Lake Norman & Mooresville

Unlikely pair collaborate on political thriller

Margo Williams and Jon Guttman come from different worlds. She's a Baptist girl from Texas who served eight terms as a Davidson Town Commissioner, known for her work in town planning and growth.

He's a Jewish boy from Long Island who has specialized in marketing but also has a background in cinema and theater. But despite their outward differences, the two have formed a collaborative writing team and recently self-published a political thriller, "Madame President." And along the way, they've forged a rare friendship that both acknowledge as one of the best perks to come out of the writing process.

Williams, 62, who lives on Concord Road, and Guttman, 63, who lives in the St. Alban's neighborhood, can't seem to remember exactly when they first crossed paths - Guttman believes that it was probably in the mid-90s, when he and his partner, Lewis Deaton, were living in New York City but came frequently to Davidson to visit Deaton's parents. Guttman and Deaton moved to the town permanently in 2000 to care for Deaton's ailing mother, and the two hired Williams - who in addition to her government work has her own freelance writing business, A Way With Words - to do some writing for the marketing business they had started.

Over the next few years, a friendship grew. And then, in 2004, Guttman and Deaton asked Williams for an appointment.

"They came with an idea for a book that they wanted me to co-author. Lewis had had this uncle who was a government man at the turn of the century who had come to Mooresville, then disappeared," she said. After some deliberation, Williams agreed.

They realized early on how difficult three people writing was - "clunky," as Guttman dubbed it - and Deaton graciously stepped back. But Williams and Guttman began to wile away the hours in Williams's upstairs office and developed a nice rhythm. "As the book grew, so did our friendship," Williams remembers.

The two emerged with the full manuscript of "Perce's Gold," an historical novel based on Deaton's relative, in August 2005. Despite keen interest from publishers, there was never quite the right fit, and the book was never published. But Guttman and Williams made some important realizations. "We felt confident in calling ourselves writers," she recalled.

A few years later, Williams recalls waking up from a dream with "a woman's voice in my ear. I told Jon I had to write a political thriller about Kate MacIntyre (the main character in 'Madame President') and 'Madame' was born."

Guttman jumped onboard, and the two spent the next six months producing a detailed outline. "We were able to tap some incredible resources - an army ranger, a molecular biologist, a genetic engineer," said Guttman. "We knew what kind of book we wanted to write and that was one that was credible, with no loose ends."

When the research aspect was finished, the two retreated to a familiar space - Williams's office. After spending so much time together crafting "Perce's Gold," each was completely aware of the other's quirks and strengths. "It's like a marriage," Guttman laughs. "I knew not to take it personally when Williams gave me a look that told me to quiet down. Because first and foremost is trust."

They published the book through CreateSpace, a self-publishing book company based in Charleston, S.C.

Despite the easy friendship, there were times when Williams had to work alone. There's a particular scene of intimacy in the book. "I had to send him away when I wrote that," she said.