The Garret LIVE at the Library
In partnership with the State Library of Victoria, The Garret hosted a series of live events with leading Australian writers in 2018.
Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff spoke at our third event. They are the co-authors of the acclaimed Illuminae Files, a YA sci-fi space opera trilogy. All three books in the series debuted on the New York Times, and the first two, Iluminae and Gemina, were awarded the Aurealis Award for Best Science Fiction Novel in 2016 and 2017. The third, Obsidio, is in the running for the same award 2018. Jay and Amie are also in the process of writing their second trilogy, the Aurora Cycle.
In this interview, they spoke to our host Astrid Edwards about the art and craft of co-authoring.
UIKEYINPUTLEFTARROWJustine: Hi everyone. My name's Justine Hyde, and I'm the Director of Experience here at the State Library of Victoria. It's my pleasure to welcome you here tonight to the third event in The Garret LIVE at the Library series. A live recording of The Garret podcast with New York Times bestselling authors, Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, in conversation with The Garret’s host Astrid Edwards. The State Library of Victoria has been a supporting partner of The Garret podcast since it launched in 2016, with a goal of interviewing the best writers about their craft. The podcast name was inspired by the idea of the solitary writer, writing away in their small lonely garret.
But for tonight's event, we'll get an insight into writing as a collaborative process, as Amie and Jay share what it takes to write an international bestseller together. Amie and Jay are co-authors of the Illuminae Trilogy, a thrilling YA sci-fi series that's in development for film with Brad Pitt's Plan B Entertainment. Illuminae, the first book in the series, was a New York Times and international bestseller, it was a finalist for the Prime Minister's Literary Award, won the 2016 Aurealis Award for best science fiction novel, and an ABIA Book of the Year award.
Obsidio, the third and final book in the trilogy, was published in March this year. Amie and Jay said their writing partnership is based on a shared love of blowing things up and breaking hearts. So hopefully, we'll hear more about that tonight. They're now hard at work on the next trilogy called The Aurora Cycle, so the fans don't need to be too heartbroken for too much longer. Amie's also the co-author of Unearthed, and the best-selling Starbound series, and in 2018, released Elementals: Ice Wolves, the first instalment in her solo series.
Jay's works of fiction include LIFEL1K3, the award-winning Lotus War trilogy, and the internationally best-selling and award-winning fantasy series, The Nevernight Chronicles. So, thank you for coming tonight, and please welcome Jay, Amie, and Astrid.
Astrid: Welcome back to The Garret, Jay and Amie.
Amie: It's nice to be back.
Jay: Thank you for having us once more here.
Astrid: So, Jay and Amie were actually the very first interview done by The Garret here in the State Library at the end of 2016. That time, we were in a tiny little room. We didn't manage to get a table, so it was all recorded just with chairs somewhere in the deep bowels of the library. Here, we have a beautiful theatrette, with many people here. So, we've upgraded: thank you very much for sticking with us.
Amie: Well, I mean, we feel like enough time has passed that you've forgotten our sins, and you've let us come back, so we'll take it.
Astrid: It's all good. Now, that was quite an introduction from Justine. You are both so prolific. Does writing in a partnership help that?
Amie: I think a lot of people probably think that writing in a partnership means half the work, and it certainly doesn't mean half the work.
Jay: It's about three-quarters of the work.
Jay: It's not a whole book, but it's... yeah.
Jay: Somewhere between half and everything.
Amie: Yeah. So by the time you do all of your stuff, and then obviously, you know, we edit each other's stuff, when we collaborate on each other's stuff. It's somewhere between half and full effort.
Astrid: So, how do you know if you have an idea, and if that idea is best written together?
Jay: That's a really good question. I mean, the way we started writing together was really quite odd. I don't know if any of you... thanks for coming by the way, tonight. It's nice to see you all. We started writing together because Amie had a dream that we wrote a book together, which was really quite weird.
Astrid: What a way to start.
Amie: I did, yeah, and not like a cool, I-had-an-inspiring-idea dream, but an anxiety dream, like of the, you know, showing up to school, and then it turns out there's a test you didn't know was happening, and the test is in German, and so on, that kind of dream. And I dreamed we were writing a book together, and that I had forgotten what the book was about. And so I spent the whole dream fishing, like, ‘Hey, if you were to describe our book to someone else, how would you go about doing that?’ And I never found out what the book was, but I did remember when I told this story to Jay the next day, and he quite rightly laughed at me, that it was a book written in email. And so, we actually just almost like as a financial intellectual exercise started saying, ‘Okay, well, you know, why are they emailing?’
Jay: Yeah. We were both working on other series at the time. Amie was working on Starbound with Meagan, and I was writing Lotus War by myself, and we just started kicking around the idea of why two people would be communicating via email. And because we're sci-fi nerds, we quickly put them in space, and the way we separated them was by putting them on two different spaceships, and then constantly throwing additional obstacles in front of them to stop them getting together, so they could never kiss. That was the whole point in the entire book. So they just had to keep talking on email. But yeah, so that didn't really seem like an idea suited to collaboration as such. It was just an idea that we started working on together, and that's the way it kind of naturally fell out.
Astrid: So you say working on it together but, I mean, how did the first words get typed into your laptop or in a document? Like, when did you start writing together, and really take it seriously?
Jay: We started with... we started in the wrong spot, actually.
Amie: We did, we started about a hundred pages in, it turned out.
Jay: Yeah, which is a pretty common theme for me, anyway. I usually start a lot of my books in the wrong place, but we…
Amie: You know what, it's better than me though, because I usually start a hundred pages too early, and then have to chop it off the front.
Jay: Yeah, sure!
Amie: I'd rather start late, and then have to backtrack a bit.
Jay: Oh, I've done that, I started in the wrong spot. I excised about 80,000 words of Nevernight.
Jay: Yeah, it just got thrown in the bin. I started in the wrong spot.
Astrid: That's practically a book!
Jay: Yeah, pretty much. Well…
Amie: For someone else it's a book, not for him.
Jay: Yeah, it's a YA book. Nevernight books are a little bit longer. But, yeah, so, we started at the scene where the Copernicus gets destroyed, if anyone here has read Illuminae, that's probably about 70 pages in?
Amie: Yeah, that's a good chunk in.
Jay: And, we started with Ezra's after-action report, because it was a kind of big action-based scene, and we tend to start our books with a bang. But after we had shown the idea to a few pretty trusted readers, they told us that we needed more grounding in that universe and these characters, before we started trying to blow them up. So we actually rewound, yeah, about six months in chronology, back to the invasion of the initial planet, and got to know the guys that way.
Astrid: So, you're talking about the creative process. How do you develop that story? I mean, are you just sitting around together? Are you on the phone? Are you shooting off emails?
Amie: So, we actually just done this for the Aurora Cycle book two. We went away with some writer friends for a few days, and it's literally Jay stretched out on the couch, and me sitting in the bean bag, for just hours and hours, just sort of shooting ideas back and forth saying, like sort of right off the bat like, what do we know is in this? Like, are there any big moments or big set pieces that we know definitely go in this book? And that might just be a couple of things.
