by Grace Topping
Writing is usually a solitary occupation. However, more and more writers are teaming up to produce works, either under a single pseudonym, under both names of the authors, or under the name of a well-known writer “with” a supporting writer. The word "with" actually appears on the cover.
This is the first in a series of interviews featuring authors who have taken this team approach. Terrie Farley Moran, who recently teamed with Laura Childs, agreed to tell us about her experience of writing “with” a best-selling author.
About Terrie Farley Moran
Over a number of years, Terrie Farley Moran established an excellent reputation for her short stories, which have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, and various anthologies. She has been short-listed twice for the annual Best American Mystery Stories.
When Terrie put her talents to writing a mystery novel, she hit her stride and won an Agatha for Best First Novel. I was thrilled to be at the Agatha Awards Dinner and hear the audience reaction to the announcement of her win.
This year, Terrie focused her talents on a different challenge—writing “with” best-selling author, Laura Childs. Their collaboration, “Parchment and Old Lace,” was released in October 2015. Since the concept of writing “with” another writer is a mystery to most of us, Terrie agreed to an interview about her experience.
Thank you, Terrie, for joining us at Writers Who Kill.
After years of writing short stories, you made the change to book-length mysteries and won an Agatha. Then recently, you took on another challenge, writing “with” bestselling author Laura Childs in her latest release, Parchment and Old Lace. How did the collaboration with Laura Childs come about?
|Terrie Farley Moran|
Grace, thanks so much for inviting me to visit with all our friends at Writers Who Kill. Well, let’s get right to it. I was blessed that someone at Berkley (our mutual publisher) asked Laura if she would read and potentially blurb Well Read, Then Dead, my first cozy mystery. I had no idea that Laura had read my novel until my editor sent me the blurb. Needless to say I was ecstatic. Shortly after the release of Well Read, Then Dead, my phone rang, and when I answered, a woman asked if she had reached Terrie Moran and when I said yes, she said “This is Laura Childs.” Fortunately I didn’t say, “Oh come on, is that you Grace Topping playing a trick on me?”
Laura told me that she was looking for someone to assist her in writing Parchment and Old Lace, which would be the next book (lucky 13) in her highly entertaining Scrapbooking Mystery Series set in New Orleans and featuring the witty and wise Carmela Bertrand. I jumped at the opportunity. But these things don’t just happen. Co-writing is a business arrangement. I would be disingenuous if I didn’t mention that the contract agreement involved agents and editors all the way.
What was it like writing with someone else, especially on a book in an existing series? Can you share some of the details?
Sure. Laura Childs is probably one of the most organized writers on Earth. She writes detailed outlines that are approximately a third of the length of the finished book. The outline includes snippets of conversations, notes about settings, food, personalities, wardrobe, etc. My job is to write each chapter according to the outline. Then I send the chapter to Laura who reads it, sometimes accepts it or sometimes sends it back for further work. Finally she edits and rewrites so that the finished product is definitely in her voice.
Are there different levels of participation when you write “with” another writer?
I’m sure there are, but Laura has done this before with other writers so she had a clear idea of how we would work. She was great at providing guidance.
What was the most challenging part of writing with a well-known bestselling author?
Writing is generally a solitary process. I think the challenge of writing with any partner is that consultation is frequently required. When writing on my own I can wander along and take twists and turns with the plot or the characters. That freedom is lacking in joint projects. Change requires consultation.
Was it an e-mail exchange, or do you live near each other?
We communicated by email and now and again by telephone. Laura and I have never met, although I hope we do someday.
What surprised you the most about the process?
There were no surprises. Writing is hard work. Writing as a team is still hard work.
How difficult was it to blend your writing style with Laura’s? Did you have to totally suppress your own style?
Well, it is not so much about suppressing my writing style as it is about my working to adapt Laura’s intimate knowledge of her characters: how they talk and how they think, what they would do in a given situation, etc.
Did you have to read all of Laura’s books in the series to become familiar with her characters and their histories? Or did she have some type of series bible?
Before Laura invited me to participate, I had already read four books from the Scrapbooking series. As soon as we discussed the possibility of working together, I read a couple more.
In writing Parchment and Old Lace, I found it extremely difficult to have to search through books to remember how to spell a character’s name (Ava Gruiex comes to mind) or which dog was the street rescue (that would be Poobah). For Crepe Factor I have the Style Sheet and the finished manuscript from Parchment so I can do a quick “find” to check my details.
