An Interview from Midwest Book Review (December 2002)
Thursday, October 31, 2002 11:45:00 AM
by CC Colee
|Shirley Johnson, reviewer with Midwest Book Review, conducted interview with C.C. Colee (Chris Cole and Cody Lee). It will appear on the MBR website with the December 2002 updates.
Interview with Cody Lee and Chris Cole co-authors of the trilogy -RB The Widow Maker, RB The Enchantress, and the soon to be released, RB The Game!
I chose to interview these two ladies for several reasons. One is that I was very impressed with their writing. Their books are excellent, packed full of adventure and romance, with a twist that is different from other works I have read. You become one with their characters and become so engrossed in the story you are reading, that you truly feel you are part of the adventure. Excellent writing ladies. Also, I wanted to know the workings of co-authors, and I think you will find this interview very interesting. Now let's get started.
Q: What brought the two of you together and what made you decide to author a trilogy?
A: We have been best friends since the 7th grade. Both of us loved to write and we used to write short stories in high school for ourselves and selected friends. We mostly wrote episodes of our favorite shows on TV but we were too bashful to let others outside of our circle of close friends to read what we wrote. We both put the writing away when we married and had families. Then one day in February, 1998, Cody called and said, "Guess what I’m doing?" After listening to this pirate story from Cody, Chris shared a pirate story that she had milling around in her head. So bits and pieces of Chris’ pirate story showed up in the RB Trilogy. One of the biggest piece used was the idea of a birthmark. It became a tattoo in the trilogy.
Q: Why did you decide on a pirate adventure?
A: The whole manuscript began with a dream Cody had about pirates. That dream became the storm scene in the first book and everything else evolved from there.
That is really interesting. Perhaps you were supernaturally inspired!
Q: How long did it take you to complete Book One: RB The Widow Maker? Book Two: The Enchantress?
A: Actually, the trilogy started as one whole manuscript which ended up being over 1500 pages long. It began in February 1998 and we finished with the final draft version in October 2000. We had to ‘make’ ourselves end the story at this point. We were having too much fun writing this story, but it was getting long. As for it being a trilogy, well, we had the manuscript in three parts based on the change-up of scenes and characters. Because it was too big to sell as a whole, we split it up into a trilogy almost at the very points we had the three parts broken down. So making it into a trilogy wasn’t hard and we basically had three books completed without really trying.
Don't you love when it all comes together! Enjoying writing is really what it's all about isn't it? If others also enjoy your work, that's just icing on the cake! Well done ladies!
Q: Did you fashion the characters after people you know or are they solely from your imagination?
A: Sort of...*grin* We knew what kind of character we wanted to build up in the reader’s imaginations and we made it easier to write by envisioning certain real people for the facial expressions and body movements. This way, we felt like the characters were more believable and the readers could relate to the character much better. We think that readers will soon find that he/she will immediately love, hate, or be very wary of each respective character.
Q: Do you find it difficult to work as a team?
A: No, we didn’t actually. We have been friends for so long (over thirty years) that we can finish each other’s sentences or even scarier....pick up the phone to call only to have the phone ring and the other one of us will be on the other end of the line. Whenever this question is asked and Chris’ youngest daughter is around, she loves to tell people, "They can write with three states between them because they share the same brain." That is probably a real close description of our relationship and to add to the fact, Cody is only six (6) days older than Chris. Talk about ALMOST being twins! We joke and tell people that we are and our mothers just roll their eyes.
Q: Are there times when one of you wants the story to go one way and the other does not agree? If so, how do you handle this?
A: Sometimes this happens but not very often. If one had a scene that she envisioned differently, then it was mutually agreed for that one to write up the scene then it was looked over by the other. One of the scenes that come to mind was that in the original story, Captain Mala died (the end of the second book, RB: The Enchantress). Cody didn’t like it but went along with it. The funny thing was that after writing many scenes dealing with the 'avenging of Mala’s death' which is basically the third book of the trilogy, RB: The Game, Chris thought that the character, Aubrey Malone, was having way too much fun with the main male characters! Since it was Chris' idea to have Mala killed off, then Cody’s edict to Chris was to come up with a way to have Mala live and not lose the scenes already written. So that evening after taking a walk for about an hour, Chris had it all worked out and the story is what the reader will see near the end of RB: The Enchantress. The scenes are still intact for the third book with a few minor changes to the dialogue.
