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Joni, Underway is the first novel I’ve co-written. Here’s an interview with both Jonathan and me about our co-writing experience.
Kelly Oram wrote her first novel at age fifteen–a fan fiction about her favorite music group, The Backstreet Boys, for which her family and friends still tease her. She’s obsessed with reading, talks way too much, and likes to eat frosting by the spoonful. She lives outside of Phoenix, Arizona with her husband and four children.
Jonathan Harrow left a career in Hollywood to pursue his dream of writing novels. He has an author crush on Charlotte Bronte, and a real crush on his author wife, YA bestseller Kelly Oram. They live in Phoenix with their four kids and their cat, Mr. Darcy.
What’s it like to co-author a book for the first time?
Kelly: Very difficult. We have very different writing styles! And very, very different voice. We had to let him do the actual writing so that the book would sound consistent. If we switched off back and forth, it would have been a nightmare.
What was your method in co-writing a novel?
Jonathan: We knew right away that in order to work together, we would need to have one of us take the lead. Otherwise, every single decision would end in a stand-still. So, in the case of Joni, the original idea was mine, so it made sense for me to be the lead. I know some writers who switch off scenes, or whatever, they literally share the writing, but that would never work with us. Our idea was for me to write the first draft (with all Kelly’s input) and then together we’d do the real work, which is rewriting. That’s when Kelly would really be able to get her hands on the material and make it hers. Well, not surprisingly, the first draft was pretty light on romance. So Kelly really got in there and did her thing in that department, which made all the difference in the world, of course. The next biggest thing was going back in and getting the actual writing to sound like both of us, which was a challenge, as we have very different writing styles. In the end, I feel that the book is a great blend of both our styles. So the image of both of us sitting side-by-side writing is not accurate. It was more like taking turns.
Do you have plans to continue writing novels together?
Jonathan: Hard to say. We don’t have plans for anything right now. After Joni, we were both excited to get back to our own projects. It’s so much easier to feel like you have total control over the content. But I feel like Kelly and I collaborate on all our books, to some degree. She is the first to read my stuff and she gives the feedback that really improves my stuff. And sometimes I’ve been able to provide that help for her, as well. So while we may not be co-writers all the time, every one of our books has been influenced by the other.
Was it hard to collaborate together on certain scenes? For instance, maybe one of you felt more passionate for a certain part then the other. Or did you run into any difficulty?
Jonathan: It indeed was difficult to give up a lot of control. Some things were easy, like anything to do with the romance, I immediately deferred to Kelly and trusted her choices.
Did you two ever argue over how you wanted the story to go?
Jonathan: Yeah, there was some of that, mostly having to do with the romance. Kelly and I have very different love languages, lol, and different ideas about what is romantic. So I’d write something and be like, “Oh, that’s so romantic!” And Kelly reads it and she’s like, “Seriously? They’re just sitting there talking.” And I’m like, “I know, right? Getting to know each other.” And she’s like, “Move outta the way.” Hahaha. It took me a while to come around to her way of thinking, but eventually I got it, and after reading her stuff, I was like, “Ohh, okay, I see. Yeah, that’s awesome.” So if you love the romance in the book, you have Kelly to thank!
How did you two come up with the idea for this novel?
Jonathan: “Joni, Underway” started as an idea I had while watching “Deadliest Catch” about lobster fishermen. The job is so difficult, and that whole world is so foreign to me, and I remember thinking: “What if a city guy like me had to go work on one of these boats, and the experience changed his life?” That sparked an instant comparison to “City Slickers,” a movie I have always loved. So it’s “City Slickers” on a lobster boat, that sounds awesome! The idea sat in my mind for years, and then when Kelly and I were looking for a romance/drama to work on together, the “City Slickers on a lobster boat” idea morphed into “Joni, Underway.” Kelly was sold as soon as I said, “She falls in love with the hot boat captain!”
Which character in Joni, Underway do you most relate to?
Jonathan: I relate to Joni, I think. At least when I was her age, anyway. I had a lot of inner strength, but I needed the right experience to bring it out in me. If left to my own devices, I wouldn’t try new things.
Kelly: I had to think about this one, but I think maybe I’d go with Reid, actually. I have total wander lust and a need for adventure. I want to see and experience everything. And I want to visit and learn all about all different kinds of people and cultures. If I could sail around the world, going from job to job just to get to the next journey, I totally would. Jonathan is definitely the more stable on win our family. But I also have a bit of his compassion and empathy. I was always that friend who would go out of my way to take care of my friends who were having trouble.
Kelly: What part of the creation of this novel will you cherish the most?
Kelly: Um…. my husband? lol. I think just the experience as a whole. (And come on, lets be honest, I cherish the creation of Captain Reid!) For real though, I also really love the character of Murray. He’s based off of Jonathan’s grandpa who was quite the character. We loved him so much and I love that a part of Boompa will always live on now.
Do you have different jobs too, or just write together?
Kelly: Now we don’t. I was always a stay-at-home mom while My husband worked in the film industry. Thanks to my writing, Jonathan was able to quit his job and is now going to write full time as well. We are super happy about that, and super blessed!
Kelly: were there certain things that you found out about your husband that you might not have known without working on this piece with him?
Kelly: Hmm. I mostly saw a lot of things I already knew about him. For one, he’s WAY more disciplined than me. He needs a schedule and routine, where I’m all over the place. He’s way more thorough with research, but he’s always been really book-smart. I did learn that he’s a much slower writer than me. It takes him WAY longer to write a first draft than me. But I’m more patient with the rewriting process. I guess he just wants to get it right the first time. He’s more of a perfectionist than me. But again, after 14 years of marriage, I already knew that too!
How did you know that the other was The One?
