Today I have the pleasure of interviewing the fabulous Natalie Zaman and Charlotte Bennardo, who are two of the craziest writers I know. This past weekend I had the pleasure to meet them in person and they blew my mind (in a good way of course.).
Bio: Co-authors Charlotte Bennardo and Natalie Zaman (Bridgewater, NJ) are best friends. Both writers, their respective works have appeared in a variety of national magazines and periodicals.
Charlotte Bennardo started writing in elementary school. In high school she wrote and edited the school newspaper, then moved onto writing, copyediting, working on layouts for her college newspaper and yearbook. After she graduated, she started writing for a small paper in Long Island, New York. After being side-tracked with a paralegal degree and marriage she moved to New Jersey where she lives with her husband and her kids and is planning on staying put until the kids go to college. When they do, she hopes to move to a tropical island and drink chocolate martinis. She can be found on twitter.
Thank you, Charlotte and Natalie for joining us here on the Oasis.
1. While you both write books separately from each other, the two of you co-wrote SIRENZ, can you explain a bit how that process is different from writing by yourself?
C: I sometimes have to listen to Nat. Co-authoring means compromise, whether it’s the book going in a direction you never would have envisioned (which is not bad, just eye opening), or sometimes giving up a scene you love (there’s a tampon box story here… ) for the sake of the book. And not inflicting bodily harm when you disagree.
N: There's no such thing as being stuck/depressed/tired/discouraged/etc. when you have a co-author. There's always 24-hour give-n-take support of some kind going on—and if both of us are stumped—well, there's the company, and that makes all of the bad stuff go away faster. As for the “tampon box” (insert sigh—I'm one of those people that hopes there's female behind the desk at the pharmacy when that stuff has to be purchased...) OK—so there was this scene in one of the earlier drafts of the book where Meg gets dressed up by Shar, and of course, doesn't like it—but for the sake of the mission, and knowing that arguing with Shar won't do any good, she plays along. Once they arrive at their glittering destination however, Meg takes matters into her own hands and flounces off to the lady's room where she promptly scoots into a stall and removes Shar's tasteful stockings. Before she dons some torn up fishnets—much more Meg, if you follow me—she disposes of Shar's pricey pantyhose. She has to put them SOMEWHERE, and what is there in a bathroom stall besides the toilet ? That's right, the box for used unmetionables. When Char saw that, she crossed it out and was like, “eeewwww, you can't put that in there, it's gross!” But that was the POINT. Meg hated those horrible stockings and she wanted to put them in the worst place possible, ergo our one writing “rule”: I did the initial draft for each Meg chapter and Char, Shar's chapters, but we edited together. The rule was that if it was your chapter you had the final say of what stayed and what went—unless it didn't go with the plotting, or if the other person's character wasn't being portrayed “in character.” So every time Char came across this particular chapter, she would cross out the t----n box, and I would smile at her and say, “Nope, it stays.” In the end it was cut by the editor—along with the other 14 chapters around it. But it might resurface again, if given the chance >:)...
2. Why did you decide to co-write a book together?
C: Because we were giggling, bitching about other authors’ successes and confident in our writing ability.
N: What started out as a joke--Char sending an email to me from one of my rabbits when I was on vacation and then me writing back from the cat—turned into a picture book that went nowhere. Still, the chemistry felt right—it was too much fun not to try something else.
3. Where you always friends or did that happen because of SIRENZ?
C: The friendship came first, and it will be there long after SIRENZ and its sequels gather dust on the shelf groaning with our other works, written together and singly. (I’ll have to buy her books too.)
N: I love it when Char puts things in writing so that I can hold her to it later >:) The friendship definitely came first. We met when I joined Char's critique group. It became evident quickly that despite our obvious differences we had a lot in common—and lived, literally, right around the corner from each other—pretty labyrinthine and mystical, right?
4. Is there anything you wish you knew about co-writing before you started that you’d like to share?
C: It would have been nice to know that after working so closely that she could finish my sentences. It’s like having an evil twin. Would have saved me from a lot of talking.