Q: How do you work out the writing of the script?
A: It starts out with each of us taking a few characters to build on and then the characters were shared when writing scenes. We write what scenes come to mind and, as we write, we try to make sure to give a little insight to what life on board a ship was like back in 1720. We write in humor similar to a comic relief in a serious situation. You just never know what will be said or done next although you think you know.
Q: Do you both work on one chapter together or do you take turns with the chapters? Please explain!
A: We wrote the whole story as a string of scenes then we broke them down into chapters. Each scene was a separate document. Once the story was done, we printed out everything then put them together in a notebook. That way if we decide to put a scene in one place then later felt that it would be better to go after something else earlier or later in the story, it was easy to move around. Then it was Chris who took the printed copies and made a document for a story. Once it was put together, we read it to make sure that it flowed. What we mean by that is we watched out for things like sudden changes in scenes, characters being where they should be in the scene or not being there, not to mention the location. For instance, a verbal confrontation may have originally been on the main deck but we moved the scene to the galley so we changed the setting.
Q: Do either of you have any separate works published and if so what are they?
A: No, we had always wanted to do something like this since school but hadn’t made it real until 1998.
Q: What made you both interested in a writing career?
A: We love to write. We wrote short stories to entertain to each other as girls. We were those bothersome kids in class who loved those writings assignments from the teachers and were already writing down notes for what we were going to write as the teacher outlined the requirements. The only thing we needed to know was word count and page limits! When we started on the trilogy, we wanted to come up with a "niche" that identifies us much like Sue Grafton with her alpha stories or James Patterson using lines from nursery rhymes or John Sandford using the word 'prey' in all of his Lucas Davenport detective stories. We thought that using two letters in the title and then explaining what the two letters meant in the story would be different. But when RB became a trilogy, we couldn’t have three books titled RB. So we kept the RB in front of each title so that the reader knew it was a part of the RB Trilogy.
Q: When this trilogy is completed, do you have any plans for other works? If so, will they be joint works?
A: Yes, we have ten other stories in the works and all of them will be published under C.C. Colee. Although one story was written solely by Chris and another one is written solely by Cody, we are still going to publish them jointly. We have been friends for so long that we don’t know how to act apart. *smile* Actually, we have gone into this venture together and together we will always be.
Q: Do you plan to expand in different genres?
A: Yes, although all of our stories will still have a romantic thread through them, the stories we are working on are westerns, action-adventures, sci-fi, and time travel, just to name a few genres. There will always be something more in the story than star-struck lovers.
Oh I do look forward to more of your works and it's great that you are expanding in different genres. I know they will be wonderful reads!
Q: Did you find it difficult to find a publisher and how long did it take you to get your work published?
A: It took us a year to find a publisher after the many rejection letters. We sent queries from two different listings for the literary agents through the internet. Getting hooked up with Publish America really came about when we got a response from Erica House, whose parent company is Publish America. We were then guided in the direction of Publish America. We were thrilled at the prospect of bypassing the middleman (the agent) and working directly with a publisher. Not many publishing houses want to deal with the author. That is actually kind of sad because who can tell them (the publisher) more about the manuscript than the one (or ones) that wrote it? Publish America is willing to deal with the author directly. Once, our manuscript was accepted by Publish America, it took about six months from signing a contract to having a book in our hands. Each stage of the production was an opportunity for the author. Not just to know where the book is in production, but to be sure that it’s the way the author wants it to be. Even the cover art was worked out between author and publisher. Publish America lets us suggest something for cover but if they have a better idea, they share it and let the author give the final approval. For the unknown and/or first time authors, Publish America is a great place to be.
Q: How many hours a day do you write?
Cody: If given the time and space, I can easily write for at least 5 hours a day. I have been known to hit the keyboard for up to 8. Daytime and early evening is best for me. After about 11pm, I start to crash and burn and Chris is just getting fired up.
Chris: I am a night owl. I can sit at the computer until 2 or 3 am then get up around 6:30 to get ready for work. Because of the distance between us, Cody and I got together three times to work on this story. Twice we met at friend’s beach house for a week (we dedicated the second book to them) and the third time, I went up to visit Cody for a week. Cody would ‘crash and burn’ on me around 2am. I could set my watch to that.....LOL. A couple of ‘nights’ while we were working together, I had been so involved in working on scenes that I was still sitting at the computer when the sun came up.
