My humble intro to this fun piece.
These women are remarkable and very talented, but I have no intention of violating their privacy and have tried to be respectful.
Today we will hear from Ann, and Thursday we’ll hear Salem’s answers. Both women have agreed to answer follow-up questions and will give a way a copy of Hoosier Daddy to a random commenter each day. I’ll throw in a copy of Balefire to the person with the most interesting (for everyone) question.
Without further ado…
Part One with Ann McMan Famous Author
Welcome. Congratulations on the success of both Hoosier Daddy and your short story collection, Three.
Why thank you, Nurse Magill. I owe it all to my lack of better sense, and the Geritol cocktails I ingest every morning at the crack of five, while my beloved wife and our bevy of livestock are still pounding their ears in slumber.
I’m happy you agreed to this joint Q& A. Rumor has it that you and Salem actually met because of her review of Jericho. True? (An auspicious beginning of a unique partnership, I’d say.)
In fact, it is true that Salem and I met because of Jericho. My editor at Bedazzled Ink, the august C.A. Casey, sent a copy of the book to Salem at The Rainbow Reader, hoping she might look kindly upon us and consent to read and review the work. (There are some spurious suggestions rolling around out there that Casey also attempted to ply her with a case of Merlot—but I know this to be a pious falsehood. Salem West wouldn’t drink Merlot if you held a loaded Glock to her head.)
So, as fate would have it, the review she had planned for October of that year fell through at the eleventh hour, and she found herself with an open slot. She picked up Jericho, read it, and (lucky for me) liked it. Her review was published on Halloween, and I’ll never forget sitting alone in my house, reading it between mad dashes to the front door to dispense Snicker bars and Sweet Tarts. I was, to be blunt, scared shitless to read what she wrote. I remember gritting my teeth and stealing glances at the words on the screen through squinted eyes—scanning quickly for any adjectives like “overdone, overblown, overwrought, overwritten,” or just the phrase “let me please get this over with.” But that didn’t happen. She really liked it. Loved it, in fact. She even sent a private note to Casey thanking her for sending the book and saying, “I feel like you slipped a ruby into my pocket.”
It wasn’t until a couple of months later, however, that we actually made personal contact with each other. I was too shy and too unfamiliar with the protocol of being a “famous author” (thank god that’s over with…) to know that I should’ve reached out to thank her for taking the time to read my book. So it wasn’t until she posted her “Rainbow Reader Awards” that I finally thanked her. And this I did on Facebook, not even knowing enough to realize that I needed to “tag” her so she would see it. I got lucky again—and Salem just happened to be online when my feeble post scrolled by on the side of her screen. She wrote a quick note to me, and the rest is history. Very warm and happy history, I might add. Of all the myriad debts I owe my little flagship Jericho, this one will forever be the greatest.
Since a number of authors with whom I’ve spoken have told me that their partners neither read nor assist with their writing; I wonder how it works to have someone who is actively involved in the process?
What’s that wonderful biblical quote? ”Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and curse.” Yeah. That one. Let me just say for starters that you can’t get away with anything. Nothing. And neither can you slam something indifferent out and get a passive, “that’s very nice, dear.” Nuh uh. Being married to Salem and talking about writing is like being married to Yogi Berra and talking about baseball—except for me, there ain’t any seventh inning stretch. I might get ten minutes now and then to whine, but then the party’s over, and it’s back to the salt mine of chapter outlines and the hunt for elusive comma splices. She is a real taskmaster with strong opinions…informed opinions. And she understands how language works—and when it doesn’t. She’s also like an anthropomorphic reference book. I can be pounding away at the keyboard while she’s doing something entirely unrelated, and yell out to her, “Hey, Buddha? I need a word for _____________.” And she’ll reel something off the top of her head that’s exactly right. Best example of this? In Aftermath, when Roma Jean Freemantle is going to explain how the tornado destroyed her prized Chevy Vega—I needed to come up with just the right thing to fall from the sky and crush the car. It had to be something quirky and unlikely, so I asked Salem. Without batting an eyelash, she said, “A steam table.”
