Friday, October 13, 2017

James Patterson...and Me

[Posted by Chris Tebbetts]

I didn’t set out to become a professional AND. It just kind of happened that way.

To clarify: of the 28 books I’ve published over the past many years, 24 of them have someone else’s name on the cover, followed by “AND CHRIS TEBBETTS.” I’ve co-authored with James Patterson, Jeff Probst, and Lisa Papademetriou (which also means, coincidentally enough, that all of my co-authored work is shelved under P).

Most of the questions I get on co-authoring are about what the working relationship with James Patterson is like, and how that collaboration came about in the first place. I’m happy to answer additional questions in the comments section, below, but will stick to those two things for this blog entry.

My very first novels (a solo project called THE VIKING) were written for a book packager, Alloy Entertainment. That’s where Jim found me. Jim was already known for co-authoring on many of his adult titles, and as he ventured into middle grade and young adult fiction, he approached Alloy, looking for potential co-authors on those books as well. (Book packagers can also be de facto clearing houses for writers who are open to other work-for-hire opportunities.) The managing editor at Alloy contacted me and asked if I was interested in writing some “audition” chapters based on an idea from Mr. Patterson—and I jumped at the chance. 

I didn’t get the initial job at that time, but it wasn't too much later that I heard from Jim himself, about another project he had in mind--a series of illustrated novels with a comedic take on the horrors of middle school. After submitting another sample, and an interview in NYC, I came on board for our first collaboration, MIDDLE SCHOOL, THE WORST YEARS OF MY LIFE.


In terms of how the process works: 

I start from a detailed chapter-by-chapter outline from Jim, and begin creating a polished first draft of the whole story from there. Most of these middle grade titles involve five to six months of work for me, and once a month, I'll send in a chunk of chapters for his review. Then I'll get back written comments, or we'll get on the phone and talk about how it’s going, any adjustments Jim might want to make, or potential changes to the story moving forward. Once we reach the end of that process, Jim will take the whole manuscript back and rewrite it to completion.

In the case of these middle grade titles, we also have a third collaborator in our illustrators. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing our prose come to life visually through the imaginations of Laura Park (on the first five MIDDLE SCHOOL books); Jomike Tejido (MIDDLE SCHOOL, DOG’S BEST FRIEND); and Cory Thomas (PUBLIC SCHOOL SUPERHERO).



I know, from many conversations I’ve had over the years, that co-authoring isn’t for everyone. But it’s turned out to be a really comfortable place for me to be, perhaps owing to my own background in what I call collaborative storytelling.  I came to writing from theater and film production, where I always enjoyed the creative synthesis of working with a team.

In any case, it’s been a productive several years, and I couldn’t be happier to have settled into this niche, juggled alongside some of the other projects I have in the works, and which I’ll hopefully be able to share with you here on this blog at some other time.

Meanwhile -- any questions or comments? Fire away, below!

8 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing this Chris. Do the novels ever feel "formulaic" like some of Jim's adult thrillers?

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'd say no, not in the way you mean. But there's definitely a certain challenge in series work, trying to create a collection of stories that are "the same but different" from one another -- giving readers more of what they like about a series without becoming repetitive (in a bad way), predictable, or formulaic.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So true about a series (or even a sequel)! Have you ever gotten several chapters in, and written something that changed the events of the book down the road? I do that ALL the time in my own personal writing--I'm constantly having to change my outlines as I write. I was curious if that ever happened on a collaborative project.

      Delete
    2. Yes, for sure. I've never done any co-authoring without an outline, but I've also learned over the years how dynamic the process of outlining can be.

      Delete
  3. Fascinating, Chris. Can you tell us more about the books that have your name alone on the cover please? :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My solo work bookends everything else I've done... The series I mentioned, The Viking, was a four-book MG fantasy adventure series, and my first novels. And then flash forward to today, where the YA I'm working on is a solo book, out in 2019. .... Then there are the half finished manuscripts that are too nascent to name :-)...

      Delete
  4. This is a really interesting discussion. I enjoy the followup questions as well. Do you find that your co-authoring work sometimes intrudes -- or perhaps feeds into -- on your individual creative work?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Intrudes and/or feeds into, depending on the situation. I usually have two books going at once, and I try to work on both every day -- and it can take a while to transition my narrative voice and tone from one to the other. (For example, when I was working on a funny "Middle School" installment and a high-adventure castaway story at the same time, I would inadvertently be over-serious in my Middle School drafting, or weirdly lighthearted about some element of survival in the other book...but only until I settled in for the writing session.).... Meanwhile, at the same time, there's a certain "hacking in" that happens if I'm doing well on one project and jump over to the other - I already have a sense of momentum and can sometimes jump right into the flow in a way I might otherwise have to work up to.

      Delete