Group Projects: an interview

Some friends of mine, Renee Miller and Henry Lara, co-authored a novelette, a beautiful haunting story. What impressed me most when I read this story was the complete blending of two styles. I've read and edited frequently for both Renee and Henry. I had a good sense of their writing voices, but in reading their joint story, I couldn't tell you what sentence or word came from which author.

1. What was the biggest obstacle in co-authoring? And how did you overcome it?
Henry: I think that the biggest obstacle is simply that two people must agree on everything. When you work on your own, whatever you want to do, you do. In this project, the rule was that we both have to agree on everything. Both I think that, in this case, there was a lot trust between both of us. We also know each other's strengths very well, so that whenever Renee wanted to change something, I knew there was a reason. Even if I was not entirely sure at the time, I trust her instincts so much that I knew she was right almost all the time. What I felt strongly about I questioned, until I either saw her point or we both agreed on a compromise.

Renee: The biggest obstacle was that Henry and I work in totally different ways. I am a tad on the control freak side. Just a tad, mind you. Henry is more giving, which helped alot. I had to stifle my urge to rush him, and he had to try not to rush through his side of things because he knew I was sitting over here tapping the keyboard impatiently. I think sometimes I scared him. But that was the hardest part for me anyway. I had to breathe, slow myself down and allow him to work in his own way. And PS: Slow, meticulous, careful writing is probably the best way to do it. My way is kind of insane and ulcer-inducing.

2. What was most rewarding about the project?
Henry: For me, it would be seeing what I thought was a good idea turn into a finished product. I also had a lot of fun working with Renee. Must do it again sometime soon, ha!

Renee: The finished product. Seriously, if someone had said that I could write something with another writer with a totally different style and voice and have it work; I'd have told them they were nuts. The combination of Henry's voice and mine made a story that felt so different from anything either of us had ever written. I guess because I imagined this story would turn out to be something that alternated with his voice and mine throughout,(which would have been a nightmare) to read this story and find I couldn't pick out his voice or mine, was kind of amazing to me.

3. How did you resolve disagreements?
Henry: Er, I remember her saying something about dismemberment. Things went smoothly afterwards. Again, I think the big thing is that we know each other well, and trust each other a lot. Whatever we disagreed on, we discussed until we either saw the other's point, or agreed on a solution.

Renee: We didn't have a lot of disagreements. Henry began and ended most of his emails with "You're pretty" in order to soften me up for any changes or suggestions that might have set me off. So that helped. Actually, I have to be totally honest here; any disagreements would have most likely been on my side. Why? Because Henry is a pretty agreeable person, and he's very giving in terms of ideas and in the writing process. I tend to dig in my heels if my instinct (or my Irish) says no, so the fact that he was aware of my...not so pretty side, really made things smoother. He told me if something didn't seem right to him, and dug in when he was really not liking something or wanted a change made, (and there were a few of those times) but he also was willing to hear me out. FYI: When dealing with a bullheaded or tantrum-proned person, the trick is just to let them vent. Once they've done that, they're usually pretty open to suggestions.

4. Starting off, did you lay out any rules or preliminary guidelines?
Henry: I set myself as a rule not to drive Renee crazy. Seriously, I did. Other than that, I think we set up a deadline, since we wanted to submit by a certain date (we did). The rest we made as we went.

Renee: Um...I think once Henry came to me with the idea, I kind of took over for a bit. I'm sure he'll say I didn't, but I know I'm bossy. What happened was he'd been talking about this idea for a while and I'm not sure how we came to the conclusion we should write it together, but we did and he shared the notes he'd made so far. The concept was his, the inspiration was from a Puerto Rican legend he'd heard and my task was to write the outline. I was dying to see how we could write the story backward, and not totally confuse the reader.

Anyway, the really important thing we agreed to was that we wouldn't keep anything we couldn't agree on and we'd be honest with each other on those things. If it was a draw, he hated it, I loved it or vice versa, we removed it. Of course, I don't think there was much that we couldn't negotiate. Henry is a softy, and some bits he was nervous about putting in because it made our hero not quite so likable. I had to remind him this was a 16th century Spanish soldier, the odds of him being all for the rights of women and such were unlikely. I think that was the only major disagreement. Other than that we arranged it so that I'd write a chapter to the best of my ability, Henry would take it and add the historical elements and rewrite so that my part flowed with his and then he'd send it back to me and I'd rewrite again. We went back and forth with each chapter until we were both satisfied with it.

5. How did you brainstorm ideas over long distance?
Henry: We use e-mail a lot, and we used Skype a couple times to talk. As far as brainstorming, it was a good back and forth. We had some very good discussions.

Renee: Many, many, many emails and Skype. Thank God for Skype.

6. How did you outline?

Henry: That was all Renee. Because our story is told in an unusual way, outlining was particularly crucial. Without a strong outline, it would have been impossible to see this project through.

Renee: I wrote the first outline. Then I sent it to Henry who marked it all up with comments and such where it didn't fit what he envisioned or where things just didn't work. Then he sent it back to me and I threw darts at a picture of him and cursed a few times, then I rewrote it and sent it back to him. I think we spent a couple of weeks just passing that back and forth.


  1. Oh, this is so funny seeing both of us answer the same questions. Imagine that, Henry. We even gave the same answer for some. And why are my answers so long? What is that? It's not like I'm usually long-winded or anything. Right?

  2. Hum. as if I would dare to disagree? Just kidding. Really.

    Thanks Rita for the interview. Renee, I got this other idea I wanted to mention to you...

  3. What a great interview! Writing together must have also unearthed some strengths that you didn't know you had. It seems like there was a lot of give and take.

    Thanks for sharing Rita!

  4. "Henry began and ended most of his emails with 'You're pretty'"

    Hear that gaffawing? Oh this interview was precious. I can totally see both of you working through your different styles to make this work. Now I'm even more anxious to read it. Excellent job to all three of you. Renee & Henry for writing, and to the lovely miss Rita for thinking to interview them. :)


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