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Guest Post: Writing a Life Together
book cover for Quincy Tahoma: The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist

By Charnell Havens and Vera Marie Badertscher

Writing, as we have been told again and again, is a solitary life. So no wonder people are curious about how two people can co-author a book.

We can only tell you how it worked for us, as we wrote Quincy Tahoma: The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist.

We met at The Ohio State University when we joined the same sorority and became friends. The friendship continued as we moved to different parts of the country. Charnell, a business executive, owned some paintings by a Navajo artist and she wanted to learn more about him and write a biography. Vera, a freelance writer, lived in Arizona and had worked with and enjoyed Indian art. We joined forces in 2000.

Legal Agreement

Despite the fact that we were longtime friends, and we worked easily together, we had an attorney draw up an agreement to cover legal issues that might arise. When money and a long term working relationship are involved, it is a good idea to have agreements in writing. Although both of us were published writers, neither had published a book and we welcomed the advice of a savvy attorney to help deal with publishers. We made decisions regarding order of names on the book, split of royalties, what would happen if one person died or was incapacitated.

Dividing Tasks
It seemed obvious that we couldn’t both write simultaneously. Since Vera was working as a writer, we agreed that she would do the basic writing, with constant consultation.

Charnell is a photographer, so it fell to her to photograph paintings, track down owners and the stories behind the paintings, and later contact museums and collectors for images that could be used in the book.

Method
We started with a list of questions and a time line of the few facts we knew about Tahoma's life.

While Charnell had done some preliminary research, we both plunged into museum, library and archival research, as well as following leads to people who had known Quincy Tahoma or his work. Over a ten-year period, we also interviewed academics, museum curators and archivists, and Indian art dealers. We found old girlfriends, policemen and doctors who shared their stories of Tahoma. We used the set of questions in interviews and always asked who else we should contact. Each of us taped the interviews,and Vera transcribed them, sending copies to Charnell.

Charnell developed a web site, which attracted people who owned paintings or wanted to talk about Tahoma.

After two years, we were sure that we could get enough information to fill a book. We discussed what information to use and its organization, then identified the most important gaps we had to fill. Vera sent each finished chapter to Charnell for editing and suggestions. Following our list of chapter headings was about as close as we got to an outline, but since the order was chronological, it was not complex. Rewrite, re-edit, repeat, as we worked our way through ten chapters. When we were actively working on the project, we e-mailed each other often and also connected by phone.

We used Word's Track Changes edit function and posted the WIP manuscript to Yahoo Groups . However, when we reviewed the manuscript to Schiffer publications for final edit, we used Adobe X, a relatively new technology, to return our comments.

Vera used End Notes to help with footnotes.

Meanwhile, Charnell was cataloging photographs of paintings and snapshots of Tahoma's life, and keeping a database of all the people we contacted. Each time she photographed or received a photo, she copied Vera.

We were confident of publication,and in preparation, we started a Tahoma blog, opened a Twitter account and later set up a Tahoma Facebook page.

Over several years Vera prepared proposals and talked to seven publishers, but Charnell hit the jackpot with an e-mail to Schiffer Publishing in 2009.

We both reviewed each round of editing,with Vera doing the rewriting. Each decision regarding photographs to go in the book was first made by Charnell and then reviewed by Vera.

We shared the costs of museum fees for image reproduction, having maps drawn, and an indexer, Brette Sember. We each paid for our own research travel and for anything else we decided to do individually.

And here's the amazing part. We are still friends, and now working together on marketing the book.

Charnell Havens headshot
Vera Marie Badertscher headshot

Charnell Havens (who is now a real estate agent) and Vera Marie Badertscher (a blogger) co-authored the biography, Quincy Tahoma: The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. You can learn more about their work and his at the Tahoma blog.

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Guest Post: Writing a Life Together + technology