The Story Behind the Story: Talking Borrowed Trouble with JB Kohl and Eric Beetner

Snow Angels by James ThompsonEver wondered what it would be like not only to write a book, but to do so with a co-author? That you’ve never actually met? By email? Today’s guest post is from authors JB Kohl and Eric Beetner who’ve done just that…twice. Here’s a peek behind the curtain on how exactly that works.

JB Kohl and Eric Beetner wrote this blog post the way they write their books – by sending a draft back and forth to each other and adding on bit by bit, entirely through email. Turns out they still have a lot of questions about their own book.

Eric Beetner: By now our backstory has gotten out there a fair amount. We live on opposite coasts and have never met. We’ve never even talked on the phone and yet managed to write two books together now. Thinking back to how the new one, Borrowed Trouble, came about I remember the seed of the idea began as an epilogue to the first book, One Too Many Blows To The Head, that contained the basic premise – Ray gets a note from a girl claiming to be his sister in need of help but Ray doesn’t think he has a sister and he enlists Dean for help. Then we cut the epilogue at the eleventh hour just before we went to press. Do you remember why we cut that out?

JB Kohl: I think we decided we didn’t want to be “hemmed in” regarding a plot. An epilogue –when it’s a preview for the next book – can be tricky if you aren’t well into the next novel. The plot idea was there, but we weren’t sure if we were committed to it. It’s so funny to me now, because in the end it was the exact plot idea we went with. So tell me, were you nervous about having Ray and Dean work together?

EB: Absolutely I was nervous. I think a lot of what I feel works about One Too Many Blows To The Head is that they stay so separated. We’ve all read so many detective stories from the POV of the detective or crime stories from the POV of the criminal but I love that we were able to do both in one book. You get the hunter and the hunted. It’s one reason I really want people to read it!

Putting them together was tense because I didn’t want to change the dramatic tension and also it was weird writing for “your” character. I know we both started to feel a little territorial about our guys. I wanted to get it right. I really did enjoy, though, seeing how you saw Ray as you wrote him. I think I have more sympathy for Ray than you did as an “outsider”. Dean’s observations of Ray were as a real tight knot of a man. I loved that stuff. It’s getting to see from both sides of the mirror, which is what I love about our collaboration.

I want to know how you felt when I came with the initial germ of the idea to deal with young women being exploited and abused on film. I have feared throughout that it could read as misogynistic. I tried very hard to pay close attention to staying away from over-telling the brutality and yet keeping it something that is harsh enough to justify Ray and Dean’s actions to stop it. I liked having a woman along for the ride to keep it in check. But did you ever balk at the subject matter?

JB: I agree about the writing for one another’s characters. It’s scary to let someone work on a character I’ve created, but I think you and I do this well for Ray and Dean. It has gotten to the point where, when you have a chapter that will involve you writing my character, I’m actually excited to read it. I always look forward to seeing how Ray sees Dean.

And the subject matter didn’t bother me . . . much. (Grin) It is always hard for me to write violence. I stand and pace around a lot when I’m writing a violent scene or having a character commit a violent act, especially when the act isn’t one of revenge or retribution but just an act of unjustifiable violence. It’s hard for me to sit down and actually do it. It’s hard to imagine someone being abused on film or harmed physically on or off film. No, I never once balked at the subject matter, but I think to get even with you our next book will center around an afternoon in a coffee shop where five girlfriends gather for a long, long conversation about their feelings.

I’d like to know how you felt when I introduced a character we hadn’t discussed and that wasn’t in our outline . . . especially when the character was so over the top.

Snow Angels by James ThompsonEB: First, if I may name drop for a second – I spoke with Gar Anthony Haywood today and he is reading One Too Many Blows To The Head and he was amazed (his word) at how seamless the book was considering we each write individual chapters. I thought that was a great compliment from a great writer.

Anyway, the new character you’re referring to is Baron. I LOVED him. That was the first major deviation from the outline when he came along. I knew I wanted more of him. It’s one great thing about being a reader and a writer at the same time. I wanted more as a reader. That thrill of discovery is what I like about my own writing. I outline but in very skeletal form. One line can lead to a 5000 word chapter. So the added thrill of knowing what the one liner is in our outline and then getting a new chapter from you and discovering all this great new stuff, the flesh on the bones, is fantastic. When the character of Baron came along another major bad guy from my chapters got killed off pretty quickly as I recall. For the better.

