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Collaboration in Writing: JT Rogers and the Debut Novel “In From The Cold”

If two heads are better than one (not to be confused with Two Heads are Deader Than One) then two writers should be better too! This week I’m thrilled to include a crime writing duo, ITW Debut author J.T. Rogers is actually S.T. Pelletier and Amanda Schuckman. Here they are as my guests, talking about their process and their first novel,  In From The Cold


S.T. Pelletier is a recent graduate living in Canada. Amanda Schuckman is a writer and voice actor living in SoCal. Together they are J.T. Rogers, who grew up wanting to be either a superhero or a spy—but rather than pick one over the other, chose to become a writer instead so she could be both in her spare time. Her fiction reflects her childhood obsessions, blending together the distrustful, cloak-and-dagger world of spies with the high-octane action and camaraderie of her favorite superheroes.

The product of a bilingual education and an alumna of a handful of universities, J.T.’s passions include history, comic books, and Shakespeare. She has lived all over North America and loves to weave threads of authentic local color into her stories. Just ask her about Lucy the Elephant.
Currently, she’s living the dream of being overworked and underpaid. She writes to stay sane—or that’s the story she likes to tell, at least.
Learn more about J.T. Rogers:


They say two heads are better than one, but that well-worn bit of folksy common sense isn’t typically thought to apply to the world of novel-form storytelling. As a writing team, we’ve encountered a lot of curiosity from our peersparticularly since we share a nom de plum. When we were invited to do a guest spot for today’s lead-up to ThrillerFest, we thought this post was an obvious opportunity to discuss some of the advantages of cowriting.
S.T. Pelletier: For me, I think the biggest advantage to having a cowriter is having a built-in sounding board for ideas. I never have to worry about getting stuck. Amanda and I have similar interests but different strengths when it comes to writing, and when we hit our rhythm, it’s amazing how much we can accomplish in a couple of hours. I’m reminded of one of the earliest editing passes for In from theCold: Our editor asked to see more from our secondary point-of-view character, Wes, and we were under a tight deadline to deliver a revised manuscript. In the space of a Sunday afternoon, we wrote 4,000 words of new materiala feat I doubt I’d ever have been able to accomplish on my own. I’m a relatively slow writer, but having a writing partner lights a fire under my ass. With an immediate audience to please, for lack of a better word, I’m less concerned about getting the phrasing right so much as I’m eager to get the phrasing down. First and foremost, the story is for us. We get to tell the story to each other first.
A. Schuckman:That’s an excellent way of putting it. When I’m writing alone, I will get hung up on how to move into the next moment of a scene for months, or be stymied by a passage that doesn’t lead where I want it to. Having Sarah at the ready to suggest something or even remind me of something we’d discussed previously, it keeps me from getting stuck. There’s also a wonderful security in knowing a writing partner’s process and strengths, or even just how they think, because I can leave things blank and not panic about doing so, knowing that Sarah will get what I’m aiming at and be able to help me fill that blank in. I will literally put placeholder text in brackets describing what needs to go there and move along to keep up momentum, something I haven’t managed to trick myself into doing in solo work.
There’s also the added benefit of having to think things through and be able to explain them to another person before you can dive in. If I have an idea or the spark of something I really like, but haven’t followed that through to any kind of end point, I can get mired in detail and character and increasingly elaborate justifications for those things, long before I figure out the idea just doesn’t work the way I wanted it to. When we have to walk each other through those ideas, it makes the process of adjusting them, fixing them, making them better and making them work much faster and less painful.
S.T. Pelletier: As a writing team, our most frequently asked questions are usually about our process. I’m not really sure how other writing teams collaborate, but our process relies heavily on technology because we don’t even live in the same country, let alone the same time zone. (At time of writing, we have only actually met in person once, about six years ago, for under six hours.) We always start with a conversation, usually over instant message. One of us will have an idea, and that idea quickly becomes a game of ‘Yes, and…’, with each of us taking up characters on the fly as we craft the rough beats of a story. Because we’re huge nerds, we pretty much do this every day, but when we’re particularly taken with an idea, I’ll copy and paste the chat transcript into a Google Doc. From there, we’ll create a skeleton of the storybasically a barebones outline to get us from start to the finish. After that, the story gets broken down chapter by chapter. Our outline for In from the Coldwas about 20 or so pages. Each chapter then receives its own document in a shared file. We’ll copy and paste the relevant notes from the outline, and then write out the full chapter. Sometimes we stay very close to the outline. Other times we ad lib an entirely new subplot.
A. Schuckman: I don’t know how other writing partners do it, but this system has proved incredibly fruitful for us. It allows us to track how ideas evolve, to shelve and catalog obsolete versions of things that we can then mine for good language later, and it allows for incredible flexibility. We write until we’re stuck or satisfied and then shoot each other a quick ‘tag!’, tapping in and out as each chapter progresses. The final work is, as a result, deeply collaborative. Our styles of writing are quite different, but with In from the Coldespecially, using pulp thrillers as a guidepost, the close back and forth of the process helped us match and blend our voices.
S.T. Pelletier: We each tend to favour certain charactersAmanda wrote all of Flynn’s dialogue, for example, while I wrote all of Wes’sbut other than that, there are no hard and fast distinctions. Amanda’s better at spatial descriptions than I am, so I usually leave a placeholder for her to fill when she’s online, but I love writing action scenes, so I take care of those. Once the first draft is complete, we start piecing together the entire story in one single document. I work as a freelance editor, so I do the first pass, and then Amanda follows with her notes and adjustments. Then I do one final pass and ship it off to the editors!
A. Schuckman:We were pretty thrilled with the minimal grammatical notes we got back. Having another set of eyes constantly reading and rereading your writing as you write means a lot of typos and oddities get caughtand fixedinstantly. It’s also a lot less daunting to go through notes when you have backup right there, someone to divide and conquer the feedback with.
S.T. Pelletier: Ultimately, the thing I like best about cowriting is that it takes a traditionally solitary activity and turns it into one I can share with a friend. Time zones and technology can get tricky sometimes, but the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages.
A. Schuckman:There is something fundamentally important about sharing stories, and having a partner means you’re doing that, for a receptive audience, constantly. It also means you are being the given the gift of someone else’s storytelling with that same frequency. Every time Sarah taps me to jump back into the document we’re working on, I’m excited to see what’s there, what’s new, how she’s moved the story along, and am inspired to do the same, in turn.

Such an interesting process. Thank you both for letting us get a glimpse inside J.T. Rogers. 

Lots of big things this week! Don’t miss my interview with our first and 500th ITW Debut Author (posting July 12) and my posts from ThrillerFest in NYC next weekend. 
See you all soon!

Elena Hartwell

Author and developmental editor.

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