Monday musings: The co-authoring experience, part 2


This week, we continue and conclude last week’s conversation with Toby Neal and Emily Kimelman, co-authors of the bestselling Scorch Romance-Thriller series about what it’s like to be co-authors. This week focuses on characters and the development of the author.

Sometimes the behavior or reaction of a character surprises the author. Which characters in the Scorch series surprised you?

Emily Kimelman: All of the characters surprised me at one point or another, but Luca (the lead brother in Smoke Road) really surprised me. I was having trouble connecting with him, figuring out what made him tick, and then I found out he was a practicing Catholic and after that I understood him a lot better. His faith and its connection to his family history really affected Luca a lot.

The other character who surprised me the most was Avital, from Cinder Road. I wrote a scene that left her and Dolf in a position that, um, how do I put this… left them in a hot situation and I told Toby that they couldn’t get it on, but I had no idea how she was going to keep them apart. But she did. When I read her scene the next day I was like, “Oh crap, that’s good.” Avital is a badass with an iron will—I already knew that about Avital but I didn’t expect her to act the way that Toby wrote it, which was spot-on. 

That’s one of the great joys about co-authoring: your character in the other author’s hands, acting in ways that surprise and delight. 

Toby Neal: Yes, I agree. Our characters often surprise us in our work alone, too, and sometimes we have to sit with it and decide if that was really something that a character would do—and edit if necessary. Most of the time, once Emily and I were past the first fourth or so of a book, we really “knew” each other’s characters and were able to nail it, surprises and all.

But we sometimes had to cut things that didn’t ring true, and usually in they happened in that first third or so of the book when we didn’t yet really know our partner’s concept for their character.

For instance, in the scene with Dolf and Avital that kicks off the second book, we broke all the romance trope rules. We had a forbidden love thing going on with a widow and her husband’s twin (not an unfamiliar trope), but we broke the rules by having them sleep together in the first chapter.

We agreed that that would kick things off—contrary to most romances, which build to a climax (so to speak), but I took it further than our agreed upon love scene and … well. Let’s just say Dolf and Avital ended up all over the house in compromising positions. Damn, it was hot. I’m good at sex scenes! I patted myself on the back and went on with my day.

Emily disagreed, and cut my scene. 

To the bone, so to speak (everything becomes an innuendo as soon as we talk sex.)

I was upset and offended at first, but came to agree with Emily eventually that the ensuing sex around the house was out of character for Avital (though Dolf, being a guy who’d been in love with this woman for years, would have been happy to get whatever he could!) And through the challenge we experienced during that editing process (her having an instinctive NO and cutting, me recoiling in hurt and frustration, us having to hash it out) we added to our Process Document: if either of us has a hard no to something big, we have to highlight and discuss before just chucking in the Recycle bin.

Now, let me pause a moment to talk about sex.

Sex is a huge element in most stories because it’s a basic human drive, and in romance it’s a pillar of the genre. But what “floats your boat” in a love scene is hugely individual to the reader, hence the plethora of genres and heat levels within romance. As we proceeded, we discussed what we wanted our sexy times to be like. Emily told me she was eclectic; she liked a variety of writers and styles, and was not easily offended by certain words and whatnot. 

I however, was super specific. I wanted sex to be lyrically written with exceptional prose, no clichés, no jarring expletives or use of crude words. Those things pinged my brain to fall out of the story as a reader, and I wanted to write what I liked to read. Emily was amenable to this, so I gave her several books by authors whose work in this area I admired (and I have to say, there aren’t many of them. If you like Diana Gabaldon’s style with sex or Laura Florand’s, you will know how I like to read/write sex) and thus we proceeded. 

I wrote many of the first few books’ scenes as Emily was learning my particular bent with this, but by the second book she was going strong and we were able to massage the scenes into a unified style that effectively created romantic, emotional but hot mood we had agreed upon.

So that was probably TMI, but it was also a surprise to discover in setting out, that there are many many ways to “do it” and one or the other partner may be as fussy as I was.

Okay, last question: You have written and published the last of the Scorch Romance Thriller series – at least for now, as you’ve stated. But since Book 6, you’ve both released new titles in your own individual series, and say you’re working on new titles. Toby, you’ve also announced you’re working on your autobiography, and Emily, you’re working on Sydney Rye #10.

What do you think you are each taking from your co-authoring experience into your own series? In terms of process, style, understanding of characters, plotting? In other words, do you think your experience or the stories of the Scorch series themselves have affected your other writing in the future?

Emily Kimelman: I think writing with Toby has affected my writing style for sure. I can’t imagine how you could write six books with another person and walk away without having gleamed a lot of insights. One of the big difference between our styles was that I write a fast and sloppy first draft and enjoy what we started calling the “franken” edit (after Frankenstein). Toby and I had to outline for obvious reasons, but we did get a lot looser with it as we moved toward the end of the series.


