Houston, we have a problem!

Last week, Lynn Sholes and I completed our fifth novel together. The working title is THE PHOENIX APOSTLES. Let me tell you, collaboration is tough, but collaborating on fiction is insane. Somehow we manage to pull it off—at least our books get published. I think that’s a good sign. All our previous books dealt with complex plots, but our newest thriller is the most complex so far.

Here’s the premise: A journalist discovers that someone is stealing the burial remains of the most heinous mass murderers in history. She uncovers a plot involving the human sacrifice of thousands in the name of an ancient cult. As her life becomes threatened because of what she knows, she learns that the only way to stop the threat is to find and destroy an obscure religious relic dating back to the time of Christ.

As you can guess, this is not a lighthearted cozy. We’re talking high concept, high stakes thriller.

So now Lynn and I are into the rewriting phase of the book. This is a two-part process. First, there’s the line editing; catching all the typoz, grammer and punktuasion issues. The second part of the process is dealing with plotting problems. And the more complex the plot, the more chances there are for holes. We’ve all heard of the phrase, “painting yourself into a corner”. At last count, we’ve managed to do that at least 5 times in this book. But here’s where collaboration comes to the rescue.

Lynn and I have a favorite phrase for when we’re in big trouble. “Houston, we have a problem.” During the rewrite of this new one, we’ve said it too many times. But because there are two minds at work here—some may argue two damaged minds—we’ve been able to brainstorm our way out of every corner so far. Now, mind you, it wasn’t easy. It took many hours of conference calls to resolve huge holes discovered in the rewrite process. One in particular was a deal breaker—literally if we didn’t solve it, the book would collapse under its own weight. But through persistence and the liberal use of “what if”, we waited in the corner until the paint dried, and then we walked out of the room.

So, how do you handle it? What do you do when you find yourself in that lonely corner and you realize your book is sinking like the Titanic? Who do you turn to? Do you have a sounding board? Your spouse? A fellow writer? A trusted beta reader? Or is it all up to you alone? How do you work yourself out of that proverbial corner?

9 thoughts on “Houston, we have a problem!

  1. All of the above. I am amazed to find solutions in the unlikeliest places.

    I was in a quandry with my first novel. One of these, “Why doesn’t she just pick up her cell phone and call in the problem” type things. I needed a bigger ending than that and a reason better than “No bars, oh my!”

    For 2 weeks I went through my regular problem solving channels and, nothing. Then one morning I was watching a show on Discovery channel and “BAM!” there was my answer.

  2. Excuse me, Mr. Co-writer Moore. damaged mindS–the plural?
    But kidding aside, maybe it does take two of our brains to make one.

    Lynn Sholes AKA the right hemisphere

  3. THE PHOENIX APOSTLES sounds great–love the title! When I’m stuck I throw the writing problem to my critique groups for comments. I have always gotten useful input that way.

  4. If the problem is massive, I grab my three favorite beta readers and take them to coffee. I lay out the problem but try my hardest to just keep my mouth shut and watch them discuss it. Each of them is so different, with such a different perspective, that I can usually glean a solution. I’d be utterly lost without them.

  5. Usually I turn to my mum – she’s the only one who’ll listen to me bleat on about the problem – but she always tells me I’ll figure it out…so basically it’s up to me. Boy do I wish I could have a collaborator!

  6. I have a couple of different beta readers that have no problem telling me about holes or oddities. Not only do they help with plot and flow, but have useful input when it comes to British vs American English or mannerisms.

    The hard part though is that they are all in far away places, only one here in Alaska.

    I need to find a writing group that’s not focused on poetry or literary, and can handle a bit of blood and violence without curling their noses.

    CWMMWWVTRTAEOA* Desperately seeking Alaskan Violent Military Thriller Writers Club. If you’re out there let me know.

    Ronery in Araska

    *CWMMWWVTRT = Chubby White Married Male Writer With Violent Tendencies Regarding Terrorists and Enemies of America

  7. If I had a dollar for every time I used that phrase…

    This happened to me yesterday. I didn’t like the way my ms started. There wasn’t enough grab. I switched Chapters One and Two. Then I had plenty of holes to patch!

    I e-mailed the chapters to my two best blog buddies for critique. I admire their writing styles, as well as their support and honesty.

  8. It’s simple Joe. When I get stuck on a problem, I do what any self-respecting author would do. I drink. And if that doesn’t work, I take my drink outside, light a cigar and pace back and forth on the patio, muttering and gesturing until the neighbors start staring or the cops show up or both. Then I snuff out my cigar and go back inside and drink some more. Doesn’t always solve the problem, but I sleep good that night.

  9. Wilfred, you’re right. The answer can come from the most unexpected source. It happens to me quite often.

    Lynn? Lynn who?

    Kathryn, I’m glad you like the premise. We’re really excited now that it’s finally done.

    David, like you, Lynn and I rely heavily on beta readers. They’ve saved our ass many times.

    Clare, although collaboration is not for everyone, it sure helps when you share the load.

    Basil, there’s no poetry critique groups allowed in Florida. State law. Come on down.

    MzzLily, we’ve had the same situation happen where we flipped chapters and it cured some issues. Just as good a chance it’ll open that old worm can, too.

    Mark, you’re talking my language. I’ve found that drinking Jack Daniels wil insur me 2 to cum upp wit sum reely gdsai?!

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