Sunday, August 22, 2010


Many people think of authors as solitary types who do their writing alone. And there are many authors like that. But lots of authors collaborate on their projects. There’s some logic to that, too. Working with someone else can help in generating new ideas, and there’s a whole wealth of expertise that isn’t available to someone who writes alone. Writing partnerships also mean more energy devoted to the writing project. Of course, writing partnerships have their challenges, too. No two people think exactly alike, so partnerships require a sometimes delicate negotiation of ideas that’s not necessary in a solo project. Personalities all vary, too, and that can be a challenge for a writing team. Despite those challenges, there’s been a great deal of memorable collaboration. We see it all the time in academic writing; I’ve done collaborative academic writing, myself, and it’s got lots of advantages. We also see it in crime fiction, sometimes very successfully.

Some partnerships are husband/wife teams. That’s the case with one of the most famous crime fiction teams, Swedish writers Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. This duo created the memorable series featuring Stockholm homicide detective Martin Beck, beginning with 1965’s Roseanna. The series went on to become one of the more popular police procedural series, and you could argue that it was the forerunner of the modern Swedish crime novel. Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s Beck is a committed – you could even say driven – investigator who often puts his work ahead of his home life. He works with a dedicated team of detectives, each of whom brings something to the case the team is investigating. Sjöwall and Wahlöö also used their series to comment on the social, economic and philosophical realities they saw in Sweden, but more than that, the series is known for its careful attention to the daily ins and outs of police life. Each member of this team also did individual projects, but as a duo, they created one of crime fiction’s best-known fictional detectives.

Sjöwall and Wahlöö are not, of course, the only husband/wife writing team. Archeologist Kathleen O’Neal Gear and forensic anthropologist W. Michael Gear have also collaborated on a number of books, many of which are historical novels focusing on Native Americans. One of their series, the Anasazi series, is a mystery series featuring archeologist William “Dusty” Stewart and forensic anthropologist Dr. Maureen Cole. The three books in this series, The Visitant, The Summoning God and Bone Walker, explore a set of mysteries from two perspectives: the modern perspective of Stewart and Cole, and the 13th Century perspective of Warrior Chief Browser and his deputy and friend, Catkin. The series begins with the discovery of the ancient remains of eight women who seem to have died violently. As Stewart and Cole uncover the truth about the women’s deaths, Browser and Catkin also investigate. The twin investigations follow parallel lines, and in the end, we find out from both perspectives what happened. The other two novels in the series also take place along two timelines. One follows the Anasazi people in their last years. The other follows the modern-day archeological team that’s searching for the truth about the ancient remains they find.

The Gears have also written many books and scholarly projects individually, as well. In fact, each of them has an impressive individual list of accomplishments.

The famous fictional character Ellery Queen was also created by a duo. Cousins Daniel Nathan (alias Frederic Dannay) and Manford (Emanuel) Lepofsky (alias Manfred Bennington Lee) began this series with 1929’s The Roman Hat Mystery, and went on to write a long series of novels and short stories featuring New York Police Inspector Richard Queen and his son, Harvard graduate, novelist and inveterate puzzle-solver Ellery. Most of these novels focus on intellectual puzzles, “locked room” mysteries and other, more cerebral challenges. “The Queen Team” collaborated for 42 years, and their creation has been featured not just in novels, but also in many film and television adaptations.

Another long-term writing partnership was the duo behind Emma Lathan. Mary Jane Latsis and Martha Henissart. These two novelists met while they attended graduate school at Harvard. With their backgrounds in economics and finance, it’s not surprising that their creation works in the world of banking. Their sleuth, John Putnam Thatcher, is a senior vice-president with the powerful Sloan Guaranty Bank. The Thatcher mysteries often focus on international finance, banking fraud, and other monetary crimes that end up in murder. The twenty-five Thatcher novels were written from 1961 until Latsis’ death in 1997. By today’s standards, some of the banking procedures and financial daily routines may seem quite outdated. However, the plots behind those dealings still keep the reader’s attention, and the characterization remains strong.

Not all writing duos create a series together. Some write just one or a few novels. For instance, there’s the writing partnership of Thomas N. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson. Each of these authors has written individually and with other collaborators. Together, they wrote five thrillers. One of them, The Glass Inferno, served as part of the inspiration for the famous 1974 movie, The Towering Inferno. Like the movie, this novel concerns a brand-new high-rise building and the effects on everyone, including the firefighters, when it burns. Scortia and Robinson also co-wrote The Nightmare Factor, a medical thriller that takes up the question of what happens when a lethal virus is unleashed among a large group of people. You could argue that this novels was the forerunner of the modern medical thriller, such as those written by Michael Palmer. This partnership didn’t span the decades that the “Queen team” or the Emma Lathen partnership did, and their books were not “tied together” as a series is. You could argue, though, that these novels laid the groundwork for modern thrillers.