I have returned to my no outline ways, except I keep “Take off Your Pants” by Libby Hawker close at hand and I make notes about future scenes rather than just running at the thing full bore until it’s over.

I think both of us got really good at delving into our characters motivations—we had to explain them to each other, which was totally surprising at first but came to be a key to the style we developed. I think I spend more time questioning myself than I used to … or more to the point, questioning my characters. Why did you do that? And their answers always open up new paths and interesting plot twists.

Also, mixing up our points of view and changing our tense throughout the series kept it super fresh and was really eye opening to me. I’d never thought to do that in one series and loved it. So, now I use multiple POVs in my other work. And I have plans to change up my tense in future series.

I also think that spending a year kicking skinhead butt and exploring romance has made it possible for me to return to my own work with more excitement. Although, after Charlottesville I did think I want to kill some Nazis in my next book. And then I laughed at myself because I’d spent a year taking down white supremacists. So, I’ll continue destroying ISIS in my Sydney Rye series for now … but fictional Nazis better watch out because I’m not done with them yet!

Toby Neal: Great answer Emily!

I was already doing a lot of the things Emily mentions as far as POV and tense shifts, but now I’ve begun to dictate the majority of my first draft as a result of working with Emily.

Reading our prose to each other was something we came up with about two-thirds of the way into the books to circumvent the tendency to waste our writing energy editing each other’s work. Doing so has opened a whole new area for me. I not only compose verbally now, but plan to read my own books for audiobook distribution.

I have literally discovered my voice as a result of working with Emily!

I also have begun using Scrivener, which Emily uses but I hadn’t liked. Now I dictate and put my rough prose into my nice clean Scrivener outline and I can manipulate scenes in new ways. My newest book has five points of view, and very short chapters of a page or two. I think it’s added to the intensity of the book and will appeal to the modern reader. Experimenting is what keeps us growing!

Many of the ways Emily and I benefited from co-authoring are intangible and still being revealed, but Emily’s innovation with tech also inspired me to try a lot of new things with marketing.
I miss the excitement we generated together and the fun and immediacy of sharing good work. Now, by the time my book gets to readers, I’m “over it” and never got to share the joy of a great scene with a peer. Though I like the freedom of my solo writing, I miss the fun of co-authoring. I highly recommend it as a way to learn, grow, and break out of ruts!

Thanks very much to you both.

Toby Neal and Emily Kimelman are the co-authors of the Scorch Romance Thriller series, six post-apocalyptic stories revolving around six Luciano brothers, a sister and their mother, and the others who come into and change their lives.

About the series

From award-winning, bestselling authors whose writing Kirkus Reviews calls “persistently riveting,” comes the Scorch Series, romantic action adventure for fans of romance thrillers, apocalyptic and family romance sagas.

About the authors

Born in Philadelphia and having lived in many places around the world, Emily Kimelman is the author of nine books in her bestselling Sydney Rye series (with a tenth coming soon) and two Kindle World novellas in addition to the Scorch series.

Find out all about Emily on her BestSelling Reads author page.

Toby Neal grew up on the island of Kaua`i in Hawaii. Her career as a mental health therapist has informed the depth and complexity of the characters in her books.

She is the author of 27 books in addition to the Scorch series: 12 Lei Crime series books, two companion books to the series, two Kindle World novellas, four “Somewhere in” romances, a young adult fantasy novel and five in her new Wired series, with a six soon to come.

Learn more about her on her BestSelling Reads author page.




Aha Moments with Noprah Spinfree–Douglas Dorow Exposed!


Hi, This is Noprah Spinfree guest posting here at BestSellingReads.  As you all know, I love great books and juicy gossip.  Today, I’m on the couch with author  Douglas Dorow.  I have three words for Douglas’ work – won – der – ful.

9-DistrictsNoprah: As a child, what superhero did you want to be when you grew up?

Douglas:  I loved playing Super Heroes with my friends and brother when I was young. My favorite was Bat Man. I liked all his gadgets, his car, it was all very cool. He was a superhero without any special powers. That may be what draws me to writing and reading thrillers. Normal people doing heroic things. Good versus Evil.

Noprah:  What strange habit do you have to get your muse to appear?

Douglas:  My muse is more likely to appear later at night, when I’m listening to music, sitting at a coffee shop drinking decaf while my son is at some sports practice.

Noprah: What subject in school kicked your butt?

Douglas:  I was a good math student until I got to Calc. I loved Trig and Algebra but when I got to Calc, the numbers disappeared. I made my way through it, but it wasn’t my favorite subject.    The other subject was Chemistry.

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doug dorow profile photo

Douglas Dorow, a retired little league baseball player, is now a thriller writer in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

You can check out his thriller THE NINTH DISTRICT or learn more about him and his writing at Or come visit:  Twitter:  @dougdorow



Aha Moments with Noprah Spinfree–Toby Neal Exposed!


Hi, This is Noprah Spinfree guest posting here at BestSellingReads.  As you all know, I love great books and juicy gossip.  Today, I’m on the couch with author Toby Neal.  I have three words for Toby’s work – fa – bu – lous. 

