Interview with ‘Dead Harvest’ Writing Duo Jeanette Battista and Tracey Phillips

Jeanette and Tracey come back to the blog to reveal how Buffy really started their series, why their book titles may sound slightly familiar, and why they love the Dead Harvest series.

What was the inspiration behind Dead Harvest?

Jeanette: Originally, this all started as a Buffy the Vampire Slayer fanfiction. This was about fifteen years ago. We never published it–I don’t even think I ever finished it really. But when Tracey and I were talking about writing something together, we thought of the Discreet Demolitions Agency we’d created in that story and decided to run with it. We had the Agency and those characters fleshed out–it was only a matter of creating the rules of that world. When we started the series, we started in the middle of the story–as if the Agency had been running for years. With Dead Harvest we went back and started the story at the beginning. The good news is we have some of the middle books in the series already written!

Tracey: Like Jeanette said, she created the original character outlines as a fun fanfic. But they just kind of stuck in our heads, and we used to entertain ourselves by riffing on what they would do in certain situations. They are the gift that keeps on giving.

A story that stays fresh in your mind for 15 years needs to be published! Did any video games help inspire the story?

Kratos: Cuddly ball of rage and hero of the authors’ favorite video game.

Jeanette: Tracey and I are pretty much avid gamers and we both LOVE God of War. We adore Kratos. No video games in particular inspired me–although I do love blowing stuff up pretty much all the time, including in my writing.

Tracey: Ah, Kratos, you bald cuddly ball of rage, you. I do spend a lot of time gaming, and find that the ones I love most have a compelling main character and a LOT of action. So in that way, I suppose video games are an inspiration.

What was the hardest part of writing Dead Harvest?

Jeanette: Exposition. I think when you’re doing a series, it is difficult not to do giant info dumps, especially because you want to be sure everyone reading gets exactly what you’re trying to do. We did a lot of rewrites to deliberately hold things back. Just because we know it, doesn’t mean we want everyone else to know it right away.

Tracey: What Jeanette said. I tend to get bogged down in the intricate inner workings of the Underworld, but since I don’t actually want readers to die from boredom, I have to tone it down a bit.

Did you plot out the story before you began writing or did you see where the characters took you?

Jeanette: We had a basic plot for the book, like X happens, then Y happens. And we have a the overall story arc for the series–we know where these characters are going to end up finally in the last book. But these characters are so entrenched in our heads, that we just kind of let them out to play on the page and then see what we’re left with. We wind up coming up with a lot of ideas that if we don’t use in one story, we’ll eventually use in another.

Tracey: The best part about writing this series is the freedom. There’s a huge story arc going on in the background, but within each book in the series the possibilities are almost endless. As long as we end up at point B, we can sit back and let the characters have fun along the way.

Sounds like you do a nice mix of planning and letting it flow. How did you come up with the title? Did it change at all?

Jeanette: Let me just say, I suck at titles. Oh, how I hate coming up with a title. My series that my agent is going to try and sell at the beginning of the year does not have a title for the first or second book–that’s how bad I am with them. But with the Discreet Demolitions series, we wanted to riff off of detective noir titles. So each book will be a slight change to the name of an already published detective story.

Tracey: Seriously, titles are hard. My ideas for titles are always sentences, which is apparently not the way one is supposed to go about this process. Sigh.

Does the story have an underlying message that you hope reader’s grasp?

Jeanette: Nope. This was strictly written for escapism and fun for the reader.

Tracey: Although, T’s Rules might prove helpful in some situations…

How did you begin writing as a team?

Jeanette: We met in grad school and our senses of humor are really similar. We figured, what the heck?

Tracey: Indeed. Plus, we have similar taste in pop culture stuff generally. It was a good fit.

Did writing with a partner change your writing process at all?

Jeanette: More talking. I tend to write a lot in my head with my own novels. I really liked the process of talking about everything–we alternated chapters. So when Tracey would finish a chapter, she’d send it to me. I would read it and then call her and be like, “So I’m starting here in my chapter and I think this should happen and we’ll end up here for the start of yours.” And we’d go over what needed to happen and then I’d go write.

Tracey: Less procrastinating. This is a good thing.

When did you consider yourself a writer?

Jeanette: When I actually FINISHED my first novel. I believe that you can’t call yourself a writer until you write and finish something.

Tracey: I do science writing for a living. It never dawned on me that I was a writer until someone else called me one. Then I realized that I had set up weird barriers in my head about what “writing” was.

What are you currently reading?

Jeanette: I’m on a nonfiction kick right now. I just finished The Better Angels of Our Nature. I’ve got about a thousand books on my Kindle all waiting for me!

Tracey: I am all about the middle grade action books right now.

About Dead Harvest: Discrete Demolitions Volume 1

Someone’s been raising the dead and it’s J’s job to find out who. As a detective operating in the Underworld, J—with her powers of shadow manipulation—is uniquely equipped for the job. What she isn’t counting on is the help of an escapee from a mental institution who seems to attract trouble just by existing.

It’s up to J and T—two very unlikely allies—to find the necromancer and bring him before the Underworld Balance Magistrate for judgment before the human world gets wise to the dead walking among them.

Genre: Young Adult/New Adult urban fantasy

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About the Authors

Tracey Phillips is a science writer by day and gamer by night. She’s worked in a tea factory, dropped creamed spinach on a four star General, wrangled the prose of college freshmen, and stage-managed more amateur theatrical productions than you can shake a stick at. Her random and misspent youth also included a yearlong sojourn in Scotland that left her with a strange fondness for daffodils and fife and drum music. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children, every video game console known to man, and an extremely low-maintenance cat.

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Jeanette Battista graduated with an English degree with a concentration in medieval literature which explains her possibly unhealthy fixation on edged weapons and cathedral architecture. She spent a summer in England and Scotland studying the historical King Arthur, which did nothing to curb her obsession. To satisfy her adrenaline cravings—since sword fighting is not widely accepted in these modern times—she rode a motorcycle at ridiculously high speeds, got some tattoos, and took kickboxing and boxing classes. She gave up the bike when her daughter came along, although she still gets pummeled at the gym on a regular basis.

When she’s not writing or working, Jeanette spends time with family, hikes, reads, makes decadent brownies, buys killer boots, and plays Pocket Frogs. She wishes there were more hours in the day so she could actually do more of these things. She lives with her daughter and their two psychotic kittens in North Carolina.

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