Talking Story

This guest post comes from Berk Washburn, one half of the Brothers Washburn, authors of the Dimensions in Death Series. (I reviewed their book Pitch Green–you can see it here.) I asked the guys what it was like to collaborate with a brother. This was Berk’s response.

DSC_0920Please don’t get me wrong.  My brother doesn’t need a keeper, though sometimes my wife says that I do, and if he did need a keeper, he has a bunch of sisters who would be happy to take the job.  We have 7 sisters who have been trying to keep us out of trouble for a long time.  We are two of 9 sons (16 children total) who grew up in the Mojave desert near Death Valley.  Our father was a dentist, who built up a practice in Trona, California, a small mining town.  While we were growing up, he was the only dentist in town.  As the good citizens of Trona mined the minerals of Searles Valley, Dad mined their teeth.

When, in turn, Andy and I went off to college, we left the desert and never looked backed.  We thought we were done with Trona forever, but couldn’t have been more wrong.  For about 35 years, I was a business lawyer working for international commercial finance companies in Ohio, Michigan and Colorado.  For about 25 years, Andy was a trial practice lawyer working in Southern California.  While we have kept our law licenses current, we are now writing fiction full time.  Though some would say that’s what we did as lawyers, this is different.

As lawyers, we were always solving other people’s problems.  After we each moved to Colorado, we talked for some time about starting a business together where we only had to solve our own problems.  We both have many years of formal writing experience, and we have always been story tellers, first to our siblings, then to our own children (I have 8 kids and Andy has 6 kids), and now to our grandkids (who are increasing exponentially in number).  Scary stories have always been a family specialty.  A few years ago, I started writing a young adult science fiction series, so when Andy also tried his hand at writing fiction, it didn’t take long for us to come together as The Brothers Washburn on a young adult horror series.  The tale is of course set in Trona, California, which is the perfect setting for a horror series.

As a child, Andy loved Dr. Seuss, then later, A Collection of Short Stories, by O. Henry was a favorite.  As a teenager, he was fascinated with The Illustrated Man, by Bradbury.  Growing up, I was on the lookout for anything by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and as a teenager, I was always searching for new and interesting sci-fi writers.  It is no surprise, then, that we are currently writing both a YA horror series as well as a separate YA sci-fi series.  We find that once we start telling a horror or sci-fi story, the bounds of the story are limited only by our own creativity and imagination–though everything we write has to be grandchild approved.

As brothers, we get along well, and have a healthy level of mutual self-respect, so we can freely share ideas and challenge each other without worrying about egos.  We are more creative when we are bouncing ideas off each other and discussing a general storyline, but we actually write separately, and then confer later on what we have been doing.  Though we sometimes disagree on specific wording, there is usually some friendly give and take as we consider alternatives, and then we can agree quickly on the final wording.  We both appreciate the different perspective and skills that the other brings to the joint process.

In key ways, we are different in how we approach a story.  Andy used to be a planner (a habit he got from writing like an attorney), but in fiction writing, he no longer likes to plan ahead.  He likes to develop his characters, and then let them take the story wherever it is going to go.  On the other hand, I am definitely still a planner.  I am always making lists and outlines, not only for the current story, but for future stories as well.

In addition, Andy doesn’t like having other people around him when he is writing, especially when he is creating new material.  There is no real reason for this, just sometimes people bug him.  In my case, I have to organize my surrounding work environment.  Once everything around me is in order, then I can detach from the world and write.

If Andy hits a tough spot in the story development, it is almost always because of outside distractions.  If he can get rid of the distractions around him, he can keep writing.  If I hit a tough spot, I don’t try to force it.  I stop, leave the house, pick up some fast food, and then I can come back refreshed and ready to move the story forward.  I find that fresh ideas just come naturally when I’m eating–Chipotle is always good.

Background research is important to both of us in two areas:  theoretical science and local Trona geography.  This series is an ongoing horror story based on principals of science rather than on demons, devils or magical creatures, so some understanding of the extremes of scientific theory is necessary and fun.  But, Dimensions in Death is not a science fiction series with a few scary scenes.  It is horror, suspense and fright in a fast pace narrative with a little science by way of explanation, sprinkled on for spice, as the truth is gradually discovered by our heroes in the story.  Separately, the local geography in the story plays a critical role in setting the mood of the tale.  Trona, California is a real place in this world located in a desolate region of the Mojave Desert by Death Valley, and we try to keep the series settings as real as possible.

The general outline for Pitch Green came together one evening in November of 2010.  We were attending a writer’s seminar together in Manhattan and listening to panel discussions by top literary agents.  As we rode the subway from one end-of-the-line stop across town to the opposite end-of-the-line stop, and then back again, we mapped out the basic elements we would need to expand a favorite childhood scary story into a full-length novel.  Andy wrote the first rough draft, and then I took it over to edit and expand the tale.  In the writing of the first book, the ground work was laid for both the sequels and the prequels of that series.

In Pitch Green, we meet two teenagers, Camm and Cal, who are destined by their wit, pluck and luck (not always good) to become the balancing force in this world against predators that keep showing up around an old mansion, which is apparently something more than just a mansion.  Our heroes must make a stand against the mansion’s guardians, any visitors who might want to come through the mansion in search of easy prey, and the forces of the U.S. Federal Government, who are using the mansion to access unlimited natural resources.  Camm is the brains, Cal is the muscle and together they make a formidable team when they decide to work together.  They are joined by an FBI agent, Special Agent Linda Allen, who is smart, resourceful and not easily intimidated by those protecting the government’s secrets.

Pitch_Greeen_coverIn this first book of the Dimensions in Death series, our heroes are introduced to the mansion and an other-worldly guardian while being hurled from one scene of horror to the next.  They barely have time to catch their breath or scratch the surface of what is happening, and they do not understand the nature of what they are really facing.  Though their intentions are good, by the end of the first book, they have left a doorway wide open and unguarded.  Pitch Green is the opening act of a long and complex tale in which Camm, Cal and Agent Allen will be explorers in the dimensions in death.

Thanks for stopping by! Pitch Green is available as a hardback and eBook from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and wherever fine books are sold.

Connect with The Brothers Washburn



Twitter: @BrosWashburn

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