Stolen-medium-193x300 Noprah: What was your most embarrassing moment in high school?

 Toby: I was, very briefly and by accident, the “Other Woman.” I went on a motorcycle ride with a boy I liked—he offered to take me home. We took a detour to a park and spent some (undisclosed number, but it left me chapped) of hours kissing and making out. Uncharacteristic behavior for me brought on by the motorcycle which I found exhilarating. I asked him if he wanted to go to prom with me. He said okay, but I should have picked up on the shifty eyes because a month later, the day before prom, he told me he had a girlfriend and couldn’t take me.

It was my Senior prom, and I had no date; if I didn’t go I’d miss out on that whole experience, and girls just didn’t go stag back in 1983.  I felt mortified and so disappointed and cried on my friend’s shoulder. Her older brother was home from college, and she made him take me. I don’t know what blackmail she used because he agreed, but he hated every minute of it. Those wooden pictures with the brother grimacing, hand resting limply on my shoulder like a rack of bananas, take me right back to the agony that was high school. *shudder*


Noprah: Who broke your heart at the end of a novel?

Toby: I have been deeply affected by two love-related partings at the end of novels: I will never forget when, in Diana Gabaldon’s Dragonfly in Amber, Claire leaves Jamie due to the Culloden massacre. I was so depressed and couldn’t wait to get the next book and find out if they reunited.

The other one was when Benton Wesley, Kay Scarpetta’s lover in the novel Point of Origin, is burnt to death. I was half in love with the dude, and cried buckets, and was REALLY MAD at Patricia Cornwell. Later, when it turns out he was faking and really in Witness Protection, I was mad again, and she lost me as a reader—I felt manipulated. Killing him and bringing him back was a cheap trick to my mind. She made a mistake,and then tried to fix it. I was not fooled or appeased.

When I began writing, I remembered how powerfully I had been affected by those multi-book love stories and resolved to have a romance be the connecting thread in my Lei Crime Series.  In Black Jasmine, I had my love story come to an apparent end in the same bittersweet, longing, inevitable way as Dragonfly in Amber, and I was tempted to kill off Stevens to make it final—but the betrayal by Cornwell still rankled with me. I called and asked my editor, already in tears myself because I’d begun the scene where he gets killed.

She about exploded! Said readers would never forgive me. And that gave me the answer—Stevens had to live, and there had to be hope.

Writing my series has reminded me, I learned first as a reader, taught by two very different, masterful women writers whose stories colored my thinking years before I ever had the courage to write my own stories.


Noprah:As a child, what superhero did you want to be when you grew up?

Toby: I thought all the women superheroes were wimpy. Wonder Woman? Where’s her attack power? CatWoman? Okay, but those high heels, c’mon. Being of a tomboyish bent, I always liked Spider Man—his youth, angst, and his great skills with climbing. So I used to be Spider Girl in the jungle in Hawaii. I actually did some pretty rad climbing and swinging from vines. I also rode horses (usually bareback), so I’d imagine myself Spider Girl on horseback. Never short on imagination!

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092511c_1 (480x480) pub pic smallToby Neal was raised on Kauai in Hawaii and makes the Islands home after living elsewhere for “stretches of exile” to pursue education. Toby enjoys outdoor activities including bodyboarding, scuba diving, photography and hiking as well as writing. A mental health therapist, Toby credits that career with adding depth to the characters in the LeiCrime




Aha Moments with Noprah Spinfree—Shannon Mayer Exposed!


Hi, This is Noprah Spinfree guest posting here at BestSellingReads.  When the BSR management invited me to participate, I said, O, Yes!  I plan to stop by whenever my busy schedule allows.  As you all know, I love great books and juicy gossip.  Today, I’m on the couch with author Shannon Mayer.  I have three words for Shannon’s work – fa – bu – lous. 

Priceless FINALNoprah:  What does your main character whisper to you that is starting to scare you?  

 Shannon:  Actually, I have a bad ass character from one series trying to help me write a sweet romance. It’s freaking me out . . .

 Noprah:  Who broke your heart at the end of a novel? 

 Shannon:  That damn cat in Mocking Jay. I didn’t cry until he howled for Prim.

 Noprah:  Why did you have to go to the principal’s office?

Shannon: Ohh, that would be fighting. As in fist fighting. Mind you it only happened once . . .

 Noprah:  What subject in school kicked your butt?

Shannon: Advanced Chemistry. It was like the teacher was speaking Chinese. And I don’t speak Chinese.

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ShannonMayerShannon Mayer is the author of the bestselling urban fantasy Priceless which has sold over 20,000 copies in its first two months. On her down time, she hangs out on the farm coming up with ideas for her next books, herds old people to the local cribbage club, and in general makes a nuisance of herself.

Connect with Shannon on Amazon  Facebook  Twitter  or of course on her Blog