Jay: Yeah. To be fair, it's me sitting, staring at a wall for kind of, 10, 20 minutes at a stretch, not saying anything.
Amie: Oh, it's really extraordinary. Like, you reach this... he doesn't move at all, and you reach a point where you no longer know, is he just still thinking about what we just talked about, and he's just really...
Jay: Thinking about burger rings…
Amie: Like, yeah, has he gone really deep, or have I lost him, and he's just like, started daydreaming, and like... if I say something, am I going to interrupt this life-changing thought, or is he gonna go, ‘Oh, yeah, sorry, no, right. Where were we?’
Jay: To be fair, I've never been actually thinking about the footy, I'm usually thinking on the job, but you've never interrupted a thought either.
Amie: Well, I sort of do it really gently, like I... because I think by talking, and he thinks by staring at the wall, so, that's you know, we both have to accommodate each other, but, after a bit of wall-staring, eventually, I'll go, ‘Is now good time?’ And you know, once in a blue moon, he'll hold up a hand like he's finishing a thought, but nine times out of ten, you know, he'll go, ‘Oh, what, no, yep, chat away.’
Jay: Yeah, because I'm often wandering in the dark, and not thinking anything very deep at all. So what we'll do when we start out a series is, we'll usually think of characters followed by setting. Illuminae was a product of the central conceit of a novel in that these people needed to communicate via electronic means, otherwise the novel would fall apart. If they actually got together in the same space, the whole novel wouldn't work. So, we started out with that central idea. We needed to keep these characters separated, and we started with who they were. The idea that they had broken up came to us, I think probably three or four rounds into that first draft? Initially they…
Amie: Yeah, they were getting on a lot better at first.
Jay: Yeah, initially, they didn't know each other, and we decided that that was just too hard to have a getting-to-know-you story, or a falling-in-love story, and space explosions, and rage viruses, and all that good stuff. So, we started out in the wrong spot, but we eventually stumbled on the idea of having them being a broken up couple. So we had gotten past all the getting-to-know-you stuff.
Astrid: Sure. Now, I feel the need to go back to you on the couch, and you on the bean bag.
Astrid: Who takes the notes? I assume that's you?
Jay: No, no we…
Amie: It varies.
Jay: We kind of take turns.
Amie: Yeah, we take turns. Whoever happens to have a laptop, but, we will literally just sit there, starting with... at least what we think we know, like the few big things in the book that we think we know, which might be, you know, they will start by having to escape from the place, and then there'll probably be a heist in the middle, and then there'll be some kind of massive confrontation at the end. Like, that big.
Astrid: And things will blow up.
Amie: I mean, that goes unsaid. Everything will blow up. But, that's almost that big, and then you kind of iterate down from there.
Jay: Yeah. Book twos tend to be about revelation, I guess, like, the things that you thought were the case are no longer the case. You find out that, spoilers, Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker's father for example, and the whole…
Amie: Wait, what?!
Jay: Yeah, I know, terrible.
Jay: And the whole universe kind of turns on its head, so Book Two for us tend to be that same kind of deal. So, in planning Aurora 2, we were thinking about what the major revelations for each character was going to be, how they were going to come about, and at the end of that, we kind of had the framework for most of the skeletal structure of the novel, anyway.
Amie: Yeah, and I think as well, because we have such large casts, so, for instance, Aurora Rising has seven points of view, and Illuminae, although it has a few major points of view, has lots of minor points of view. By the time you've sort of gone down the list and made sure every character has something meaningful happening, and some kind of story happening for them, you've begun to weave a story that way, just by covering everyone off.
Astrid: You raise an interesting point. So, you've gone into your second trilogy that you're co-writing together, knowing that it's going to be a trilogy, and I guess you've sold it that way. Going back to the beginning of Illuminae, when you had that idea, did you think it was one book? Was it always three in your head?
Jay: We didn't think it was going to sell, to tell you the truth.
Jay: We thought it was just too weird, and was going to be too expensive to produce, so it was something that we really worked on for fun, thinking that it would absolutely never get up. We would never walk into a bookstore and see it.
Jay: It was just too odd.
Amie: And yet, I can see copies of it here already.
Jay: Yeah, right.
Amie: No, no, but I mean, we're more surprised than anyone, because on a very practical basis, it's the sort of book where, publishers will tell you, ‘Oh, you know, booksellers will buy fewer copies of your book if it's really fat, because they can only get three of that on the shelf where they could get five of a smaller book’. Stuff like with Illuminae, it has to be printed on a better grade of paper than usual, because the regular paper can't hold the black ink.
Jay: So black.
Amie: So black. All that. All that stuff. So, we legitimately just thought that no one would take it, which really freed us up to just have fun.
Amie: I mean, that's how much we loved it, that we were just doing it for fun.
Jay: Yeah, it was something we were totally doing in our free time in between other projects, just because it was an incredible amount of fun to work on. I had never worked in a collaborative writing relationship before, so it was totally new to me. So, I was both discovering how cool it was to be working with Amie every day, but also working with another person every day, because usually, when you're writing a novel, it's a pretty solitary, lonely experience. You can't bounce ideas off anybody if you have a thought, and you think it might be stupid. There's just one there to ask. You have to go and write 20, 30, 40,000 words before you can show it to a beta reader. But with a co-author, you have someone there, you can get immediate feedback. You can bounce ideas back and forth, and, watch the idea...
Amie: I mean, you can even ring them before you write it if you need to.
Jay: Or text it to at 3am.
Jay: Like I tend to do.
Jay: I'm a night owl as a general rule, and Amie's a morning person, so...
Amie: No, I've learned to sleep with my phone outside my bedroom.
Jay: Yeah, right-
Amie: I'm like, I'll pick them all up in the morning.
Jay: So I interrupt you with random thoughts at 2am in the morning.
Astrid: So, I kind of want to drill down to the details of how you write. I can see how you have so many ideas, and you share idea at 3am in the morning, but, how do you divvy up the writing? Is it by point of view? Is it by arc of the story?
Amie: So it's generally by point of view. So what we're doing is, in our big initial brainstorming session that we just did for instance for Aurora 2, we've roughed out what we think will happen in the second and third act, but we've worked at in relative detail what we think will happen in the first act. So, every chapter for the first act has a paragraph that says whose point of view it's in, and it says, this is where we start, this is the note on which we end. So the, ‘Oh my God, we're all alone’, or ‘We must chase that thing’, or whatever that note is, and then a paragraph in the middle. And so, what we will do... what we are doing now, is passing that manuscript back and forth, and writing it per point of view that we've been ... with that we've chosen for ourselves. And then once we get to the end of Act 1, which will be next week sometime.
Jay: Pretty soon.
Amie: ... probably.
Amie: We'll get together again, and repeat the process for Act 2.
Jay: So what we've found just through experimentation, if we plot too far ahead, we tend to trip over our own feet, because the novel will change in the writing of it. You'll think of a cooler idea, you'll think of a cooler twist, you'll think of a character doing something that you completely didn't anticipate, and so, if you've plotted the entire book, and a character in Chapter 3 does something completely unexpected, all that plotting time has been wasted. So…
Amie: Or worse, you make an excuse to keep it, because you already did all the work.
