Q&A: Megan Erickson and Santino Hassell of STRONG SIGNAL

Strong Signal Megan Erickson Santino Hassell

Thanks for having us on Ever After! Strong Signal releases Monday, and it’s about a deployed soldier who strikes up an online relationship with a video game streamer. Readers had some questions about Strong Signal and the co-writing experience, so we compiled their questions to answer for a blog post.

How did you come up with the idea?

S: I think the original kernel of the idea came up months ago when we were discussing streamers and cam girls. I totally forgot why we were discussing this, but it led to us going on Twitch and watching a streamer named Kaceytron (who basically spends her entire stream lampooning the stereotype of ‘sexy gamer girl’, and silly dudebros not understanding that she is trolling them).

So I was like “Megan, you have to write a story about Kacey!”, and after a month or two it came up again and were both so excited about the notion that we decided to take the plunge and write it together as a gay romance. We couldn’t find any super popular openly gay streamers besides Sky Williams, so we thought that would be interesting to explore when coupled with the rampant homophobia and sexism in gaming, and the tendency for gay internet figures to be fetishized.

How did you think you might be a good fit to write together?

M: Well, we were fans of each other’s work before we became friends. So there was always a mutual respect for each other as writers. I think that’s the number one necessity for co-writing–respect. We first thought our personalities meshed well in regard to being pretty easy-going and not egotistical. And as far as the writing style… we just kinda went with it.

How did writing work? Were you each responsible for one character? And if that’s the case, how did dialogue work?

M: For the most part, Garrett was written by Santino, and Kai was written by me. However, I think both of us still feel ownership of both characters. We worked together to develop them. There were many times where we jumped into each POV–if one of us was stuck or unsure how the other character would react. Usually when we talked about what scene was next, we’d go over it with each other. “Hey, how would Kai respond to this?” And then the scene was written accordingly. And we tweaked many dialogue/chat scenes.

What program did you use to write?

M: We used Google docs. Someone told me a file can get glitchy around 10K so we broke it into parts. We’d make notes to each other in the file which was convenient. Pretty much everything is in Google docs – our outlines, our files. Heck, I’m answering these questions in Google Docs so that we both have access to the file. We also planned the whole thing pretty much by using Gchat.

Did you write chronologically? (did you go back and read the scene written before yours)

S: We primarily wrote chronologically but there were times when we skipped ahead to write a scene we were really excited about, or when we backtracked to fill in some chapters when a section needed fleshing out.

Santino, how was this different than your previous co-writing experience. Megan, how was co-writing for the first time?

S: For In the Company of Shadows, Ais and I wrote and posted in a serial-format, so we didn’t have the opportunity to backtrack and tweak scenes or shuffle things before the reader saw it. We also didn’t have beta readers, so we didn’t have feedback. In general, it was a very different process because we were writing for free. One of the other major differences was that Ais and I didn’t write each other’s characters, but Megan and I shared Garrett and Kai for the most part.

M: I’ve never co-written fiction. But I come from a journalist background which can often be collaborative. To be honest, I really enjoyed co-writing. I liked reading his scenes and feeling inspired to go from there. And it was kind of nice not to responsible for every single word of a book.

Was it hard to compromise over scenes, dialogue, etc? Can you give an example of something you saw differently and had to compromise on?

S: I think we were pretty much on the same page for most of the writing process. We planned out each arc in advance with mini outlines for each scene, and discussed whether or not something needed tweaking. It was kind of funny because we both kept having these “Is this okay? Tell me if it sucks!” reactions, and kept checking in with each other while drafting. The only compromise I can think of was when one of us suggested something be added or removed from a scene here or there, but we were always on the same page.

M: We talked a lot. A lot. Every day. Communication was key for sure.

Santino, what did you learn the most from Megan while writing SS? And Megan, what did you learn the most from Santino? (either from each other or the experience as a whole)

S: Megan is really excellent at thinking in terms of the internal and external conflicts, and she is SO GOOD at pacing and scene placement. I’m hoping those skills rubbed off on me.

M: Santino knows his characters. Inside and out. He’s very good at knowing how his characters will act and sticking to it. I really respect that and it made me really think hard about the choices my characters are making.

What is your favorite thing about each other’s writing style?

M: I like that Santino takes risks. In the language he uses, in his character’s actions/thoughts. He stays very true to that character and his journey. And he also has a way of writing super raw and honest but yet in the next sentence, he can make me laugh out loud.