What did you learn from the experience?
I learned that besides being exceptionally talented and creative Laura Childs plays well with others.
We are seeing more well established authors writing with other writers. For example, James Patterson writes with a number of writers, including Chris Grabenstein. What do you think accounts for this trend?
James Patterson has a long list of co-writers and I am delighted that Brendan DuBois has also recently signed to write with Patterson. (Just tossing that in there as something we can all look forward to.) You have to remember that publishing is a business. Many authors don’t want to abandon their existing series but have ideas for new work. If the publisher agrees and financial terms can be reached, a co-writer is often the solution.
Laura Childs is a perfect example. She writes three hugely successful series. The big news is that on July 5 Berkley will be releasing a thriller, Little Girl Gone by Gerry Schmitt, which is Laura’s real name. So that will be series number four. That’s a lot of writing each year.
Will you be writing with Laura Childs again or with another writer?
I am delighted to report that Laura asked me to write with her on the next Scrapbooking Mystery, Crepe Factor. We worked very hard and recently turned the completed manuscript in to her editor.
What advice would you give someone who is considering writing with an established writer?
It is a great honor to be asked to work with a writer who has a solid reputation and a long established body of work. When you are considering whether or not to accept the offer, it is important to realize that the person who asked for your assistance is the team leader and has an established style and story line that meets the readers' expectations. It is your job to follow along in that pattern.
What’s next for your “Read ’Em and Eat” mystery series? I hope we’ll see more of them.
As you mentioned earlier, Well Read, Then Dead won the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. Caught Read-Handed, the second book in the series, was very well received and continues to see brisk sales. Read to Death will be released on July 5, and I am very excited because besides taking a trip to the magnificent Edison and Ford Winter Estates, readers will get to meet Sassy and Bridgy’s moms. And while Bridgy’s mom is Aunt Ophie’s sister, they aren’t exactly peas in a pod. Think family friction!
And yes, Read to Death by Terrie Farley Moran and Little Girl Gone by Gerry Schmitt will be released by Berkley on exactly the same day. Celebration time! Both are available for pre-order now.
Thank you, Terrie, for joining us at Writers Who Kill.
To learn more about Terrie Farley Moran and her books, visit her at http://terriefarleymoran.com
Parchment and Old Lace
Carmela couldn’t imagine a finer evening than dinner at Commander’s Palace with her beau, Detective Edgar Babcock. The food and the company are equally divine—with the exception of Isabelle Black stopping by to brag about her upcoming wedding. Resuming the romance with a walk in the evening air, the couple is interrupted once again—this time by a terrifying scream from inside the cemetery. Having just seen Isabelle, Carmela and Edgar now find her lying across an aboveground tomb, strangled to death with a piece of vintage lace. Carmela would rather leave the investigating to Edgar, but she can’t say no to Isabelle’s sister Ellie, the tarot card reader at Juju Voodoo, when she asks her to help. As she untangles the enemies of Isabelle’s past, Carmela hopes she can draw out the killer before someone else gets cold feet.
Well Read, Then Dead
Nestled in the barrier islands of Florida’s Gulf Coast, Fort Myers Beach is home to Mary “Sassy” Cabot and Bridget Mayfield—owners of the bookstore café, Read ’Em and Eat. But when they’re not dishing about books or serving up scones, Sassy and Bridgy are keeping tabs on hard-boiled murder. Read ’Em and Eat is known for its delicious breakfast and lunch treats, along with quite a colorful clientele. If it’s not Rowena Gustavson loudly debating the merits of the current book club selection, it’s Miss Augusta Maddox lecturing tourists on rumors of sunken treasure among the islands. It’s no wonder Sassy’s favorite is Delia Batson, a regular at the Emily Dickinson table. Augusta’s cousin and best friend Delia is painfully shy—which makes the news of her murder all the more shocking. No one is more distraught than Augusta, and Sassy wants to help any way she can. But Augusta doesn’t have time for sympathy. She wants Delia’s killer found—and she’s not taking no for an answer. Now Sassy is on the case, and she’d better act fast before there’s any more trouble in paradise.
