You might know Ruth Cook, who led the White Mountain Board of Trustees for seventeen years, from 1991 to 2008. Or you might know Jack Cook, her husband, for whom the annual Jack Cook Sustainability Prize was named. Or you might know their son, Jonathan Cook, who graduated from White Mountain in 1991. But you might not know the other member of the Cook family, who helped build our alumnae/i database and who has recently made a new appearance at White Mountain—in the library!
Jack and Ruth’s daughter, Erin Michelle Sky, published her first novel this summer, and like the rest of her family, she has incorporated the ideals of teamwork and global unity that are an integral part of White Mountain. Titled The Intuitives, the book has garnered 5-star ratings from nine countries around the globe in the first quarter since its release. We caught up with her in October to ask her about the project.
1. We understand that The Intuitives was a team effort. How did that come about?
Steven Brown and I met in a rock climbing gym, of all places! So the venue had nothing to do with writing, and neither of us knew the other had any kind of writing background. I had started several different novels at the time but was struggling to finish any of them. Steven had been creating stories for his younger brothers ever since he was a kid but had never tried to publish them. Once we discovered these things about each other, we decided to try a new project together, from the beginning. In about ten weeks we had a finished draft of The Intuitives.
2. How does the process work logistically? For example, do you always write together? Or do you sometimes work separately and then come back together?
Everything we do is a joint effort. First we agree on the story concept, and then we create the characters. Who are they? What motivates them? What’s the basic problem they’re facing, and how will it be resolved? Then Steven takes the lead on creating the outline for the entire novel, chapter by chapter. In a sense, it’s the earliest draft of the book.
Steven guides the story, and if a new setting presents itself or if the narrative takes a surprising direction, he’ll make sure I’m okay with the changes. One thing we agreed on from the beginning is that we both have veto power. If anything doesn’t work for either of us, we scrap it and go back to the drawing board, working together to come up with something better.
Once the outline is finished, I take it and write the copy for each chapter. As the scenes are fleshed out, chapters sometimes end up breaking differently, or character habits get added that might or might not work well for later sections of the story. We go over each chapter together once it’s drafted, and we talk it through again. Should we reveal this aspect of a character here or wait until later in the story? Is the “feel” of the writing consistent with our vision for the project? Again, we both have veto power. So the whole book goes through several rounds of revision before the first draft is even finished.
Then we let the book sit for a while until we can return to it with fresh eyes, and we read through the whole thing again, looking for any inconsistencies. Once we’ve fixed any issues, we do a final edit for the flow of the writing itself and a “last look” read, until we’re both ready to sign off on the project. Only then do we send it to our editor.
3. What are the benefits of writing as a team?
One of the biggest benefits is probably obvious from the process. The outline goes though several drafts as it’s created. Each chapter goes through a revision process as it’s turned into actual copy. The book goes through another revision process as a whole. And at each stage, there are two sets of eyes on everything.
Steven and I have very different backgrounds. We each catch things the other wouldn’t care about, so together we represent a wide range of readers. By the time we consider a novel finished, it’s been through a rigorous revision process.
4. What are the challenges? Are there any drawbacks?
The only real drawback is that the outside world doesn’t always understand the nature of our team. For example, bookstores and libraries shelve books by author name. That name ends up looking like the “primary” author in book catalogs. But neither one of us is the main author. There’s no such thing. A lot of authors write some books on their own and others together, but we’re different. We only write together. And we believe our books are better because of it.
5. Where did the idea for The Intuitives come from and what do you hope people will take from it?
One of our biggest motivations in writing The Intuitives was that we wanted to write about that kind of team. One in which everyone is equally important. Each team member has his or her own unique specialty, and each of those specialties makes the team stronger.
We both used to play video games in our spare time (back when we had any spare time!), and one of the things we loved about them was the teamwork. Video games are true meritocracies. Age doesn’t matter. Profession doesn’t matter. Gender, race, religion, education—we watched those teams rise above everything people might otherwise see as “different.”
We wrote The Intuitives because we wanted to put a team like that into a real world situation and see what it could do. It might be fiction, but the characters are very real to us—with real backgrounds, personalities, and viewpoints. In the end, we felt like they were telling us their story. We just hope we’ve presented it as well as they deserve.