How 24 writers created a novel that is less than innocent
Carol Ann Cole is a bestselling author, professional speaker and the founder of the Comfort Heart Initiative. Carol Ann is working on a non-fiction book with a working title of the Cole Connection; going home. Her fifth novel in the Paradise Series will be out in the spring of 2023.
Originally from the West of Ireland, Ronan O’Driscoll is the author of two novels: Chief O’Neill and Poor Farm. Both are carefully researched stories from the past, relevant and compelling for today’s readers.
Both participated amid a welter of writers, led by writer and editor Andrew Wetmore, in the creation of Less Than Innocent: A Lockdown Story, a unique novel written by the whole multitudinous collective, each author building off what the previous one had committed to paper … er, screen. Here, Cole and O’Driscoll reminisce on the process and talk about their work.
Carol Ann: Over 20 of us. Over 20 of us?
This was my first reaction reading an email from Andrew Wetmore, our editor at Moose House Publications. Many of us, if not all of us, have been on conference calls organized by Andrew, so we could introduce ourselves to each other and share with our peers what we were working on.
I found this very helpful, not just because the call allowed us to put a face to the name, but some personalities came through as well. Other than that, we all got on with writing our own books. Not together … individually.
So, I said to myself again, “Over 20 of us?”
Is it possible to have authors who really don’t know each other’s writing styles sit down individually to write their one chapter in Less Than Innocent?
Having said all of that, I couldn’t wait to reply, “Yes. Count me in.”
Ronan, how did you feel reading Andrew’s email?
Ronan: Funny you should mention our Moose House conference calls. My reaction upon reading Andrew’s email was that the project sounded a little like a book version of a Zoom call: 20 talking heads on the screen, some speaking over each other.
Then I realized how writing in the format reflected the jarring turn our lives had taken during the pandemic. The subtitle, after all, is A Lockdown Story.
Personally speaking, my own working life got upended by the switch to remote working. I used to teach at NSCC and found the challenge of online education impossibly daunting.
I partly turned to writing as a means to deal with the stress, and my novel Poor Farm was the result. I also looked forward to the opportunity of working with Andrew, especially on something experimental like Less Than Innocent.
After signing up, I eagerly followed each week’s installment. The twists and turns from the seeds of Andrew’s first chapter were surprising. I didn’t agree with all of the changes to certain characters’ fortunes but I found myself invested in them all the same.
Mostly, I was pleasantly surprised at how the book took on a coherent life of its own as each writer ran with the previous chapter.
What about you Carol Ann? How did you find the process?
Carol Ann: I didn’t expect all of the pats on the back as each of us in turn handed our chapter off as we might hand the baton to a teammate during a race. The big difference being the runners always have a pretty good idea how their story will end.
In writing Less Than Innocent we learned this only after the fact. With each chapter completed, the positive reinforcement came in one or two words as we hit ‘reply all’ and gave our peer a pat on the back: Smack. “Great writing.” “Love it.” “I smell a sequel.” “Didn’t see that coming.”
I used to cringe when I heard an author say they sat back and let the characters speak for themselves. Now I’m that person encouraging other writers to, “listen to your characters.”
Only after writing several books would I experience the joy of listening and hearing my characters and their chatter. With only the final chapter left to write in Paradise d’Entremont Private Investigator, one character in particular told me the ending was not the one I had in my head. And, sure enough…
In Less Than Innocent I found it difficult to develop my chapter to any great extent until I read the preceding chapter several times. Some chapters turned personalities completely around and some were even killed off. I knew I had written a good chapter when I too received positive comments from my peers.
What about you Ronan? Any surprises?
Ronan: No spoilers but I do remember being disappointed when one character I hoped to write about was taken off the board. I also soon realized there was little point planning out my own chapter without having the preceding.
But that was all part of the fun! In fact, I like having rules to push against when writing.
For my first book, Chief O’Neill, I gave myself the rule that each section was a title of an O’Neill tune I had to tie in with the story.
In Poor Farm, I wanted to communicate the uniqueness of the autistic voice so I wrote some chapters in the second person.
For my Less Than Innocent contribution, I found myself filling in details which seemed to come out of nowhere. Not having control of how the characters got here was a real boost to my creativity.
For example, I needed to supply a background for where the Indigenous character Liz got her hacking skills and decided she learned IT security working at a reservation’s online casino. With no real forethought, an older character Cora developed a Yorkshire accent, having moved to the Valley years before. This allowed her to quote her father’s adage, “A shut mouth catches no flies” as Liz gapes at the computer screen. I liked this interaction between these unlikely friends, so much I made Cora’s expression the title of my chapter.
Carol Ann: The title of my chapter, “He could feel the water rising,” comes from two totally different directions. First and on a personal note, each time I have heard the words, “you have cancer,” I immediately felt the water rising and I became overly anxious to be rid of the cancer in my body.
In Less than Innocent, when the big guy reaches his best-before date the water will begin to rise around the feet of one of our many characters and he doesn’t see it coming.
We owe our thanks to our publisher Brenda Thompson. I can’t imagine how this idea was pitched to her! If anyone could convince her it would be our editor, Andrew Wetmore. Imagine 24 authors all having questions for their editor!
Ronan, it’s been a pleasure interviewing you and being interviewed by you. I tend to work solo on my books but this has changed my thinking.
I have enjoyed getting to know so many Moose House authors. The Writers Federation of Nova Scotia has been a great source of feeling connected to others for me as I’m sure it is to many.
Ronan: Thanks for that, Carol Ann. It is exciting having worked with you along with Andrew and all the other Moose House writers.
I used to be very taken with the stereotype of the solitary author struggling alone. Now, the more I write, the more I realize how important a writing community is.
For me, it means breaking down my reserve and taking risks to stretch myself through collaboration. This can be through working with an editor, finding a writers’ group I enjoy (shout-out to Tufts Cove Writers’ Collective!), or attending local readings and events.
Being part of a community really helps a writer grow. I am especially delighted to have been part of Less Than Innocent and look forward to getting hold of the final book.
Carol Ann: Speaking of the final book, watch for Less than Innocent to be released by the end of September. And a sequel? You tell us!