S: Strong Signal has some pretty intense themes when it comes to isolation, safe spaces, social anxiety, and sexuality, but Megan has the ability to still infuse this lightness and fun into the text that I truly admire.

Were there any surprises in the direction one of you took the story or a scene?

M: Well, we replotted the outline three times, I think? Originally the story was supposed to end a little differently, and we decided that wasn’t true to character. It was always a collaboration, though. We both agreed on where it would go.

Did knowing that you were co-writing make you conscious of decisions you were making while writing?

M: It takes a lot of trust to co-write, because we would often be reading scenes minutes after the other person wrote it. That’s… some trust to let someone read your rough, just-written words. I often had to pretend Santino would not read my words, haha, Especially the sex scenes.

S: Oh God, the sex scenes. I was so embarrassed at first. I was like “DON’T LOOK.”

Did you make each other away of certain phrases you use or crutch words?

S: Well, we discovered we both use “fuck” a lot. Hahaha.

M: Ooops.

You have such different writing styles. Was it easier or harder to blend than you expected? (different povs, etc).

M: For me, it was easier than I thought it would be. That might also be because our characters are also very different people. So our writing styles match our characters, I would say. I was often inspired by Santino’s scenes, so it was easy to then springboard off of that and keep the same tone/emotions.

S: I don’t think blending was difficult because we had a lot of trust between us when it came to writing each other’s characters and editing certain scenes. There’s a lot of both of us in it.

Do you have any funny stories to share that happened while writing together?

S: We had some pretty hilarious nicknames for scenes. “Dick sauce” was definitely a shorthand description at one point (although we ended up cutting the scene). There were also moments when we were having this earnest discussions about, like, the logistics of sex scenes.

M: Our conversations regarding sex scenes were awkward as hell. We both write romance, so it’s not like we haven’t written intimate scenes before, but I never had to actually talk through a sex scene with someone. Especially because these scenes were a little different: i.e. over Skype, chat, etc. I remember there was one scene where the two guys were Gchatting, and Santino wanted me to hop in and write some Kai dialogue. So I did–while we were both in the Google doc–and then messaged him, “Ok, just wrap up with some more dirty talk.” And he said, “Aaaah! Not with you watching!” I laughed.

How did the editing process work?

M: We compiled the GDocs into one word file. I read through it with track changes, then Santino did the same thing, and I read back over his changes. As far as copy-edits go, we’ll probably do something similar. And we would message each other if we made any major content edits and talk it over.

How long did SS take, from story inception to finish?

S: From inception to the final editing round it was about 2.5 months. We planned it while we were each writing other books in November, and dove straight in once December hit.

Will you be writing more books together in the future?

S: We’re planning a follow-up novel to Strong Signal. It stands on its own,  but there are some side characters we’re eager to explore. 😉

M: It was a great experience for both of us, and we definitely have more stories we want to tell about finding love online.

Strong Signal
I was counting down the months until the end of my deployment. My days were spent working on military vehicles, and I spent my nights playing video games that would distract me until I could leave Staff Sergeant Garrett Reid behind.
That was when I met him: Kai Bannon, a fellow gamer with a famous stream channel.
I never expected to become fixated on someone who’d initially been a rival. And I’d never expected someone who oozed charm to notice me–a guy known for his brutal honesty and scowl. I hadn’t planned for our online friendship to turn into something that kept me up at night–hours of chatting evolving into filthy webcam sessions.
But it did. And now I can’t stop thinking about him. In my mind, our real life meeting is perfect. We kiss, we fall into bed, and it’s love at first sight.
Except, like most things in my life, it doesn’t go as planned.

Megan EricksonMegan Erickson is a former journalist who switched to fiction when she decided she liked writing her own endings better. She likes to pretend she has control now, but usually her characters are the ones who hold the reins. Her romance novels have a touch of humor, a dash of nerdy, and always a happily ever after.

She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, two kids, and two cats named after John Hughes characters. She’s still waiting for the party she was promised when she grew to five feet… maybe because she never got there.

Megan can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and MeganErickson.org.






Santino HassellSantino Hassell was raised by a conservative family, but he was anything but traditional. He grew up to be a smart-mouthed, school cutting grunge kid, then a transient twenty-something, and eventually transformed into an unlikely romance author.

Santino writes queer romance that is heavily influenced by the gritty, urban landscape of New York City, his belief that human relationships are complex and flawed, and his own life experiences.

Santino can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and SantinoHassell.com


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