Long and Short Reviews welcomes Nicki Bennett and Ariel Tachna, the authors of Checkmate.
People ask us occasionally how we met and came to write together. Since it never ceases to make me smile, I thought it might be a fun story to share.
About thirteen years ago, Nicki and I were both very active in the Lord of the Rings fandom, but we hadn’t really interacted. Then I posted the next chapter of the opus I was writing, and I got this e-mail. “The characters you’ve spent 120 chapters lovingly creating wouldn’t act the way they did in chapter 121.” It then went on to explain in great detail why the author of the e-mail felt that way. It turns out she was right (she’s always right). So I rewrote the end of chapter 121, sent it back to her, and asked if that was better. She agreed that it was, so I issued a correction on the forum where I shared the story. Then I wrote chapter 122 and sent it to her, asking if she’d like to read it before I posted it. She said yes.
Since then, I have written all of four things that she hasn’t read first, sometimes as I’m writing them (quite literally—I write a paragraph and post it in a chat window and then write the next one), and all four of those things were gifts for her: Testament to Love, two chapters of Partnership in Blood that were birthday presents for her, and an unpublished retelling of Cyrano de Bergerac with a male lead in place of Roxane.
For all that the story of how we met is fun and funny, it’s also very telling. Nicki has an eye for detail and characterization that makes her an invaluable beta reader and writing partner, and that wasn’t something I had to learn through trial and error. From our first interaction, I knew she cared about my story as much as I did, because when I say she gave me a detailed explanation of the characterization error I made, I’m not kidding. The e-mail was almost as long as the chapter! She had clearly put so much thought and care into her e-mail that it resonated with me. Here was someone who was as passionate as I was, not just about Lord of the Rings, but about my specific take on them. The jump from beta-reading to writing together was, for me, a no-brainer.
What Ariel left out of her side of the story is that the reason I felt so passionate about her opus was that she had made the characters come alive, not just retelling their actions during the LOTR trilogy but envisioning their lives and relationships before and after the fellowship, in original and entrancing detail. (Those of you fortunate enough to have read The Price of Pride know exactly what I mean.) I was incredibly nervy sending that e-mail, but I’d come to respect her and the characters she’d made her own, and the scene just felt wrong. I honestly expected her to either ignore me or tell me she knew her characters better than I thought I did. I never expected her to rewrite the chapter based on my comments! But that’s the thing about Ariel—even though we rarely disagree (the whole sharing-a-brain thing), she’s always open to listening to another viewpoint and changing things when it will make a story stronger.
I have to laugh at her casual statement that “the jump from beta-reading to writing together was, for me, a no-brainer.” What she neglects to mention is that I wasn’t a writer before knowing her. Oh, I’d written job-training aids and technical manuals for my evil day job, but the only creative writing I’d ever done was a truly horrible Mary Sue fantasy short story when I was twelve (blessedly long lost). I learned the craft of writing from Ariel, so that when she prompted me to try my hand at writing something myself a few months after we “met,” I knew I could rely on her to help me develop my skills, until I improved to the point that we started writing together. I’ve written a few things on my own since, but I still think the strongest writing I’ve done are the things I’ve written with her. We bring out the best in each other.
What Nicki isn’t telling you is that the first thing she sent me was so powerful that I went running down the hall at the school where I was teaching at the time to show it to two friends because they absolutely had to read it right now! I may have convinced her to try her hand at writing, but I didn’t have to teach her anything.
Tell us about how you met your best friend—we’ll choose one comment to give away an eBook copy of any title from either of our backlists.
When sword-for-hire Teodoro Ciéza de Vivar accepts a commission to “rescue” Lord Christian Blackwood from unsuitable influences, he has no idea he’s landed himself in the middle of a plot to assassinate King Philip IV of Spain and blame the English ambassador for the deed. Nor does he expect the spoiled child he’s sent to retrieve to be a handsome, engaging young man.
As Teodoro and Christian face down enemies at every turn, they fall more and more in love, an emotion they can’t safely indulge with the threat of the Inquisition looming over them. It will take all their combined guile and influence to outmaneuver the powerful men who would see them separated… or even killed.
