Image of cover for Far from Normal, a Rage Brigade & Supernormal Team-Up by Karen Eisenbrey and LeeAnn McLennan. Illustration of two teen girls back to back, one holding a guitar, the other with fire and ice balls in her hands. A giant centipede looms in the background.

Far from Normal: How We Co-Wrote a Book During a Global Pandemic

Image: two people back to back, one with a guitar, the other with glowing blue and yellow orbs. A giant centipede looms in the background.
Cover art by Michaela Thorn

The idea had been percolating for years. When I first read Dormant (The Supernormal Legacy Book 1) by LeeAnn McLennan in 2018, I thought, “Huh. Teen supers in Portland. I wonder if they know my teen supers in Seattle?” When I met LeeAnn later that year, I joked that we should write a crossover. The idea became less of a joke the next year, when her trilogy was complete and Not A Pipe Publishing brought out my St. Rage series. I even dropped rumors of superpowered humans fighting monsters in the Rose City at the beginning and end of Barbara and the Rage Brigade (St. Rage Book 2) just in case …

We both had powerful young people in the Pacific Northwest. Mind control figured heavily in both of our plots. Her supernormals knew where their powers came from. My Rage Brigade did not. But what if …?

So we decided to go for it. In January of 2020, little knowing the world was about to shut down, we got on a call and brainstormed ideas for getting our characters into the same town, then into each other’s orbits. What would be a plausible reason for my characters to be surprised by their superpowers when LeeAnn’s expected them? Her characters fight monsters on their training missions. What kind of monster would be suitable for mine to go up against? Where would this story fit in our series, and how could we do it without retconning her completed trilogy?

We decided to best time to set the story would be between Dormant and Root (The Supernormal Legacy Book 2), when LeeAnn’s main character Olivia is still relatively new to monster-fighting missions; and after Barbara and the Rage Brigade so I could bring my whole team. We arbitrarily decided the action would happen in February of 2019–boy, were we glad we hadn’t said 2020!

With a rough outline in hand, we set up a shared Google Docs folder and a schedule of every-other-week phone calls to review the work in progress and come up with new ideas. I took a stab at writing chapter 1 from Barbara’s point of view as her crowd heads out on a road trip, then LeeAnn followed up with chapter 2 from Olivia’s perspective. That part was easy–we were writing about characters we already knew. I was  used to writing about Barbara in first person, present tense, so my chapter naturally spilled out that way. LeeAnn started out in past tense but generously volunteered to switch to present to give the book a unified feel. I really appreciated her willingness to step out of her comfort zone for the sake of our project.

We continued to alternate points of view, but were soon writing each other’s characters as well as our own. Like writing fan fiction with the original creator looking over your shoulder while also writing fan fiction. Trust was important here, allowing someone else to not only describe my characters but to put words in their mouths and actions in their bodies. It helped to talk on the phone regularly to make sure everyone stayed true to their personality, as well as to spawn new ideas and make minor edits. LeeAnn came up with a really creepy centipede monster for our super-teens to manage, and inspired me to write an active fight scene. Having a collaborative project also helped keep my spirits up in those uncertain early days of the pandemic. Writing is a solitary pursuit even in normal times. Interacting on a creative project with someone outside my household helped me feel less isolated. It was a big part of my social life!

This project was full of surprises, too. I was amazed how easily the plot of this team-up fit with each of our series, without changing anything that was already canon in either of them. I don’t think either of us foresaw the amazing adversarial chemistry between Barbara and Uncle Dan. And we didn’t expect the unnamed huge-guy-in-the-mosh-pit character to be such a reader favorite, but we responded by giving him a larger role to play. I hope you will love Chuck as much as we do.

So, would I do it again? Yes! LeeAnn and I agree there should be another Rage Brigade/Supernormal team-up in the future. Maybe set after Emerge (The Supernormal Legacy Book 3) and my as-yet unwritten third St. Rage book. (Uh oh–guess I better think about that story!) Do I recommend collaborating with another writer? Absolutely, if you find the right partner, someone you trust enough to leave your ego at the door. You might learn something new about your own characters. You might develop new writing skills. You might even attract a new set of readers.

Far from Normal will be available as an ebook (on preorder now!), and in serial form on this blog, beginning May 26, 2022. Hit the follow button so you don’t miss any posts.

Get ready for it: If you haven’t already read them, Dormant and The Gospel According to St. Rage are FREE on Kindle through May 19! Click the links to go to the order page.

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