Amie: And you end up with something that's less good.
Jay: That's less cool, yeah. So, we plot about a hundred pages in advance as a general rule, and we did that on Illuminae as well. So we'll get together physically in the same place, at the same time, and Amie'll look at me, and I'll look at the wall, and it's usually at a pub, so Amie doesn't drink, but I drink, so Amie will watch me drink and stare at the wall for about five drinks, and after...
Amie: I start eating fries at some point. It's what I need.
Jay: About drink five is where the magic starts to happen, as a general rule.
Astrid: So, you guys plot together, and you think together. Do you ever actually write together? Like, the two of you kind of, in a room with one of you typing away?
Jay: We have, but not on the same project, because we…
Amie: No, we write at the same time and the same place, but…
Jay: On different things, because we have a master document essentially, and it is handed over and in the possession of one of us, or the other of us at any given time. That way, if you make a change on a document that's not the master, it's not being lost. So, you keep everything aligned that way. Maybe a couple of times I've been doodling away on a scene or something in the background, but no, because we work on multiple projects at the same time, there's always something for us to be writing, and when we go away together on a retreat, we'll throw ideas at each other back and forth, but, I don't think we've ever actually worked on the same book at the same time, in the same place.
Amie: No, I mean, I can't really... but what would you do? Like, would I be sitting there typing, and you'd be like, ‘Oh, what if you change that word to that word’, right? You'd get elbowed in the face.
Jay: Deservedly, so…
Amie: Yeah, deservedly, so exactly.
Astrid: So, tech question, if you had one master document, and you're constantly sharing it, I mean, how do you do that? Is it Dropbox? Is it... what are you using?
Jay: It's just email.
Amie: It is just emailing a Word document.
Jay: We're pretty low tech, so we'll do our planning in a Google Document, and that way, if we think of additional ideas when we're separate, we can go back in and change the master Google document. But yeah, we just work in Word, and email it back and forth. It's pretty lo-fi.
Amie: And we literally, deliberately use the phrase like, ‘You have the master now’, so that everyone knows, because sometimes you might just send something to the other one for them to have a look at something, but you're still working on your chapter.
Jay: It's like an old Star Trek episode.
Amie: Yes, you have the card.
Jay: Number 2, you have the bridge.
Astrid: So, do you set word counts for each other, or deadlines for each other?
Jay: I mean we're both pretty motivated, to be honest. I think we both know that... I mean, he, just last night, sent me two chapters, which was 10,000 words and said, ‘Sorry this took so long’, and I email back saying, ‘Can we establish that 10,000 words in a week is not so long? Can we say that that's a reasonable speed because otherwise, there's no way I can keep up with that’.
Amie: But, I think we're both pretty motivated, and we both, going as fast as we can, but we both also know that sometimes, you sit down, and the chapter just happens.
Amie: And sometimes, you sit down, and chapter doesn't, and that's... For instance, I'm writing a chapter coming up this week that I'm having to interview a whole lot of people in real life for, because we're writing about a character who has been through some trauma, so I'm speaking to a whole lot of psychologists and therapists, because I don't want to make light of that person's experience. So even though that will end up being, we reckon probably we've planned like a two-page chapter, it's going to take me a long time to write, but then once I've done all that work prepping for it, probably the subsequent chapters for that point of view will be much quicker.
Amie: So, sometimes it's fast and sometimes it's slow, and we've never said to each other, you know, ‘Get it back by this day’, or ‘Write so many words’.
Jay: No, in terms of word count, Auri seems to be probably about 5,000 words a chapter, but-
Astrid: Auri? Is that your nickname?
Jay: Aurora, yeah.
Jay: I call her Auri.
Astrid: The character's nickname is Auri-
Jay: Auri, yeah, that's what we call her.
Astrid: So the book's nickname is Auri.
Jay: Yeah, so the chapters tend to be anywhere between 10 to 15 pages in Word, which is around 5,000 words, and we just kind of stick to that pattern, I guess in our planning stages, we cover that off. We tend to do it in bite-size chunks, because we have multi POVs, and we want everyone to have their time in the sun, and everyone to be expressing their internal dialogue, and get a fix on where everyone is. We try not to do any one POV that runs too long.
Astrid: How do you give weight to each POV? Like, how do you figure out who's is more important at various times?
Amie: Look, I mean, I think for a start, the fact that we both take stewardship of some, means that someone's always looking out, someone's always looking out for each character. But as well, I think it's... I mean, I hate answering things with like, ‘Oh it's a bit instinctive’, but, I think at various points in the book, if you've created a really rounded cast of characters who all have different experiences, and all have different backgrounds, and all have different wants and needs, then depending on what's happening in the plot, a different character is going to sort of come to the foreground as the most obvious narrator at that particular moment, because either they have the experience that makes them a relevant narrator, or they don't, which makes them a very interesting narrator.
Jay: Yeah, sometimes it's mechanical considerations. If you're trying to keep something secret for example, that Character X knows and Character Y doesn't, you probably don't want to set that POV in Character X's POV, because they're going to reveal the secret. So, sometimes it's mechanical and keeping things hidden behind the curtain. Other times, it's a product of simple logistics, where people are in the novel, like, someone might be hurt, so doing a action POV from their point of view is not going to work. So, sometimes it's a mechanical, sometimes it's a little bit instinctual, biological.
Amie: Yeah, and I think as well, we sort of keep an eye, like, it's not like we don't just cycle automatically through the viewpoints in a set order, but I think, if we hit the point where someone's viewpoint had not naturally come up for quite some time, that would mean that they weren't playing a part in the story, and that would be our prompt to go back and think, okay, well, why is so-and-so not getting a gig? Why are they not doing anything interesting?
Astrid: To what extent do you edit each other?
Amie: Quite a bit.
Amie: I mean I said, there are chunks of all of our novels that legitimately, we're not sure who wrote.
Jay: Yeah, we had a really funny experience on Obsidio, where Amie wrote me a note… We'll tend to, when we're sending this master back and forth, we'll write it to the comments in the comment section of Word, and Amie wrote me a comment asking, ‘What did you mean by this turn of phrase?’ And I wrote back and said, ‘I have no idea, you wrote it my friend’.
Jay: So you tend to get a little bit blurry, particularly as the series goes on, and the deeper into the book that you get.
Jay: At least initially, on Illuminae and on Aurora as well, because they're brand new characters, and they're brand-new POVs, you don't really feel comfortable jumping into another person's character at first. So, we tend to help each other out in terms of dialogue and tone of voice, and jumping in and saying well, they might say that, but they wouldn't say it that way. But as the novel moves on, because you're getting used to the other person's tone of voice and cadence and syntax, you'll be more comfortable in jumping into their character's shoes. So as the novel gets deeper, there tends to be less jumping in and out of each other's chapters.