More recently, Swedish author Liza Marklund has also collaborated with other writers. She’s perhaps most famous for her solo series featuring Stockholm investigative journalist Annika Bengtzon. However, she’s also co-written two books with organizational consultant Lotta Snickare. Those books aren’t crime fiction; rather, they focus on gender issues. Marklund has most recently co-written a mystery, The Postcard Killers, with James Patterson.

There are other “writing duos,” of course, that space doesn’t permit me to mention here. Interestingly enough, some of the Golden Age authors such as Agatha Christie aren’t known for their collaborative efforts. Instead, their fame comes more from their solo work. Of course, in Christie’s case, a few of her plays have been adapted as novels (with permission) by Charles Osborne, and there have been other adaptations of some of her novels. However, these haven’t been writing partnerships in the way that, say, Sjöwall and Wahlöö were.

What do you think? Have you enjoyed series created by writing teams? Which ones?

p.s. In case you were wondering, the 'photo shows me and one of my writing partners ; ).


  1. "But lots of authors collaborate on their projects." I write alone but I collaborate with the voices in my head.

    I belong to a writing group and they have suggested collaboration on books in the past but I'm not sure I could do it. I usually know where my book is going from the first chapter to the last and I think it would bother me to see it go in a different direction. However, often collaboration can make us better writers.

    I haven't read any collaborated books, to my knowledge. I should try on of those Swedish books however, you make them sound wonderful.


  2. The PJ Tracy books are a good read. That's a mother- daughter collaboration of Americans Patricia and Traci Lambrecht. I smile to think of how much arguing a mother and daughter would do in the course of writing a book.

    Ngaio Marsh's only collaboration was for The Nursing Home Murder where she joined forces with Irish physician Henry Jellett. The novel is set in an operating theatre, so Jellett was able to provide the medical knowledge to make the story realistic and convincing. It's funny and a little sad that in later editions of the book Jellett's name has been left off.

  3. Clarissa - LOL! I thought I was the only one who heard those voices ; ). You express that conundrum really well, actually. Collaboration can make us better writers; certainly it can give us terrific ideas. But taking a book in a new direction? That's a little hard. I think it can be hard to let go of one's own ideas of what the book should be like.

    I think you'd like the Martin Beck series, actually. It's an excellent set (in my opinion) of police procedurals.

    Vanda - Thank you so much for the reminder of the PJ Tracy series. I agree; it would be v-e-r-y interesting to be a little fly on the wall when those authors are working together. Mothers and daughters have a unique relationship.

    And thanks for that bit about Ngaio Marsh's The Nursing Home Murder. I must have read a later edition that didn't mention Jellett's name. I didn't know she'd collaborated on that one. It is sad that that's not in all of the editions...

  4. Charles Todd (two historical fiction series set in/after WW1) is a mother and son team and Claude Izner (french historical mysteries) is actually two sisters. I didn't know about the collaborative authorship in either case before I read the first book of either but I certainly couldn't tell that were by multiple people.

    I find both of these astonishing feats as I can't imagine writing with anyone in my family (I love 'em to bits but can't imagine working with them).

  5. Bernadette - Oh, of course! I'd read about Charles Todd being a mother/son team, but hadn't put that one together mentally with this post. I think my brain took a walk without me or something.; And I'm going to have to find some Claude Izner work; I'm not familiar with their books, but historical mysteries always get my attention.

    I had to laugh out loud at your comment about writing with a family member. I think it takes a special kind of family for two members of it to collaborate. That's just got to present all kinds of challenges...

  6. A couple of duo writing teams come to mind. The first is Cleo Coyle, author of the Coffeehouse Mystery series. Cleo is really the writing team of husband and wife, Marc Cerasini and Alice Alfonsi. The second is Lydia Dare, author of the Westfield werewolf series. Lydia is really the writing team of Tammy Falkner and Jodie Pearson.

    BTW, cute writing partner you have.

    Thoughts in Progress

  7. I think collaborating would be so difficult for me, but a great exercise to try. I do tend to be very controlling with my narrative and have every chapter plotted out before I start writing. This would be good to learn to give up some of that control - or, it could end in murder ;-j

  8. Mason - Thank you; I'll tell him you said so : ). And thanks for the reminder about Cleo Coyle; that is a fine writing team. I hadn't thought about Lydia Dare, either but of course, you've had them as guest bloggers. Thanks for the reminder : ) :).

    Charmaine - I know what you mean. When I've collaborated on academic writing projects, I've had to learn to let go of that "every chapter planned" concept. It's not easy, that's true. I haven't yet collaborated on fiction. I'd like to think I could do that, but who knows...

