Saturday, July 16, 2011

It’s a Relationship Thing by Clay and Susan Griffith

Thank you for the invitation to contribute to this blog. We enjoy speaking to romance readers and writers because romance is central to our book The Greyfriar: Vampire Empire Book 1 (2010) and the upcoming sequel The Rift Walker: Vampire Empire Book 2 (Sept. 2011, Pyr Books). Oddly enough, we never set out to write a romance, paranormal or otherwise. In fact, we didn’t really intend to write any genre; we just had a pulpish adventure story we wanted to tell. Fortunately for us, the book has been adopted by readers of all the genres we touch on – fantasy, vampires, steampunk, adventure, and even romance.

As writers, not only do we blend genres, we also blend our voices as individual writers into that of a single author. And we blend our outlooks and concepts. The most common question we get is “How do you write together?” More to the point, though, what can we accomplish together than we can’t separately?

Vampire Empire started life as a solo project in the early 1990s. Clay conceived the basic plot and characters, and even wrote a few chapters. But something was wrong. It just didn’t work. So Vampire Empire went into the darkness of the file cabinet for years.

We started writing together on comic book projects in the mid-1990s. The collaboration went so well, we never went back to solo writing. We went on to write short stories and even a small press science fiction novel titled Banshee Screams (2002). Then we were searching for a new project, and Clay said, “I’ve got that alternate history vampire book.” So Susan took what had been already done and brought her skills to bear on it. After a few years of intense collaboration, The Greyfriar was written, sold, and published.

So why did Vampire Empire by Clay and Susan Griffith work so much better than the same story by only Clay Griffith?

First of all, there was a slight change in tone. Clay had envisioned the book as a dark, almost brutal, fantasy. He was a horror buff, but Susan came from different influences. While she agreed it was (and needed to be) dark, she thought it needed to bring down the violence. More importantly, however, was what Susan brought to the characters. She felt the heart of the story was the relationship between Adele and the Greyfriar, and she argued (correctly it turned out) that the majority of the book’s readership would be women. Those women would want all the action that was already there, but also required stronger character interrelationships to sustain it.

Typically, writers of both genders tend to create their characters of the opposite sex as idealized versions – particularly in genre fiction. Since we have both genders present, it’s easy for Susan to roll her eyes at her co-author and say, “No woman would think that” or for Clay to scoff with “A man wouldn’t act that way.” Our conflicting outlooks don’t make writing a book easier, but they make it better. Even though our heroine and hero are certainly larger than life because of the pulp motif, we think they act like a real woman and man, and a real couple.

As conceived in the original outline, the relationship between the main characters, Adele and Greyfriar, was sketchy. Perhaps stereotypically as a man, Clay understood grand boyish gestures of romance, but missed the delicate touches that strengthened a relationship in small ways. Many of the moments that readers would later talk about as being particularly poignant or touching were already present in Clay’s original outline, but they were sterile because the characters hadn’t earned those meaningful moments. Collaboration with Susan brought a well-rounded romance to the book. A series of character-based pulse points throughout the story now paid off satisfactorily in bursts of romantic drama.

That’s key to a relationship in adventure fiction. The characters must deserve the emotion bestowed on them by the readers. No amount of hot sex or thrilling chases or daring escapes can create a real relationship. Those things can sure enhance character bonds, but the link between heroine and hero, and between them and the readers, rests on a foundation of small touches that build to grand explosions. Only then can the characters be joined in sex or battles or even in heartbreaking separation, and have it mean something.

Good relationships aren’t all sex and swordfights. That’s true in life and adventure stories.

Author Bio:
Clay and Susan Griffith are writers, who have also been married for 16 years. They are the co-authors of The Greyfriar: Vampire Empire Book 1 (2010) and The Rift Walker: Vampire Empire Book 2 (September 2011). The third book of the series will be out in 2012. They met in a bookstore and were married in Edinburgh, Scotland, a city that provides much of the setting for the Vampire Empire series.

In addition to novels and short stories, Clay and Susan have written many comic books over the years including The Tick and, more recently, Ray Harryhausen Presents: It Came From Beneath the Sea…Again. They also script and contribute to the tv/web show Monster Creature Feature (www.

They plan to continue writing together. And to stay married.


Carla Swafford said...

I do know that when Lou showed the cover of your book and talked about it, a murmuring flowed through the crowd and it was a good thing. You could tell everyone like everything about the book: the cover, the romance, adventure, vampires, etc. It's packed with everything I like.

When he placed some books on the table for people to pick up and sample, it was one of the first to go. (Drat! I wasn't close enough.)

Once my revisions are over, I need to go buy it.

Clay and Susan said...

Thanks, Carla.
We've been really happy with the support from the various genre readers. Romance readers, particularly the paranormal fans, have taken to it. Chris McGrath's beautiful covers have done an amazing job of broadcasting all the right notes -- adventure, steampunk, gothic, and romance. Lou can take some credit for that too because he's Pyr art director.

Heather said...

I cannot express how much I enjoyed reading The Greyfriar. Adele is an amazing heroine. I flew through this book so quickly, it has made me grumpy I have to wait until September for The Rift Walker.

Lexi said...

The concept is fantastic and the cover . . . WOW!!! I can't wait to read these books! I lived in Edinburgh for a year as a Rotary Scholar and used to walk past the statute dedicated to Greyfriar's Bobby every day. Wrenched my heart each and every time. And I love your advice about small touches. So very true. I love flowers and grand gestures from my husband, but it's the small, loving things that warm my heart.

Suzanne Johnson said...

I loved The Greyfriar, and it's fun to hear how the two of you work together. I imagine a great writing collaboration and a great marriage have a lot in common :-) Thanks for the terrific post!

Clay and Susan said...

Heather -- Clay speaking: I can't claim to always DO those little things, but at least I'm aware when I'm screwing it up!
Lexi -- that's awesome. We love Edinburgh, since we were married there, in Greyfriars Kirk. Need to go back. Maybe next year after the trilogy is completed.
suzanne -- co-writing and marriage do have a lot in common, mostly giving up the illusion that you'll always get your way, and that your way is always the best way.

Louisa Cornell said...

I'm always blown away by writing teams, especially when they are married to each other!

As a complete control freak who has trouble doing revisions when my agent recommends them, how do you work together to make sure neither of you takes over the writing. That would make me nuts!

And how deeply do you plot the books before writing them?

Definitely adding this to my list of books to get!

JoAnn said...

Great post! Thank you.

Mina Khan said...

Love the insight into collaborations! I wish I could get my DH to write with me :)...well, he does a good job as my first reader...but still!

Clay and Susan said...

It's not always easy. We argue a lot (but it's better to have your arguments over vampires than money or remodeling the house!). Fortunately, we have fundamental similarities in our likes/dislikes. And there's something comfortable about collaboration because you know if you run up against a wall, the other person will probably come up with a solution. A good plot point or character moment is good, no matter who comes up with it. Both our names are on it, so we get credit no matter who came up with it!

Chris Bailey said...

Thanks for the insight on team writing, and how you used your opposing views and inside knowledge to bring your characters to life!