Day 3: Co-Authoring
Posted on February 17, 2019 by John Peck
Hey All, this is Harry, Jack’s East Coast arm here to celebrate Day 3 of the Countdown to The Darkest Lord (e-book publication date 2/26.) One of the questions that I’m asked at conventions and book signings is how John Peck and I manage to write as Jack Heckel. This often comes with a rapid fire group of follow up questions. Do we get into fights? Does one of us write some parts and forbid the other from touching them? How do we divide the percentage of writing to make it fair? And of course, which one of us *REALLY* writes the books?
Fortunately for me, I have written group projects as a pen and paper roleplaying game author. Few of those supplements or game books had a single author. When I had my first opportunity to write a novel, it was as a co-author, working with my friend, Jeff Smith, and publishing as Lee Lightner. All of those experiences shaped the methods that John and I use today.
So, we both write 100% of the Jack Heckel novels. This is extremely important for us. We don’t keep track of how many words each person has written or rewritten or what percentage of the book that we wrote. When the name Jack Heckel goes on that book, it means John Peck and Harry Heckel both wrote everything in the book. This keeps us focused on making sure the entire book is good.
If one of us has a criticism of a section or doesn’t feel comfortable, we listen to what we both have to say and spend time working through it. We don’t really “fight” so much, but we do have disagreements. However, we feel that’s an important part of the creative process, and the effort that we use in communication often leads to solutions that make the entire book better. We encourage each other to give feedback as well as to listen to feedback. In our case, it helps that we are usually on the same page, but the honest and respectful back and forth makes the books better.
In practice, we wrote The Charming Tales by having an outline which we both accepted, agreeing that one of us would write the chapters primarily featuring Will Pickett and the other would write the chapters primarily featuring Charming. We wrote the book in chronological order, and once one of us finished a chapter, the other one would read through and creatively edit that chapter, embellishing or changing scenes and characters. What resulted was a writing style that belonged to neither John nor myself, but was completely Jack Heckel. As an interesting aside, we asked some of our beta readers who they thought wrote the original draft of each chapter, and the majority of them guessed the wrong person.
After the book was complete, we both read through the entire manuscript and discussed larger scale edits and changes. The final published version, which is found in A Fairy-tale Ending, doesn’t bear much of a resemblance to the original outline. Honestly, it was much better than that outline.
One of the fun things that happened was that at times, one of us wouldn’t be able to write a chapter or finish a chapter due to life events or writer’s block. When that happened, our co-author could take over. Knowing that someone else is there to help you stay on pace when you can’t write does wonders for reducing deadline stress.
When we ran into a problem plot point, we would call each other and ask for help. Those discussions often led to our favorite co-author experiences, where we would bounce ideas off of each other, only to find them leading to better and better ideas. This synergy of ideas is fantastic, and it would often change future chapters and even the direction of the book.
When we worked on The Dark Lord, we started with the same plan of having an outline, but it wasn’t as easily divided since the book had a single narrator, Avery Stewart. We divided some of the early chapters, but we ran into difficulties where we both weren’t available, so one of us started writing the entire book. The other person followed and rewrote/heavily edited those chapters, and at the end, there was some editing and touching things up. It wasn’t what we intended, but it worked.
When we wrote The Darker Lord, we did it the same way, with one person forging the initial rough draft and the second person breathing life into it, and both of us making sure the final version met Jack Heckel’s standards. By the time we were ready to write The Darkest Lord, we had our method of writing the series.
The most important aspects of our partnership are respect, communication, and the mutual ownership. We started writing together because we thought it would be a great way to stay in touch with one of us on the West Coast and the other on the East Coast. It’s been a remarkable experience, and one for which we are both thankful. We have been pleased with the five novels we’ve created, and we are both looking forward to working together for a long time to come.