There are so many cooking metaphors I could use to talk about the process of writing this novel, a journey that involved five separate authors, all with their own long list of previously published books: me, Thalia co-founder Lise McClendon, Taffy Cannon, Kate Flora, and Gary Phillips. Instead, though, I see the creation of this novel as a metaphor for the overall authors co-op we have forged here at Thalia. When we first got together to write the book — a process that began and then lived in the virtual world since we are scattered across America — we were not quite sure what we wanted to do. It was much the same way with our co-op. We knew that we wanted to share ideas, support each other, and cheer each other on. But beyond that: we just had to dive in. We were creating something new and who knew where it would lead?
Where the idea of a group novel led to ultimately was an experience that proved more fun than I ever thought possible and, eventually, a damn good book. I am proud of what we have written and very proud to be associated with so many fine writers.
We begin Beat Slay Love by throwing ideas on the table and poking at them with five different sticks (or forks, if you prefer). Somewhere early on, the idea of a riff on the title Eat Pray Love was born. Out of that, food emerged as a predominant theme (no surprise to those of you who know us). When it turned out that several of us authors were Food Channel enthusiasts, the idea of someone killing celebrity chefs was a natural winner. Like so many of the moments we had writing this book, I no longer remember who had that actual idea, or who moved the ball down the field at which point (other than the fact that Lisa McClendon acted as den mother, chief scheduler, and marketing strategist supreme). But I do know that we quickly agreed on a central concept, sketched out the central character and motives together, and that I had the honor of kicking things off by turning in the first round of pages to the others.
For me, the assignment could not have come at a better time. I was looking at three half-finished books of my own, and trying unsuccessfully to decide which one to finish. I was not feeling the drive to do much of anything, however, and might well have ended up sitting on my ass for the entire year had I not felt a sense of obligation to the other authors on this project that motivated me to get said ass in gear. To my surprise, knowing it was a group project and that others would soon see my words, there was absolutely no pressure on me when it came to writing. It was just plain fun. I could let my scenes unfold and, if faced with whether a plot twist was too much, could let it ride and keep going. After all, four very smart writers were coming in after me to clean up. I had a blast with my turn. I almost hated to let go — but not quite. There was something reckless and irresistible about releasing your precious pages to others and surrendering your words to their will. Now I could sit back and relax, yet what I had written would lead to more.
In the months that followed, I lost track of who wrote when. I do know that the order of writing fell into a natural progression and that, somehow, it all worked out. People wrote when they could and let go when someone else was ready. No one kept track of page count and, so far as I was concerned, had no idea of what was happening in the story until it was their turn again. After about eight months of round robin writing, I got the book back at the very end and was given the task of wrapping things up. And that’s when the real magic happened.
The collective unconscious at work?
My first thought upon reading the two hundred or so pages that four other authors had helped write was pretty simple: “Have we lost our damn minds?!” The story had gone in so many unexpected directions that would never have occurred to me. It had stretched across America, invited in a cast of entirely new and unexpected characters, and then there was the sex. Yes, some of us wrote about the food we love… some of us wrote about the shopping we love… some of us had fun alluding to real food celebrities… and one of us, I choose not to know which one of us, liked to write about sex. Lots of sex. Fairly graphic sex. At every chance they got, it seemed. What was I going to do with that?
And then it hit me: sex, love, food, death. These are the impulses that drive us. These are the forces of life. It was entirely appropriate for sex to play a dominant role in this book. This book was all about impulse control — or the lack thereof.
With that revelation, it was as if every writer contributing to this project had somehow sensed an invisible path leading us forward toward an inevitable conclusion. Every single one of us had sensed the connection between those drives, consciously or not, and it showed in our writing choices. We had actually built the bones of a book that made perfect sense, without knowing where we were going or exactly why. It was crystal clear how it needed to end.
I like to think this happened because we are all good authors and we have all built many a book before. Somehow, we all understood that food itself is a metaphor for sex, love, and even death. So, in the end, our book became very much about that. And we got there, together, by trusting each other to deliver both good and meaningful writing, even when it was funny or clearly ridiculous on the surface.
The process was not seamless. I sensed unspoken tussles at times when it came to shaping specific characters. Was the character good? Was the character bad? Was the character important? More than any other element of the book, there may have been disagreement among us on individual characters. And, yet, in the end I believe that every single character became the person they needed to be for this book. Probably because we are all experienced enough as authors to understand that, when characters want to take off, you should let them. There’s usually a good reason for it. That’s why, when it came time to wrap the book up and find a conclusion, I found myself turning to characters I had not even created. They had been imagined and fleshed out by my writing partners. And what wonderful characters they had given me. It all came together in the end.
I hope that you will read Beat Slay Love and enjoy the unfolding of the story as much as I did. And if you are a fan of our work — with five authors, surely you follow one of us? — Perhaps you will join us in announcing the publication of our new book by signing up at Thunderclap to have a notice automatically posted on your Twitter, Facebook or Tumblr page come October 1. All you have to do is visit our book on Thunderclap and click the button for the social media outlet of your choice. If you like, you can write a short post to introduce the notice on our book and then you’re done. Thunderclap will post it automatically when the time comes. Everyone who shares in this Thunderclap campaign will receive a PDF cookbook from Thalia Press, called “Thalia Filbert’s Killer Cocktail Party,” full of deliciously sinful drinks and appetizers, some featured in the novel. Trust me, these recipes are good!
Thanks for your support, for your help, and for your interest in our book. Let’s hear it for authors who trust, support, and cheer each other on!
To request a paperback at your local independent bookstore: ask for ISBN: 978-0-9819442-1-0