How I Learned to Be Half of a Non-Existent Writer

blood of the lambThis is a guest post by SJ Rozan, a life-long New Yorker, is the multiple-award winning author of thirteen crime novels, most featuring Chinatown’s resident PI, Lydia Chin. In addition, SJ and Carlos Dews are the writing team of Sam Cabot. Sam Cabot’s latest book is Blood of the Lamb.

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Sam Cabot’s Blood of the Lamb just came out. It’s a paranormal thriller, full of vampires and the Vatican. Now, the thing is, Sam Cabot is me. Or, half of him, the Sam half. Cabot is my writing partner, Carlos Dews. What this means is, I’ve co-written a paranormal thriller.  That’s three things I never thought I’d do. Co-write, paranormal, thriller. How did this happen?

I was minding my own business when Carlos Dews, whom I’d met about six months earlier, announced over drinks with friends one evening that he had a great idea for a thriller, a truly fabulous doozy of an idea, but, he said, being a literary academic he had no idea how to go about writing a thriller, had too much respect for the genre to try it cold, and did anyone know anyone who might want to collaborate? One of the other folks there turned to me and said, “SJ, this is right up your alley, why don’t you work with Carlos?”

And I turned to myself and said, “SJ, why didn’t you leave ten minutes ago?”

Yes, I thought it was a terrible plan. Co-write? Me? I hadn’t heard Carlos’s idea yet, and I didn’t want to. I wanted no part of the project.  But I couldn’t say, “I don’t care how &^%#*! good your idea is, it’s not good enough for me.” I mean, how high-falutin’ is that? So I agreed to meet over coffee a few days later.

And from that moment on I backed in every step of the way. Okay, it was a great idea — a vampire/Vatican thriller that’s really about faith and religion and the differences between them. But we couldn’t have the same notion of what “working together” would mean.  Yes, shockingly, we did; but Carlos, being an academic and not a genre writer, would have no idea how much world-building would have to go into a paranormal. Well, yes he did, and had worked out most of the details already. Fine, but since I’d be the writer and he the research, edit, and co-plot guy, he was bound not to like the loss of control once I started bringing the characters to life. We got that far: I sent him three chapters. He was back in Rome by then, where he lives and where the book is set, so I waited for the explosion from across the sea.

He loved them.

So Blood of the Lamb was underway. We sold it on 20,000 words and an outline and the publisher, Penguin/Blue Rider Press, wanted to know, one, if we had a sequel; and two, if we’d be willing to use a single, pseudonymous name.

And that’s how I, and Carlos Dews, got to be Sam Cabot.

This was long before the J.K. Rowling pseudonym story broke, of course. Sam Cabot has always been an open alias. Our pictures are in the back of the book. We offered Penguin a big nudge-nudge, wink-wink option, where we’d claim Sam Cabot was a crazy recluse friend of ours who’d written Blood of the Lamb but refused to leave his garret so he asked us to front it. They nixed that. The pseudonym, they said, was for the Book Scan computer, and also to grab book buyers hurrying through airports who might balk at two names, especially, let us be frank, two names as odd as ours. Apparently two authors is a stumbling block for many fiction readers.  Who knew? But, they said, we didn’t have anything to gain by trying to fool the public, who, in this electronic age, won’t be fooled.

That was okay with me. Because when I became half of Sam Cabot, something else happened. This thriller thing, this paranormal thing, and this co-writer thing, they were all new to me. Having another name gave me an odd sense of freedom. I know I’m not Sam Cabot.  But Sam does different work from SJ Rozan. I click into a different head, another frame of mind, when I’m Sam. I emphasize different themes, I try new technical chops. And isn’t that the point? To keep stretching, to surprise yourself, to do new things and go new ways?  I didn’t expect that when I became half of Sam Cabot; it was a publisher’s marketing decision I went along with. But I’m thinking now, when I’m not writing Sam Cabot books or SJ Rozan ones, I might just try being someone else.

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