Thursday, October 19, 2006

Part 2 - on writing together

Are we insane?

So how did a history professor and a faux finisher living on opposite sides of the country manage to write a mystery series? We’re not the only writing team active today; in fact, numerous duos write under one name: PJ Parrish, Charles Todd, PJ Tracy, Nero Blanc, A.E. Maxwell. Some own up to it, while others try hard not to be “outed,” but surely all are subject to these frequent questions: How do you do it? Why do you do it? And the ever-popular: are you insane?

In fact, it has been a remarkably easy transition for sisters who in real life tend to finish each other’s sentences (nobody in their right mind will play charades with us). We start the process with a division of labor. Julie collects ideas for art forgery scams from daily art news networks. She sends them to Carolyn, and on the weekends we use free cell-phone minutes for lengthy brainstorming sessions. One sister’s ideas tend to spark the other sister’s imagination, and when we have a nugget of a story in place we hang up. Indeed, one of the critical lessons we had to learn was when to stop talking and start writing. Julie retires to her computer to draft the first chapter, which she sends to Carolyn as an e-mail attachment. Despite our roots in the Silicon Valley we’re both a bit computer-phobic, but even the most committed Luddite must admit that e-mail makes it possible to maintain our bicoastal writing relationship with a minimum of time and money spent at the post office.

Carolyn “re-writes” the first draft, which can be something of a bloodbath, and develops the humor, dialogue, and the descriptive passages. Often this involves Internet research to be sure the details are right (she once find an on-line camera through the California Department of Transportation that allowed her to count the number of toll booths on the Oakland Bay Bridge). Julie re-writes this second draft and sends it back to Carolyn, who rewrites the rewrite. Over the next weeks or months the evolving text flies back and forth so many times that neither of us can remember who wrote what, which is our goal. We want Hailey Lind to speak with a single, consistent voice.

Another advantage to partnership is that, as similar as we are in many ways, we are individuals with different temperaments and attitudes toward the writing process. When one of us gets bogged down or discouraged, more often than not the other is raring to go and energetic. And we play to our strengths: Julie, the artist, has at her fingertips a wealth of art information but has a hard time knowing when to stop (“For the love of God, get on with the story!”). Carolyn, a detail-oriented historian, catches inconsistencies but occasionally has to be reminded of the overall picture (“Hmmm—what was that storyline again?”).

To be sure, there are times when we wonder if we are insane--we butt heads occasionally, and have been known to stubbornly reject the other’s changes. But we have a long history together and a huge store of trust and goodwill, which help us to work through these moments. If one sister feels strongly about something the other will generally yield, but by and large we take great delight in the other’s contributions to the story. At the end of the day, we never forget that we’re sisters first and co-authors second.

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