Happy to help her fellow bibliophiles, Sassy visits the local library with book donations for their annual fundraising sale. Unfortunately, the welcoming readers’ haven is in turmoil as an argument erupts between an ornery patron and new staff member, Tanya Lipscombe—also known as “Tanya Trouble.” She may lack people skills, but everyone is shocked when she’s later found murdered in her own hot tub. The man last seen arguing with Tanya is soon arrested. But Alan Mersky, a veteran with PTSD, happens to be the brother of Sassy’s former boss—and he’s no murderer. Now it’s up to Sassy and Bridgy to clear Alan’s name and make sure the real killer gets booked.
Book descriptions obtained from www.amazon.com
Terrie, what a great description of writing "with." I always wondered how that successfully happened. Can't wait of the latest in the Read series. Always enjoyable.
I've always wondered how a collaboration works. Interesting!
I spent an enjoyable morning in May photographing Lafayette Cemetery in New Orleans. The tombs were decorated with not only flowers, but Mardi Gras beads and decorated Muse's high-heeled shoes. A magical place.
It is always interesting to learn about ways of writing I have not experienced. Thank you for sharing.
Kait, glad you enjoyed the interview. I am sure there are a lot of ways that writers can collaborate but this way suits us. Thanks so much for your kind words about the Read 'Em and Eat series.
Margaret, the two places where I found cemeteries fascinating were Ireland and New Orleans. Lafayette Cemetery is, indeed, a magical place.
Terrie -- congratulations on all your success and welcome to WWK. I am taking on my first co-writing attempt--nothing so grand as yours. I was solicited to write a short story for an anthology. Tina Whittle (one of our two new WWK bloggers) and I had talked about getting our main characters together for a short story, so I asked the sponsors if it was okay with them to co-write a story. Once they said yes, Tina also agreed. (Perhaps in later comments we'll find out if she still thinks that's a good idea.)
We've worked out a tentative plot and which scenes each of us will write and have just started that process. The due date isn't until the end of March -- so far so good. We're having a good time -- perhaps when we get done we can cowrite a WWK blog on the experience.
Thanks for the fascinating insights, Terrie. It sounds like you two make a great team!
I'm glad you are continuing to write on your own, too. I like your series.
Hi Warren I am glad you found this interesting.
Jim, oh I hope that Tina will agree to a blog post about the co-writing experience. I imagine it would be very difficult to co-write a short story--not much room there.
KM, aren't you a sweetheart! I'm so pleased you like the Read 'Em and Eat series.
Fascinating interview, ladies. Terrie, it is so cool that you have conquered the co-writing challenge, but I am glad that you have time for your own series. i like to imagine myself at Read Em and Eat and am glad your series is continuing.
Great interview! Your description of co-writing is fascinating and, like Shari, I'm glad you have time for your own series, too!
Fascinating discussion, Terrie and Grace! And thanks for mentioning the Brendan DuBois collaboration with Patterson. I've only recently discovered Du Bois's Portsmouth area mysteries. I look forward to all the collaborations!
Shari, I know exactly what you mean. I promise myself that if I ever become independently wealthy, I will open a bookstore cafe at the beach and we can all hangout reading and eating scones.
Julie, I am glad that you enjoyed the description of co-writing. And thank you for appreciated my Read 'Em and Eat series.
Kate, Brendan DuBois is a fantastic writer of both short stories and novels. He is one of my favorites and I am thrilled to tell you that Brendan mentioned on Facebook today that they are going to work together on another book.
Welcome to WWK, Terrie. What an honor to be asked to co-write with someone like Laura Childs. I'm glad you're still finding time to write your own work. I don't know if I could write from someone else's point of view and voice especially when it's been a long going series. It's great that you managed to do that.
Thanks Gloria. I write in lots of different voices in my short stories so, the New Orleans crowd (what I call Laura's characters) are just more voices and they are Laura's voices. I merely contribute some words.
I think you're modest! But it is challenging and interesting to co-author. I've only done this twice--a YA mystery with my two sons when they were teenagers and a Five Star/Cengage mystery with my older son more recently. I enjoyed working with them and think we produced unique novels.
Fascinating interview as more and more authors are using co-writers....nice to know the ins and outs and to be introduced to a few new series. Having enjoyed both of your styles individually, I'm looking forward to reading the blended version. Debra
Hi Jacquie, Thanks for your kind words. I think writing with your kids is much braver than anything I've ever done.
Hi Debra, thanks for commenting. I agree, there is a lot more co-writing going on than there used to be.
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