It started over cocktails

A few years ago, novelist Gary Braver and I were at a Boston bookstore Christmas party. We’ve been friends for about 25 years, and we started talking about the #MeToo movement, which was then in the news. Maybe it was the wine, or the easy camaraderie of writers sharing stories, but I said, “Wouldn’t it be interesting to see a #MeToo situation written from both the male and the female perspectives?  Even if both characters lived through the identical events, would they describe the same story? And what if a man wrote the male POV and a woman wrote the female POV?”

That’s  how CHOOSE ME got rolling. It was an experiment, just an off-the-cuff proposal that might have gone nowhere. Neither Gary nor I had ever collaborated on a novel with anyone, and we had no idea how collaborations even worked. We didn’t even have an outline.  All we could agree on was that the young woman would end up dead, and her married lover would be the prime suspect. But did he kill her? We didn’t know. Nor did we know much about our characters … yet.

I went home to Maine, got back to work on my next Rizzoli & Isles novel, and forgot about my cocktail-inspired idea. A few weeks later, Gary emailed me the first chapter of our #MeToo story, told from the point of view of Jack Dorian, a married university professor. It’s the scene where Jack first meets Taryn Moore, a brilliant and beautiful student. Since Gary is a real-life professor of English, he was writing with the authority of one who’s been in the classroom. I received those pages and thought, OK, then. My turn to write a chapter.

And that’s how Taryn came alive on the page for me. She revealed herself as a passionate, obsessive young woman who’s terrified of abandonment. When she was a child, her father walked out on her and her mother. Her boyfriend Liam has just broken up with her. Taryn is wounded and desperate for love, and one morning she walks into Jack Dorian’s classroom.

Bad things are about to happen.

Trading chapters over email, Gary and I gradually tightened the screws on our characters. He’d write a Jack chapter. I’d react by writing a Taryn chapter. We were ruthless with each other (or our characters were, anyway.) In this story, there are no characters wearing white hats. These are flawed people who make mistakes and suffer the consequences. Will you like them? Maybe not. But you will recognize them. And maybe you’ll admire their resilience and feel their panic as they fight for what matters to them.

It was fun collaborating, it was also exhausting, and there were times when I thought we’d never finish it. But now CHOOSE ME is out in the world and it was an education for me about how men and women view the world — and each other — very differently.

And that, my friends, was the whole point.

 

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