  9. Your writing partner is adorable indeed.

    I am pretty sure I will not be able to write with a writing partner. My characters normally tell me what they want to do, and it would be hard to share them with someone else. But what I may be able to do with someone else is a book where each of us has a different character, and we each advance the story from his/ her PoV.

    The only collaborative work I have read is the Nanny Diaries. But that is a whole different genre altogether.

  10. Another collaborative team that came to mind is
    'Nicci French’ - this is the pseudonym of wife and husband Nicci Gerard and Sean French. It has been said that Dick Francis wrote his books collaborating with his wife Mary, but that was never confirmed, although they did say that Mary did research for him and after she died he and his son, Felix wrote four books together.

  11. Rayna - Why, thank you : ). I'll tell him you say so. I know what you mean about characters, too. Mine tell me what they want to do as well; they're quite opinionated that way. And I don't know, either, whether they'd brook interference (as they would see it) from someone else. But it would be interesting to see what would happen if two people each took a character and worked collaboratively that way. That's rather intriguing, actually..

    Margaret - Thanks for mentioning the duo behind Nicci French - they've done some very fine work. I wonder if that's true about Dick Francis and his wife. In some ways, it wouldn't surprise me, since I think many writers get input, etc., from their spouses. There's a fine line between helping and co-authoring. Co-authoring with a spouse takes, I would imagine, a very special kind of partnership...

  12. Speaking of Patterson, how about all the books written by 'partners' with plots he develops?
    Personally, I'm not a big Patterson fan. Of his output I prefer the early books he wrote himself.
    I do like the Gears, though. Their writing is always interesting and well researched.

  13. John - There are an awful lot of "Patterson partners," aren't there? I confess, I haven't gotten into those books, myself, although I would like to read The Postcard Killers, because I do very much like Liza Marklund. And yes, the Gears have done some very engaging, nicely-plotted novels that are quite well-researched. Folks, if you like ancient historical novels and/or anthropology/archeology, I recommend them.

  14. We should also mention the New York City historical novels by "Maan Meyers" writed by the husband ans wife team of Annette & Martin Meyers. Good mysteries extensively and accurately researched, the Maan mysteries span the era of the Dutch in NY to the late 19th century. They were even featured on CBS Sunday morning during a February series on husband & wife collaborators in the arts about 5 years ago

    Joe Guglielmelli

  15. I could not collaberate. I think of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. They are awesome together. Outside of this combo, I don't have any duo that I really like. It's difficult enough to agree with myself, let alone another writer. For now at least, I'll stay solo

    Stephen Tremp

  16. Joseph - Thanks for bring up the "Maan Myers" mysteries. As you say, they are extensively researched, which I agree makes a mystery that much more enjoyable. That's especially true of a historical mystery series.

    Stephen - I had to chuckle when I read your response. I think a lot of authors feel that way; deciding for themselves what they want and how the book will go is enough of a task, let alone including someone else's viewpoint. It can work well, but it's not easy, that's for sure.

  17. P.J. Parrish is two sisters. That sounds like trouble to me.

  18. Patti - Thanks for that contribution. Ah, yes - siblings. Always an interesting topic...

  19. I don't think I'd be a very good partner; although I'm always open to advice and feedback from those who have read my work. However, I like being the boss of my writing and making my own decisions as to where the plot will go and the identity of the guilty party. I spend a great deal of time tussling with my characters - I don't think I want to add another writer to the maelstrom!

  20. Elspeth - I know exactly what you mean. There's conflict aplenty, isn't there, just getting our characters and plot the way we want them to be. Adding a co-writer to the mix can really complicate things. But you're right - ideas, suggestions, feedback can all be very helpful. At leas they are to me.

  21. This is a fascinating topic. A lot of good writers mentioned, including the excellent Nicci Frech

  22. Martin - Thank you : ). I think the topic is really fascinating, too, and as you know, there are positives and negatives to co-writing and to writing solo. And I agree; Nicci French's work is quite good.

  23. Susan Wittig Albert and her husband Bill wrote a series of Victorian mysteries under the name of Robin Paige.

    I worked with my brother on the first novel I ever wrote, so I think I could do it again. Takes a lot of listening and a lot of patience, though.


  24. Patricia - I didn't know you'd co-written a novel with your brother! That's really interesting. I'm sure it must have taken listening, patience, time, and effort, but a duo effort can be really successful. And thanks for mentioning Susan Wittig Albert's duo effort. I've read some of her solo books, but not the Robin Paige work. Time to hunt some of those books down...

  25. Thanks for this interesting piece. Maj Sjöwall talks about how she and Per Wahlöö worked together in an article on my To Be Read blog,

  26. Meditations - Thanks for sharing your blog article! Folks, it's a very interesting article; I recommend it!