Kelly: Actually it was pretty clear. A booming voice shouted down from the Heavens and said, “Hey, you! Yeah, the stubborn one who never dates seriously! HE’S THE ONE!!!!!” We met through my family. He was trying to date my older sister while I was away at college. I came home and she totally tried to pawn him off on me. Two weeks later we were engaged. Two and a half months after that, we were married.
Jonathan: How did you propose to Kelly?
Jonathan: It was nothing planned out, I can tell you that, lol. Very casual, which is my style. We had been dating for 2 weeks (yes, that’s 14 days) and we went to Disneyland together (Kelly had never been) and in a quiet moment afterward, Kelly joked about how fun it was hanging out together and I said, “How about we keep hanging out forever then?” or something really lame like that. The truth is, I’d been looking for a way to propose for a couple days, and that seemed as good an “in” as any, so I took it! I remember Kelly smiled and just said, “Yeah, let’s do it.” That was it! Very low key. But then she dropped the bomb: “But you have to call my dad and ask for permission!” I was scared of her dad, lol. Anyway, I was 21 and Kelly was 19.
Who are your favorite authors?
Kelly: Oh, man, where do I start???? Meg Cabot is my all-time favorite. I totally admire her so much. Then there’s John Green, Sarah Dessen, Jen Wylie, Julianne Donaldson, Simone Elkeles, Cinda Chima Williams, Cassie Claire, Cassie Mae, Jennifer L. Armentrout, Stephenie Meyer, Karen Lynch… I know I’ve left out like a million authors… but I could chat books all day…
Jonathan: Michael Crichton and Charlotte Bronte. I know, that’s a weird combo, but it’s the truth!
Jonathan: Which is your favorite novel written by Kelly?
Jonathan: Serial Hottie is def my favorite!
If you guys had Harry Potter’s Invisibility Cloak, what would you do?
Kelly: This makes me think of that Clay Aiken song LOL. Um… with invisibility? I’d so sneak into concerts and go back stage! I want to see the band in their unscripted moments. (And I’m not talking about the changing room you perves!) I’d just like to see what people are like when the world isn’t watching them. Also, I could get much better seats to the shows!
Jonathan: If I were invisible, I’d go to Pixar/Disney studios and watch them make their films. I’m a huge fan of animation and I love watching the creative process unfold.
Jonathan: What are your plans thus far for future writings?
Jonathan: I am now writing a sequel to my first novel “Dolls”, which is a supernatural horror/thriller in the NA age range. I love creepy/dark stories. But I like haunted horror, NOT slasher horror.Kelly, can we look forward to another book in the Supernaturals series?
Kelly: Yes! There is one more still to come. Book #4 is called Priestess and it’s Clara’s story. Just don’t ask me when it’s coming lol. Sometime next year… I still have to write it.
Kelly, do you plan on writing any sports romance books? And when I say “Sports” I mean SOCCER!
Kelly: I will definitely write a sports romance someday. I don’t know how soon I will get to it, but I have two ideas plotted already. one for a women’s fiction/chick-lit baseball book and a soccer book that is actually a companion novel to my book Cinder & Ella. It’s a Robin Hood retelling that has soccer as the focus. Again though, I have no clue when I’ll be able to get to those books. SO many stories, so little time!
Kelly…what is your favorite genre?
Kelly: Young adult anything. The more romance the better. I’m a huge high-fantasy geek though, so probably YA fantasy is my very favorite.
Kelly: We all know you love frosting, but what is your other favorite dessert?
Kelly: Frosting! Nope, I’m not kidding. I totally eat cake just so I can have frosting. And I used to keep some in the fridge in college so I could just have a spoonful when I needed it. Nothing de-stresses like a spoonful of sugar! Okay, maybe white chocolate chip macadamia nut cookies, cheesecake, and candy corns.
Kelly, I like the jamie baker series and I know that inspiration just hasn’t happened yet for the rest of her story. My question is are you upset that it hasn’t happened yet?
Kelly: Oh, how do I explain Jamie…. It wasn’t a lack of inspiration really. I just knew what had to happen, and there were so many different ways it could go. The first way didn’t work, so I scrapped it and tried again… after like seven different versions of the first 150 pages I was frustrated and burned out and still nowhere near finishing. Then I started to feel a lot of pressure to have it finished because people were waiting for it and I’d expected it to be done sooner. And then I started getting anxiety attacks when I tried to work on it. It was very strange. I’ve never experienced anything like that with any other story. I was so upset for a long time. I was upset with the story, and upset with myself. It broke my heart to have to put the book on hiatus. And, to be honest, I had a rough couple of years the last two years, overworking myself in all aspects of my life, and I went to therapy. (Which did wonders, btw!) And yes, I actually worked with my therapist about the issues I was having with this specific book. And that of course helped me get a much better grip on this new career I’d stumbled onto. Now, I’m in a much better place, and I feel much better about my manuscript. I’m still a little anxious to pick it up again, but at least my love for the book and the characters is back and I’m feeling confident in it again. I’ll let you in on a little secret… I’ve been slowly working on it for the last month or so and I’ve made big progress. I hope to have the book out sometime next year. Cross your fingers for me!
I definitely needed the time out with Jamie. It was hard to do, but it was honestly the best thing I could have done. I’m ready to start on it again, but while I’d set it aside, I committed to a few other projects. (Like Joni, and Libby, and my upcoming If We Were A Movie…) so now I’ve had to go and finish those before I could start Jamie again. Good news is, I’m finished with almost everything. I need a couple more weeks with Movie, and then the only projects I have left are Jamie #3 and Supernaturals #4. Of course, knowing me, I’ll probably write something random and completely new for my annual nano project. But November never counts in my writing schedule!