Whatever you two are doing, it sure is working! Just keep it up ladies!
Q: How much promoting do you have to do for your books and do you have any tips you can share with our readers that may help them promote their books?
A: Initially, it was a lot of promoting and marketing. We look into promotion for our books with local bookstores, newspapers, and magazines either in person, through emails or telephone conversations. We send and/or take them our brochures.
We built a webpage and signed up for any reputable free PR found on the net as well as joined webrings. Cody’s husband, Jack, made our brochures, bookmarks, and we are now designing our business cards. One day just as the first book, RB: The Widow Maker, was released, we touched on a real ‘gold mine’. Jack was searching the net for pirate sites that we could link up to and found a site that does a newsletter about all things piratical. We found out that this newsletter has over 350 addresses on the mailing list and not only did we buy ad space, but we also found out that the editor writes reviews. If she liked the book, her review is one of the features in her newsletter. Both books of the trilogy thus far has made it in her newsletter. In this case, there were over 350 people we had no clue how to reach otherwise.
Advice to others trying to promote their books? Well, let’s see. Have something that can be handed out be it brochures, flyers, bookmarks, business cards or all the above! We have brochures/bookmarks with us always and we hand them out to interested folks. Even though someone cannot buy your book right at that moment, give them something that they can remember you by. A picture in their head of you will not always be matched up with a name or the title of the book. Most folks think of us as "the pirates." Very much the compliment as it tells what we are about in relation to our books but the titles of the books or our names would be what the search line would want. "Pirates" just ain’t gonna cut it! *grin*
Set up a webpage. We were surprised at how many asked us if we had a webpage. Make more than just a page. So far, our site is almost fifty pages....and we weren’t even trying hard. *smile* Put up things like pictures and just a bio page. We have pictures of us at booksignings with other authors, naming them with their books. We have short stories like the one of Cody spending time on a schooner during the summer of 2001. For those who have agreed to link us from them, we made a page (CC Colee’s Pirate’s Den) that links them from us. Make a page of any and everything that shows your personality.
Another thing to do is speaking engagements. Some clubs and organizations are always looking out for a good speaker. Talk about you and your book but be ready for just about anything. We get questions like "is it hard to write with one in Maryland and the other in South Carolina?" That’s our favorite. Another favorite one asked is "why did you write about ....?" Some people are very interested in why a writer chose fantasy over adventure and so on. Some of your questions here, Shirley, have been some that we’ve answered before. So authors....be ready!!
That is alot of valuable information! Thank you!
Q: Do you ever experience the famous 'writers block' and if so, how do you remedy this?
Cody: Personally, I cannot say that I have experienced that. There are several stories going around in my head and several that Chris and I are working on together already. So when we get stuck on one, we just slip over to another and run with it for a while. We find ourselves carrying small notebooks and have been known to pen down an idea or scene while sitting in traffic, at a red light, while waiting on someone for an appointment, in the airport between flights…and I pen thoughts as I ride the shuttle bus from one of our work locations to another.
Chris: Not really. We write whatever scenes come to mind. When we read the final draft, we know we will find gaps and make notes of what needs to be there then go back to it. In a couple of stories, we are writing as one document so the scenes are placed in the order we want them to be for the moment. For gaps, we make notes in bold, italics and large letters so that we can see them as we scroll down or when we print out the story for editing. Some notes are what we want the scene to be but we haven’t quite worked out the dialogue or the actions yet so we just make a note so that we don’t forget what we wanted there.
Q: Do you have the support of your family in your writing career and how important do you feel this is for a writer to have?
A: Yes we do. We are VERY much supported by our families. We feel that it is very important to have that ‘home’ support when you are a writer. It gives you a medium to bounce ideas off of, get some ideas from sometimes and also constructive suggestion
Our spouses talk up the books as much as we do. They even pass out brochures and bookmarks to those they talked with. Chris’ husband, Charles, even has a small supply of books at his office in case there are any takers and he has sold several copies. Cody’s husband is a fireman and works in shifts. Not having a desk that he can call his own makes it difficult to leave books around but he does talk up a good sales pitch! Our favorite 'groupies' are our husbands and daughters! *smile*
Having the support of our families has been wonderful. They understand not to bother us while we were at the computer until we get to a stopping point or they will ask if they can stop us for a moment. With the hours that we put in and the traveling that we have had to expend, it has been great to have a husband to say, "Sure, no problem. I’ll take care of things here while you’re gone."