And don’t kid yourself, I’d say the most extreme violence in the book comes from you! I guess it makes me feel better to know it doesn’t come easy but, damn, girl. You have it in you. I’m always disturbed at how easily I can write that stuff. Doesn’t bug me in the least. All your fretting pays off because the scenes of violence you write are intense and painful, as they should be.

As we head into the homestretch here – we don’t want to co-opt Elizabeth’s blog too long – I want to know how working together has changed your writing habits on your own work, because we both still write our own novels. The big difference is that I haven’t had any published yet (YET!), whereas you have with
The Deputy’s Widow (paperback & Kindle). Have you adapted your process by anything you’ve learned in our time together?

JB: My husband actually prefers to read about Ray I think. He likes how Ray just uses his fists and raw strength to get things done. He says it satisfies the need the reader has regarding revenge for the bad guys. Ray can take down a guy with his bare hands and I think that appeals to a lot of people.

I think you and I have both evolved together as writers just from working together. It really felt like the second book was more seamless than the first. The first time around I don’t think we really knew what to expect from one another; and collaborations are hard. Is the other writer reliable? Will I only get a chapter every three months or so? I’m sure there are a lot of writers out there that start working as a team and never get it done simply because the rapport isn’t there. I think I really lucked out with who I landed as a partner!

Through working with you, I think I’m just more willing to take risks with what I write. I think we’ve talked before about how difficult it is to let someone else see your raw first drafts. Now, not only do I let someone do that on a regular basis, I also let him write my character too. And I think that has helped a lot. I think it has helped me make deeper characters in my solo work. And I truly think it’s because I have had the rare opportunity of seeing a character of mine written from another writer’s perspective.

EB: Well let’s keep it going then! Up next for us are more solo books and we’re just starting to outline a new book different from the Ray and Dean series. With any luck we’ll be back again telling you how we wrote that one.

Thanks to Elizabeth for hosting us so people could eavesdrop on our little conversation. Keep in mind we wrote two whole books this way, only through the written word. Using writing to do a writing project. How quaint of us.

Borrowed Trouble is available now in paperback and Kindle editions, and catch the adventure from the start with One Too Many Blows To The Head.

Eric Beetner is an award-winning short story and screenwriter. In addition to Borrowed Trouble, Eric is also the author of One Too Many Blows To The Head (co-written by JB Kohl). Eric is also a TV and film editor, director and producer who lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two daughters. To learn more about Eric Beetner, visit his website.
Borrowed Trouble is the third book by JB Kohl, following The Deputy’s Widow and One Too Many Blows To The Head (co-written by Eric Beetner). In addition to writing fiction, she works as a technical and fiction editor. She lives in Virginia with her husband and three children. To learn more about JB Kohl, visit her website.

– Borrowed Trouble by JB Kohl and Eric Beetner –

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7 Comments

  • Sheila Deeth

    February 9, 2011 - 8:24 pm

    Fascinating. I hadn’t realized you’d never even spoken on the phone, but it makes perfect sense. And this post was great.

  • Eric Beetner

    February 2, 2011 - 6:48 pm

    Thanks for having us, Elizabeth! And I can’t let Aaron get away without mentioning his book, The Science of Paul which is great.

  • Aaron Philip Clark

    February 2, 2011 - 1:22 pm

    I’ve always found the co-authoring process of Kohl and Beetner to be pretty courageous. The process alone would probably strike fear into any writer who is used to working completely solo (I could be lumped into that category). But it sounds like a hell of a challenge but extremely rewarding. I would love to read a non-fiction book simply about the process of Beetner and Kohl’s writing; it’s pretty revolutionary and pretty inspiring as well. I hope they keep it up, it’s really great stuff.

    • Elizabeth A. White

      February 2, 2011 - 1:53 pm

      The way I wrap my head around what they’re doing is by thinking of it like two talented musicians just jamming with each other, feeding off each other’s ideas and energy.

      • Aaron Philip Clark

        February 2, 2011 - 4:01 pm

        I can see that…well, I can’t wait to crack it open and start reading. It should arrive soon.

  • sabrina ogden

    February 2, 2011 - 9:58 am

    This is totally awesome. I can’t imagine writing a book this way, but think it is wonderful that they’ve made it work and still want to continue with new projects together. I love, love, love this! Thanks for sharing.

    • Elizabeth A. White

      February 2, 2011 - 11:19 am

      I have enough frustration just writing something on my own, so it’s mind blowing what they’ve accomplished so seamlessly strictly via email…and without even really knowing each other. Wild.

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