Author Jennifer Crusie has written 16 novels, including Bet Me, Faking It and Fast Woman; her body count in any given book is seldom more than one. Bob Mayer has written 32 techno-thrillers (his Area 51 books are consistent USA Today bestsellers); his body count has gone into the seven figures on occasion. In their first collaboration, Don't Look Down (coming next month from St. Martin's), the authors reached a happy (?) medium; the central body count is six (plus a few crew members on a yacht).

Crusie and Mayer met at the Maui Writers Conference in September 2004. Unfamiliar with each other's work, the two began chatting about books and writing, and something clicked. By the time the conference was over, they had hatched the beginning of a plot outline for Don't Look Down. About a year later they had a finished manuscript. Just about all the writing was done via e-mail—Crusie from a small town on the banks of Ohio's Auglaize River, Mayer from a barrier island off the coast of South Carolina. She wrote the scenes and dialogue for the female protagonist, Lucy Armstrong, a film director on a shoot; he wrote J.T. Wilder, a Green Beret doing stunts for the star. (Other key ingredients include the CIA, the Russian mob and a one-eyed alligator.)

In the midst of the getting-to-know-you process, Crusie explained to her new partner, "In my books, people have sex and get married." Mayer's response: "In my books, people have sex and die." As their collaboration began, Crusie cautioned her partner: "You can't keep killing characters. My readers get attached to them." Mayer asked, "Then why do you keep giving them names?" [More ripostes—and further insight into this collaboration—can be found at, which includes a dueling blog.]

Where to publish was an easy decision, as Mayer had been published by many houses and Crusie has been with St. Martin's Press for more than 10 years. The agent was Meg Ruley at the Jane Rotrosen Agency—Crusie's first and only agent.

The collaboration involved an interesting mesh of two very different compositional approaches. Mayer had always been very linear, doing serious outlining before beginning a new book. Crusie, on the other hand, is more circuitous. Jennifer Enderlin, her editor at St. Martin's since 1995, told PW that Crusie would typically submit a two- or three-page story arc. For Don't Look Down, Enderlin got a complete outline and a few sample chapters. The Mayer influence had begun. In one of her first reads of the manuscript, Enderlin asked Crusie about Mayer's contribution—she couldn't tell who wrote what. The collaboration was working.

The SMP folks set plans in motion for its largest marketing budget for a book with Crusie's name. The duo will be traveling to about 25 cities; collaboration is the watchword on tour, too. Says Crusie about her first Thrillerfest appearance, "It's not my thing, but Bob has joined Romance Writers of America." Adds Mayer: "We will be going to more than 20 conferences, mostly RWA chapters. At least one of us should come back alive."

The announced 300,000 first printing is the largest for both authors. And in the interest of attracting both male and female readers, the dust jacket has a chick-lit feel and the hardcover itself sports a military camouflage design. John Karle, associate director of publicity, explains: "We did this so guys could read the book and not feel silly."

And word has it that on their next book, Agnes and the Hitmen (due in July 2007), Crusie is letting Mayer up that body count.