Q: What is your favorite gene to write?
Cody: I think that Fantasy would be my next choice.
Chris: After the adventure/romance, my next choice would be mystery.
Q: Where would you like to see your writing career in 5 years, what are your goals?
A: In five years, we would love to be home and strictly doing the writing thing. *smile* We have always had so much fun writing even when we were teens in high school and our imaginations seem to always be on the same wave frequency. Still writing together is a given, but not just on our novels. We would like to move on to screenplay scripts.
I believe you will do it! Good luck!
Q: Here is a fun question ladies that I would like to ask you. Out of the two characters in your trilogy, Aubrey and Mala, which one would you choose to be and why? Also are their personalities fashioned after either of you ladies, how you are, or how you would like to be? Be honest with us now ladies! *smile*
Chris: Funny that you should ask.....*smile* Remember how we mentioned earlier that we’d take some characters and build them up. Well, my character is Captain Mala. She looks nothing like me except for the dark hair and dark eyes but she is like my alter ego. Cody and I have this saying whenever stuff at work gets on our nerves, "If they don’t stop messing with this, I’m gonna go Mala on them!" At times, I have a quick temper and likely could embarrass the most experienced sailor with my ‘colorful expressions’. But I will hold back when it comes to what one character in the story describes as "tossing people overboard in the middle of the ocean just to win an argument."
Cody: I suppose you might say that Aubrey is my alter ego in some sense. When we do book signing, I dress as her. In my early days I used to be shy and demure, but I have grown over the years as Aubrey did over a span of weeks and months. Now, in my more mature years….*smile*.…I have a good bit of the Mala ‘spunk’ in me. So with that, I was able to write the Aubrey character to grow stronger and braver.
Q: What was the most difficult Chapter/Scene in both of your books to complete and why?
Cody: In the first book, RB: The Widow Maker, I would have to say that it was the chapter that describes Aubrey’s ‘pursuer’. It was difficult describing him and his actions, and yet keep him secret from the reader at the same time. Then, I would have to say, that the most difficult chapter/scene for me in our second book, RB: The Enchantress, was the one where our characters sail into the Chesapeake Bay to careen the ship. Actually, it was very easy to write and visualize as far as the course of events. The difficult thing was that, as I was just about finished it, I hit a bad spot on the disc I was using. From that point, the document was lost to me physically. I was literally in tears on the phone with Chris and her husband trying desperately to do all that I could to retrieve anything that I could of it. Keep in mind that this was in our ‘still learning’ stages of writing, and I soon learned not to rely so much on my ‘portable files’ and to keep my documents in several places. At any rate, the document was gone and I had to rewrite the entire chapter from memory. Fortunately, it was still very fresh in my mind and I like to think that the second time out it was better. *grin*
Chris: For any of our books, we seem to do the beginning as we near the end. We want to be able to capture the reader right off the bat so it is almost agonizing for us to think of something that would do the job just right. We don’t want to take a while to get to the ‘meat’ of the story so we basically just plunge right in!
Q: What would you like your readers to experience and retain from your works and why? (Example---pure reading pleasure, etc.)
A: We would like the reader to feel as though they are right there with the characters or that they are one of the characters in the story. We want them to feel like what they are experiencing is as real as it can be. It thrills us to no end to read comments from our readers who state things like "travel while you read", "they felt seasick..." or "they could almost feel the ship under their feet." Some readers had the pleasure of reading while at the beach and comments they had made was that they would "look up from reading and expect to see a pirate ship out on the horizon." But not only do we want the reader to "feel" the surroundings whether on the ship or ‘on shore leave’, but we want them to feel the emotions the characters are feeling. The anger and rage, the betrayals, and the other behaviors that Aubrey witnesses not to mention her own despair, jubilance, or fright. We also hope that our readers get an idea of how life may have been on the high seas in 1720. Although seen through Aubrey’s eyes, we hope that the reader could almost feel the excitement and danger of being a pirate.
I will tell you this right now, that is exactly how I felt reading your books. I did become one with the characters and the adventure.
