Collaborating on Writing a Mystery Novel

Someone asked me today how it was possible to do a book collaboration with people I’ve never met. The simple answer is “email,” but that is really no answer because it leaves a lot out of the process, such as how I got the idea for such a collaboration, how I found the authors, and how we managed to write a cohesive book (three books, actually).

A few years ago, I did a round robin with a group of writers, where we each took turns writing the story. It was fun and frustrating at the same time because it seemed as if some of the authors tried to sabotage the others by introducing silly elements. I wondered if it were possible for a group of authors to do some sort of book collaboration, but with the authors having sole control of their character to keep anyone from sabotaging what the original creator of the character might wish to do.

I broached some of my fellow Second Wind Publishing thriller writers and asked if they would be interested in doing such a project as a blog promotion. Several agreed to try the experiment.

It took a long time before a singlRubicon Ranche word was written because each author had his or her own vision of the project. Some demanded a contract for when the book was made into a movie (this was before a single word was written, mind you). Although the book was always intended to be available on the Rubicon Ranch blog, some of the authors thought we should post all but the last chapters and make people buy the book to find out what happened. I did agree to the contract, but refused to agree to cheating readers by withholding the ending.

We decided on a murder mystery, beginning with a child found dead in the desert, and continuing with each of the authors creating a character who had reason to kill the little girl. But we couldn’t agree on how to resolve the murder. Some of the authors wanted to know the killer ahead of time to make it easier to write their chapters, some wanted to be the only one to decide on the killer, some (me) wanted us to write the book first, then all decide on who did what and why.

By the time we actually started writing, the whole collaboration had moved away from my original idea of a blog promotion where the writers would post their own chapters with no one having to shepherd the book through to completion, and I ended up being den mother, drill sergeant, secretary general, and editor all rolled into one. (The authors were busy so they didn’t always get their chapters done on time and often didn’t have a chance to read the previous chapters so inconsistencies kept creeping in.)

And all this was done by email. Lots of emails.

Despite various starts and stops, confusions and conflicts, we did finish the book. Although it turned out to be a good story, it was a far cry from the fun and easy collaboration I had envisioned, so I tried again with a sequel. And then again. By the time we did the third book, the kinks were ironed out, the authors got their chapters in on time (mostly), and some of them finally understood what I had originally intended, for the collaboration to be sort of a literary role-playing game.

All three Rubicon Ranch novels are available to read online at http://rubiconranch.wordpress.com.

Or, if you prefer to read on some sort of e-reading device, you can click here to download a free ecopy of Rubicon Ranch Book One: Riley’s Story in the ebook format of your choice from Smashwords.

Click here to download Rubicon Ranch Book Two: Necropieces in the ebook format of your choice from Smashwords. Only 99 cents!

Rubicon Ranch, Book Three: Secrets is coming soon!

Although the books are part of a series, with many of the same characters, they can be read as stand-alone novels.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Excerpt from LIGHT BRINGER

Description of Light Bringer by Pat Bertram :

LBBecka Johnson had been abandoned on the doorstep of a remote cabin in Chalcedony, Colorado when she was a baby. Now, thirty-seven years later, she has returned to Chalcedony to discover her identity, but she only finds more questions. Who has been looking for her all those years? Why are those same people interested in fellow newcomer Philip Hansen? Who is Philip, and why does her body sing in harmony with his? What do either of them have to do with a shadow corporation that once operated a secret underground installation in the area? And how does Jane fit into the puzzle?

Excerpt from Light Bringer:

Realizing Mac was waiting for her reaction, Jane said in a noncommittal voice, “You saw a UFO.”

Mac winced. “UFO? No. An FO. There was nothing unidentified about it. I knew exactly what I saw.”

“An extraterrestrial space ship,” she said flatly.

“Of course not, and aliens didn’t abduct me, either. It happened right after I closed on this property. Unable to sleep, I drove out here and was leaning against my rental car looking at the stars when the crescent flew directly overhead. I could see it as plainly as I’m seeing you right now.

