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.


  1. I love this. I'm just so excited about this book. It just shows that when there's a driving force, anything can be accomplished. The LLS certainly needs all the funding we can send its way.

    Thank you for doing this.

  2. Ohhh...don't do it? Of course, dear Andrew, you got my brain churning about the Reds book..(there isn't one, but as Hallie says, why not?) and then, thud.

    Oh, I get it now. Clever trick. We'll have to buy yours! Done.

    And Jungle Red will donate a copy to a lucky commenter!

  3. Hi Andrew--welcome to Jungle Red. I've been part of one of those serial novels and believe me, they are not easy to write.
    Wishing you lots of luck with it!

  4. Well done, Andrew. And Hallie...thanks for throwing down the gauntlet. I could see a Jungle Red....

  5. Yeah, Ro, but the iron maiden's taken.

  6. I have done one, a spoof on The Floating Admiral called The Sunken Sailor, which was published by Berkley. It was edited by Beth Foxwell, so you would have to ask her whether we writers were a pain in the bum. I chose a chapter in the middle because I didn't want the responsibility of the beginning or the end, and it was great fun. Beth pulled everything together beautifully.

    Jungle Reds, hmmm. Interesting...

  7. Ooh, I'd definitely buy one from the JRs.

    What a great idea. Except for the part of herding cats, that is.

  8. I'll do the end. Really. I did well on the Miller Analogies test, so I think that means I can do endings.

    It's he beginning that's difficult.

    SO...Andrew, you pick the topic! :-)

  9. I already have my copy, Hank, pimped to me by Lori Armstrong, one of the contributors so don't put me in the drawing. I LOVE the idea of this book but sadly, deadlines have precluded me from diving in and reading it late into the night!

    I had a college professor who rode herd on a class project similar to this. Each member of the class was assigned a chapter number. The only rules? Each chapter had to begin and end with, "What if....(*this* happened)?" Subsequent chapters had to answer that last "What if?" with one of their own, write the chapter, and pose another question at the end. Chapters could be no more than 4000 words and there had to be a coherent story at the end. The professor wrote the first and last chapters. The project lasted all semester and was a lot of fun. No grade, but some terrific experience.

    Now, back to work so I can get to NO REST FOR THE DEAD that much quicker! Thanks, Andrew!

    And Reds? PLEASE write a Reds mystery! I'd be all over that puppy!!!! (Yes, I'm exclamation point happy today, LOL)

  10. Silver, that's hilarious! Did it wind up making any sense?

  11. We did a tag team serial at summer camp in the North Carolina Mountains when I was a kid. Each day a different cabin wrote an episode and read it at campfire that night. The goal was to leave the heroine hanging from a cliff from which the next cabin could not rescue her. Great fun.
    When I had a weekly newspaper in rural Florida, I got the classes at Joyce Bullock Elementary to take turns writing episodes in the adventures of Billy and Betty Bullock, twin black bears. The school mascot was the Bullock Bears. Unfortunately, no Dickens emerged

  12. This book sounds like a winner, and I would welcome reading a Jungle Red masterpiece!

  13. It always amazes me that this kind of novel can be pulled off - and I know from discussions with Marcia Talley how amazingly difficult the editor's job is!

    Well done, Andrew, and doubly so for earmarking the proceeds to cancer research. Mystery writers spend a lot of time killing off people - it's nice to know some of us might also save lives.

    My word verification: procti. If you're a male over 50, be sure to schedule a colonoscopy with your procti.

  14. What a worthwhile project.

    Best wishes for its success.

  15. What a great idea! Sounds like lots of fun - and a challenge - to participate!

  16. I was part of a serial western novel with twelve other authors. The late Elmer Kelton anchored the book and wrote the first chapter. I got the second, but Elmer was a hard act to follow. You never knew what was coming until you got the preceding chapter. Title Noah's Ride, it turned out pretty well, sold well for TCU Press, and caused a local splash. I was part of one other serial novel, where I again followed Elmer. It was Legends, edited by mystery/western writer Ed Gorman and published by Leisure. These projects are fun but a real challenge and editing them is difficult. I had to reject the contribution of a big name author for Noah's Ride--not sure either of us have gotten over it, though he does now speak to me.

  17. I can see a Jungle Red tag team mystery! It would be great.

    I, for one, look forward to reading it!

  18. What charity would benefit from a Jungle Red project?

  19. Perhaps a "praying for rain for Texas" charity?

  20. Every author has a different voice, so it should be a fascinating book.

  21. I like the "praying for rain in Texas" idea. Not quite sure where we would send the money:-)

  22. Love those serial novels! Naked Came A Stranger was ok, but Naked Came a Manatee was all over the place! Dave Barry, Carl Hiaasen, Edna Buchanan. Wonder what's in the water in South Florida (besides naked manatees)?

  23. Ah yes, Andrew, I was editor/author (cat wrangler?) for two serial novels, Naked Came the Phoenix (2001) and I'd Kill for That (2004) set in a luxury health spa and an exclusive gated community, respectively, both published by St Martins. Worked with 24 best-selling women authors to benefit breast cancer research. I guess that's what qualified me to write chapter 17 in No Rest for the Dead.

    Actually, the collaborative serial novel goes back to the early years of the 20th century. Wrote an article about its history for Mystery Scene Magazine which I later worked into a talk given at St Hilda's Crime and Mystery weekend in Oxford (UK) where I am now!

    Anyone who'd like to see a short video of the gala NYC launch for No Rest for the Dead -- which turned into a gentle "roast" of Andrew Gulli -- should click here.

  24. Melissa Robbins! You win! Email me via my website...and I will send you the book!