Same Page, A Thousand Miles Apart by Brad McLelland & Louis Sylvester
Louis: Howdy, Brad! Welcome to our Nerdy Book Club post! I’m so happy we can take a few moments and chat about our series, Legends of the Lost Causes. Seems the only place we get to connect these days is Google Docs — and deadlines keep us hoppin’ in there — so I’m thankful to our friends at Nerdy Book Club for giving us this forum. The last time we saw each other was March 2018, just after the release of Book 1, so it’s great to take a big breath and catch up.
Brad: *Looks at calendar, whistles in disbelief* Sometimes I can’t fathom we started this project nearly nine years ago! Time flies when you’re writing dialogue and revising scenes. Maybe we should tell everyone how this whole thing began?
Louis: Well, as you might recall, I first met you in a creative writing class at Oklahoma State University in 2008. You came to visit the English Department, and we shared a passing conversation after my workshop that day. We were friendly to each other (though I thought you dressed a little funny).
Brad: Hey now, stay focused.
Louis: Sorry! It wasn’t until summer 2010, when we attended a friend’s birthday party, that we officially jump-started the Lost Causes, remember? We were chatting over chocolate cake about our writing passions, and I mentioned my desire to write a fast-paced adventure (though I was leaning toward sci-fi and fantasy at the time).You shared your idea for a middle-grade western novel, and BOOM, the Lost Causes took their first breath.
Brad: I remember that day well (the chocolate cake was delicious). I was so excited that a fellow grad school writer wanted to talk about genre kidlit. Creative writing programs tend to focus on adult literary fiction, so the idea that a colleague would be interested in co-writing a middle-grade novel was a game-changer. I like to think our friend’s birthday cake turned us both into kids again.
Louis: You do love your chocolate.
Brad: Indeed, sir. I also love that we immediately connected as co-authors. Writing partnerships can be fairly rare, since writers tend to be lonesome, persnickety types. But we’ve always been able to communicate effectively, and put our story ahead of any selfish need to control the narrative.
Louis: I agree! One fantastic thing about our collaboration is our ability to set aside egos to write the best story possible. Speaking of great stories, how did your passion for the Old West begin? Mine started when I read True Grit by Charles Portis.
Brad: Well, I was always a Jack London and Jules Verne enthusiast; as a boy I loved to read pretty much anything set in the 19th century. But I didn’t get my first glimpse of an actual western novel until I was twelve. My grandmother was an avid reader, and she kept boxes of old, tattered paperbacks in her closet. One day she invited me to comb through her boxes, and that’s where I spotted the first western I ever owned: a Sackett saga by Louis L’Amour. I took the book home and placed it beside my copies of White Fang and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Not long after, I also discovered True Grit, and my passion for reading westerns solidified.
Louis: Fast forward to 2010. Do you recall how we started crafting Keech’s story? I’ll give you a hint: Lots of Panera Bread sandwiches . . .
Brad: Oh man, SO much Panera. We had about a month to outline before you moved to Idaho, so we had to work quickly to develop our character sketches and draft the general plot. Sitting there at Panera, we brainstormed all sorts of crazy adventures and took a ton of notes — and before long, we had rough outlines assembled for four books.
Louis: That early planning phase was so much fun because everything seemed possible. And as we started to cement certain ideas, we were excited to see characters like Keech Blackwood, Duck Embry, and Quinn Revels emerge. Don’t call me sentimental, but I feel like our friendship deeply informed the Lost Causes team itself.
Brad: You’re absolutely right. You are sentimental. *Chuckles* But seriously, the story’s tight co-ownership led immediately to the formation of our most important writing goals: a diverse cast of characters, respectful representation of cultures, and a narrative that always embraces teamwork and friendship. We’ve always been on the same page in regards to those crucial elements.
Louis: That’s one aspect of this collaboration I’m so thankful for. Even though we live well over a thousand miles apart (1,679, to be exact), we always see eye-to-eye on every detail of our project.
Brad: That’s not to say we haven’t experienced a disagreement or two. I remember one day I wrote a chapter that didn’t look anything like our book outline. My narrative sidestep completely derailed your thought process, and you threatened to take away all my chocolate. I felt so terrible about the whole ordeal!
Louis: But as I recall, we spent a good part of our next morning on the phone, discussing our disagreement. We ended up resetting the story to follow your new development, which ended up being a solid move for the novel.
Brad: I suppose in cases like that, a resilient friendship proves mighty handy. The distance between Oklahoma and Idaho doesn’t matter; Keech’s story about family and solidarity does.
Louis: Well, I suppose we should wrap this up (Books 3 and 4 ain’t gonna write themselves, and these nice folks probably want to read the next post). I’ll just say it’s a pleasure writing with you, Brad, and someday we’ll look back on the Lost Causes books and wonder just how in blazes we wrote them all, seeing how we live so far apart. Mostly, I’m just happy the Old West still has so many lessons to offer, and so many stories to tell.
Brad: Perfectly said. I believe young readers can still find wonder and friendship in tales of the frontier, and if we do our jobs well, maybe they’ll also discover a little magic along the way.
Louis: Thanks so much, Nerdy Book Club! As Keech and the gang would say, I reckon we best skedaddle.
> Louis Sylvester is a professor at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho. He and his wife spend their free time playing tabletop games from his collection of over 1,000 card and board games. Louis enjoys watching Western films and reading fantasy novels. He has two dogs that go wild when they hear the word treats.