Let's get a little personal!
Q: Tell me, what does the room you write in look like? Does it have the covers of your books on the wall..... copies of great reviews...things that inspire you?
Cody: I really have no one particular room that I write in. In my home I have models of tall ships, paintings of tall ships, weaponry like swords, cutlass and pistols on the walls and shelves. My bookcase beside my favorite chair has shelves full of reference books, copies of our books that Chris inscribed to me, tapes, and other trinkets. I also love to write as I sit in the yard, or on the deck when I can, and I do that a great deal. That, of course, is done the old fashioned way, with paper and pen. *smile *
Chris: I have a small alcove in one corner of my room as my workspace. I have a copy of each book that Cody inscribed to me on a shelf above my computer along with other nautical stuff like small ships, pirate figures, a skull with a red bandana and an eyepatch, and a small display of various knots, just to name a few. On my wall beside me is a replica of a ship’s wheel with a brass clock in the center that my husband gave me for Christmas last year. Some of my stuff on the shelves gets packed up when doing booksignings because we decorate our table so that there’s more than just the books to see as well as Cody and I dressing up as Aubrey and Mala. Some pictures of our table and our costumes can be found on our website on the Photo Gallery page.
Q: I ask everyone I review this question and I hope some of the Publishers are reading their answers. If you could speak to Publishers face to face, what would you like to tell them on behalf of authors that send in their submissions?
Cody: Please, please, please, continue to give us a chance, give us a look and see what we have to offer. There is a lot of great talent out there just waiting to be found and nurtured.
Chris: We can understand why publishers do not talk to authors directly because once you get an author to talk about his/her book, well, you’ve started a real ‘talking machine’. *smile* Talking to agents is all well and good but who could tell anyone about a story but the one who originated it. The author can give insight as to why he/she/they went this way with the story instead of that way. Authors are fanatics when it comes to their books. Listening to the authors can give publishers some idea of how the book is going to be marketable. Books on their own don’t sell, but get an author with that ‘no holds barred’ attitude when promoting the book(s) then the skies the limit. We think publishers will be able to see that when they listen to an author give the sales pitch instead of the agent.
Please use this space for any final words you would like our readers to know about you, your work, or any tips you may like to share with them.
A: Keep a notebook and pen with you everywhere you go. If you have an idea, even if it is just a little sentence, or a paragraph, write it down. If you see something, dream something, experience something, or hear something that sparks an idea, jot it down. You never know where those little notes might take you. Nurture yourself and your own talents, and never let anyone tell you that you can’t write. Believe in positive affirmation. By that we mean it is sort of the ‘Field of Dreams’ thing....only Cody says, ‘…if you think it, it will come.’
Tell our readers something about yourselves, anything that you would like to share.
A: Cody Lee was born and raised in a small Maryland town at the head of the Chesapeake Bay while Chris Cole grew up as a Navy 'brat'. Meeting in the 7th grade, we have been friends for over thirty years and have always shared a love of writing. With a distance of over 500 miles between us, we embarked on a dream to co-author a book that we hoped would be published. In February 1998 what was to become the RB Trilogy began and by October 2000 the manuscript was completed in rough draft. We successfully contracted in January 2001 with Publish America in Frederick, Maryland. RB: The Widow Maker, the first book of the trilogy, was released June 2001. Book two of the trilogy, RB: The Enchantress, was released May 2002. Coming soon is book three, RB: The Game.
Pen Name: C.C. Colee
Chris Cole and Cody Lee's Website and Email address: www.geocities.com/cc_colee
Titles of Works published and the publisher:
RB: The Widow Maker released through Publish America in June 2001; RB: The Enchantress released through Publish America in May 2002. The third book of this pirate trilogy, RB: The Game, will be released through Publish America in the spring of 2003.
Title of projects in the works and expected completion date:
The next one to be released is a romantic mystery set in London around the 1730s. It is finished and already copyrighted. We will submit it to Publish America soon. As for our other stories, we have ten more in various stages of completion though none of them have their actual titles yet.
I want to thank Chris and Cody for allowing me to do this interview. I found both of them very helpful and just plain delightful ladies. I truly wish them the best of everything in their writing careers and believe me, as great as their books are, I won't be surprised if we see their names on the New York Times Best Seller list in the future. Many blessings to you both!
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