“The craft was about fifteen feet in diameter, made of a composite ceramic. A remarkably conductive amalgam of the most refined copper and the purest silver coated its underside, turning it into an electrical circuit offering no resistance to the wave of electromagnetic energy it floated on. It was absolutely silent, sweeping in ions from its flight path, like a whale feeding on plankton. The ionized air around it glowed, giving it an unearthly look, but it was very much terrestrial in origin.”

Jane lifted her hands and let them drop. “How could you learn all that from one brief sighting?”

“I was part of a team working on a craft exactly like it, only we hadn’t been able to get ours off the ground, at least not then.”

She regarded him warily.

“I’m not insane,” he said, answering her unvoiced question. “I’m an aerospace engineer, retired from the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena.”

It took a minute or two for the significance of his story to register. “I see. You think Stellar Optics was a cover for a space telescope project, which was a cover for the real project—the development of a flying saucer.”

He didn’t respond, but he didn’t contradict her, either.

***

Where to buy Light Bringer:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble Nook

iStore (on iTunes)

Palm Doc (PDB) (for Palm reading devices)

Epub (Apple iPad/iBooks, Nook, Sony Reader, Kobo)

Excerpt from LIGHT BRINGER by Pat Bertram

Description of Light Bringer:

LBBecka Johnson had been abandoned on the doorstep of a remote cabin in Chalcedony, Colorado when she was a baby. Now, thirty-seven years later, she has returned to Chalcedony to discover her identity, but she only finds more questions. Who has been looking for her all those years? Why are those same people interested in fellow newcomer Philip Hansen? Who is Philip, and why does her body sing in harmony with his? And what do either of them have to do with a shadow corporation that once operated a secret underground installation in the area?

Excerpt from Light Bringer:

As Special Assistant to the Director of Logistics and Deployment, Teodora, also known as The Fixer, had the best and brightest operatives the department had to offer. Intelligence agencies all over the world recommended their top young agents, hoping to cement their relationship to the powerful organization. The Deputy Director of the FBI himself had written recommendations for Keith Derrick and Hugh Wittier, mentioning their athletic accomplishments, superior scholastic standings at their respective Ivy League Universities, and exceptional performances at the FBI academy.

Teodora studied the two handsome young men visible on the split screen of her computer. They might have impressive pedigrees and extensive training, but they were unskilled liars. She didn’t even need the voice stress analyzer built into her computer to tell her they were deviating from the truth; changes in the size of their pupils and arrested movements of their hands betrayed them. Unfortunately, she could not tell which specific incident they were lying about; their involuntary reactions had begun as soon as Keith opened his mouth to give the report.

They would not be concerned with her knowing they had presented themselves as NSA agents; all her operatives used whatever tools were necessary to get the job done. They would not be concerned with her knowing about the stolen car; they had reported it immediately. They would not be concerned with her knowing the subject had apparently been expecting them or that he had assumed they were interested in the books he read. That left the man—the tall bearded man wearing dark sunglasses and a green tracksuit—who had come out of the bedroom aiming a pistol.

If this gunman did exist, who was he? The subject had no close friends. They only knew about Emery Hill because the operatives found a note wedged in the rear of a desk drawer when they had gone back and combed the apartment.

If the gunman did not exist, how had the subject escaped? And why? Hugh and Keith had been sent simply to ask him what he knew about his mother’s cousin and her ward.

Teodora made a mental note to have her computer technicians look deeper into the subject’s background, then gave the operatives her undivided attention.

Hugh stared out at her from the computer screen. “Why are we looking for these women?”

“They have information.”

“We still have not found out what Hansen knows about them,” Keith said, “and the only item we found in his apartment that might be germane is the photograph album we sent you.”

“Is your fax machine set up?”

Keith nodded.

She faxed them one of the photographs her technicians had altered to show what the females might look like today. Keith reached for the fax, scrutinized it, then handed it to his partner.

