New York Times bestselling author Suzanne Brockmann has teamed up with her daughter Melanie Brockmann to write the YA paranormal Night Sky series. The books follow Skylar Reid, a teenage girl who discovers that she is something called a Greater-Than, meaning she’s in possession of some intensely scary super-powers. Sky is not entirely comfortable with that, and then she finds out that there are multitudes of very bad people who hunt down Greater-Thans in order to use the girls’ very special blood to make an illegal, expensive, and highly addictive drug called Destiny.
In the sequel Wild Sky, Sky and her motley gang of friends are back with even more high-octane adventures. Here, the mother-daughter writing team provide five tips for what writers should know before working with a co-author.
One: Do it because you’re passionate
Suzanne Brockmann: I’d always been intrigued by the idea of working with Melanie. Ever since she was a little girl, I’ve loved her writing voice. But I have to admit that I was a little nervous at first, because the only way I’d ever written a book was by myself, so I didn’t know how we were going to do it.
Melanie Brockmann: I was nervous too. Actually, terrified is a better word. My mom had written over 50 books, many of them bestsellers. I’d always wanted to work with her; I just didn’t know how I could contribute, which is why I was so excited when Mom called me with the idea to write a YA series based on Born to Darkness.
Suz: BTD is an adult paranormal novel I wrote in 2012, set in a darkly futuristic world where young women with super-powers are targeted by dangerous criminals. As I was writing that book, I realized that I really, really wanted to write a story set in that same world from a teenage girl’s point of view. Except I’d never written YA before, and I knew it was important to get the voice right. That was when I realized that working with Melanie on this project would be a perfect fit. So I called her to ask if she was interested.
Mel: And I screamed. With joy.
Suz: And I knew, right then, the collaboration was going to work. If the passion is there, everything else will work itself out.
Two: Make the rules up as you go
Suz: One of my biggest concerns about co-writing wasn’t about Mel—it was about me. At the time we started writing together, I’d written over 50 books. All. By. Myself. And the total number of books I’d co-authored: zero. I wasn’t sure I could do it. I didn’t know how. There was a small, irrational part of me that kept arguing if I didn’t write the book the same way I’d written the others, the book would never get done.
Mel: So we spent a lot of time—and I mean a lot of time—right at the beginning, working out how we were going to write together.
Suz: It was scary at first. We both really wanted it to work, we both felt as if there must be a way we could get it to work, but neither of us knew how to make it work.
Mel: Then we realized that even though having no rules to go by was kind of scary, it was also kind of great.
Suz: That’s when we recognized that all we had to do was make up our own rules. Our conversations quickly became a series of discussions that started with the phrase, “What if we… ” And when we got comfortable saying to each other, “I don’t know if that would work for me, so how about instead if we… ” then I knew we were going to figure everything out.
Three: Be prepared to be wrong
Mel: One of my favorite stories to tell is the time Mom and I decided that we’d revise a scene together—both of us, sitting at the same computer.
Suz: In my imagination, we’d sit there and shout witty dialogue at the screen, four hands on the keyboard, hurrying to write it all down.
Mel: Instead, we sat there in silence, staring at the blinking cursor.
Mel: After about two minutes, one of us said, “Um, this isn’t working.”
Suz: And the other one said, “Oh, thank God. Let’s not write this way.”
Mel: “Ever again.”
Suz: Worst idea, ever.
Mel: But what was cool was that once we tried the idea and it failed, we didn’t feel like we failed. We just realized that what we thought was a brilliant concept was—
Suz: A catastrophe. (For us!)
Mel: So we simply moved on to something else.
Suz: In fact, our work strategies evolved over the course of both Night Sky and Wild Sky.
Mel: We took the attitude that whatever was working was the best way for us.
Suz: And thankfully, we were flexible enough to know that what might have worked for one scene (like maybe having Mel write the first draft, leaving me to polish) didn’t necessarily work for another (where, for example, I knew exactly how something should go, so I wrote the first draft myself).
Four: Figure out how to address disagreements
Suz: It’s tempting to think that once you get going, every problem will solve itself.
Mel: In fact, once we finished outlining the story and I began writing the first draft of the first chapter, I thought we were going to finish in weeks.
Suz: But inevitably, Mel and I hit places where we disagreed about a particular character or plot twist.
Mel: For us, it was kind of easy. Even though Mom was really open to discussion about those times when I had a different idea than she did—
Suz: And many times Mel’s fresh approach was exactly what we needed to get past a tricky spot—
Mel: We’d agreed from the outset that, in the event that we didn’t agree about something, Mom would have the final say. Our choices to fill that role were the person who had never published a book, or the New York Times bestseller who had written dozens.
Suz: It didn’t happen often, but when it did, we were thankful that we’d figured out how to get past those places in advance.
Five: Most importantly…
Suz and Mel: Go for it! And good luck!
Suzanne Brockmann and her daughter, Melanie Brockmann, were first collaborators on an impromptu musical duet, when then-six-month-old Melanie surprised and delighted Suz by matching her pitch and singing back to her. Wild Sky is the second book from the mother-daughter team, and the sequel to Night Sky. Their latest collaboration is on an independent feature film called Russian Doll which features Mel in the lead role, and which Suz executive produces. Each strongly suspects that the other is a Greater-Than. Find out more at www.SuzanneBrockmann.com and follow them on Twitter @SuzBrockmann, @MelRaeYA and @RussianDollMov