The Family That Writes Together: A profile of the Carey family by Ian Rogers

Today, Ian Rogers gives us a glimpse inside life for the Carey family, Mike, Linda and daughter Louise. The Careys are the authors of a new book, The Steel Seraglio, available from ChiZine Publications.

Family Ties and Harem Armies
By Ian Rogers

In a world where even Clint Eastwood and his family are making a reality TV show, the concept of family collaborations in the creative arts is not exactly a new thing.

Despite that, you don’t tend to see it in the publishing industry. Family doesn’t often write books together. But that’s what the Careys did — Mike and Linda and their daughter Louise.

The Steel Seraglio takes place in the fictional Middle Eastern city state of Bessa. A group of women, the harem of an assassinated sultan, are given away by the new ruler, Hakkim Mehdad, to a neighbouring potentate as a gift. Sent into the deep desert in a massive caravan, the women are secretly accompanied by a prince, the sole surviving legitimate son of the deceased sultan. When Mehdad discovers this, he orders the women and their children to be slaughtered. The story follows the women as they transform themselves from a harem into a small army in order to reclaim the city from which they were exiled.

“I came up with the idea of the army of concubines and pitched it as a comic book,” says Mike, who has had a long, successful career in the industry. In addition to writing the entire run of the Eisner Award-nominated Vertigo series, Lucifer, he has also written for Hellblazer, X-Men: Legacy, and Ultimate Fantastic Four. He is also the creator of The Unwritten, which follows Tom Taylor, the inspiration for a series of Harry Potter-esque fantasy novels, who finds himself drawn into a world where the lines between reality and fantasy are constantly blurred. “Unfortunately, nobody wanted to pick it up.”

After the idea of an army of concubines had sat on his desk for awhile, Mike happened to mention it to his wife Linda, another successful writer in the Carey clan, author (under the pseudonym A.J. Lake) of the young adult fantasy trilogy, The Darkest Age.

“I loved the idea and asked if I could steal it from him if the comic didn’t work out,” says Linda. “It didn’t, but Mike liked the story too much to give it up, so we agreed to collaborate and turn it into a novel.”

It was while Mike and Linda were discussing possible plot developments that their third collaborator, their daughter Louise, entered the picture and provided a crucial piece to the story.

Above: Louise Carey

“Lou invented the character of Rem,” says Mike, “who is both our narrator and the conceptual link between our world and the world of the story. A lot of good things flowed from that.”

Of course, it’s one thing to throw around story ideas at the dinner table. How does a family actually sit down and write a book together?

“Most of our early discussions were logistical,” says Mike. “How could we make this work, and how could we make it feel organic?”

The end result was to break the story into several pieces, writing it like a series of free-standing short stories, which made sense to the Careys since they saw The Steel Seraglio as an homage to One Thousand and One Nights.

One Thousand and One Nights was a formal model more than anything else,” says Mike. “Different genres rub shoulders, there are clever narrative tricks like cliffhangers, ironic echoes, and stories-within-stories. It was designed to divert and dazzle the reader, and we wanted to do some of the same things.”

“Coordinating the writing wasn’t too hard,” says Linda. “We started off by agreeing on a voice for each of the main characters, and imitating each others’ writing styles; then when we’d planned out what was going to happen we divided up the different sections.”

Technology also played a part in the Careys’ collaboration.

“We didn’t write the book chronologically,” says Louise.

“We kept a master copy of each section,” says Linda, “and anyone who spotted an inconsistency in someone else’s chapter would write a note on it in red — and then the writer of that chapter would come back to it and make corrections.”

“Dropbox helped a lot!” says Mike.

As with any creative process, the story of The Steel Seraglio evolved in ways the three authors couldn’t have predicted.

“We knew enough at the outset,” says Mike, “to be aware that at a certain point in writing a novel, the journey becomes its own map and you have to throw away the maps you set out with.”

An example of this in the finished book is the character of Anwar Das, a camel thief who meets the concubines in the desert. Introduced as a rogue who uses lies, bluffs and misdirection to make his way in the world, he ends up becoming a very useful ally.

“Anwar Das is maybe the most important character in the story outside of the three female protagonists and the villain, Hakkim,” says Mike. “But he doesn’t appear at all in our initial story plans. He just happened, and we made room for him because he really worked and earned his keep in the tapestry we were trying to weave.”

The process of completing the book wasn’t without its headaches. One author working on a book can be stressful enough. What happens when you have three?

“We read a lot over each other’s shoulders in the early weeks,” says Mike. “We put dibs on specific chapters and wrote them in whatever order seemed right to us. Then as time went on, we horse-traded on some of them.”

“The hardest part for me and Louise was getting the deadlines met,” says Linda. “I have a day job and Louise was a teenager with a social life, essays to write and exams at the end of the year!”

Above: Linda Carey

And what about the pressure on the book’s youngest collaborator? How do you write a book with two other people who are not only established authors but also your parents?

“Sometimes it was very challenging,” admits Louise, who was finishing her A-Levels and starting her first year of university at the time the book was written. “I often worried about my lack of experience compared to them, and what with having to balance working on the book with studying for my English degree, it was hard to write an even third of the book, which was something I very much wanted to do. I managed it in the end, however, and mum and dad were nothing but supportive the whole way through.”

To make a difficult process even harder, Louise was also tasked with writing the book’s sex scene.

“To be honest, I didn’t find it awkward at all,” says Louise, “though I can see why my parents did! I’d worried about it for a long time before starting it, as I wasn’t quite sure how to approach it. I wanted it to be moving and powerful, without descending into bawdy farce. The scene ended up flowing very smoothly, and I just wrote what seemed natural to me. The developing relationship between the two characters involved is one of the focal points around which the book developed, so writing it felt really satisfying.”

Overall, the Careys enjoyed the process of writing a book together. They each speak fondly of the experience and say that it brought them closer together as a family.

“It was a massive endeavour,” says Mike. “I’ve never written any book so monumentally out of sequence before, but once we were able to harmonize the style, the narrative voice, we knew we were headed in the right direction.”

Above: Mike Carey

“My favourite part was the rush when one of us came up with a new idea or character that worked,” says Linda. “We’d have intense discussions — some memorable ones over lunch at the local noodle bar — and at the end there’d be an important character who hadn’t existed before, or the whole story would be veering off in a slightly different direction because of some new development.  It was particularly exciting because the insights came from all three of us, and you could never tell when one was going to spark.”

“It was intense and hugely rewarding to be able to talk with mum and dad in such detail about the process of writing a novel,” says Louise. “I’d always admired my parents so much for their writing talent, so I loved gaining more of an idea of how their minds work when they’re writing. I feel like I got to know them a lot better as creators.”

The process was so enjoyable, the Careys are already planning to do it again.

“We have a commission for a second novel,” says Linda. “This one’s set in Eastern Europe, so the terrain is very different. We’re still working out the story, but we think it may follow the fortunes of a single place across a very long time-period.”

Mike, who is currently working on the sixth installment in his popular urban fantasy series featuring freelance exorcist Felix Castor, is also looking forward to collaborating with his wife and daughter again.

“We’re still at the early stages of putting it together,” he says. “After we finish writing it, we’ll probably go our separate ways for a while and do some solo books. Unless we think of a third idea while we’re working on the second…”

By Ian Rogers
Follow Ian on twitter @onemoreshadow

Find out more about The Steel Seraglio here.

Visit Mike Carey online here:

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