Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain aren't fazed by blood the fake stuff, anyway. As writers and co-producers for the television show The Shield, it's all in a day's work to answer such questions as, Is this bloody mannequin bloody enough for you? Should we put more blood on the knife? And yet their latest endeavor, the young adult novel Bass Ackwards and Belly Up is a decidedly un-gory one. Craft and Fain have written an engaging, adventure-filled story about four longtime friends who, right after high school graduation, decide to defy convention, expectations and their parents, in the name of following their dreams. The authors know long-term friendship they've been close since the 1980s, when they were co-editors of their Kansas City, Missouri, high school newspaper. Almost 10 years later, the two reunited in Kansas City over Christmas vacation, and Sarah mentioned to Liz that she was moving to Los Angeles to pursue her dream of being a writer. We were home visiting our families, and we got together for drinks, Craft recalls. After the first beer, I was saying I'd visit Sarah in L.A., maybe even for a few weeks. By beer number three, I was thinking about moving. I stayed up all night thinking about it, and announced my decision to my family the next day. Soon after, the pair settled in a beach house in Santa Monica and began writing for television.
Now Craft and Fain share office space and writing duties at the Los Angeles headquarters of the FX police drama The Shield. We spoke with the authors via conference call as they sat at their desks, which are next to each other in a pit that used to be a storage closet, Fain says, with papers, DVDs and videocassette tapes piled high. The lived-in dÅ½cor doesn't hamper the writers' productivity. In fact, they didn't even take time off from television to write Bass Ackwards and Belly Up (or, as they call it, BABU). They worked on the book in the morning hours and turned back to TV later in the day. Adding a novel to their workload meant that, in addition to achieving new heights of time-management savvy, the writing partners had to reconsider the way they divvied up their workload and adjust their writing styles, too. In TV, every line on a page is a precious bit of space, Craft says. We had to get out of that mindset and realize it's OK to describe someone in detail. Fain adds, For TV, we separate our work by storyline. For the book, we separated it by character: I did Kate and Becca, and Liz did Harper and Sophie. There was never any question, the authors say, about writing for teens. We never considered another genre, Craft explains. To me, it was like therapy to write young adult fiction . . . reliving that difficult emotional time, taking my power back. It heals some wounds, to live vicariously through the characters. Emotions indeed shape the lives of BABU's four friends, who experience the fear, boredom, uncertainty and high drama that can come from living in the so-called real world. But they're also exhilarated to realize they're able to make important choices and survive hardships, whether on a trip around Europe (Kate), at college in Vermont (Becca), navigating the societal wilds of Hollywood (Sophie), or at home in Boulder attempting to write a novel (Harper). It's not lost on the four protagonists, though, that their frequent contact with one another (mainly by e-mail, as befits 21st-century teenagers) is vital to their confidence and appetite for adventure. That's no accident, says Fain: We feel very close to the story because it's about friends who support each other as they're figuring out what their dreams are, and pursuing them. We wanted to say through the lens of our own experience that anything really is possible. If you can pin down what you want, then you can go after it and get it. The authors aren't sure how many of their coworkers at The Shield will read the book; Fain says their colleagues are bemused by the writing duo's latest project. That's not altogether surprising, because, it's a very, very, very testosterone-driven environment. So, when we show up with our lovely purple-covered book, it's not anything they understand. Still, she says, testosterone (and estrogen) aside, in keeping with BABU's central message, they are very supportive, and very proud. Linda M. Castellitto writes from North Carolina, where she lives her dream of getting paid to read and write.