Collaborating on Writing a Mystery Novel

Someone asked me today how it was possible to do a book collaboration with people I’ve never met. The simple answer is “email,” but that is really no answer because it leaves a lot out of the process, such as how I got the idea for such a collaboration, how I found the authors, and how we managed to write a cohesive book (three books, actually).

A few years ago, I did a round robin with a group of writers, where we each took turns writing the story. It was fun and frustrating at the same time because it seemed as if some of the authors tried to sabotage the others by introducing silly elements. I wondered if it were possible for a group of authors to do some sort of book collaboration, but with the authors having sole control of their character to keep anyone from sabotaging what the original creator of the character might wish to do.

I broached some of my fellow Second Wind Publishing thriller writers and asked if they would be interested in doing such a project as a blog promotion. Several agreed to try the experiment.

It took a long time before a singlRubicon Ranche word was written because each author had his or her own vision of the project. Some demanded a contract for when the book was made into a movie (this was before a single word was written, mind you). Although the book was always intended to be available on the Rubicon Ranch blog, some of the authors thought we should post all but the last chapters and make people buy the book to find out what happened. I did agree to the contract, but refused to agree to cheating readers by withholding the ending.

We decided on a murder mystery, beginning with a child found dead in the desert, and continuing with each of the authors creating a character who had reason to kill the little girl. But we couldn’t agree on how to resolve the murder. Some of the authors wanted to know the killer ahead of time to make it easier to write their chapters, some wanted to be the only one to decide on the killer, some (me) wanted us to write the book first, then all decide on who did what and why.

By the time we actually started writing, the whole collaboration had moved away from my original idea of a blog promotion where the writers would post their own chapters with no one having to shepherd the book through to completion, and I ended up being den mother, drill sergeant, secretary general, and editor all rolled into one. (The authors were busy so they didn’t always get their chapters done on time and often didn’t have a chance to read the previous chapters so inconsistencies kept creeping in.)

And all this was done by email. Lots of emails.

Despite various starts and stops, confusions and conflicts, we did finish the book. Although it turned out to be a good story, it was a far cry from the fun and easy collaboration I had envisioned, so I tried again with a sequel. And then again. By the time we did the third book, the kinks were ironed out, the authors got their chapters in on time (mostly), and some of them finally understood what I had originally intended, for the collaboration to be sort of a literary role-playing game.

All three Rubicon Ranch novels are available to read online at

Or, if you prefer to read on some sort of e-reading device, you can click here to download a free ecopy of Rubicon Ranch Book One: Riley’s Story in the ebook format of your choice from Smashwords.

Click here to download Rubicon Ranch Book Two: Necropieces in the ebook format of your choice from Smashwords. Only 99 cents!

Rubicon Ranch, Book Three: Secrets is coming soon!

Although the books are part of a series, with many of the same characters, they can be read as stand-alone novels.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

6 Responses to “Collaborating on Writing a Mystery Novel”

  1. Author JW Metcalf Says:

    Sounds like it would have been a fun time.

  2. Deborah Owen Says:

    Holy Mackeral.I would have put all the authors on a ship and sunk it at deep sea level. lol

  3. mickeyhoffman Says:

    None of us knew the ending when we began and none of us knew who would turn out to be guilty. All we knew was the crime itself. Although it’s fun it can be frustrating because you can write what you believe is a good pathway for the story and no one else takes it up. Writers have, it would seem, more ego than most people…

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