A faint line appeared between Hugh’s brows. “I saw the younger woman walk by the coffee shop in Chalcedony.”

Keith snatched the picture and gave it a second look. “I didn’t see her.”

Hugh lifted one shoulder in a barely perceptible shrug.

Teodora made certain that her expression remained blank, but she could not keep her heart from beating faster.

“Find her,” she said.

***

Where to buy Light Bringer:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble Nook

iStore (on iTunes)

Palm Doc (PDB) (for Palm reading devices)

Epub (Apple iPad/iBooks, Nook, Sony Reader, Kobo)

Call for Submissions

rangelSecond Wind Publishing is accepting short stories, essays and poetry for its upcoming anthology, Wind Through an Open Door.

All submissions should deal with the question: what happens to us when we pass from this life? Remembrances of lost loved ones, personal experiences, profound recognitions of the afterlife (or its absence)—regardless of religious persuasion—are all welcome.

There is no cost to submit an entry. There is a maximum of 7000 words for essays or short stories. All entries must be submitted no later than June 10, 2014. Those whose work is included in the anthology will receive two contributor copies. Additional copies will be available for purchase, with contributors receiving a 60% discount. Submissions and questions should be sent to mike@secondwindpublishing.com. Be sure to use “Wind Through an Open Door submission” in the subject line.

Best of luck to everyone!

Excerpt from LIGHT BRINGER by Pat Bertram

Description of Light Bringer:

Becka Johnson had been abandoned on the doorstep of a remote cabin in Chalcedony, Colorado when she was a baby. Now, thirty-seven years later, she has returned to Chalcedony to discover her identity, but she only finds more questions. Who has been looking for her all those years? Why are those same people interested in fellow newcomer Philip Hansen? Who is Philip, and why does her body sing in harmony with his? And what do either of them have to do with a shadow corporation that once operated a secret underground installation in the area?

Excerpt from Light Bringer:

Philip woke in the dark of early morning, forehead damp with perspiration, heart pounding from unremembered nightmares. When calm settled over him, he listened for the sound of Rena’s even breathing on the other side of the thin wall. Hearing only an indigo silence, he rose and went to check on her. Because he didn’t take the time to put on his braces, he made sure to plant one foot on the floor before swinging the other forward.

Rena’s bed was empty.

He found her on the porch, sitting on the single step, her strange cat beside her.

She turned a smile on him, as bright as the starshine.

He sat next to her. “What are you doing out here?”

“Listening to the music of the spheres.” As one, she and the cat tilted their faces to the sky. “Can you hear it?”

He angled his head. He heard crickets chirping nearby, dogs barking in the distance, and farther away a train clattering on its tracks. As he isolated each sound, he set it aside until there were no more noises. Then, as if from some vast remoteness, he heard a faint silvery tone that seemed to swell, bursting into a thousand jewel-bright notes. Every note sounded clean and sharp, a thing unto itself, but melodized into an aural patchwork quilt of intricate design.

After a timeless interval—minutes or hours, he had no way of knowing—heavy clouds rolled in, turning off the sky.

He shivered in the cooling air. Rena inched closer, put an arm around his waist, and nestled against him.

Warmth and sweet harmony enveloped them as if that aural quilt had settled on their shoulders.

***

Where to buy Light Bringer:

Second Wind Publishing

Amazon

Barnes & Noble Nook

iStore (on iTunes)

Palm Doc (PDB) (for Palm reading devices)

Epub (Apple iPad/iBooks, Nook, Sony Reader, Kobo)

Excerpt from LIGHT BRINGER by Pat Bertram

Description of Light Bringer:

Becka Johnson had been abandoned on the doorstep of a remote cabin in Chalcedony, Colorado when she was a baby. Now, thirty-seven years later, she has returned to Chalcedony to discover her identity, but she only finds more questions. Who has been looking for her all those years? Why are those same people interested in fellow newcomer Philip Hansen? Who is Philip, and why does her body sing in harmony with his? And what do either of them have to do with a shadow corporation that once operated a secret underground installation in the area?

