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Writing with a Co-Author

People often ask me – “How do you write a book with another person?” When my sister and I decided to work together on Circle Dance, we didn’t know the answer to that question. I bought a book (“How to Write and Sell Your First Novel”, by Oscar Collier), read it, and proceeded to follow its advice. This particular book advocated outlining and set the foundation for the way I would write for many years until I modified that approach (see previous blog post Are you a Pantser or a Plotter?).

My sister, Valerie, and I spent hours dreaming up the characters and their stories. We made detailed character sketches which included all sorts of information that might never even make it into the book:  pet peeves, favorite color, biggest regret, internal conflicts etc. We then decided the road each would take and what fate would await them. Over time our story emerged and we committed it to paper in the form of a long chapter outline.

Every week we would assign chapters or scenes to each other and go our separate ways to write – within the confines of our previously agreed upon plot. We both had full-time jobs so our writing was done in the evenings and weekends. Our daily quota was three pages per day or fifteen pages a week. Once a week we got together, excitedly exchanged pages and waited for the other to tell us how wonderful our writing was. It was so satisfying to hear the other ooh and aah over new developments, witty dialogue or well-executed scenes. Not so satisfying was hearing the not always subtle suggestion that some dialogue be cut or a word be struck. Our previously harmonious relationship had never before been challenged by such disagreements. With thirteen years between us, we hadn’t fallen prey to the sibling rivalry so common among some sisters. Instead, from the time I turned 13, my sister has been my best friend.  Staunch allies, advocates, and admirers of each other we share a deep affection – always seeing each other through life’s twist and turns.  These were uncharted waters for us but navigate them we did and along the way learned to use tact and diplomacy to bring to fruition a story we could both be proud of.

Some memorable disagreements centered on the characters’ appearances when Valerie pointed out to me that we had made all the Greeks thin and beautiful.  I grudgingly allowed some extra weight on Eleni and less chiseled features on everyone else. She thought more characters should die and I had to remind her that although this is a Greek story – it is not a Greek tragedy. We spent many hours editing our own and each other’s pages so that our voices would merge and be indistinguishable from each other’s in the finished book. We compromised where we could, stood firm where we couldn’t and handed the manuscript over to a score of agents and editors who filled our mailboxes with rejection letters.  Now came the part in the collaboration where we encouraged each other. When one was down – the other was up. We finally found a publisher who wanted it – after five years. When our editor returned the manuscript with changes and suggestions we embraced them. Our earlier disagreements had inured us to constructive criticism and allowed us to look at our work with less subjective eyes.

Circle Dance was published in 2003 and we thought we were finished being co-authors. Ten years passed before we began our next collaboration. I moved to another state and life took over. We both worked independently on our own projects, until one day we both felt the desire to write together again. Over email, Skype, and visits back and forth we finished two more novels. Once again we had to face the rejections that come with submitting a manuscript, and once again, we had each other for encouragement and support. This time, though, we kept writing through the rejection, revising when necessary and seeking outside editorial guidance.

Three more years passed. And then the breakthrough. It was the second manuscript that landed us our wonderful literary agent last July and which sold to HarperCollins six days later. Combining the letters of our first names, we agreed upon a pen name to write under. Liv Constantine’s debut thriller, The Last Mrs. Parrish will make its arrival on October 17, 2017.

The journey to publication was long and arduous – fraught with disappointments, setbacks, and plenty of rejection. It was also filled with love, laughter, and camaraderie and has forged an even closer bond between my sister and me. Our books are not only a legacy to our children and our families – they are a testimony to the power of partnership.

 

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor.

If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

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