Amie: Yeah, because I mean at first, you know, especially if, say, I'm writing a chapter from one of characters' points of view, and it contains a couple of Jay's characters for whom he has not written chapters yet, so I literally don't know how they sound. I can block out what they say, but he might already have in his head, oh that they have certain turns of phrase, or certain slang their use or, you know, this one would make a joke and this one wouldn't, you know.
Jay: And with Illuminae, it was a lot more organic, because we were literally getting to know these characters as we wrote them, and getting to know them by the way they spoke, and the way they spoke to each other. We kind of went in a little bit blind, but with Aurora we were a lot more meticulous in the planning. So we actually laid out kind of character sheets, D&D character sheets, you know, name, height, age, dark secret, motivated…
Amie: How to push their buttons.
Jay: Yeah, and family history, yada yada. And we also wrote some short stories as well for each other, just to get ourselves into the mindset and tone of voice of those characters, because we were going to be jumping into large chunks pretty quickly, where we were literally writing characters that were the domain of our co-author, but they hadn't actually written chapters for yet. It was a little... We had to have planned this one a little bit harder.
Amie: Yeah, and we would do things like choose pictures of what they looked like, so that we're just both describing the same thing, rather than someone accidentally, you know, picking a different hair colour, and...
Astrid: Do you think those short stories will ever see the light of day? Would you ever publish them?
Jay: Yeah, if enough people buy the book.
Amie: Maybe, yeah. Yeah. I mean that's kind of it, yeah. I mean, I'm in the process of cannibalising one of them right now to shove into Aurora 2, so I probably need to write a new one for that character.
Jay: Yeah, there's some good stuff in there. We have been cannibalising, I've noticed. We've taken a cool line or two from those shorts. But yeah, maybe. Maybe one day.
Amie: Yeah. I mean, I feel like when we wrote them... because I mean I did... I was thinking of that as we wrote them, I thought, I wonder if we'll do anything with these, and then I thought, I think it's really important to not think about that right now, and to just go into the character, because with something like that… If you're writing a short story for publication, obviously, you want it to have a good arc, a beginning, middle and end, and so on, but when I'm writing something to try and just show Jay who a character is, I might just spend a few pages just being in their emotions, and letting them think about things for much longer than they would, if it was a book. So it's sort of... it's less practical, but it's more purposeful, in a certain way.
Jay: And some of the characters have changed in the writing of the... pretty dramatically, in fact.
Amie: Very. Yeah.
Jay: Like, some of them, it was interesting. I was reading the shorts the other day, and some of the characters are exactly as we created them, and others have just changed completely in the telling of the story. So yeah, that was kind of interesting, watching the way they evolved.
Astrid: Do you, as writing partners, ever disagree?
Jay: We haven't had a fight yet.
Amie: We've never..
Amie: ... fight. No.
Amie: I mean, it's not really in either of our natures to have a fight.
Jay: No. When we have a fight, we'll probably have one one day, and it'll be over something really stupid like, the placement of a comma, or a paragraph break, or something.
Astrid: So, instead of a fight, do you ever disagree about a story arc, or how a character would react, and if so, how do you compromise?
Amie: Well look, so we had one extended discussion once. [Laughter] We were on retreat with a group of writers, and I think we were probably about an hour into this discussion, when we looked up and realised that every other writer present had just picked up their laptop and quietly moonwalked on out of the room.
Jay: We were in a room where there were 14 writers while we started this discussion, and it was about Obsidio, the ending of the Obsidio in particular. You might not know it to look at me, but I tend to lean quite dark, and Amie tends to be the more optimistic and Rainbow Bright kind of person in the partnership, and so I wanted to kill a lot of people.
Amie: And readers, I was there for you, attempting to protect just some of them.
Jay: Amie threw herself on that particular grenade, and she made a really compelling argument. But it wasn't an argument, it was a spirited discussion. But yeah, about 45 minutes into it, we realised that the 14 people that we were sitting with, they were all just gone.
Jay: They had all kind of stood up and just osmosed out of the room.
Amie: But the thing is like, the way that discussion happened was actually completely central to how we write together, because I think, one way to have had that would have been to just batter at each other until somebody gave up, and neither of us at any point ever considered doing that. We were both genuinely really committed to understanding why the other one was seeing it differently to the way we were, because what you want to do with co-authoring is choose someone whose writing you respect, and whose story telling you respect. Because a writing relationship in which you are constantly trying to silence the other person, and make it sound like your book, well, I mean, just go write your own book in that case. But what we're looking for is something that when we write together, it's different to what either one of us would write separately. So, we're always defending bits of the other one has written, or lifting them up or, you know, many times during edits, one of us will try to...
Jay: Yeah, cut this out.
Amie: Yeah! Like, I'll try to cut one of my jokes or something, and Jay will just leave a comment saying, ‘I will die on this hill’, and put it back in again.
Jay: Just like, it's all caps NO.
Amie: Yeah, and so, which is, this is the thing is, you want someone who really loves your stuff and so, when you both have different ideas about where you want to go, what you want to do is figure out what's driving those different suggestions. So, the very basic example of that would be, one of us wants to do an action sequence next, and the other one wants to have a deep and meaningful conversation.
And we could just fight about which one's right, but what's much more productive story-wise, is to sit down and go, ‘Okay, what's behind those suggestions?’ And maybe the one who wants to do the action sequences is like, ‘I just feel like the pace has slowed, and we're creating a real moment when the reader could just put the book down, so let's snap the pace back up’. And the other one might say, ‘Well, the reason I think we need to have this conversation is because we've just had a Revelation A, and before Conversation B happens in the next chapter, we have to see how this person is responding to Revelation A, otherwise, none of their actions in relation to this next thing are going to make any sense’. So it's like, okay. So now we actually have the story reasons that we want to do it. Now we can cook up something that addresses both of those. So now, you know, maybe it's that they do have the deep and meaningful conversation, but they have it as a screaming fight, so it feels more active. Or maybe they have it while they're running away, or climbing something or, you know. I think it's about...
Jay: Being a co-author is a lot like being married. Yeah, in the sense…
Amie: Which we both successfully are.
Jay: To other people.
Amie: To other people.
Jay: To other people. We often get mistaken for husband and wife when we're travelling together, and those reactions are always pretty funny. It was like, at 3am in the morning or something, at some security checkpoint in America, and I was really tired and really grumpy, and the security guard was talking to me about my wife. And I was blinking at him like, ‘What the ... what are you talking about, she's 6,000 miles away in Australia’, and then I realised that, ‘Oh no. He thinks Amie is my wife’, and we looked at each other simultaneously, and both went, ‘Ewww!’ At the same time… [Laughter]
Amie: And like, physically jumped apart…
Jay: Apart from each other.
Amie: Which like, don't do sudden movements at American airport security. They don't like it.
Jay: But yeah, it's like being married in the sense that you may have different ideas about the way things should be done, but ultimately, you want to get to the same place, which is an awesome book, or an awesome marriage. And so…
Amie: And you picked the other person, because you like the way they get places.
