Q&Q asked authors Robin Stevenson and Sarah N. Harvey about collaborating on Blood on the Beach, a YA thriller out with Orca Book Publishers in March. In the novel, a group of teen “delinquents” is sent to a wilderness camp on an island to work through their problems. Then one of the girls disappears, and it quickly becomes clear foul play was involved.
Q&Q: How did the collaboration come about? RS: Sarah has been my editor since my first novel 10 years ago, and we’ve worked on a dozen of my books together. Two years ago, we had a gap between shared projects and missed working together, so we decided to collaborate on a novel.
SH: We both read a lot of mysteries when we were teens (and still enjoy them) and Agatha Christie’s name came up, of course, particularly her “locked-room” mysteries. How fun would it be to write one of those? So we took it from there.
Q&Q: How did you decide on the practicalities of the novel?
SH and RS: We dreamed up a cast of characters and a rough plot, and decided to tell the story through two alternating narrators. We drew a diagram of the island to make sure we were both visualizing the setting in the same way, and then Sarah wrote the first chapter.
Q&Q: How did you handle creating the two narrators, Caleb and Alice? RS: Sarah wrote from Caleb’s point of view and I wrote from Alice’s. I found it so interesting to create Alice’s character in my own mind and on the page, and then see her through Caleb’s eyes in the chapters that Sarah wrote.
SH: All I knew about Caleb going in was that he was a big jock who supposedly had anger issues. He developed from there – with input from Robin in the chapters she wrote from Alice’s point of view.
Q&Q: What was the process, in terms of the nitty-gritty mechanics? SH and RS: We emailed the manuscript back and forth, taking turns to add our chapters and commenting on each other’s work as we went along. About two-thirds of the way through, we spent a weekend at a cabin on Gulf Island to hash out a detailed outline of the remaining chapters.
Q&Q: What did you find most satisfying about the experience? SH: Working collaboratively and developing characters in an entirely different way. I have heard horror stories about collaborations, but this was one of the best writing experiences I have ever had, if not the best. Half the responsibility, all the joy!
RS: Writing a single chapter, then sending it off to Sarah and having the manuscript come back to me with new scenes, new ideas, new energy. The characters seemed to have a life of their own in a different way than usual, because they didn’t exist only in my head. They all lived in both of our imaginations, and so they sometimes acted in ways that surprised us.
Q&Q: Now that you’ve done one collaboration, would you consider doing another? RS: We don’t have immediate plans, but it would be fun to collaborate again. And (without giving away too much) we did make sure that enough characters survived the first book to allow us to continue their stories in a sequel. So it is definitely a possibility.