SALT LAKE CITY — Best-selling children's authors Ally Condie, a Utah native, and Brendan Reichs met back in 2010 when they both had books coming out and crossed paths at a few book festivals and conferences.
It was at YALLWest that they really got a chance to talk and Reichs mentioned he was thinking of applying to the Master of Fine Arts writing program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Surprised, Condie admitted she had just secretly applied to the program herself. Considering it fate, Reichs ended up applying as well, and their friendship was cemented while they attended the program together.
As their MFA came to a close, Reichs and Condie knew they would miss working together — co-authoring a book was an obvious decision.
"We both had our eye on doing something a little bit younger than what we were currently doing," Reichs said. "We both sort of lived in the young adult market for all our careers."
Condie, who resides in Pleasant Grove, is mostly known for her young adult dystopian series, "Matched." She's also written an Edgar Award-nominated middle grade novel, "Summerlost." Reichs, who lives in North Carolina, co-wrote the best-selling "Virals" series with his mom, forensic anthropologist and writer Kathy Reichs (the TV show "Bones" is based on her life and writing), and penned the best-selling "Project Nemesis" series.
After the pair scrapped a failed attempt at a chapter book, Condie came up with the idea to write a scary middle grade story similar to "Goonies" and "Stranger Things" — specifically one centered around a creepy houseboat, like the ones she'd seen when visiting her husband's native Pacific Northwest.
Thus "Darkdeep" (Bloomsbury, 272 pages, ages 8-12) was born. It tells the story of a groups of kids who discover a mysterious black pool inside an abandoned, secluded houseboat nearby their small hometown. As they delve into this pool's magical powers, they're led on a wild and dangerous adventure that will ultimately require them to face their deepest and darkest fears.
Reichs said their goal with "Darkdeep" was to write something entertaining with a supernatural quality that was mainly based on the relationships between a group of outcast kids.
"It's really about friendship," he said. "The book is about kids standing up for each other and helping each other out."
Reichs and Condie wrote their middle-grade novel in a third person narrative and to keep the voice consistent throughout, they both worked on every chapter. They created a system where they would both write different chapters, send them to each other, edit the other person's chapter, and then send it back along with another new chapter everyday. Reichs said this process was effective, if "not the most pleasant."
"The problem is that you're getting notes on something you never normally show to someone, so it's super vulnerable," Condie said. "Brendan calls it, 'draft zero.' You feel like an idiot, … but then when they actually do point out the parts that are terrible, you're like, 'Hey!' So you have to be really good friends with someone to write a book this way."
Condie said she would feel like she embarrassed herself in front of a writer she admires, but in the end it resulted in a better book. And, she said, their friendship is still intact.
Since they live across the country from each other, Condie and Reichs flew to New York City and met with their editor in a conference room at Bloomsbury to spend a few days outlining both "Darkdeep" and its sequel, which they're writing. They enjoy that, rather than brainstorming alone, they've been able to bounce ideas off each other for these books.
"There's two minds working on the project," Reichs said. "Ultimately, I think the book just gets stronger because you have two people fully focused on it."
They've learned to negotiate when they disagree on a plot point or a character detail by picking a separate third option instead. Reichs said every single time, what they came up with next was better than either of their original ideas.
The process can go faster because two people are working on it at once, but also slower because both authors have to approve every change made during the editing stage — or else it wouldn't be a true collaboration, Reichs said.
In the end, they said the best part of co-authoring a book is that it makes writing less solitary — and they don't have to go on tour alone.
Reichs and Condie are under contract to write three books together, and the second book has a tentative release date of October 2019. They think the month of Halloween is perfect for this series, which they hope is "the perfect amount of scary," Condie said.Comment on this story
"It's definitely a lot of fun," Reichs said. "It has a lot of humor involved, but there are some scary moments as well. … Our No. 1 goal is just to entertain. We want it to be a book that kids pick up and read in two or three sittings, that they like so much they don't want to let go."
If you go …
What: Ally Condie and Brendan Reichs book signing
When: Thursday, Oct. 11, 7 p.m.
Where: Provo Library, 550 N. University Ave., Provo
Note: Places in the signing line are reserved for those who purchase a copy of the featured book from The King's English.