Jay: And you like them. I think that's a really important thing to know, like, if you are considering getting into a co-author relationship, make sure you actually like the person and their work. Amie and I were friends for months and months before we ever started talking about writing together. We knew we actually get along with each other, and that's a really important thing to consider, because if things go well, and if you get your book deal, and you you get to tour around the world together like we do, you want to be doing that with a person you're actually fond of, because if it's someone that you dislike, or even are ambivalent about, you're going to have absolutely no fun whatsoever.
But we've... It sounds a little cheesy to say it, but the experience of Illuminae, and the way that book took off was made much richer by the fact that we got to share it with each other, like we were. I remember we were in an airport when we found out that Gemina got on the New York Times.
Amie: Yeah, I was not dignified.
Jay: Yeah. No, it was... Yeah, but you know, like...
Amie: Yeah, but if you were all by yourself, I don't know. What would you do, whereas, I distinctly remember… We were going down... We were at San Diego airport, and we were going down an escalator, and I finally got my phone to refresh, and screamed and nearly fell down the escalator, but didn't. But having someone to high five, and we still joke that we were good friends before we began, but we also had no idea what was about to happen to it.
Jay: No, not at all.
Amie: And like, thank God we turned out to really like each other!
Jay: Yeah, I mean, we talk to each other pretty much every day, and we travel with each other for weeks on end. And if you want to see a person at their worst, go on a 12 stop tour in 14 days of the United States during the election of Donald Trump, like…
Jay: We were in Nashville, Tennessee when he got elected. That was a night.
Amie: Yeah. Yeah.
Jay: So yeah, make sure you like the person that you're considering writing with.
Amie: For real.
Jay: Make sure you like them as an artist, but also make sure you like them as a person because if things go well, you're going to be dealing with them for a very long time.
Amie: Yeah, and I think both are equally important.
Jay: Yeah, we had this moment. I remember, it was on the Obsidio tour, and we're driving, I think it was towards the last stop, and we're actually driving in the car, and the thought struck me how sad I would be if this was the end, if this was the last stop and the last book, and I kind of turned to Amie in a rare moment of me actually sharing my feelings, and…
Amie: A very rare moment.
Jay: Told her just that. Yeah, because...
Amie: And I hadn't even thought of that. So then I was like, ‘Oh my God!’
Jay: Trust me to be the depressing one.
Amie: Like, we'd be so devastated, because this is what we do now.
Astrid: So, I just want to take a moment and say, these guys are so cute. And also, it's…
Jay: It's disgusting.
Astrid: It's so heartening to see two people talk so positively of each other's writing. You're actually both reminding me now, I managed to interview Alec Patric and Ryan O'Neill, who have won the Prime Minister's Literary Award and the Miles Franklin, and they speak about each other like you two, and I think it's just beautiful. So there we go.
Amie: Look, I mean, I think... because the thing is, there is another way to do it. There are other ways to co-author. And you know, we see it with some really famous authors, so it's not at all a secret. They're very open and speak about it in interviews, so I don't feel like it's inappropriate to say, but you know, some of the really famous people who co-author will for instance, they will come up with the outline, quite detailed, and then their co-author will write the book, and then they will come through and sort of make it more their style, you know, and…
Astrid: Put their name on it.
Amie: Well, but the thing is, both parties have completely agreed to that, and both parties have gone into it saying, ‘Yes, this is the model we'll use’, and so, there's absolutely nothing wrong with that, if that's what both parties intended in the first place. But I feel like when you're actually working together, you have this chance to boost it in a different way, because everyone's got input, you know?
Jay: We also know friends who are no longer friends, because they tried to write books together, so, I think we've been pretty lucky in that respect.
Astrid: Good thing to avoid. My next question. You are now I'm embarking on your second trilogy together. You both write independently, and you also have a partnership with Meagan Spooner. How do you keep so many stories and plots and characters straight? In your head?
Jay: We tend to block out chunks of times, so it's not like you're shifting from one project to another day-to-day-to-day. You just... I think you'd go crazy.
Jay: So what we'll do is look at each other schedule. We'll have a... I mean, the great thing about publishing is it moves really, really slow.
Jay: So you have an understanding of what is going to be delivered by what date. And you kind of work backwards from those delivery dates. And we'll block out chunks of time to be working on one or probably two projects, because we have this master document that's getting sent back and forth between us. While you're co-author has the master, you probably need something to do. You can't just sit around and play video games all day. I mean you could, but you wouldn't get many books published that way, so you generally will have at least one other project on the boil, but again, the document will disappear for a week, week and a half on end, so you get time to acclimatise yourself to the new project.
So for example, I just got my edit letter on Darkdawn today. So, conveniently enough, I just sent the master off to Amie last night for Auri too, so while it's with her, I'll be doing my edits on Darkdawn.
Amie: Yeah, and we just sort of loosely communicate when it arrives, like for instance, I've just been in Sydney and Tasmania for a week, and Jay knew that, so he knew there was no point giving it back to me before I landed back in Melbourne. Now, he's given it to me, he knows that I've not got anything in particular on, so when I get it off him, I'm like, ‘Cool, I'll be back with you in about a week’, you know? And so, that allows him to just sort of settle down and do his thing, and then when I give it to him, he'll say the same thing like, ‘I'll be back in a week’, or you know, ‘I've got to travel, I'll be back in 10 days’, and that just lets me kind of bunker down and do something else and make my plans.
Jay: Yep. It's about communication.
Amie: Yeah. Communication's good.
Jay: Pretty much, yeah.
Jay: Just, like I said, because of the lead times in publishing is so long, we actually get a pretty good idea of what we're going to need to do a really long way out, so it's not that hard to plan, even if you're terrible at planning like I am.
Astrid: Now, you're both very active on social media with large followings. You let your audience into your writing process quite a bit. Amie, you give lots of updates. Why do you do that? And also, what do your publishers think?
Amie: Our publishers love it. They think it's great that we're sharing stuff with readers. And I mean, there are lots of reasons to do it, and one of which is, we're both intensely, intensely grateful for our readership. We get to write full-time, and we get to do it because our readers don't just buy and read our books, but our readers tend to force our books with holy passion upon other people, and... but the thing is, without that, we don't get to do this, and so... I mean, God, it sounds really cheesy when you say it, but we do kind of see it as a team effort, like, our readers are our people, and they love to know how we make the books, and we're happy to share it with them. So, one of the reasons we share so much behind the scenes is that.
I do a lot of... on my Instagram stories, I do accountability, where I will ... and I started that last July, when I was writing the second book in the Ice Wolves trilogy, and literally, I just needed to make sure my butt stayed in gear, so I would get on my stories at the beginning of each day and be like, ‘All right guys! I'm gonna sit down, three hours, I'm going to write 2,000 words. In we go’. And then I would do a report at the end, and I accidentally built this massive community of people who would sit down to write with me at the same time. So then when I was done with that book, they were like, ‘We're still going, right?’ And I was like, ‘Oh. Sure, why not?’ So, that's kind of a thing I do but…
Jay: It's kind of like an online writers retreat.
Jay: Writers retreats are just the weirdest thing in the world. It's like 14 people sitting in a room, no one talking to each other. Everybody typing, but you're all in the same room, so somehow, that motivates you to keep writing.
