Thursday, August 18, 2011
26 writers, 1 seamless tag team mystery: No Rest for the Dead
Andrew Gulli, managing editor of The Strand Magazine, has concocted a devilish novel, No Rest for the Dead. He wrote the opening, and then handed each successive chapter over to some of the top writers in the business to move the story forward.
It begins with the execution of Rosemary Thomas via lethal injection, a chilling scene brought to the page by Jonathan Santlofer. Everyone knows she's guilty--after all her fingerprints were on the iron maiden (LOVE that detail) in which his body was stuffed and shipped to the German Historical Museum of Berlin.
Santlofer hands off to Jeff Lindsay, who hands off to (drum roll) Alexander McCall Smith, and on it goes through a roll call of the crème de la crème of crime fiction (Sandra Brown, John Lescroart, Kathy Reichs, Michel Palmer, Tess Gerritsen, Jeffery Deaver, Lisa Scottoline...).
Welcome to Jungle Red Writers, Andrew Gulli! Andrew, how on earth did you come up with the idea for No Rest for the Dead?
ANDREW GULLI: Thanks Hallie, good to be here! In terms of plot, John Lescroart who was going to write the first chapter called me and said bluntly, "You have to give me something to go on, Andrew." So I had an idea about a woman executed for killing by throwing his body into an iron maiden and having it sent back to a museum in Germany. The story would be about a cop who helped convict the woman and his guilt and doubts about the case.
John did a fantastic job of writing what at that point was the first chapter and into forcing me to write something!
HALLIE: This is a real tour de force. Is it something that's ever been done before?
ANDREW: This has been done a few times, in the 1930s the Detection Club in England wrote The Floating Admiral, then later on a bunch of writers penned a sort of satire called Naked Came the Stranger, in the last 20 years Marcia Talley worked on a couple of serial novels. The one that really springs to mind is Naked Came the Manatee which had Dave Barry and Elmore
Leonard. That was a rather wild unpredictable book which you can say at some points went out of hand! My sister who co-edited the book with me was determined that we'd keep this serial novel tight.
HALLIE: I know this was a labor of love. Can you tell us about your own personal back story behind the book?
ANDREW: In 2007 it was ten years since my mom had died of lymphoma, so I had planned to gather a lot of my writer friends together and create an anthology where all the proceeds would to cancer research. I'm fortunate to have many friends who are mystery and thriller authors and they liked the idea and knew that I'd edit them well. A couple of months later, I was in NYC having drinks with Les Pockell of Hachette, and he said anthologies traditionally were weak in terms of sales and that it would be best if I turned the project into a serial novel. Sadly Les died of cancer last year, but he did see the first few chapters of the book and had good things to say about it. We've arranged for all of our royalties to go to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
HALLIE: When did this incredible project start, and what were some of the challenges along the way?
ANDREW: Can you believe it started four years ago? Initially it was going to last a year, but I have to say my ego took over. I decided in terms of plots and the cast of writers that this was going to be the mystery to end mysteries. So I made sure some of the writers knew of the plot twist that I had in mind and from then on I'd get a chapter about every month or so. At times it wasn't easy, a few writers who promised to be a part of this vanished, a couple of other times emergencies got into the way of authors completing their chapters.
The biggest challenge was tying everything together and for that my sister deserves a lot of the credit. By their nature serial novels have all sorts of problems and kinks and we were lucky
in that we ironed them all out.
HALLIE: Without giving away too much, did you have an idea of where you thought the plot would be headed, and were there twists that surprised you?
ANDREW: I came up with the plot when I was at the Detroit Institute of Arts, I had seen some weapons which were loaned from a German Museum and all sorts of what ifs floated inside my mind. In a few minutes I imagined a woman killing her hateful husband who was a curator at the museum and then making sure the weapons were cleaned up and shipped back to their original destination.
You have to thank Bob Stine for anticipating almost with ESP where I knew the whole book was heading and writing a great chapter. The funny thing is that Bob is such a great plotter that he caught some clues I had neatly dropped before anyone else and that includes the readers who have read and commented about the book. The twists didn't surprise me as much as how talented and selfless the writers were. How they made all the characters their own.
HALLIE: Any words of wisdom or advice for the rest of us, Andrew (shown here with our very own Rhys Bowen) who might contemplate trying to repeat this incredible feat? We eight Jungle Reds could churn out a potboiler I'm sure.
ANDREW: My advice is simple: don't do it. This required a lot of work, a lot heartbreak and at the end of the day I'm happy to be giving thousands of dollars for cancer research and it was great to work with all of these authors, but if you're willing to take time off of work, face disappoint, broken promises, and love stress, then this is the thing for you!
HALLIE: An amazing story, Andrew! Thanks for sharing your experience.
So readers, have you ever attempted a group feat like writing a novel with 25 other writers? Herding cats has got to be easier.