Brett Battles and Robert Gregory Browne are both masters. Both are prolific and versatile writers, both have an extraordinary sense of story and pacing, both create vivid, memorable characters. Both have also sold lots and lots of books — both in print and electronically, since they’re kings of the ebook universe, with each of them getting to or perilously near the Number One position in Amazon’s global Kindle marketplace. For a complete list of their books, go to http://www.robertgregorybrowne.com/ and http://www.brettbattles.com/ – and take my word for it, you’ll like any book you choose.
And now they’ve risked their friendship to collaborate on a new thriller, POE, just now made available in ebook form. (Paper will follow.) They’re still speaking, as the interview below will demonstrate, and I’m certain that POE is going straight to the top of the charts. I’m always curious about how a collaboration actually works, so I asked a few questions.
But first, here’s the official description of POE
After losing her mother to a terrorist attack, Alexandra Poe was devastated when her father—disgraced and accused of treason—disappeared from the face of the earth. Now, ten years and a stint in Iraq later, Alex is approached by a man who has information about her father and wants to help her find him.
But there’s a catch. The man works for Stonewell International, a security firm that specializes in fugitive acquisition. And in return for their help, Alex must agree to run point on an extremely dicey mission. One that will take her behind the walls of a brutal and dangerous women’s prison near the coast of the Black Sea.
When Alex finally agrees, she has no idea what she’s gotten herself into. She may find her father, but she could very well lose her life.
1. How did this collaboration come about?
ROB: It came about over a number of years, actually. We had long been talking about doing something together and for a while considered doing a YA idea called LINGER that we never got going, then Brett remembered an old idea of mine and said, how about if we do something with that? And a collaboration was born.
BRETT: Even then, it took us a while to find the time to start.
ROB: True, and with my natural aversion to work, it probably wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been for Brett.
BRETT: Aw, shucks….
Mr. Browne . . .
2. Where did the germ of the idea come from? How did you initially develop it?
ROB: The idea was one I had developed and abandoned several years ago, but seemed to stick in both of our minds. Brett had always liked the idea and wanted to further explore it. The idea originated when I was looking to develop a series starring a kick-ass heroine, but for whatever reason it just never came together until Brett kind of forced the issue…
BRETT: I basically waterboarded Rob into submission. He’s okay now. He just doesn’t drink any liquid that’s clear now.
ROB: Of course, if he had used coffee I would have agree much earlier. Hell, he could’ve just sent me a bag of Jamaican beans and I would have agreed. I’m easy.
3. When you decided to collaborate, how did you envision yourself working? At that time, did you anticipate that either or both of you would work more intensively on some aspects of the book than others, or did you always see yourselves being equally responsible for each of the book’s components: plot, character, setting, dialogue, structure, whatever else you can think of?
ROB: Since this is a series, we decided one of us would write the first draft of one book, then the other would write the first draft of the next book, etc. Once the first draft is done, the other takes it and does revisions, then the polish is handled by the first writer with a lot of feedback and input along the way. As for plot and character, with the first book I had some characters and a very vague plot line, and Brett came in and added more characters and figured out the logistics of the plot structure. He then wrote an outline and we took it from there.
BRETT: The most important thing was to get that outline done, which was incredibly painful for me since I don’t usually do a lot of outlining. But it was important that we were in sync before the first word of the actual story was put to paper. Also, throughout the writing of the first draft we were in constant contact, bouncing ideas off of each other to keep the story moving forward. During the rewrite, specifically the polish pass, that was even more true. There were times when it might have been better to just leave a phone line open between us. The real key to doing this, though, was something Rob said right at the start and I whole heartedly agreed with, any ego needed to be left behind. We couldn’t worry about changing the other’s words or having our own words changed. And that’s exactly what happened.
ROB: Yes, egos at the door. I didn’t want either of us worrying that the other might be offended by any changes we made in sentence structure, whatever. If this was to succeed, we needed to be as ruthless with each other as we are with ourselves.
. . . and Mr. Battles
4. At what point did you know it was going to succeed?
ROB: I think I knew when I saw Brett’s outline. He had taken that initial idea of mine and had really given it life.
BRETT: Really? That late, huh? I always thought it would work from the moment we started talking about writing a book together. But, then again, I am the more optimistic one.