Amie: It does! Peer group pressure. There's the silent productivity of everyone around you! But yeah, but we share all that stuff, because people are interested, and we want to...
Jay: Yeah, we're very lucky to get to do what we do. So, we never want to take it for granted. And that might sound cheesy, but it's absolutely true, particularly being Australians. It's very hard to make a living as any kind of artist in this country, so we never want to be in a position where this becomes par for the course, something we are blasé about.
Astrid: Now, you're both on record as saying that you don't write thinking about a potential for a movie in the future. But I wanted to explore that a little bit, given that your first trilogy together has been optioned for a film, and if I did my internet stalking correctly, Amie, your new duology with Meagan is also in development for film?
Amie: Yeah, and the Starbound trilogy as well.
Astrid: And the Starbound. So, when you're creating something new, given that large studios are willing to look at your books and consider it, does it ever make you change how you write, thinking about it on the big screen?
Jay: No. I mean, conceptually, the same things that attract publishers tend to attract movie people. People looking for, generally speaking, for kind of big concept ideas. High concept is the term that gets thrown around a lot, which is, I mean, the analogy that often gets used is the elevator pitch. If you walked into an elevator with Brad Pitt, and you had three floors to give in to him to buy your script, what would you tell him? And of course those three floors, that's kind of the same rationale that you use when you're selling in a book to a publisher, and that tends to be the same kind of thing that attracts movie people. So no, I think the concepts that we work with tend to lend themselves to film purely by accident, rather than design.
Amie: Well, and I think that... I mean, the thing is, for a start, it's very rare to sell the... We've been very lucky, but it's very rare to sell the option on a book. And although we all get super excited when we sell the option, the truth is, it's still 1 in 10,000 chance that anything will actually get made. And as our film agent likes to say, you know, the moment you celebrate your movie getting made, is when you are on the red carpet, and not a moment before, because any moment up to that, it can fall over. So, he's always saying to us when we sell something like, ‘Oh, don't celebrate it's too early!’ And I'm always like, ‘Steven, I'm going to celebrate now, because we may not get to later, and I want my champagne’.
So, I think, given the odds of anything ever actually getting made, and when you think about some of the massive YA properties out there that have not been made into something, I think writing in order to make yourself more attractive to screenwriters would be a fool's game. I think it would be chasing something that's very unlikely. The better thing to do is to just write the best story you can.
Jay: Yep. If it's cool, people will come.
Jay: If you build it cool, they will come.
Astrid: Fair enough. Now, in your opinions, does your writing or your stories change to the point where people don't like reading your writing that's not together?
Jay: I don't know, that's in question for readers, I guess.
Amie: Yeah, I guess. No, I mean, they do tend to travel if... where the way they discover us is via the Illuminae books, they do seem to travel out to the other books afterwards.
Jay: I mean, I tend to notice on social media, a lot of the same people talking about the multiple series. It's quite rare that one person is into one series, exclusively. Attention as well via osmosis, I guess. ‘I like this writer, I love this series, so I will try other series’, and hopefully they like those too. But, I mean, Illuminae has been great in terms of bringing people to our other stuff, or at least my other stuff.
Amie: Yeah, I know, same.
Amie: So, I think, whether they like it when they get there, who knows, but they do seem to at least give it a go.
Astrid: Yeah, no, simply... as one of my formative series that I love with Janny Wurts and Raymond E. Feist, the Empire Trilogy.
Jay: Oh sure.
Astrid: Loved it, have gone back in my adult life many times, did not like any of their individual work apart from Magician.
Jay: Yeah, okay.
Jay: That's interesting.
Astrid: So I just was wondering if that happened two you guys.
Amie: No, I mean, I think the thing is, I don't think that it is so fundamentally different from what we do, because, what we write in is not this weird merged voice that's neither of our voices. It's both of our voices, you know?
Jay: Yeah. There are pieces of us, each of us individually that are recognisable in the work.
Jay: But yeah, that's... I don't know. I don't really know if I've experienced anyone who has told me at least, that I love your stuff with Amie, and I hate your solo stuff.
Amie: It may be that they feel that way.
Jay: It could be that someone does.
Amie: But our readers have been too courteous to let us know.
Amie: That's how they feel.
Astrid: Maybe. Now, obviously you both write together. Amie, you write with Meagan.
Astrid: Have you ever been... either one of you been approached by others? Like, do people offer you writing partnerships?
Astrid: So how do you decline? Or, what would make you think about it?
Jay: I mean, if it was a writer whose work I adored. Stephen King, if you're listening. [Laughter] Yeah, I mean, it would depend on the writer in question and the situation, and the current workload. We're both pretty frantically busy at the moment. But yeah, I mean, you never say never. If you got the opportunity to work with... I'm sure if Jo Rowling called me tomorrow, I'd find the time to write the book, you know.
Amie: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I actually have another series coming with another co-author that's not announced yet. So, I'm... but for me, it was just about, I had the time, it's a…
Astrid: How do you have the time? You're doing a PhD as well!
Amie: That's true. I'm extremely organised, very high level project management skills...
Amie: I don't ... I mean, God, we get asked a lot about productivity, and I think the answer honestly, is that we get up in the morning, and we sit down at our desks and we do our jobs all day.
Jay: Yeah. We both treat it like a job.
Amie: Yeah, there's very little staring out the window, and there's very little wandering around, and neither of us waits for the Muse to show up. We just work. And it's amazing how much you can get done if you just work.
Jay: I think maybe that's a product of us both. We both kind of had white collar office jobs before we did this full-time, so we probably learned a pretty good work ethic working the wage-slave gig.
Amie: Yeah, well, and having to then come home and fit an entire full-time writing career into the hours after work.
Amie: You know.
Jay: Like we were saying before, we're both incredibly conscious of how lucky we are, we get to do this, and we never want to take it for granted. So, yeah, it's... I won't say it's easy to motivate yourself when you're aware of how fortunate you are, but it certainly helps.
Amie: Because it's not hard, when you think about the other stuff you could be doing, you know.
Jay: Yeah, we have the best job in the world and maybe like, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist would be a better job, but I've never done that job. I can't be sure.
Astrid: Can't be sure. No.
Jay: But I'm pretty sure we... our job is among the best jobs in the world. Like, we get to sit down and write stories about dragons and robots all day. I mean...
Amie: I mean like on its worst day, it's just amazing, and I don't know, I used to get the Sunday night dreads before a couple of jobs I had, where on Sunday night, I'd start to think, ‘Oh no-no-no-no Monday morning!’ And now I get to Sunday night, ‘Ah, yes, everyone's going to go away and let me do my things’. Like, I just, excited on Sunday night that Monday is coming, and I can sit down and do what I want to do.
Astrid: You're making me excited, Amie!
Amie: It's, no, I mean, we're really passionate about it.
Jay: I actually had that yesterday morning when I was working on the Aurora chapters, like, I woke up Monday morning, and I was genuinely excited to be jumping into it. Like, there's not a lot of people who can say they have a job like that. So yeah, we are incredibly lucky.
