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Step 1. Brainstorming
Roan: Heart of the Steal was born in a moving truck, on a hot as hell August day in the South. Well, that’s not entirely true—it had existed before, IN AVON’S TWISTED BRAIN.
Avon: Yes! And it was very convoluted and involved a side plot with a serial killer. Which is just what you want in your opposites-attract romance novel, right? I was having a lot of problems with the story and wanted to talk it out with Roan, and what I was really in love with about the story was the characters far more than my plot. When I was talking it out with her, she immediately started giving me such great ideas, especially for Vaughn, and I just knew that she had to write him. So I suggested maybe we should write the book together! And ditch the serial killer, focusing instead on a fun, opposites-attract story about someone who follows the rules, and someone who’s never met a rule he couldn’t break.
Roan was in the process of moving from New Orleans to Philadelphia, and because I love road trips so much, I offered to ride with her while she drove the truck. It took us about five days — the two of us and her cat, Dorian, in the seat between us — and we plotted the whole thing out with me taking notes in one of the thousands of notebooks a writer is never without. When we’d stop for the night at a hotel, I’d whip out the notebook, fire up my little notebook computer and type everything into a document.
By the time I headed home to Missouri, we had an entire plot outlined. Since we spent a lot of time talking about our characters on the trip, it was exciting to get home and dive right in!
Step 2. Writing
Roan: Avon and I were lucky enough to be a very good match, as co-writers, which I think is essential. Like, dating-level essential. We had similar impulses and similar goals for the project, but very complementary strengths/weaknesses. Avon is great with big-picture ideas, has great instincts about when we should just DO something, and is game for everything. I’m good with details, have good instincts about when something we’ve just DONE is epically NOT working, and enjoy nothing so much as playing devil’s advocate. 😀
So, when we would plan each section, we would bounce a ton of ideas back and forth, and Avon would get very excited and suggest 9 amazing things, and I’d say YES AND! Then, on idea number 10, I’d say … UM I THINK NOT. But talking through *why* I responded negatively to idea number 10 always really clarified what we were going for.
Avon: She also is really good at introducing a kitten when a kitten needs to be introduced. And has very strong opinions about bad hard boiled eggs. Also, Roan just has this…incredible turn of phrase in her writing that leaves me awed. She’s so great with descriptions and I’d leave a note in my chapter like, “What kind of food did they serve at this gala?” Seriously, every single thing in this book that has to do with food sounds amazing and it’s all her.
Roan: My favorite thing about co-writing was getting to peek inside another writer’s brain and see how they approached writing. I know how *I* do it, so getting to see how Avon did it was so cool for me. I tend to take one detail and spin it into an entire trail of logic, while Avon comes at it more like a bolt of lightning. So I would make Avon listen to me explain in great detail that if we wanted to indicate that the book began in the summertime, then we needed to have Charlotte, the party planner, serve a dish that used a seasonal summer ingredient, because Charlotte would absolutely source locally. And Avon would (very kindly) say “You know, I hear you, but everyone might not know that asparagus is a summer vegetable, so we might need to be a little bit more explicit.”
Avon: I mean, I love asparagus but I’m not even sure I could tell you what it looks like in plant form. It’s a plant, right?
Roan: LOL I just looked it up and it’s actually in season from Feb to June so THERE GOES THE TIMELINE AGAIN. (Yes, it is a plant.)
Avon: We were both a little timeline challenged, LOL. Thank goodness for our editor who wrote it out for us and pointed out gently that September to November is not, in fact, six months.
Roan: 😀 Yes, we absolutely cannot be trusted to operate a calendar between us. Oh, I lied. My favorite part of co-writing was that Avon would chat me to ask questions about our characters based on whatever she was doing. She didn’t always *say* it was because of what she was doing, but if I got chats that said “What would Vaughn think of a Keurig?” or “Who do you think would be better at Trivia Nights?” I could be pretty sure Avon was staring at a Keurig or had found herself at a Trivia Night. It was awesome because it made us think through our characters from so many different angles (though I don’t believe Keurigs or Trivia Nights made it into the book, I can absolutely tell you Vaughn’s thoughts/ability with regard to them). And that gave us both a sense of them as people beyond our own scenes. So, then when I was writing a chapter from Vaughn’s POV and had to have Will act, I already knew way more about him than just what Avon had written in her chapters—I knew what his opinions were on recreational vehicles, and how he dressed in high school. Character is 100% my favorite thing about writing and reading, so hooking up with someone who also thinks about character constantly was a total joy for me. It felt like we were playing with them all the time.
Avon: Yes! We had this great conversation about the two of them going downhill skiing when I was in Colorado, and I’m pretty sure I asked about the Keurig because my mom gave me one when I was home for Christmas (even though I don’t drink coffee). I loved writing with someone who would absolutely take time to think through questions about their character, it was so much fun and they feel so real to me now!
