It’s fun to reconnect with colleagues, especially fellow writers like Pasquale (Pat) Russo, a veteran corporate communicator and ghost writer, who I worked with when we both wrote for AT&T’s employee newspaper in the mid-1990s. It was a great experience with our editorial team winning a Gold Quill Award for best employee paper by the International Association of Business Communicators.
While our paths haven’t crossed in the years since leaving AT&T, Pat and I were on parallel paths — pursuing book projects and taking on writing consulting work. Pat’s debut novel, now available on Amazon and in major bookstores online, is the culmination of a creative collaboration with his father-in-law. Below, Pat shares an excerpt of his story before delving into his own creative journey penning Another Vanishing Act.
He shares his hard-won lessons gleaned from working collaboratively on a book and self-publishing.
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Today started out as an okay day. I was having my mid-morning coffee break with Mr. Carson and was looking forward to having dinner with Betty. That was before I got the surprise phone call that changed everything.
I’ve had plenty of strange calls from residents – at my previous job and at this one. But this is the first time that I didn’t know quite how to respond. I hope that I managed to say something reassuring before the call ended.
Mr. Carson was sitting nearby and must have seen my earlier, light-hearted mood vanish, replaced by a strange, puzzled expression as I hung up the phone.
“What happened, Dan? What’s wrong?”
“A toilet on the third floor…”
“Backed up? Overflowed?”
I stuttered as I tried to get out one word.
Mr. Carson looked at me like I’d jolted him with an electric cattle prod.
— Excerpt from Another Vanishing Act used with permission (copyright 2014)
Q. The premise for your recently released comic novel is quite compelling. What was the inspiration for choosing a senior citizen’s apartment building as the setting?
A. My father-in-law and co-author – Pete – moved into a similar place a few years back. He cooked up a story by stretching his new reality like Silly Putty. He’d been playing around with his tale and asked me to look at his outline and some of his ideas. I sent him a draft and we were off and running.
Working with him on the story was like collaborating with Henny Youngman. He came up with one gag after another and I had to keep reminding him that we had to fit them into a storyline.
Pete has a different sense of humor. He goes to a restaurant and tells the waitress he’s never ordered from a menu before. Could she help him? He came to my wedding to give away the bride wearing his tuxedo and old running shoes. He told the groomsmen that he couldn’t afford the shoe rental. You can see this type of silliness reflected in many of the chapters.
Q. Some of the characters are extremely vivid– how were you able to master voices for these elderly characters — especially since you are not of that generation?
A. I’ve always been something of a mimic. I was active in school plays and drama classes, and always loved movies and watching comedians. So you might say that I simply got in character. While this was my first attempt at fiction, it was clear sailing once a voice got in my head and started running with it.
Some of the characters didn’t seem to need any encouragement from me; they just appeared in my head and I pushed them onto the page. Others struck me as a bit stereotypical, like the curmudgeonly woman who raps her friend with her cane. I suspect she was inspired by the “Where’s the beef” lady.
Q. What were the pros and cons of working with a collaborator on this project? Any tips for maximizing a positive creative relationship when there are two authors?
A. Stephen King compared collaborating with novelist Peter Straub to a
game of tennis. They drew a court, developed a synopsis and then emailed the ball back and forth.
Our situation was different because there was only one writer. Even so, we constructed the pieces King describes. Over a weekend, we planned three acts, sketched out each chapter, and designed an ending. Agreeing on these items was necessary so we could evaluate ideas to see if they contributed to the storyline.
A division of labor is also important. Pete was the idea guy, so when I got stumped, I’d send him my draft and we’d talk. Having him as a sounding board was helpful. He was also good at commenting on drafts, pointing out what was working and what wasn’t when I got too close to be objective.
Good chemistry between collaborators is a must. If your partner doesn’t “get” you, it’s going to be a long slog in the mud. It helped that we’d known each other for years, had some common likes and dislikes, and shared a quirky sense of humor. The timing also had to be right. Before starting Another Vanishing Act, I’d been ghostwriting for a number of years and was ready for something completely different. That’s when Pete showed up.
Our partnership worked extremely well. I think that enjoyment factor comes through in the story.
Q. What was your experience going the self-publishing route? Any lessons learned? Things you would do the same or differently?
A. As a first-time novelist, I knew that landing a publisher would be a tough process with a steep timeline. The only drawback of self-publishing was the stigma, which is slowly vanishing.
But self-publishing is a lot of work. Once the story’s done, you have to develop cover ideas, layout the interior, create a back cover blurb, and find a competent artist to render a professional-looking cover. You need different versions for e-book and printed editions. I’d done most of this work for my ghostwriting clients, so I was familiar with the process. Anyone who goes in this direction should be prepared.
My biggest struggle was with the page layout. Next time, I’ll hire an artist. And oddly enough, coming up with a title for the book was tough. One of us would like something that the other thought was awful. It was like picking a name for a child.
Q. Where can readers order your book?
A. You can order a paperback edition from a local bookstore, or from Barnes & Noble or Amazon. A Kindle version is also available.
Q. What’s next for you?
A. There are a few possibilities. Pete is engineering another tale that sounds promising. I’ve been itching to try my hand at developing a screenplay. In the meantime, I always hear the call of the marketing plan.
About the Authors
Louis “Pete” Conner is the instigator behind Another Vanishing Act. A retired engineer, Pete lives in a seniors’ apartment building in New Jersey, where he invents comic situations and dreams up characters for the fictional tale he imagined. Pete is a graduate of Georgia Tech.
Pasquale “Pat” Russo — a lifelong wiseguy — was summoned to assist his father-in-law (yes, it’s a family job) when Pete realized he couldn’t string together a coherent sentence. Pat was the ghostwriter of One Marshal’s Badge and is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.
A veteran professional writer, Pat has held editorial leadership roles in communication and e-commerce departments at Fortune 500 firms. He has led development of website marketing content, electronic newsletters, executive communication, eBooks, trade magazine articles, and interactive training. He also is the ghostwriter of seven published books.
For more information, visit Pat and Pete’s author page at https://anothervanishingact.