Astrid: Yeah. This is not really a question, but I wanted to pose a concept to you, I guess. You're both prolific. You're both young. If you keep up this rate of writing and publishing, you are going to have a phenomenal body of work.
Jay: No space in our houses for the books.
Amie: No, my husband literally just had to line the wardrobe in the spare room with shelves, because every time they published a new edition, they give you 25 copies, and it's getting...’
Jay: It's great the first time it arrives. "Oh, it's my book, this is so cool! This is this thing I made’, and by the time the fifth box full of that same goddamn book arrives, it's like ‘Oh my God…’
Amie: Seriously, like, some of our boxes fell over upstairs the other night, and we thought the second story had fallen in. There's just this crash, and then there was a general panic downstairs at our house until we realised what it was. So, yes, we are going to have a lot of author copies, but that probably wasn't your question.
Astrid: Oh, no, I was just musing, I mean, you might publish like, 40 books, like old-school sci-fi authors who just kept going.
Amie: Well, I mean the next one I get under contract will be the 20th I have under contract. So, 40 seems doable.
Jay: How many books do you got out now?
Jay: I think I've got... how many? Eight. No, nine. Ha!
Amie: That's right! That's right, come back to me next May!
Astrid: Amie, I think you might... you're about to beat him. Don't you have the second one of your duology with Meagan coming out the end of this year?
Astrid: And then your second one in the Elementals trilogy coming out early next year?
Amie: Yeah, plus Auri, plus…
Jay: I think we both have three books coming out next year, right?
Jay: So at the next year we'll be dead heat.
Amie: Yeah. That's right, I'll race you. He writes like, 240,000 word books, so I'm like…
Jay: Yeah. I'm a sucker.
Amie: ... quietly, confident.
Jay: I write adult…
Amie: I think I can draw ahead over time.
Jay: ... adult epic fantasy, like, yeah.
Amie: Well, and I'm writing middle grades, it's like 70,000, so I just feel like over the long haul, you know.
Jay: It's where the smart money is.
Astrid: So, were there any questions?
Audience 1: Hello. Thank you.
Jay: Hi there.
Audience 1: Thank you so much for coming today. I actually am not a writer myself. I'm an actress. I'm a voice actress as well. And I have just started to work on audio books, and I wanted to ask you both, because these are your characters. For example, what would be something that you would hope for in the artist giving a voice to your work?
Amie: That's a great question, because our audiobooks are actually kind of famously involved. So, the Illuminae audiobook had a cast of over 20, and it won the Audie Award, which is like the Oscars of audiobooks.
Jay: If you haven't heard the Illuminae audiobook, you should go buy it, and I don't say that because we make money out of it, like, it's genuinely the most amazing audiobook that you've ever heard.
Amie: It's like an epic radio play.
Amie: And we're really lucky in that we have a really close relationship with the directors and producers of that.
Jay: Which is really quite rare. Often you just get…
Amie: It's very rare.
Jay: ... handed your audiobook at the end of the process. There's no consultation, really.
Amie: Yeah, so it was the same producer who worked on the Starbound trilogy, and audiobooks are really important to me, because I have visually-impaired family members. And so, I just thought the casting was... had nothing to do with it, but I thought it was beautiful, and so I wrote a thank-you letter to her afterwards, and she wrote back and said, ‘Oh, I've never had a thank you letter before!’ I was like, ‘Well, probably everyone should get one’, but it meant that we had this relationship that when Illuminae sold, she actually started talking to us and bringing us into the fold and consulting us, and so we got to help cast the books.
So I'm an audiobook nut, so I have a lot of opinions, so I'll shoot Jay all of these samples of people who I think might work, and then he'll sort of vote on who he thinks might work, and so, we get to do a lot of consulting. But it is sort of... it's like working with an illustrator. You want to offer enough, I guess, information that they're not going to go off in some direction that's completely wrong, but then you want to leave some room to exercise their craft as well...‘
Jay: You don't want to step on their toes.
Amie: ... because they're doing it because they're good at it, and they're doing it because they have ideas that we would never have, so you want to leave room, you know?
Jay: Yeah, I guess for us as well, it's important, because we're writing teenage characters, but there's often not a lot of teenage voice actors that have the ability to sound younger than you are, I guess?
Jay: That's something that we look for a lot.
Amie: Right, rather than to sound like, you know, a dad saying, ‘That's rad, kids!’
Jay: Yeah, ‘Hello kids’.
Jay: They're kids. Yeah.
Justine: I like to set myself dumb reading goals for no particular reason, and next year, I was thinking of only reading trilogies for no reason. But you know, when you look into it, there are so many trilogies, not just in sci-fi and speculative fiction, but in you know, literary fiction, and I was kind of interested to ask you, why do you reckon readers love trilogies? And why do you write trilogies?
Jay: I mean, readers love trilogies. I mean, if readers fall in love with characters, they want to know what happens next. They want to follow the journey, and any given book is going to be a limited time span, so they want to know what comes next. It's interesting, when I... The very first book I wrote, I wrote as a one-off, because I thought it would be arrogant to plan a trilogy, because who the hell was I? Like, I wasn't published, I didn't have any credits to my name, who wants to read three books by me, but the tendency in publishing, tends to be pushing people towards at least two books, if not three. And I think that has kind of sprung up after the success of series like Harry Potter and Twilight, because people do fall in love with that character, and they want to know what comes next.
Amie: Yeah, and I think that conversely, that has actually also created a space in the market for standalones, because we all also have that experience where with a trilogy, books come out once a year, and by the time Book 2 comes out, you can barely remember what's happened in Book 1, and so for some people, there is this real attraction towards one and done.
But I think as well, certainly for us when we're writing a trilogy, what you really want is for everything to feel very life or death in Book 1, but then by the time you reach Book 3, you're looking back at those Book 1 stakes and thinking, ‘Oh, my sweet summer child. That was not a bad day at the office. This is a bad day at the office’. And so it gives you room for that really epic escalation, that what seemed like the end of the world in Book 1 actually is the end of the world by Book 3.
Jay: Thank you for people who read the first part of the series before the second and third part is out though. If you all waited until Book 3 without publishing, would be a very different place.
Amie: It would! Well, and no, this is something that isn't considered very often, is that you see a lot of trilogies that are never finished by the publisher, because there are insufficient sales on Book 1 or Book 2, and then the authors hear later from readers who say, ‘Oh, I was just waiting till the whole thing was out, and then I was going to buy it’, and the whole thing never comes, because they don't signal interest.
Justine: That's very sad. Would you ever go further and write a series of trilogies? It's been done.
Jay: I mean, if...
Jay: ... if the characters were... we were in love with the characters and settings enough, and there was enough juice in the world that we had built, sure.
Amie: For sure, yeah.
Amie: I mean, there's still a chance Aurora will get the bit between its teeth. Like, we're only working on Book 2 now, so there's a chance it could stretch, but we'll know soon.
Jay: Yeah. We will know in April.
Jay: So, yeah. It depends, but you would... I don't think you'd ever say never. I mean, I would struggle to work in only in the same world for, you know, 20, 30 years, like someone like George R. R. Martin does. I think I would get bored, but I think helping... it helps working on multiple projects all the time, which I think is probably why George does the same thing.