N: Uummmmm... would it be bad if I say nothing (scratches head sheepishly)?
5. How did the idea for SIRENZ come to you?
C: We were originally going to do a vampire book, but since EVERYONE was doing a vampire book (except us) we decided on something obscure. Who does books on Sirens? We do.
N: We both like Greek Mythology, and while we were batting around ideas, Xena Warrior Princess kept coming up in discussion. We wanted what we were doing to be fun and funny and somewhat campy. We also knew pretty much from the get-go that we needed two MC's. We put a bit of ourselves into our characters.
6. Why sirens and not angels or some other mythology?
C: Tried the angel thing/demon thing, but at the time it wasn’t working. Greek mythology is well known, everyone’s heard of Zeus, Persephone, Hades, and have some general knowledge about the gods. Hades is such a delicious character (and I think much maligned because people generally confuse him with the Devil, total evil).
N: We did a version of Sirenz with Angels and Demons—actually it was Meg and Shar with guardian angels and Lucifer instead of Hades. This was one of the revision requests that we received, but as Char said, it didn't work—probably because angels seem so... serious? Funnily enough, Brian Farrey (our editor at Flux) brought that up in his editorial notes—that we could go the “Devil” route—but pointed out that keeping the lightheartedness of the book, it wouldn't be as fun as Greek Mythology.
7. Why did you choose first person as opposed to third? Especially since it’s told in alternating first person.
C: Because the girls are ‘frenemies’ not friends, not enemies, or friends and enemies, and they are so different, it seemed more natural to get into both their heads and see how they thought, how they felt about their situation, each other, and if they liked the same pair of shoes.
N: We actually tried writing it in third person (yet another revision request) but it was painfully obvious (at least to us) that it didn't have the same exuberance.
8. Is this a series? If so, how many more books are planned?
C: Sirenz Back in Fashion comes out in 2012, and Sirenz 3, (no title yet) comes out in 2013. We’re hoping for a fourth, dear editor…
N: I have four moth tattoos(symbolic of books)—think we gotta write that fourth one anyway...
9. Your journey to get published is different from most authors, can you share a bit of that with us?
C: We know no one in the business, have no Hollywood connections, but we did have 2 people working on the same book toward the same goal; it halves the work, but doubles the results. (We’re hitting up twice as many family members and relatives and others to buy the book.)
N: We were plucked from the slush pile BOTH times—in landing a contract to publish Sirenz, and in getting our agent. We submitted cold. We also got our agent AFTER we landed our first contract. The lesson(s): a) It can be done and b) everyone's journey is different. c) The only absolute formula is to just keep going.
10. What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
C: We did it. You can too if you do what you need to: learn your craft, take criticism and USE it, attend conferences and get known, network, and be persistent (not a pain in the butt). There are a lot of success stories, so make yours one of them.
N: Never NEVER give up. NEVER. PS—never.
And our most important question, if you were trapped on a deserted island which author would you most like to be trapped with?
C: If I can have a storyteller rather than an author, I’d have to say Hades. He can tell some whoppers. And Hades is Haute.
N: That, and he can provide pretty much anything else; good weather, designer swimsuits, comfy beach chairs sunscreen, frosty drinks, chocolate covered strawberries... for a price, of course >:)
Interested in reading SIRENZ? You can order a copy at Amazon , Barnes and Noble, Indiebound or directly from FLUX.
Bickering frenemies Meg and Shar are doing some serious damage at a midnight sample sale when the fashionistas find themselves arguing over a pair of shoes-with fatal consequences. One innocent bystander later, the girls are suddenly at the mercy of Hades, Lord of the Underworld himself. To make them atone for what they've done, Hades forces the teens to become special-assignment Sirens, luring to the
Underworld an individual whose unholy contract is up.
Finding that delicate balance between their fashion addiction and their new part-time job in the eternal hellfire biz turns out to be harder than Meg and Shar expected, especially when an entire pantheon of Greek deities decides to get involved. Then there's the matter of the fine print in their own contracts...