Excerpt from Light Bringer:

The trail was a gentle decline, hard-packed, and free of rocks, as if it had been well traveled since time out of mind. It ended at a stream so clear its cobbled bed looked like a mosaic of semi-precious stones. On the other side of the stream, the tall meadow grasses, lavender in the mountain’s shadow, whispered softly among themselves.

Laughing, Rena caught Philip’s hand. “They’re inviting us to come play.” She ran the last few steps toward the edge of the water.

He pulled his hand away, hearing in his mind the sickening sound of ripping ligaments and tendons, and feeling the pain.

Walking carefully, he joined her by the stream.

“Too bad there’s not a bridge,” she said, “but the water isn’t deep. We can wade across.”

He put out a foot, drew it back. “You go. I’ll wait here.”

She nodded in understanding, and took his hand again. “That’s okay. I can go another time.”

They sat on the forested slope, listening to the whispering of the grasses increase in pitch as the day came to an end. After the sun set, they headed home in a rich, warm alpenglow that turned the world to gold.

***

Where to buy Light Bringer:

Second Wind Publishing

Amazon

Barnes & Noble Nook

iStore (on iTunes)

Palm Doc (PDB) (for Palm reading devices)

Epub (Apple iPad/iBooks, Nook, Sony Reader, Kobo)

A Photo of My Muse

Rubicon Ranch is a collaborative and innovative crime series set in the fictional desert community of Rubicon Ranch and is being written online by authors of Second Wind Publishing.

In Rubicon Ranch: Secrets, the third book of the series and our current work in progress, the body of a local realtor is found beneath the wheels of a blow-up figure of a Santa on a motorcycle. The realtor took great delight in ferreting out secrets, and everyone in this upscale housing development is hiding something. Could she have discovered a secret that someone would kill to protect? There are suspects galore, including a psychic, a con man, a woman trying to set up an online call-girl service, and the philandering sheriff himself. Not only is the victim someone he had an affair with, but he also has to contend with an ex-wife who has moved back in with him, and a jilted lover, both with their own reasons for wanting the realtor dead.

I got tired having my character, Melanie Gray, finding bodies in the desert. Since the story time ended up being around Christmas, I remembered seeing this decoration last Christmas and thought it would be an amusing scene. I didn’t have a photo, so this year I made sure to get a photo of the muse who inspired me.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Rubicon Ranch: Secrets — The Mystery Continues

RRBookThreemidsizeRubicon Ranch is a collaborative and innovative crime series set in the fictional desert community of Rubicon Ranch and is being written online by the authors of Second Wind Publishing.

In the current story, the  body of a local realtor is found beneath the wheels of an inflatable figure of a Santa on a motorcycle. The realtor took great delight in ferreting out secrets, and everyone in this upscale housing development is hiding something. Could she have discovered a secret someone would kill to protect? There will be suspects galore, including a psychic, a con man, a woman trying to set up an online call-girl service, and the philandering sheriff himself. Not only is the victim someone he had an affair with, but he will also have to contend with an ex-wife who has moved back in with him and a jilted lover, both with their own reasons for wanting the realtor dead.

We hope you will enjoy seeing the story develop as we write it. Let the mystery continue! Whodunit? No one knows, not even the writers, and we won’t know until the very end! If you don’t want to miss further chapters, please go to the blog and click on “sign me up” on the right sidebar to get notifications of new chapters.

Chapter 22: Lydia Gavin
by Pat Bertram

Sunday, December 23, 5:25pm

Seth sat tall behind the desk in his tidy office, like a king receiving a subject. “What are you doing here?”

Lydia Galvin leaned back in the uncomfortable metal chair and gave the sheriff a serene smile, surprised to find that she felt no fear at facing him. “Your deputies brought me here.”