Roan: I found the chat about the Keurig 😀 :
What are Vaughn’s thoughts on Keurig machines
that the thing with the pods?
bad for the environment, eschew the art of artisanal production, taste weird
vaughn is against anything that capitulates to the ascendency of dunkin donuts
Avon: Well, Vaughn, you’re gonna have to bring your own French Press if you ever stay at my house. Are those a thing? I subsist on Coke Zero and candy, okay.
Roan: Yeah, a french press is what I have, WILLIAM.
Avon: Oh yeah you brought it on the road trip and made coffee every morning with it in the LaQuinta, VAUGHN.
Roan: Hells yeah, I did. With hot water from the tea station, because their coffee was repulsive and it’s my one true joy.
Avon: Writing with Roan was so delightful, and easy — as in, it just worked. We had a lot of fun with the story, we talked through the plot and were both adaptable and listened to what the other had to say, and still were able to put our own distinctive voices to our characters. It was great and I look forward to many more collaborations! We’re going to Iceland, who knows what we’ll come up with there, LOL. I’ll make sure to bring a notebook.
Roan: Oh, shit, how’m I gonna get my French Press in my backpack? …
Avon: I’m wondering the same thing about my Coke Zero tbh.
Step 3. Revising
Roan: Speaking of complementary approaches. Revising was a place where these presented themselves really strongly. I’ve heard a lot of cowriters talk about the way that inevitably one person is the more easygoing and the other is the more … enthusiastic editor. And that was absolutely true for us. I’m really detail-oriented and I fiddle at the sentence level until I’m 100% satisfied with it, but I’m terrible at keeping whole plot arcs in my head at once. And Avon is like AIN’T NOBODY GOT TIME FOR THAT FIDDLING BUSINESS but is great at speed-reading a whole book in a few hours and saying that the pacing is off in the middle. So that worked out wonderfully, because while she dealt with higher level issues, I edited the manuscript for details and prose.
We were lucky because both of us always want to get better, as writers, and both of us really like straightforward honesty. So I was happy to have Avon tell me to cut a scene that we didn’t need to make the pacing stronger, and Avon was happy to have me fiddle with her sentences three times over 😀 There was no defensiveness about hearing what wasn’t working, and so we were both able to be honest with each .
Avon: Roan is great at the detail stuff and she is not lying about liking to edit sentences. Which I was so relieved about because that’s not my strong suit, and I think at first I was worried that I was making her do all the work I hated (not realizing she actually likes that — she has edited a sentence of mine in this article already, LOL, but I used the wrong word!) But eventually I got it through my head that she honestly enjoys that part of it, which is a huge relief. I’m much more of a macro-editor, which might be a word I just made up, but it made the editing process really painless. Also she’s great at being organized which was such a huge help.
Roan: I really do love editing at the sentence level! And after I stopped apologizing because Avon assured me that she didn’t mind my monkeying, it worked out great because I hate reading back over the book to make sure the larger picture stuff is working, and she was great at that. I like to color code things and Avon indulges me 🙂 Really, though, it was a great lesson for me because some of my control freak tendencies were very useful, and writing with Avon quelled others of them.
Avon: And I learned a lot from writing with Roan, which is always awesome. Basically, writing this book was such a great experience for us, and we hope readers feel the same way as we do 🙂
Roan: Agree! Nothing to edit about that sentiment at all 😉
Roan Parrish lives in Philadelphia where she is gradually attempting to write love stories in every genre.
When not writing, she can usually be found cutting her friends’ hair, meandering through whatever city she’s in while listening to torch songs and melodic death metal, or cooking overly elaborate meals. She loves bonfires, winter beaches, minor chord harmonies, and self-tattooing. One time she may or may not have baked a six-layer chocolate cake and then thrown it out the window in a fit of pique.
Avon Gale wrote her first story at the age of seven, about a “Space Hat” hanging on a rack and waiting for that special person to come along and purchase it — even if it was a bit weirder than the other, more normal hats. Like all of Avon’s characters, the space hat did get its happily ever after — though she’s pretty sure it was with a unicorn. She likes to think her vocabulary has improved since then, but the theme of quirky people waiting for their perfect match is still one of her favorites.
Avon grew up in the southern United States, and now lives with her very patient husband in a liberal midwestern college town. When she’s not writing, she’s either doing some kind of craft project that makes a huge mess, reading, watching horror movies, listening to music or yelling at her favorite hockey team to get it together, already. Avon is always up for a road trip, adores Kentucky bourbon, thinks nothing is as stress relieving as a good rock concert and will never say no to candy.
At one point, Avon was the mayor of both Jazzercise and Lollicup on Foursquare. This tells you basically all you need to know about her as a person.