Audience 3: Hi. I was just wondering if you had to pick one character from the Illuminae series that you relate to the most, who would you choose?
Amie: He's just laughing, because he feels like his answer doesn't reflect very well on him.
Jay: I would be Aidan, to be honest. And I don't know what that says about me, but I relate to a murderous artificial intelligence. But there's a lot of me in the internal musings that Aidan has on what its nature is, and what the nature of humanity and existence is. So, the questions that Aidan asks are kind of the questions that keep me up until three o'clock in the morning, texting Amie ideas. So, yeah. Murderous artificial intelligence for me.
Amie: I mean, that said, I think it's very important to note that Aidan is like one aspect of your personality, not the whole thing.
Amie: Because we get a lot of emails, I mean, I got one yesterday from young people saying, ‘I know it's wrong to feel this way about a computer, but this is how I feel’, and I'm always like, Aidan is very bad, like, that's not... No! That was not the lesson you were to take from that!
Jay: I mean, we all love the bad guy, right?
Jay: But it's not someone you should look to emulate in your life choices by any stretch.
Amie: It's kind of where I'm heading, yeah. Gosh, I'm not sure. I get asked this a lot, and I never really have a great answer. I mean, Kady's internal monologue is very me, is very my internal monologue. So, I guess, in a lot of ways, she's probably the... because she was the first heroine that I put into the books, she was the one that I put the most of me into. And I don't know, there are parts where she's trying to do an action sequence, but she's just like, not that sporty, you know.
Jay: She put all her XP into computer hacking instant, yeah.
Amie: Well, we like to joke that I kind of stacked my decks in the sort of, if we were D&D characters, it's all that intelligence and wisdom and absolutely none of it…
Jay: Dexterity was your dump stat.
Amie: Dexterity was my dump stat, because I walk into doors and stuff, so there's... Hannah is very... Hannah is my wish fulfilment, because she's incredibly coordinated. Kady is more me. Katie's the one running along, trying to haul up her too-big bio suit, and climb things, and getting snot inside a helmet, because she's crying, and, you know.
Jay: But she gets it done.
Amie: Hey, so do I, but you know, it's just not always elegant!
Audience 4: In Illuminae, and also in Nevernight, I've seen you kind of come up with your own slang or swear words. How do you go about that process? And do you ever forget to use those terms?
Jay: Yeah, I definitely forget to use them, but that's what great editors and beta readers are for. I have a group of about five or six people that read everything I write before it gets sent off to my editor, and they're all pretty smart and amazing ladies, so they usually catch those mistakes before they get to my editor, and if not, my editor will catch them. But, in terms of where I... how I come up with the slang…
Amie: It's just really hard.
Jay: Yeah, we actually had a really long and involved conversation about Aurora on this topic, because we had invented swear words, because teenagers swear. I don't want to shatter anyone's illusions, but they tend to swear a lot, and as a general rule, young adult books don't have a lot of swearing in them, because some libraries won't carry books with curse words in them. And so we wanted to write convincing, compelling teenagers who talk the way teenagers do, which means swearing, but we didn't want to have a book with swearing in it, so, we tried inventing swear words. And it's actually really hard. I can only…
Amie: I still don't think they were that bad.
Jay: No, they weren't bad, but they went great. I think there's only one invented swear word in the history of invented swear words that actually works, which is frack from Battlestar Galactica.
Jay: If you've watched Battlestar Galactica, that's the ubiquitous swear word.
Amie: Well, and they got that one now, so…
Jay: Yeah, you can't steal that. But yeah, it's actually really tough to do, so it's a matter of experimentation, and what you think sounds right. You try and evoke the mood of what you're trying to describe with similar words to the ones that we use. If you're talking curse words or slang, you tend to look for hard consonants, because that's what tends to be in our curse words, but it's really a matter of experimentation, and trying what works and trying... and seeing what doesn't. And if you can think of an amazing made up curse word, you should keep it to yourself because, yeah, they're really, really hard to think of.
Amie: Email us.
Jay: Or email us.
Amie: ... if you think of an amazing, made up curse word, we'll take it!
Jay: So, in the end, we ended up just swearing for real in a row. We just, we bit the bullet, and we had genuine curse words in there, and if some libraries don't carry it as a result, then so be it. I mean, we had the conceit in Illuminae where the director who assembled the files asked for all the swear words to be redacted, but that's a trick we can only do once unfortunately.
Audience 5: Hello. I was wondering how you... how do I word this. How you keep your inspiration, like, do you have a Pinterest board of your stories and your characters and everything, or do you have like, a cork board with all your characters on there, and what they'd like, what they'd wear, sort of thing, so, yeah. I think that's what I'm trying to say.
Jay: Yeah, sure.
Amie: Yeah. I mean, we do gather a lot of that information, but in terms of how we stay inspired, I wouldn't say we use that stuff to stay inspired. I would say, one of the amazing things about co-authoring is, you're never down on your book, because when the other person sends you a chapter, like, I don't know about you, but I just drop what I'm doing, and open it, and read it straight away, because I'm so excited to see what it is. I mean, I'll do that on my phone if I'm out and about, like, I want to know.
So, I think when you're writing a book by yourself, you will always at some point have a moment where you think, this is terrible, and I am terrible, and everything is terrible. And frankly, if you don't, that's not a good thing. Like, if you don't, that speaks to a level of self-confidence that is false and unhealthy, because... no, I mean, I think once you're a creative, you should have some point always worry that you're not doing it as well as you could, because that doubt is what makes you strive, right? But when you're writing with someone else, you might have moments where you look at your chapter and think it's not very good, but you never look at the book and think it's not very good, because there's always stuff in the other person's work to love. So, I always feel like I'm kind of chasing the next piece of cheese, but if I write my stuff, I can give it to Jay, and then I can get a chapter back as a reward.
Jay: It's a lot like the shoemaker and the elves, you guys know that fairy story? It's a really weird fairy story when I think about in retrospect, but there's a shoemaker, he owns a shoe store, and he leaves some leather out on the counter overnight, and there are some elves that live in the store, I don't know why. It's never adequately explored in the narrative, but he wakes up in the morning, and the elves have turned the leather into shoes. Perhaps they have some kind of foot fetish or whatever, but being a co-author is kind of like that. You send off this master document, and you don't think about the book for a week or so, and then it comes back to you, and just like when the shoemaker wakes up in the morning, and there's shoes there, there's more book there in this document that you had absolutely no hand in creating, but the book has gotten bigger, and it's gotten better without you having to do anything at all.
So, yeah, it becomes this kind of perfect storm of creativity. You get excited, and when you send it back to your co-author, they get excited because you're excited, and that excitement just kind of builds and feeds on itself. So, I think that's a matter of finding, again, the right person to work with, because if you do, it can be the most rewarding creative experience in your entire life.
Astrid: I think we're out of time, so I would like to thank Jay and Amie from the bottom of my heart for coming back on The Garret. Thank you very much!
Amie: Oh, thanks for having us again!
Jay: Thank you for having us!