Monthly Archives: February 2012

Go Team Lucy Arlington!

In its first week of sales, Buried in a Book made number 32 on the New York Times Bestseller List for Mass-Market Paperbacks! My co-author, Ellery Adams, and I are ecstatic. Not only does it entitle both of us to call ourselves bestselling authors, but it validates the success of our collaboration.

Many people are skeptical about the idea of writing a book with another person. “Writing is a personal thing,” I’ve been told. “How can you even want to write a novel with another person?”

Well, it’s true that good writing does come from the heart. Still, a story is a story, and sometimes two people putting their heads together make a story better. At least in the case of Buried in a Book, that’s what happened.

I never expected to be part of a writing team and presumed that my writing life would involve just me and my own words. But sometimes things align in the universe a certain way and you just have to follow a path that opens up to you. I would like to tell you the story of how Ellery and I converged on the path that led to becoming the Lucy Arlington team.

We met in 2005 when I moved to her street in Richmond, and in a short time we became good friends. She had just released her first mystery series (The Collectibles Mysteries by JB Stanley) and I was just starting to write my first novel (The Unraveling of Abby Settel). Our friendship grew out of a love of books and a respect for each others’ writing.

A couple of years later, we carpooled to a Malice Domestic convention, and on the drive home afterward we brainstormed an idea for a cozy mystery series in which the protagonist is a literary agent. The concept grew from there, and Ellery pitched it to her agent. After some tweaking on our part, she found a publisher interested in it. We collaborated on a name for the author of this series, and thus Lucy Arlington was born.

In the time that we first came up with the idea and had a contract for the series, I moved twice — once back to Canada, and then to Bermuda, which is where I currently reside. Ellery remained in Richmond. As a result our team-writing is now done long-distance, primarily through emails with a phone call now and then to clarify plot and character issues, and a once-a-year meeting at Malice Domestic.

(Of course, making the New York Times list generated a few additional celebratory phone calls!)

Settling on the method of how to co-author a novel took some trial and error of different approaches, but in the end we derived a successful process that works:

-We first brainstorm a plot, characters, subplots, the murder(s), etc.This is done over the phone as much as through emails.
-We then set up a schedule for completing the book by deadline.
-When that has all been decided upon, one of us writes the first half of the first chapter and sends it to the other, who reads through it, critiques it, and writes the second half. Then there are a few back-and-forths of the chapter, in which we edit each others’ writing, tighten up the storyline and/or characters, and ensure consistency so that the narrative is seamless and a reader would not be able to tell that the chapter was written by two different people. When we are both satisfied, chapter one is complete and we move on to the next one.
-This process is followed until the manuscript is finished, after which we each take a turn at reading through (and editing) the full manuscript, making sure all loose ends are tied up, that the characters are consistent, and the story flows the way we want.

I don’t know how other collaborative writing teams work, but this is how we wrote Buried in a Book and the other books in the series (we are currently writing the third one). We each bring different strengths to the writing, and for some characters Ellery has a better voice while I do for others, but the books are the product of a true team effort. By the time we send the manuscript off to our editor, it’s a good clean copy because it has passed by two sets of eyes several times.

In addition to the Novel Idea Mystery Series, Ellery and I are both working on other projects.  I sometimes find it a bit disconcerting to switch from one story to the other, as the genres and characters are very different, but it only takes a short while to immerse myself into one or the other character’s lives. I also find that I must push myself at times to sit at the computer, because writing two novels at the same time means a lot of typing. But I am living the life of an author, something I’ve aspired to for a long time, and I’m finding it extremely satisfying. Especially now that I can say that I’m a New York Times Bestselling author!

Do you think you could successfully collaborate on a creative project?

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Writing What I Know

There are many words of advice given to writers as they learn and hone their craft. One phrase consistently tends to pop up: “write what you know.” What does that mean exactly? If every author followed that advice literally, how could we have wonderful fantasy worlds like those of Lord of the Rings or Hunger Games? Or intriguing murder mysteries?

“Writing what you know” is more subtle than that. I may not know what it’s like to come upon a dead body, but I do know what it feels like to be shocked, horrified, and outraged. That’s the “what I know” that I would incorporate into a scene. Characters in novels need to be believable, and readers need to be able to identify with their behaviour. Settings and circumstances can come from the imagination, but the people need to come from “what I know.”

I believe that for a work of fiction to be successful, it has to have an element of universality, something that speaks to the human condition. This is true whether the story takes place on an imaginary planet in some futuristic century or in your hometown last year.

When I wrote The Unraveling of Abby Settel, I was definitely writing what I knew. In fact, I began the project as a way to work through what I was experiencing in my life at the time. At first I was writing only from my own experience, and while the story was progressing, the narrative and action were flat because I was limiting the fiction to what my life was. It was only when I realized that my experience needed to inform the novel, not be the novel, that Abby’s story took wing and soared. My relocation and emotional response to it, and that of the women I met in similar circumstances, were the kernels, the “what I know” in Abby’s story; the rest came from my imagination.

This week a friend emailed me a link to an article from BBC News Online titled “Tales of woe from the roaming professionals“, describing the toll that relocating to another country takes on the non-working spouse. She sent it to me because it absolutely reflects the story told in my novel. That universality is what I was aiming for, and to have Abby’s tale validated in BBC News Online made me smile.

How would you interpret the advice, “Write what you know?”

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Filed under fiction, sylvia may, The Unraveling of Abby Settel

An Author’s Work…and NEW RELEASE!!

Now that I’m an author, it seems that my work is never-ending. A typical day at my computer might go like this: First I check FaceBook and emails for author Sylvia May, then I check FaceBook and emails for author Lucy Arlington. Finally I get writing on my current novel (working title of Hyde Island), and find myself in the middle of a troubling scene when I remember I was supposed to do a guest blog about my novel, The Unraveling of Abby Settel. No sooner do I complete that, when my co-author, Jenn Stanley, emails me her contribution to the next chapter of our cozy mystery. Before I know it, it’s time to cook dinner.

Still it’s not without its rewards. In what other job can you escape to other places without leaving your chair, or into other people’s lives, control the events, create worlds? And then there’s the thrill of holding a book in your hand that you wrote! Best of all are the emails and reviews from people who appreciate what you’ve written.
Tomorrow, I will reap one of those rewards. The first book in A Novel Idea Mystery Series that Jenn and I have co-authored under the name, Lucy Arlington, is being released. I’m thrilled that Buried in a Book will finally be available in bookstores.

It’s been quite a learning experience, and a fulfilling one, to write a book with another person. Interested in hearing about our experience? Jenn, who currently publishes as Ellery Adams, guest blogged today at our agent’s blog in which she describes our experience. Check out Do You Have What It Takes To Be A Co-Author? on the BookeEnds Blog.

In the meantime, I have to get back to work. Lydia is in trouble on Hyde Island and Lila has discovered another body in Inspiration Valley!

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