I met Natalie Zaman and Charlotte Bennardo (Nat and Char) at the NJSCBWI Conference in June 2011. Their first YA SIRENZ debuted with Flux Books. Since then, they’ve collaborated on a sequel SIRENZ BACK IN FASHION and on a new story BLONDE OPS due out May 6, 2014 from Thomas Dunne/St. Martins.
In addition to co-authoring these entertaining and popular novels, each writes stories and novels independently. They also conduct wonderful workshops on SWAG and how to market your books, and writing.
Char lives with her family, two cats, and a crazy squirrel in New Jersey. She writes MG, YA and NA novels, and is represented by Natalie Lakosil of the Bradford Literary Agency. She’d love to hear from readers, writers, and fans. (Photo right)
Natalie writes and works her magic from central New Jersey where she lives with her family and several fine looking chickens.
I am so excited to be interviewing both of you. My first “writing team”. How did your collaboration come about?
We became friends when Nat joined Char’s critique group. Getting together often with mutual friends who are also NJSCBWI members, we’d talk about our projects, what was being published, what was popular—which at the time, was Twilight. One afternoon while sitting by Char’s pool, the topic of Twilight came up and we were like, “we can do that!” And we started batting ideas around.
How long have you worked together? The first draft of Sirenz was complete in 2008, so we’re going on 6 years!
SIRENZ and SIRENZ BACK IN FASHION are a modern day retelling of the characters from Mythology. How did you come up with this idea?
During our brainstorming session on that fateful day by the pool we lamented about how many vampire books were already out there—and then somehow Xena Warrior Princess came up—we loved how the characters, especially the gods and goddesses were all gorgeous and the story-lines so fun and campy. Hades automatically presented himself as our bad-boy. Someone needed to be beholden to him—or as it worked out, someone(S)—we also knew that there would be two main characters.
You have a new book coming out. BLONDE OPS. This is a break from the SIRENZ series. What’s it about?
Blonde Ops was pitched as “The Devil Wears Prada” meets “James Bond” for teens. Bec is a 16-year-old hacker girl, thrown out of private school (again), gets sent to mom’s friend in Rome to finish academic year. Working as an intern on a fashion magazine, she explores the ancient city on the back of model-worthy Dante’s Vespa, and uses her hacking skills to find out more about the mysterious blogger Taj so she can stop whoever’s making a threat against the visiting First Lady.
Where did the idea for this originate? Will it be a series as well?
This project is a work for hire—our editors gave us the premise (essentially our answer to the last question), and we developed the characters, storyline, setting and everything else. Fingers crossed, Bec will have more adventures!
Tell us about your process. Are you physically together when you write? Who does what?
In Sirenz and Sirenz Back In Fashion, the first person point of view switches from Meg (Nat’s character) to Shar (Char’s character). We outlined the action and consequences so the plot would flow and be cohesive. Once the basic outline was finished, we’d take turns writing chapters, back and forth, back and forth until we had five completed. Then we’d sit down and smooth over the ‘chunk.’
For BLONDE OPS, we had to change our strategy because there’s only one main character, one point of view. First we outlined the book according to what our editors wanted (we have two editors for this project!). Once we started writing, we worked in chunks again. Char would rough draft chapters up to an agreed point and send them to Nat who would revise and add. Then we would both re-read and smooth out the text, then move onto the next chunk until it was finished. Once the book was complete we had several rounds of revisions with the editors before it was finalized.
Nat: Finish this sentence: The best thing about writing with Char is that it has, and continues to build my skills and my confidence as a writer. Before we wrote Sirenz, I didn’t think I’d be able to write a full length novel, but working with Char changed all that. The experience keeps bringing wonderful things my way (and I hope it’s mutual!)!
Char: If it weren’t for Nat I would have missed the fun and thrill of seeing SIRENZ published, and experiencing BEA, trips to NYC, laughing over the humor in the SIRENZ books. It was a wonderful experience.
You’re both working on solo projects. Tell us about them.
Char: I’m working on several manuscripts. A ghost story and a medical paranormal is with my agent (needing work), and my current editing project is a sci fi which was last year’s NaNoWriMo project. I did NaNo this year, but that manuscript will be at least two years in editing.
Nat: I have a bunch of projects large and small that I’m working on: Non-fiction articles and a book proposal, and two historical science fiction/fantasy YA projects that are in different stages of revision. And then there are ideas that are in the queue. It’s good to always have something to work on.
If you could meet a character from Greek Mythology, who would it be and why? Who would be your crush?
Char: It depends if it’s traditional Greek Mythology, or ours, because we put a little spin on the characters. Our Hades is suave, but slick, a bad boy with a vulnerability. He has all the most interesting people from history in his realm so I’d love to visit and look around. If it’s the traditional pantheon, then I’d say Poseidon—I think he’d be the least dangerous to a poor fragile mortal like me. And my crush- Hercules or Perseus because being half human, we’d have more in common (and they could fill me in on the gossip circulating on Olympus!)
Nat: I’m on a bit of a monster-kick at the moment. I think it would be cool to hang out with a Cyclops, or maybe the Kraken, or Medusa (I bet she’s misunderstood. And I like snakes). Crush? How about a centaur? It’d be a good match—I’m a Sagittarius!
What might readers be surprised to know about you?
Char: I can be reckless. I cross busy NYC streets against the light (I run fast!), I love roller coasters, skiing, want to skydive, and would love the chance to go into outer space.
Nat: All that purple? It’s really grey. Seriously.
What’s your best advice for those who are thinking of collaborating on a project?
Char: Know that it’s not for everyone. If you find it hard to compromise on an idea, hate other people editing your work, and can’t adapt to how your partner works, it’s a failed project. Agree to disagree. Promise that if an editor or agent or your crit group says to lose something, you’ll do it and not grudgingly. Know when to take a breather.
Nat: Communicate communicate communicate—this means talking and listening. Each of you will bring your unique strengths to a project, but there can be no superlatives in a successful partnership. There is no I in team ♥
What’s the most surprising thing that’s happened since you brought the SIRENZ into the world?
Char: When I was signing books at PAYA (Pennsylvania Loves YA) in 2012, a young man started reading his mother’s copy, and before he left, told me “I love this book!” My first male fan!
Nat: That my mom (she’s 86, bless her) actually read Sirenz and Sirenz Back In Fashion.
Any last comments/thoughts?
Char: Read anything and everything! Try a new genre, a new author, give the less well-known authors a chance, you may discover a new favorite.
Nat: Never never never never never never quit. Sometimes you’re gonna want to, and it’s understandable—when you put your art out there, you’re putting your soul out there. As thick as my skin is, I’m still vulnerable when it comes to rejection. Give yourself a day to mourn—and then get right back out there.
Great words for all of us struggling writers to hear. Thanks so much for joining me. You ladies really are Sirenz…in the best possible way!
If you’d like to learn more about Nat and Char’s writing, their books or how to contact them:
Twitter @charbennardo FB: Charlotte Bennardo
Blog: Author on the Loose (firstname.lastname@example.org
Charlotte Bennardo on Instagram And info on kidlitauthorsclub.com
Buy Links: ISBN: 9781250030399 (HC) ISBN: 9781466849884 (ebook)
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