So let it be written. So let it be done.
You’ll find that I channel Yul Brenner a lot.
Whose idea was the joint venture on Hoosier Daddy?
Ours. Seriously. I think we were taking a bath at the time. We pretty much storyboarded and outlined the entire book that morning (it was one of those long baths that involved shaving legs, so it must have been in the Spring). We both thought it would be an absolute hoot to collaborate on a formulaic lesbian romance. There was never a time when we debated about whether doing this was a bad idea. We believed that we had the right combination of skills, drive, humor, and psychosis to pull it off. When I was weak she was strong. When she was weak, I had Burke Street Pizza on speed dial. It worked out. Besides, she really is a comic genius with wonderful timing and a great ear for dialect. Plus she has good hair, and that alone covers a multitude of sins.
You’ve successfully published eight popular books in the past two years—along with working a full-time job as a graphic designer, which is a little daunting. Since I’ve asked Salem a couple of questions about her experiences in collaborating on Hoosier Daddy, would you tell us how the experience worked?
Oh, lord. Is this the Bob Eubanks part? “We asked your wife what your most embarrassing bed moment was, and she said…” Well. The experience worked very well. We would talk each night over dinner about where we wanted to take the narrative the next morning. We’d jot down notes or sketch things out in one of about a dozen notebooks I keep on my desk. I’d usually get up first (I’ve always been an early riser), feed the cats, put the dogs out, and get the coffee going. Then I’d head back to our tree house (what we call our studio) and get things fired up. By the time Salem came tottering down the hall with our cups of coffee, I’d be ready to get cracking. Then we’d go to work. I’d write something, she’d read it and add or detract—or we’d do the opposite. Sometimes, she’d sit right beside me and we’d hammer things out together. Occasionally, we’d work independently on different sections—but that was more the exception than the norm. She did a tremendous amount of the research—mostly because she’s good at it. But partly because she was more familiar with the geography of the setting, and because she has tremendous background in manufacturing techniques and management theories…things that immediately lead me to glaze over and start humming show tunes.
We shared the writing, although we agreed that we needed one voice for the story. So even though we wrote it together, I was responsible to weave the components together to try to achieve a coherent narrative—like a quilt maker who takes diverse squares of fabric and stitches them together into a larger pattern that makes sense, looks pretty, and succeeds in covering any holes in the mattress. I hope we succeeded. I think we did. There are some densely technical sections that I left exactly the way Salem wrote them…to try and “fluff” them with Ann McMan Speak would’ve been tantamount to rewriting the Panama Canal Treaties, and I didn’t want to risk compromising national security by making any changes. Salem did nearly one hundred percent of the proofing. We did very little revising…but that’s not unusual for me. I pretty much revise constantly while I’m working. Consequently, my finished manuscripts are pretty much exactly what you see when you get the final product. I don’t think Salem normally writes this way, so we did have some struggle to achieve harmony with my resistance to “just put something down on the page” when I was feeling stuck or unmotivated. Fortunately for us, most of those exchanges of gunfire resulted in little damage to our physical surroundings, and we had enough Spackle on hand to cover the holes in the walls.
You mean apart from the gunfire thing? Well…in a way, we each had an in-house “first reader.” And I’d say it worked very well. At least, it did for me. But then, I’m pretty spoiled by having someone as smart, savvy, and erudite as Salem West on hand as my eternal first reader. And there’s that whole good hair thing, too….
What can we look forward to reading next?
From me? I guess Backcast—which should be in my editor’s capable hands by the summer. Then it’s on to Patriarch, the next Jericho novel. And I thank you for the prognostication that these will, in fact, be things to look forward to! I hope so.
Thanks, Ann! This has been great–and entertaining, as usual. I, for one, appreciate what you have brought to the proverbial “Table” for all of us, readers and writers. Truly, Tip Of The Literary Spear…TOTS!