ROB: Hey, cut me a break. The only collaborating I’ve ever done was long time ago, so I didn’t really know what to expect.
BRETT: Uh, yeah. And I had NEVER done any collaborating before, yet I didn’t worry. Again, optimistic one.
5. Were there surprises about the process as writing continued? Anything you didn’t expect?
ROB: What surprised me the most was discovering that our writing styles are relatively similar. I hadn’t really noticed it before. There are things we do differently and a few different words choices we might make, but it got to a point where I couldn’t remember where Brett started and I left off.
BRETT: Very true. I agree with Rob. Some ways we might string sentences together, a few words here and there, but most of the time it was like, “Did you write this? Or did I?” Which is a good thing.
6. How would you compare it to working solo?
ROB: While you don’t have as much freedom in a collaboration to go in whatever direction you choose, there’s a nice feeling that if you don’t figure out a story point or a fix, the other guy will. Our disagreements were infrequent and pretty mild, so it was pretty similar to working solo without having to do as much work.
BRETT: I’m not sure I’d even call anything a disagreement. We certainly didn’t argue over any point. And Rob is right, the cool thing was that if either of us found ourselves stuck, we’d have the other one to help us work it out. That was great. Kept things moving for sure. I enjoyed the process, and look forward to book two. I also enjoy writing solo, so mixing the two is a great way to keep writing even more interesting.
7. What does each of you think is the biggest advantage of collaborating?
ROB: Having a sounding board who is as invested in the outcome as you are. And when something’s seriously wrong, there are two brains at work on the problem.
BRETT: Definitely what Rob said. Plus, if one of you suddenly gets busy or sick or whatever, the other can pick up the slack, and the project can keep moving forward.
ROB: Seriously? You think I’m going to pick up your slack if you get sick? Keep dreaming.
8. What would each of you choose as the biggest pain in the ass?
ROB: Well, Brett did most of the grunt work on this first one, so I’m not sure I can say anything was a pain in the ass. For me, anyway. We worked together quite well.
BRETT: Rob. Wait, what was the question?
ROB: See, I decided to play it nice and not go for the obvious joke. But Brett, not so much.
9. Looking at the book, now that it’s finished, can you identify (without spoilers) ways in which it’s different than it would have been if you’d written it alone?
ROB: That’s hard for me to say. Since I don’t usually develop story and character until I’m actually writing the book, I have no idea how the story would have turned out if I had done it solo. Probably not all that different, in the end. Although one of the main characters may not have existed, since he wasn’t part of the original idea. Which is why it was nice to have a partner to dream him up.
BRETT: Wow, I can’t even remember which character that is. Both Rob and I write thrillers full of action and suspense. POE falls right into that arena, so while I’m sure we both would have made some different choices on our own, our stories probably wouldn’t have diverged far from where we ended up.
ROB: Reminder—the character Deuce, who I fell in love with immediately.
BRETT: Deuce! Right. Yeah, he’s a pretty cool character.
10. Do the two of you have another one in the planning or writing stage?
ROB: We’ve just finished this one literally in the last couple days, so the follow up isn’t yet planned. I have an idea or two for Alex, and I’m sure Brett does, too, but we haven’t yet discussed it. We’re still trying to get our head out of this first one.
BRETT: In the broader sense, yes. POE is the first of a series, so there are aspects of her life that we’ve put in motion which will continue to evolve. Just thinking about it makes me excited to get book two going!
11. Any solo projects coming up?
ROB: I have been slogging away at a new Trial Junkies thriller called NEGLIGENCE. Assuming I ever finish it (it’s one of those books that doesn’t seem to want to die), it will be out very soon.
BRETT: Absolutely. I’m working on the seventh book of my Jonathan Quinn series right now. It’s called THE ENRAGED and should be out late May.
POE is available RIGHT NOW at http://www.amazon.com/Poe-An-Alexandra-Thriller-ebook/dp/B00BXTED3C (for Kindle in the U.S.), at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Poe-An-Alexandra-Thriller-ebook/dp/B00BXTED3C (for Kindle in the U.K.) and at http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/poe-brett-battles/1046284270 (for Barnes & Noble). BUY IT!!!