Beat Slay Love is a serial novel about a serial killer, credited to “Thalia Filbert” but actually written by five members of the Thalia Press Authors Coop (TPAC) – Lise McClendon, Katy Munger, Kate Flora, Gary Phillips, and Taffy Cannon. TPAC was created five years ago as a group of eight congenial midlist authors who would share a blog and work together on other projects. The first was the Dead of Winter short story collection in 2011.
Taffy Cannon: We five have published over 75 novels among us, and we’ve all been in the mystery community since the early 90s. Gary was on my very first mystery panel at LCC in Anaheim. I remember meeting Kate in an elevator at Malice Domestic. She was wearing a shirt that said “Publishing business is an oxymoron” and I liked her immediately.
Kate Flora: Still, we were already an odd scenario for a blog group, never mind people I’d spend two or three years collaborating with on a group novel.
Gary Phillips: While we set out understanding that Beat Slay Love was to be a send-up of foodie mysteries, we did play it straight in terms of defining the characters, grounding them in certain realities, not writing really outrageous chapters and leaving it to the next writer to be even more outlandish in solving the cliffhanger – as some of these round robin projects can unspool.
Katy Munger: I would write something and the next person would key in on a kernel of what I had written and take it in a whole new direction.
Lise McClendon: What surprised me about the final product of Beat Slay Love was how I couldn’t be sure which part I wrote! Obviously I know I wrote the section in Montana—we each wrote about regional food, often in our own neck of the woods—but we also wrote pieces about our protagonists, Jason the food blogger and Kimberly the FBI agent. Not to mention our anti-heroine, the sex-and-food-obsessed Hannah.
Kate: Everyone on the team has a different voice and style, occupies a different corner of the big tent, and we often had different visions of the central characters. But just as we’ve all learned to work with editors and behave nicely (most of the time) on panels, we’re all seasoned pros who can work with what we’re given. But then, saying “work with” fails to acknowledge the fun of it all.
Taffy: This may be the most fun I’ve had on a writing project since – well, since I covered the 1977 Miss Texas Pageant. I’ve always enjoyed cooking, but here I was required to watch the Food Network and read cooking magazines, and investigate culinary ideas I might not have ever thought of. Squid ink pasta? Who knew?
Gary: I hadn’t participated in a round robin novel before, though I was aware of other such efforts, one of the most famous being Naked Came the Stranger in the ‘60s, riffed on in the ‘90s in Naked Came the Manatee.
Taffy: I didn’t sign on initially because I didn’t see how it could possibly work. There was no outline and no plan, and that’s not the way I normally approach mystery writing. But when the other four authors had done their first sections, I was offered another chance to participate. By then there were major and minor characters and three nasty, chef-appropriate murders. (This is most assuredly not a cozy.) I read what they’d done and agreed immediately.
Katy: At first I could not see that there were real connections between our passages.
Taffy: The second time I had the manuscript, I noticed that somebody had changed part of a scene I’d written earlier. That gave me permission to fiddle with other people’s work and I started to do some editing myself for consistency of style and tone. I took out all the bylines we’d started with. Then I set up a time line and figured out where everything logically fit on it. The writing was exuberant, but it didn’t always fit together.
Gary: In terms of my involvement, being the only male, it wasn’t that tough tapping my feminine side. I think women and men interpret and therefore say some things differently when talking about the same subject matter. Though this project definitely had an effect on me as I recently had to write a short story about cars and crime, and it just seemed natural to me that the protagonist in that story would be this young woman of color who is a surfer.
Taffy: When there were issues or questions about how to handle something, we’d talk it through in email. All kinds of stuff got resolved that way, from the title to deadlines to character names to later issues about production and promotion. I was really impressed at how complementary our various talents and connections proved to be.
Gary: Let me say as a sometime editor of anthologies, in terms of editing other writers’ work, Lise and Katy did an outstanding job of editing and retooling the draft into the final manuscript. That’s hard work but it shows in how seamlessly Beat Slay Love reads.
Katy: It was a whole lot of fun and a surprising experience. We had somehow divined what each other was thinking.
Kate: Would I do it again? You bet! Can’t wait to see what this group of wonderfully creative people will cook up next.
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