Seth glowered. “You know that’s not what I meant.”

“You want the whole story? I needed to get some groceries, so I walked up Delano Road to where I’d parked my car, and apparently your deputies found it and staked it out, because even before I could unlock the door, they jumped out of their vehicle, arrested me, and brought me here.”

“They didn’t arrest you. They just offered you a ride. I wanted to talk to you.” Seth gave Lydia one of his oh-so-familiar looks, the one that said she meant no more to him than an annoying insect.

“How did you know I was in the area?” Lydia kept her voice neutral, not wanting to seem confrontational. No point in arousing the beast in him until absolutely necessary.

“We checked out the bystanders’ videos of the burning crime scene, and there you were.” He drew in a quick breath as if upset with himself for responding. “But you’re supposed to be answering my questions. What are you doing in Rubicon Ranch?”

“Having fun. It’s quite a spectacle out there, you know.” Lydia crossed her legs, and felt a flash of satisfaction when he cut a glance at her thighs. All that running since she’d been fired had paid off—she now had the body she’d always wished for.

He remained calm, but his thinned lips and tensed shoulders told her how much that unruffled air cost him. “Why did you come to Rubicon Ranch?”

“Why do you think I came? To see what other lives you were ruining, of course. I had no intention of staying, I just wanted to check out Melanie Gray—according to the newspapers you two were quite a team—but then I met Nancy and when she let slip that you and she were sleeping together, I thought I’d hang around to see how you got out of that affair when it turned against you.” Lydia made a show of inspecting a fingernail. “I guess I’m lucky. You only ruined my career. Poor Nancy ended up in the morgue.”

“You think I killed Nancy?” Seth cocked his head like an eagle and stared at Lydia for a moment. Then he nodded. “I see. You think that by accusing me, I will assume that you’re innocent, because if you believed I killed her, then you couldn’t have.”

“Did you kill her?” Lydia waited for an answer that didn’t come. “She would have ruined you. She loved nothing but herself and power and money. She loved secrets, too, of course, but only because the secrets gave her power over people and were a source of great income. She said she used to be an actress and a model, but once when we had a few drinks, she admitted that was a front. She’d really worked as a call girl. I figured she gave up the life when she realized how much more lucrative secrets were than her body.”

Seth rose to his feet and paced the office. “You say she would have ruined me. Like you ruined me?”

Lydia forced out a small laugh. “I ruined you? No. You manipulated me. You began by treating me as if I were the most important woman in the world. You flattered me, paid attention to me, offered me words of love and the endearments I hungered for. When I was hooked, you stepped back, left me feeling bereft. And every time I spoke of leaving you, you’d pay attention to me again.” She felt tears beginning to gather behind her eyes. He doesn’t matter. Think of fire. Flames. Heat.

She drew in a deep breath, surprised Seth didn’t jump in to defend himself. He kept pacing the office as if she weren’t even there, which made it easier for her to confess. “You were my grand passion. I know you don’t believe that, but it’s the truth. I never expected you to leave your wife. I just wanted you to notice me. To put me first once in a while.”

Seth stood over her, his eyes icy as they locked onto hers. “But you turned me into the department. Said I misused my authority.”

“You did abuse your authority. I never wanted an affair with you. I had enough trouble with my husband. I didn’t need another abusive man in my life. You never knew about my husband, did you?” Lydia didn’t even try to modulate her bitter tone. “The great detective never noticed that his girlfriend had a husband who beat her. I wouldn’t have told your wife about us. Even though I threatened to tell her, I couldn’t have made our affair public. My husband would have beat me when he found out. And after you dragged your wife to my house so she could confront me, my husband did beat me. I had to go to the emergency room that time. But oh, no, everything that happened was my fault.”

“Good story,” Seth said. “Too bad none of it is true.”

