Smile! Ficklin & Jolley’s ‘Extracted’ a Steampunk operation
It all still seems fake for Tyler Jolley and Sherry Ficklin. And that’s saying something for two people who spend a good portion of their time in make-believe worlds, creating characters and plots in their spare moments.
The writing partnership has proven to be a successful, fun adventure for both of the writers. The road to becoming best-selling authors has been interesting for the full-time writer/stay-at-home mom and the writer/orthodontist.
It all started a few years ago, after Ficklin published her first independent series, “Gods of Fate.” Ficklin’s writing habit began early in life, when she started writing Harry Potter fan fiction long ago. Her beginnings as a published author began seven years ago.
She thought it would be fun to co-author a series. Her brother-in-law, a dentist, acquainted her with Jolley, an orthodontist, whom he knew through the dental profession. Jolley previously wrote a young adult science fiction book in dental school (“Neto Lexan and the Impox Secret”) as a way to relieve stress. They met up, Ficklin gave him some advice about getting it published, and they had a few more meetings.
Then Ficklin asked Jolley to join her in writing a series. She had an idea for a story line involving time travel and the Romanovs, the Russian royal family overthrown during a revolution and killed in 1918.
“I was still kind of fan-boying over Sherry,” and didn’t think she was serious, Jolley said. A few months later, she sent him the premise for the book and set a schedule for work. Until that point, Jolley didn’t really see being an author as another skill to add to his resume, and he wrote for fun and relaxation while his day job at Jolley Smiles paid the bills.
Fast forward two years, and their book, a unique, young adult fiction novel titled “Extracted” is published, the first book in a series titled “The Lost Imperials.” It’s heavily influenced by Steampunk, a genre featuring a Victorian world of steam-powered contraptions.
“It’s a more elegant form of science fiction,” Ficklin said.
“Can you put ditto by that?” Jolley joked.
Yes, an orthodontist co-authored a book called “Extracted.” Jolley says he’s been asked, “Is that a dental book?” Nope, it’s not about pulling teeth or implants. It’s about these kids who are literally snatched from their places in history and trained to fight on opposite sides of a war over the time stream. Yes, it’s a little complicated, but Ficklin and Jolley elegantly weave a thrilling world with characters the reader can empathize with, combined with history, adventure and time travel.
From first draft to publication, the project took about two years. It wasn’t always easy, but Ficklin and Jolley learned to work together and make each other better writers by bringing different things to the table. When they started together, Jolley took the first chapter and mercilessly chopped off a character’s leg at the beginning of the book. “Send it to me, right now!” she told Jolley, quickly realizing he’d taken liberties with the characters.
It was too much for Ficklin, and they compromised, moving the event to the middle of the book. And the writing partnership survived the first big hurdle.
These two know each other well, they trust each other and they have the same goals. That helps, because writing is an intensely personal activity, and sharing ideas isn’t always easy. They each have their own non-negotiable guidelines, which they respect because they value working together. Ficklin is the enforcer of deadlines and wrapping things up, and “Tyler’s the swear word police,” she said.
He knows she’s a stickler for plot and character development and he respects her expertise and attention to detail. “She likes to take control and I let her, it’s easier,” he said.
Their partnership makes them even more creative collaborators than they are individually. For example, they both knew they wanted to include inventor Nikola Tesla in the book as a character, but he’s been dead since 1943. “So we made him a brain in a jar,” Jolley said. “And it worked.”
Their back and forth volleying sometimes leads them so far off track that they spend a lot of time reeling themselves in from random conversations.
“We get derailed all the time,” Ficklin said. One time, they were filming book-tour videos and somehow got so distracted that it took three times as long as it should, with nearly 20 minutes of outtakes, including some bizarre conversation about people living in national parks and opinions on the smell of sulphur.
“But we can always bring it back,” Jolley said.
As far as their collaborative writing process went, Ficklin focused on developing characters (she “girlified his man characters”) and Jolley handled most of the world-building and the details of the Steampunk environment, which he found incredibly fascinating.
“You can create a laser gun and cover it with brass rivets and leather, or put pistons on something and it’s good,” he said. Jolley spent a lot of time researching Steampunk trends and Victorian history to help him develop a fresh approach to describing the world they created.
His efforts shine through in descriptions of one character’s steam-powered wheelchair and another character’s Steampunk prosthetic limb, which miraculously grows human skin over its mechanical parts. Jolley’s imagination stretched to create a character that is little more than an old-time diving helmet with a ticking board for communication. The genre allowed Jolley to explore a vast playground when creating the world for their characters, where the only limitations were what he couldn’t imagine.
Their writing partnership consists of countless hours at coffee shops and bookstores, pinballing emails back and forth, and lots of snarky jokes and humor. Their personalities work well together in this writing partnership, too — Ficklin’s whip-smart sarcasm is matched by Jolley’s easygoing banter.
Just like any other working relationship, they know how to push each other’s buttons and where the strengths and weaknesses are.
“It’s a book marriage,” Ficklin said. “You’ve got to understand the other person’s perspective and work together.”
“We’re good at compromise,” Jolley agreed.
That doesn’t mean they don’t annoy the heck out of each other sometimes.
“I procrastinate a lot and that annoys Sherry,” Jolley said.
“Tyler naps at conventions, which drives me crazy,” she said.
But overall, the work together is worth it.
“I like having somebody that can read along as I’m writing to make sure it’s going in the right direction,” Jolley said. “And I’m shy about my writing, so I’ll send her chunks of it here and there.”
Ficklin likes having Jolley along to celebrate the multitude of finish lines they cross with this project. “It’s nice to have someone who understands the excitement when you meet thresholds as an author,” she said.
The hardest part of working together is actually coordinating schedules. Jolley’s day job makes it hard to squeeze in some extra work. He manages by writing whenever he can — between patients, traveling, even typing on his laptop in the car on the drive up to Powderhorn to snowboard with his family. Jolley’s endless stream of ideas come to him whenever, even when he’s working on patients.
Both authors credit their spouses and children for supporting their efforts to make the series possible, with all the writing time and travel required.
Together, Ficklin and Jolley tour the book circuits and connect with fans (and future fans) of their Lost Imperials series. They dress up in their Steampunk garb and sign books. Jolley even sports what he’s named the “man corset,” his steeplejack pants.
Since the release of “Extracted” in November, the writing team’s schedule has been a whirlwind of promotional events, writing their own projects and moving forward with the sequels in the Lost Imperials series. Book two of the series (tentatively titled “Prodigal”) is finished, and is scheduled for publication sometime in 2015. And the third book, with a working title of “Absolution” is in the outline stages.
Their book has become a bestseller on Amazon.com, and the first print run has sold out already. They’re still a little dazed by the success of their joint project.
“It doesn’t feel real,” Ficklin said, although the cover of her upcoming book “Losing Logan” even advertises she’s the “bestselling author of ‘Extracted.’”
Finally, Jolley feels like he can add the title of “author” to his identity.
“For the longest time, I had the hardest time calling myself an author. The words wouldn’t come out of my mouth. And now we have this,” he said.
Visit thelostimperials.com for more information on “Extracted” and the rest of Ficklin and Jolley’s series.