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.

Rubicon Ranch: Riley’s Story — Review by Sheila Deeth

Rubicon Ranch is a collaborative trilogy that was written online by me and several other authors from Second Wind Publishing. We started out with the murder of a little girl, and though we never knew where we were going (the murderer wasn’t chosen until the very end) or what the other writers were doing, we actually ended up with a book that seemed as if it had been planned from the beginning.

Sheila Deeth, inveterate reviewer (she’s rapidly becoming one of Amazon’s top reviewers) and author in her own right (Divide by Zero, Infinite Sum, and Imaginary Numbers, are all coming soon from Second Wind Publishing) had this to say about Rubicon Ranch: Riley’s Story:

Rubicon RanchI read occasional chapters of this novel online while it was being written. But now, at last, I’ve been able to read the whole thing in one setting, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Different authors pen chapters from the points of view of different characters. But the end of each tale meshes perfectly with the next, and the story progresses, through twists and turns (and death), to its mysterious, perfectly logical conclusion, while the reader is left to guess, imagine, wonder, and reflect.

The inhabitants of Rubicon Ranch are a mixed bunch, with accidental killers, accused pedophile, angry son, angry widow, and singularly dubious strangers staying at the local B&B. In classic Agatha Christie style, they might all have reasons to kill, and to hide, in a desert development where even the sheriff has his secrets. But which one, or ones, did the deed?

Feisty widow Melanie teams up, reluctantly, with the handsome sheriff. Seeing the world through a camera’s eye, and describing it with a writer’s sense of detail, she’s either the best at hiding her motives, or else she just hasn’t looked in the right place yet. Their tense relationship is fun, filled with promise for future books in a series that’s most un-traditionally written, but classically cool and enticing.

The desert’s pretty cool too—seriously hot, beautifully described, thoroughly genuine, and with snakes in the grass. I really enjoyed this delightfully traditional, thoroughly modern mystery.

Disclosure: I bought this when it was free and can hardly believe it took me so long to get around to reading it. —Sheila Deeth

You too can download a copy of Rubicon Ranch: Riley’s Story. Just click here: Rubicon Ranch on Smashwords to download in the ebook in the format of your choice. Or you can read it online here: Rubicon Ranch: Riley’s Story.

Or you can sample the first chapter here: Melanie Gray. Melanie Gray is my character, and is the character who connects all the books.