Enjoy an excerpt:
Esteban stared out at the street from the window of la taberna Castellán, as he had for most of the past three days. Teodoro did not like him to visit the tavern where they sometimes took meals when they were in funds, but the small window in their rooms at the parish residence did not give much view of the street, and after three weeks had come and gone and Teodoro had still not returned, Esteban could no longer sit upstairs and pretend to study the lessons his tío, Inocencio, had left for him. If he had known exactly where his guardian had gone, Esteban would have set off in search of him, but since Teo had neglected to provide him with that information, he could do nothing but wait, watch for him, and worry about what would happen should he not return.
It was growing dark, and Beatriz, the tavern owner’s wife, had started throwing him looks (which he was doing his best to ignore) to indicate it was time to return home before the night’s heavy drinking began, when Esteban caught sight of a figure in a familiar wide-brimmed hat and worn brown jerkin. When he was younger, he might have run out the door, crying out to anyone with ears to hear that Teo had returned, but with age Esteban had learned some discretion and also some self-preservation. Slipping quietly outside, he tried to appear as if he were simply strolling the street to take some air and just happened to notice that Teodoro was approaching. He was so relieved to see Teo that he did not at first realize he was not alone.
Christian had sighed with relief when Ciéza pulled the horse to a stop. He was sure this was Madrid, though he had never been there before, which perhaps meant they had reached the end of their journey. Even if they had not, they were stopping for the moment, giving him a much needed break from Ciéza’s proximity. The last near fortnight had been… difficult, the Spaniard’s nearness a constant prod to Christian’s libido, until his erection seemed to nag at him day and night. Ciéza had not seemed to notice, but Christian needed a respite. Fortunately, they had left the horse at a livery stable and were now on foot. He glanced around to see an inn of slightly lesser quality than the one he had inhabited in Valencia, but that seemed to be their destination. A youth some years younger than Christian’s own age lounged against the wall, pushing off when he saw them and approaching eagerly. Christian frowned, wondering who this was.
“You’re late, Teo,” Esteban said accusingly, stopping in his tracks when he noticed the gentleman accompanying Teodoro. The man was elegantly dressed, if somewhat dusty and rumpled, and he was undeniably handsome, but something about way he dogged Teo’s steps like a shadow set Esteban’s teeth on edge. “Who is this?” he demanded, nodding at the stranger.
“My commission,” Teodoro answered shortly, amused that Esteban sought to distract him by taking the offensive. “Your Excellency, this whelp is my son, Esteban. Esteban, this is Don Cristian Blackwood.” He didn’t bother with the Englishman’s full title; it wouldn’t mean anything to Esteban, and if all went well he wouldn’t be around long enough for it to matter in any case. The younger men bowed to each other with the air of two dogs sniffing each other warily.
Christian had already discovered a weakness for Ciéza’s voice, but hearing his name spoken, not with boring English rhythm, but with the Spanish flair that made everything more alluring—Cristian, not Christian—only increased his susceptibility.
“Now, since you’ve obviously made yourself familiar with the tavern in my absence, make yourself useful and have Beatriz send us some food—and a bottle of wine.” Teo gestured to Blackwood to precede him into the taproom, his gaze following the graceful sway of the younger man’s backside as they entered. “Better make it two bottles,” he called to Esteban, forcing his gaze away.
About the Authors:
Growing up in Chicago, Nicki Bennett spent every Saturday at the central library, losing herself in the world of books. A voracious reader, she eventually found it difficult to find enough of the kind of stories she liked to read and decided to start writing them herself.
When Ariel Tachna was twelve years old, she discovered two things: the French language and romance novels. Those two loves have defined her ever since. By the time she finished high school, she’d written four novels, none of which anyone would want to read now, featuring a young woman who was—you guessed it—bilingual. That girl was everything Ariel wanted to be at age twelve and wasn’t.
She now lives on the outskirts of Houston with her husband (who also speaks French), her kids (who understand French even when they’re too lazy to speak it back), and their two dogs (who steadfastly refuse to answer any French commands).
Buy the book at Dreamspinner Press.