collaborate even when both are superb. Now I know.

    Thanks for telling the story.

    I agree with those who said that the blog doesn’t always have to be funny. Funny or angst-ridden, you are always entertaining.

  15. I’m excited because I just found a copy of Anyone But You! And I’m looking forward to reading Don’t Look Down as well.

    P.S. I just discovered your blog and am liking it a lot.

  16. Jennifer,
    I’m so glad I found your blog! Not to be a redundant commenter, but you are a favorite author. 🙂 I really like the fact that you are so open about your process. I also enjoy the fact that your voice comes through SO clearly in your journal. Happy collaborating!

  17. A new book! I’m so excited…I check every time I’m in a bookstore (and I work next door to a bookstore, so that’s alot!).

    I had no idea you had a blog…found the link while I was surfing other blogs. I’m blogrolling.

    And feel free to release that book sooner…will there be any Chicken Marsala in it? 🙂

  18. Well, based off your website, and Bob’s, I downloaded a Bob story about vampires (Nosferatu, et al) on my Tungsten. Good story. My 19 yo loved it. My question to Bob is: Where the hell is the sex? So far, lots of vampirish mental longing…but, I’ve be waiting and waiting and WAITING for some undead lovin’ and it ain’t happening. Promise us all Jenny, that YOU will take control of the sex scenes in this collaborative book? I feel like I’ve learned enough by reading Bob’s book, to where I should have earned some college credit…but, I’m missing the emotion…heat…longing…well, you get the picture of some really hot sex scenes! 😉 Geez, sounds like I’m a nympho, but I swear I’m not!!!!

  19. I thoroughly enjoyed your post, Jenny. It took courage to reveal a bit of the “real” Jenny who has real concerns and insecurities just like the rest of us. Your post was a great mix of poignancy and humor, which certainly goes to prove that, no, you don’t have to be funny all the time in your blog. 🙂 I’m a longtime fan and couldn’t be more delighted that you’ve delved back into writing with gusto–and with Bob–and I look forward to reading your collaboration!

  20. I loved the presentation you and Bob Mayer gave at the Kiss of Death meeting in Reno. It was fabulous, and I’m definitely looking forward to the book. it’s just not fair that I have to wait nearly a year to read it!

  21. Hi Jenny! Miss you over at TWL Author Talks…MUST hook you up with a link on my blog..anyway…I collaberated on a book with two very close online friends. What I found out later was that friendship doesn’t mean a hill of beans and the writing of all participants does. It was a paranormal comedy and had a great premise…and then, it died. We finished the book and I told the others I couldn’t send it out looking like that. One of them totally disagreed with me because after all her daughter looked it over and said it was perfect…oh lawdy, gimme a break. Against my better judgement, we sent it off to agents and publishers. Can we say REJECTION? Anyway, the mss sits and will sit unless I can fix it up, but then it wouldn’t be a collaberation and would make the others mad if I rewrote their scenes, so onward ho. Sounds like you had a wonderful experience and gives me hope that this can be accomplished again!

  22. Just read the Don’t Look Down preview…fan-freakin-tastic. Seriously. Kinda wish I hadn’t read it though, because of course I’ll be in AGONY until May 2006. I’m already in love with Wilder (yes, yes, I’ll eventually be enamored of Lucy as well, but that takes longer because I have to get over being jealous that she’s probably gonna get with J.T.).

    Thanks to both you and Bob for writing what promises to be a great read.

  23. So how come if Bob has written so many books and you have only written 15 (which is 15 more than I have finished writing!) I can’t find Bob’s books ANYWHERE!!?!! Crusie books, however, are on all the book shelves. Maybe Bob should be grateful that YOU collaberated with HIM–don’t ever underestimate yourself, sweetie, you are just IT! And you don’t have to be a Cherry to know it! Love the blog, love you, see you on list.

    Sheri

  24. A friend told me to go to Jenny C.’s blog–“You gotta read it! It’s funny! It’s great!” So I came. Now I have coffee stains all over me and the laptop, I laughed so hard. Great. I found yet another reason to avoid writing in the morning hours. But hey, I get to meet Bob and Charlie.

  25. Back when I was trying to sell movie scripts, one of The Rules was to try and boil down your premise into a one-sentence pitchline to tell to producers.

    I gotta say, “She cooks, he kills, they have great sex” is one of the best pitchlines I’ve ever heard.

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