Today I have an interview with two special guests, Danielle Bennett and Jaida Jones. They have three books published they wrote together: Havemercy, Shadow Magic and Dragon Soul. While I have yet to read Dragon Soul, which was published over the summer, I very much enjoyed both Havemercy (review) and Shadow Magic (review) for their character-driven storytelling and the humor woven throughout the various narrative voices. For more information on the authors and their books, visit their website.
Fantasy Cafe: How did you two meet and begin writing together?
Jaida: Dani commented on my livejournal to a post I’d made about Narnia. It always really frustrated me that Edmund, Peter, Lucy and Susan had to leave this entire life they’d lived behind, and apparently that was something that hit home with Danielle, as well. We started talking about books we loved, stories we were obsessed with, and characters we just couldn’t forget, and discovered we had a crazy amount of those things in common. My first reaction to everything back then was, ‘OK, let’s write together!’ whenever I was talking to someone I got along with. I just loved—and still love—collaborative writing. We tossed a few ideas around, playing the letter game (writing a story through letters, each of us in the voices of specific characters) for a while before we found an idea that actually clicked. And that idea, apparently, was giant metal dragons.
FC: I was surprised to learn that you wrote by one person writing a few pages and then handing it off to the other since I thought you probably each wrote two of the four main characters’ storylines. It seems as though each narrator maintains his own personality without feeling like there is a change in voice at all. How did you start this writing process? Did you try any other methods of collaboration before settling on this way of writing together?
Dani: We decided on the characters beforehand, but what we really wanted to do was make sure both of us had a solid handle on all four protagonists. While we had characters that each of us associated with specifically in the beginning, we talked about them and their dynamics and relationships enough so that we’d both feel comfortable writing all four of them. We didn’t ever want to feel as though we were out of character writing our own characters, and we also saw it as a challenge to make the writing style flow smoothly—so that people would have to say they didn’t know where one of us started writing and the other stopped. We also did a lot of editing as we went along, so that we found one specific voice—or rather, four specific voices—that could be consistent throughout the book.
Jaida: We did try the letter game beforehand, which was more of a ‘I write this character, you write that one’ style, but we just didn’t like the way it came out; it was too disjointed. That was probably a subconscious deciding factor in why we ended up tackling the book the way we did, like a written version of hot potato, just tossing the manuscript back and forth and keeping it flowing as quickly as possible. It forced us to be spontaneous, to think on our feet, and in the end—while it did make it a really hard story to edit—it’s what got us from start to finish. We were just so excited the entire time, and writing the book was a learning experience about what was actually going to happen in the book.
FC: Is there anything you can tell us about the next book you will be releasing? Is it going to be set in the same world as Havemercy, Shadow Magic and Dragon Soul or will it take place in a different setting? Do you have a planned number of books that will be in the series or any plans to write books outside of it?
Jaida: After a lot of back-and-forth—we’re awful with titles, and it usually takes us about as long to think up a finished, working title as it does to write the actual book—we’ve all decided on ‘Steelhands’ as the title of book four.
Dani: Obviously, if you’ve read the ending of Havemercy, the title itself is a pretty big spoiler!
Jaida: The book is another direct sequel to Havemercy, but it tells a different story than Dragon Soul does, and it gets back to our Thremedon roots.
Dani: There are a lot more stories we’d love to be able to tell, especially set in and around Volstov… So hopefully we’ll have the chance to some day! So far, ‘Steelhands’ is our last for-certain deal—so far, anyway!
FC: Until Dragon Soul was written, each of the four narrators had been male. Was there a particular reason for mainly writing from the perspective of men? Why do you always write from four perspectives within one novel?
Jaida: Since our writing is a collaborative effort, we always come at a book from the perspective of pairs—since we’re a pair, ourselves. Four seemed like just the right number to us when we started Havemercy, and we stuck to that number in the subsequent books because it worked so well for us to come to the same story from that many different angles. Havemercy was based on this idea of hazing in the world of firefighters, so that sort of testosterone-driven chauvinistic world was what we decided to build—we had to build it, first, but our hope is to slowly tear it down, as well. We had to set it up before we could blast it apart, which is hopefully what we’ve started to do with Steelhands…
FC: Would you prefer to live in Volstov or amongst the Ke-Han? What is it about one culture or the other that appeals to you more?
Dani: We’re both obsessed with Asian cultures, especially Japan, which is part of the melting-pot hodge-podge that went into creating the Ke-Han landscape. We sort of thought of it as that when we were first creating it as a samurai-era Japan that was conquered by Mongolian raiders—and the latter subsumed the former, but also integrated much of its culture at the same time. When we were writing Shadow Magic, I think we realized we’d much rather live there because of all the delicious food we kept describing. It made us, and our then pregnant editor, crave dumplings!
FC: I can’t help it, I have to ask because he’s my favorite character so far: Will we get to see more of Caius?
Jaida: He’s our favorite, too! So we really, really hope so!
FC: Giant metal dragons have destroyed your library. You have time to get only five books from your collection. Which five do you run with before they’re incinerated?
Jaida and Dani: The Elephant Vanishes, by Haruki Murakami; Haroun and the Sea of Stories, by Salman Rushdie; The Real Live of Sebastian Knight, by Vladimir Nabokov; The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis; The Voyage of the Basset, by James C. Christensen, Renwick St. James and Alan Dean Foste.
FC: Which character is the most fun to write and why?
Jaida: The craziest characters are always the most enjoyable, so probably Rook and Caius.
Dani: Rook was particularly daunting to pick back up again in Dragon Soul, however; it was surprisingly hard to find his voice again, despite how specific it was. We kept having to ask ourselves, are we cursing too much? Are we not cursing enough? Why are you such an asshole?
Jaida: I think Rook was so much fun because he just says whatever he thinks; there’s no filter, and he can be that insulting, callous, horrible jerk I always wish I was—without fear of repercussion—whenever I’m having a really bad day. Caius, on the other hand, was just nuts, and it was so much fun trying to think of all the things he just wouldn’t think of, himself.
FC: In Jaida’s journal, when discussing her fear of first reviews shortly before Havemercy was released, she wrote, “If you’ve written the perfect book then what’s left to improve upon next time? What’s left to discover about yourself, and your writing?” What do you both feel you’ve discovered about yourselves and your writing between working on your first book and your third?
Dani: We’ve discovered that writing an outline always helps and we should probably do it more often.
Jaida: We’ve also discovered that the longer we take on a manuscript, the less our editor will want us to edit.
Dani: With all three of the sequels to Havemercy, the stories had been in our heads since the moment we finished the first draft—pre-agent, pre-editor, pre-publisher. But they changed a lot since that first inception, when we turned to each other and thought, sequel! I think one of the most important things we learned was how to let our ideas change and adapt and evolve into something totally different from what we expected they would be.
Jaida: We’ve also learned how to edit. Maybe.
Jaida: We hope.
Thank you to both Dani and Jaida for answering some questions! Best of luck with work on Steelhands – I’m looking forward to reading it.