But they did it and now BEAT, SLAY, LOVE is out and available (under the pen name of Thalia Gilbert) and an awful lot of fun. So they stopped by Jungle Red today to tell us about it.
Taffy Cannon: One thing that amazed me about this project is that almost everything was conducted via email. The five of us live all over the country: San Diego, LA, Montana, North Carolina and Maine.
Kate Flora: I didn’t know everyone well, just in passing, and frankly Gary has always terrified me a bit.
Gary Phillips: Me, terrifying? It’s just what I write … those characters scare me, too.
Lise McClendon: We know you’re just a big teddy bear, Gary.
Katy Munger: Yeah, he’s a teddy bear until you play poker with him … and then he turns into a shark.
Kate: Any smart and seasoned writer knows that taking chances is the best way to grow, and that embracing fun is a great antidote to the swirling pot of anxiety we mostly simmer in. So of course when the suggestion went around that we write a group novel, I said, “YES!” We’d already done a dress rehearsal in our short story collection, Dead of Winter.
Gary: We’d worked out bare bones aspects of the plot via emails and some in-person discussions so jumping into the story wasn’t that daunting. We knew were going to do a black comedy of sorts, gallows humor -- thrills and chills but with a wink to the reader.
Taffy: Bare bones is putting it mildly. At the beginning, all we knew was that chefs were being killed by a youngish woman with weight and vengeance issues. No outline, no character sketches, nothing but an intention to let ‘er rip. We were flying by the seats of five different pairs of pants.
Katy: To me the experience was akin to that of being a playwright. I would write the bones of the story, but then the actors would bring so much more insight and value to the body of work that it astonished me. That’s exactly what happened here.
Kate: I’ve been thinking that it was like being in a TV show’s writing room, where everyone is bouncing ideas off each other. Except we did it on paper instead of talking it out.
Lise: Our characters evolved as we wrote, over many months. At the end I had a moment where I thought I might have been the writer who did this scene or that, who even introduced one of them. But was I? Hmmm. It was all so meshed together I couldn’t actually tell.
Katy: I’m not sure this process would work with any group of writers – had there been a control freak among us, we would have been doomed – but it sure did work with this group. By the end, we had somehow divined what each other were thinking.
Taffy: In some ways, I think Katy had the biggest challenge in pulling everything together at the end. There were – how shall I put this? – a few unresolved questions, characters, issues, and problems. Okay, more than a few.
Katy: As I read and reread what everybody wrote, I realized that there were common threads that ran through all of our contributions. After that, everything fell into place.
Lise: It didn’t matter in the end. Not one bit. Because the whole really is bigger than its parts.
Gary: I think that knowing we wanted to have fun really comes through to the reader.
Taffy: The element of fun was probably the single most important part of this project for me. I had been working on some fairly grim nonfiction, and Beat Slay Love was a lovely change of pace.
Katy: There was a sort of anonymity in the process that I think freed us up to write things we would not write under our own name alone.
Taffy: I very carefully toned down an early sex scene that I wrote, even though we knew from the outset that this was definitely not a cozy. Others sex scenes followed that left me in their dust. We won’t name names, but at least one remarkably raunchy scene ended up on the cutting room floor.
Lise: That was the point of collaboration. Our writing styles differed, sure. Some smoothing out was necessary at the end. But each of us contributed to building these characters. So much so, that it became impossible to figure out what I wrote, what she wrote, what he wrote.
Gary: I’ve written other stories with female protagonists and I do have to pause now and then when writing from a woman’s perspective, mostly checking myself on dialogue. Snippets of certain female characters in print and on screen flash in my mind or I’ll summon up conversations between my wife and our grown daughter as a kind of reality check.
Kate: That lovely moment when it was each of our turns, and the novel arrived again with new chapters, new adventures, new twists and turns, new food, and a new region of the country. It was like simultaneously reading and writing a good book.
Taffy: We called this a mystery in the beginning, but about two-thirds of the way through I realized that structurally we were actually working within a thriller format. The killer was revealed fairly early on and we knew much of what she planned. There were multiple points of view and far flung locations. And we picked up the pacing as the story progressed, moving to shorter chapters, scenes, and paragraphs. Without even realizing it, we had invented a new subgenre: the culinary thriller.
Lise: Beat Slay Love is one big whole that I am so proud of. What a kick-ass ride it’s been!
Beat Slay Love is the world’s first culinary thriller, credited to “Thalia Filbert” but written by Lise McClendon, Katy Munger, Gary Phillips, Kate Flora, and Taffy Cannon. All are members of the Thalia Press Author Coop (TPAC). Somebody is killing the celebrity chefs of television all around the country, and a food blogger teams with an FBI agent to solve the crimes.
RHYS: And they'd love to give away a copy to someone who comments today! So don't be shy.