This week I had the exciting opportunity to interview co-authors Cris and Clare Meyers. Both Cris and Clare grew up in the Midwestern United States. They met while they were both majoring in English at school, and have both dabbled in writing - Cris in horror and high fantasy, and Clare in a handful of short stories. It was two years ago when the couple decided to co-write a book, and the Criminal Elements series was born.
Where are you from? Besides writing, what do you do for a living?
We’re both from the Midwestern US, born and raised, and currently live in the Chicago area. We both have office day jobs, but our adage is that we work to live, rather than living to work.
What inspired you to tackle writing a novel together?
Actually, the two main characters of Playing with Fire came before the novel idea. The first inkling of Renee came from a discussion over dinner one night, and Stone a day or two later. But once we had two character concepts, we started talking about trying to do something with them. We’d both written things individually before, but never thought to try co-writing before. We decided to give it a try, and we’re glad we did.
What are some of the difficulties of writing a single piece of work together? What are some of the benefits of it?
It can be challenging to merge potentially two different, and possibly conflicting, visions for a particular scene or a particular arc. Getting on the same page isn’t always straightforward, and we have to bend more than we would if we were individual authors.
As for the benefits, it helps combat writer’s block. When one of us gets stuck, we can ask the other to see if they can solve the trouble-spot. It doesn’t always work, but when it does, it saves us a lot of frustration and fruitless staring at the computer screen. It also gives us a second set of ideas to pull from (the flip side of the two visions we find challenging is that we usually end up with a better story because of it).
Are there any authors that have had a significant influence on either of you? How have they affected your writing style or your personal life?
Cris and Clare are both avid readers of Jim Butcher, Stephen King (more Cris), Neil Gaiman, and a variety of others. Butcher codified urban fantasy as we know it, and King and Gaiman are masters in their own right. King’s On Writing even helped shape Cris’ style.
What other factors influence your writing?
At any given point in time, anything can color our writing—mood, time of day, what we’re reading, watching, listening to, or playing at the time, to list a few. A handful of ‘aha’ moments came about from the simple background noise of music or a TV show we’re barely paying attention to.
We’ve both been a little guilty of taking a bad day out on characters. Though from what we’ve heard, that’s not entirely uncommon in writer circles. If it were, the phrase “don’t anger the author, or they’ll write you into their next book and kill you” wouldn’t be so popular.
I am a big fan of urban fantasy myself, for a plethora of reasons, but what made you choose to write in this genre?
We both enjoy reading urban fantasy, but we started writing in the genre mostly because that was the best fit for the story we had to tell. We both actually have drafts of stories in other genres (historical, horror, and high fantasy).
That aside, we have thoroughly enjoyed putting together our version of the real world. It’s an intriguing experience to put your own spin something familiar and turn it into something new.
What inspired you to make Renee and Stone criminals?
It wasn’t a conscious choice to take them down the criminal path. From that very first theoretical discussion, Renee was a thief and Stone a mercenary. The two of them have never been anything but criminals in our minds. So we guess you could say they gave us no choice.
But that opened up a lot of options for us to play with and explore. What led them to choose such a career? Who were they before? And just how much can they operate outside the law and still be called ‘the good guys?’
Urban fantasy is usually championed by protagonists who aren’t necessarily heroes, but have morals sitting comfortably in a grey area. Why do you think that the “anti-hero”, or ones with not-so-stringent virtues are so popular in the genre?
Possibly because the genre is grounded in reality. It isn’t a completely new and faraway land, and people are far from perfect. Flaws can do a lot to humanize characters, and a little bit of darkness brings the virtues into better focus—though ours are a bit more morally ambiguous than most. Struggling with personal flaws is something that audiences can relate to easier.
What was it like creating a system of magic from scratch? What went into the creation of Talents and their powers?
Creating the rules of it was interesting, and it definitely helped that we had similar ideas for what we wanted.
Figuring out what it could do—and what it couldn’t—was the product of a lot of hypothetical discussions. But casting magic was just the tip of the iceberg. Creating the Talent also meant figuring out a wide variety of details that had nothing to do with actually casting magic.
It is clear that Renee and Stone are completely different characters, and frequently the perspective of the novel will switch between the two. Did one person have more sway in writing one character, say Stone, and the other focused more on Renee?
Not really. We wrote in sections, one of us taking a turn and writing a few pages before handing it to the other to edit the new passage and write a new one of their own.
At the same time, there were aspects of both Renee and Stone that came more naturally to one of us than the other in the beginning. But the more we write them, the better we both get at hitting the right notes regardless of which one of us is in the driver’s seat.
How much of Renee and Stone are reflections of Cris and Clare?
No more or less than any character is a reflection of the author who created them. We both believe that there are bits of the author in any main character. But Renee and Stone’s lives and experiences are very different than our own, so we had to get to know them just like we would anyone else.
If you were both Talents, which area of magic would you hope to control?
Both of us would probably say aether magic. While it still has rules and limitations—like any of the elements in our series—it’s the mysterious ‘other,’ the most widely useful. And it seems like a lot of fun.
What do you think separates your writing style from others?
Perhaps that it isn’t so much Cris’ style or Clare’s, but a melding of the two. We complement one another’s styles, and we think our stories are better for it. Working together allows us to get deeper into our characters’ heads because we can stop and talk things through, finding nuance we might miss on our own.
What was a challenge you encountered during the process of writing and publishing a book, and what did you do to overcome that?
Finding a method that works for both of us. Our methods weren’t always in sync, so there was a little frustration as we worked out the kinks and found ways to compromise. Communication was key to overcoming those differences.
On a personal level, I have struggled with accepting that my finished novel is actually done, and that I should not read for the 100th time. How and when did you decide that Playing with Fire was absolutely finished?
Playing with Fire got several edit passes, and some would say that it probably took longer than it should have for us to deem it ‘ready.’ But beta readers were one thing that pushed us forward. Hearing from other people that it was really good helped us to let go of the need for ‘just one more pass.’
We also turned our focus to continuing the story by starting to draft the next book in the series. Having a bigger game plan than just the one book was a big motivator too.
How do you define success? In writing or in everyday life?
Success comes from inside. People can tell you you’re successful all they want, but it won’t matter if you don’t believe it.
That said, writing a story that people are enjoying—and getting to hear that feedback—is going a long way towards feeling successful.
If you could give one message to other writers out there, what would it be?
Don’t stop. The biggest obstacle when writing a novel is yourself—your inner demons, your own self-doubt, but you can’t beat those if you give up. Words on the page can be changed, but only if you put them there. So don’t give up.
Without giving too much away, can you tell us what is in store for the rest of the Criminal Elements series?
Well, for one, we switch narrators for each book, so you’ll get to know the characters better than you would if it were all from Renee and Stone’s perspective. Fly by Night (Book 2) is actually told first person POV in Rook’s head. How he perceives things and how he thinks are radically different from Stone and Renee.
We will be exploring several of the situations that arise in Playing with Fire, some of which are only mentioned. New players will appear, secrets revealed, and relationships tested. There’s a web of cause-and-effect going on that we’ve only just started to go into.
Cris and Clare’s debut novel, Playing with Fire, can be purchased on Amazon. Follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and GoodReads, or on their website crisandclare.com A big thank you to both of them for taking the time to contribute to The Coffeehouse!