“The all-wise Seth Bryan says it isn’t true, so that means it isn’t true?” Lydia shook her head sadly. “The law might be about what you can prove, but life isn’t like that. Some things are true no matter how much we don’t want to believe them.” Things like her husband’s abuse. Things like Seth’s disregard. Things like death and fire. “You men are all so blind you can’t see what’s in front of your eyes. I loved you but you threw me away, calling me a vituperative bitch. Yet Nancy, who didn’t love you at all and who truly was a vituperative bitch, you kept. But I’m through with all of you now.”

Seth sneered. “Turning into a lesbian?”

“That’s beneath even you, Seth, my love.”

“True. Perhaps the only true thing you’ve said today.” The phone rang. Seth took two long strides to the desk, and grabbed the receiver. “Yes?” A pause, then, “She’s home now? Stay there. Make sure she doesn’t leave. I’ll be there in just a few minutes.”

He hung up the phone, and turned to face Lydia.

She quirked her lips in an unamused smile. “Still on your wife’s leash? I’m surprised you haven’t killed her, too.”

“Just go,” he said wearily. “Keep my office informed of your whereabouts. We still have lots to talk about.”

Lydia rose, straightened her skirt, and settled the strap of her purse firmly on her shoulder. “There’s nothing left to say but good-bye. I didn’t kill Nancy. You did. But don’t worry, I won’t testify against you.”

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” All Bertram’s books are published by Second Wind Publishing. Connect with Pat on Google+

I’m a Guest on the Second Wind Publishing Blog!

I am blogging at my publisher’s blog today, talking about Crashing the (Science Fiction) Party,

Once a long time ago, I crashed a Halloween party. Sounds very bold, doesn’t it? But truly, it was out of character for me, and besides, I was in costume so in a way the person who crashed the party wasn’t really me. I remember that the party was given by a friend of a friend, but I have no idea how or why I decided to go — perhaps as a joke to see how long it would take for people to realize they didn’t know me. Continue reading—>witch

My previous guest post for Second Wind Publishing was Finding the Truth of a Story,

We are steeped in story. From birth to death, story forms our lives. Today, more stories are available to us in more media than ever before in history, including the stories we share with each other and ourselves. What is a daydream if not a story of the future we tell ourselves? And at night, while sleeping, our dreams tell us other stories. No wonder we have such a hard time finding a story that is not clichéd. Continue reading—>

My most popular post on the Second Wind Blog is: What is Your Character’s Favorite Color?

Because colors have meaning, a character’s favorite color can tell us a lot about him or her. Red for an ambitious extrovert. Pink for an affectionate, compassionate person. Yellow for an optimistic artist. Green for a benevolent humanist. Blue for a cool, confident conservative. Purple for an intuitive, spiritually oriented person. Brown for a down-to-earth type. Continue reading—>

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

I’m a Guest on the Second Wind Publishing Blog

I am blogging at my publisher’s blog today, talking about Finding the Truth of a Story,

We are steeped in story. From birth to death, story forms our lives. Today, more stories are available to us in more media than ever before in history, including the stories we share with each other and ourselves. What is a daydream if not a story of the future we tell ourselves? And at night, while sleeping, our dreams tell us other stories. No wonder we have such a hard time finding a story that is not clichéd. Continue reading—>

 My previous guest post for Second Wind Publishing was Writing: A Universe of Choices.

When we choose to write, we are faced with a universe of choices where all things are possible. Many would-be writers never put a single word on the page because the number of choices to be made seem insurmountable. First, we have to choose what to write about. The topic can be anything: love, abuse, super novas. Next we have to choose how to present the topic. As fiction or nonfiction? As a blog? A poem? A short story? A novel?

By making these decisions, we begin to limit our universe of choices. A blog has certain criteria to be met; it must be brief and interesting or we run the risk of losing our readers. A short story can contain complex ideas, but a novel has the scope for us to develop those ideas more fully. Continue reading—>

If you’re not bored yet, feel free to check out my highest ranked post on the Second Wind Blog: What is Your Character’s Favorite Color?

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

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