LIVIA: Thanks for having us here on Petticoats and Pistols! James and I been married for more than 35 years and writing together for nearly that long. We began collaborating professionally as well as personally early in our marriage, when James was trying to break into writing by submitting short stories to various magazines. He usually wrote his stories in longhand, and then I would type them up. (Yes, we’ve been doing this since people used typewriters.) As I would be typing the stories, sometimes I saw little ways that things could have been done differently, or things that could be added to make the story better. I would make suggestions to James, and he usually listened to them. Then he said I should write my own stories.
JAMES: But I said it in a nice way!
What usually happened was that Livia would catch some bone-headed mistake I’d made, and being the naturally lazy person that I am, eventually I realized that when she pointed something out, I could say, “You’re absolutely right. Can you just go ahead and fix that for me?” From there it wasn’t a very big leap to her coming up with her own stories.
LIVIA: Over the years we’ve developed a pretty good system that takes advantage of our individual strengths and weaknesses. I really enjoy plotting and researching, while James would rather be sitting at the keyboard pounding out words. Since he writes a lot more than I do, I can take some of the load off him by coming up with ideas and developing them. In return, he helps me with the editing of my books.
JAMES: To a certain extent nearly everything we produce is a collaboration, because we plot most of the books together and then edit and polish each other’s work before an editor ever sees it. I’m still quick to take advantage of her ability to fix the things I foul up. And she’s the greatest plotter in the world! One time an editor called me on a Friday afternoon and wanted plots for three books in a new Western series he was pitching on Monday morning. I had to go run some errands, so I asked Livia to think about it while I was gone. When I came back a couple of hours later, she handed me a piece of paper and said, “Here are six plots. Take your pick.”
The rest of the story is that while that particular series didn’t sell, eventually I used all six of those plots for books in other series, and they worked just fine.
LIVIA: One series we plotted and wrote together was WIND RIVER, six books that came out in paperback about fifteen years ago. This one we figured out ahead of time to the extent that we knew what the ending of Book 6 would be before we ever wrote a word of the first book in the series. That way we were able to plant little clues all the way through the books. We wanted to publish these books with both of our names on them, but the publisher vetoed that idea. (For some reason publishers have always given us trouble with using both of our names.) So when they came out James’s name was the only one on them. However, now that the novels are available again as e-books, we’ve been able to put both names on them as we always intended.
JAMES: Another way we collaborate is in the creation of cover images. Years ago when I was in Jackson, Wyoming for a Western Writers of America convention, a group of writers and editors went out for dinner together, and on the way we stopped at a place that made old-time photographs. They dressed us as outlaws, saloon girls, etc., and took a sepia-toned group picture of us (which we all bought copies of, naturally). Being writers, we started naming the “characters” in the photo. My name, they said, would be Big Earl.
Well, since the person in the picture next to me was a Western editor at the time, I told him I was going to write a Big Earl novel and sell it to him. It was more of a joke than anything else, but a couple of weeks later he told me he really did want me to write a Big Earl novel for him. So of course I did, fleshing out the character and making him a former stagecoach shotgun guard turned lawyer turned circuit-riding federal judge. I wrote three Western/mystery novels about Judge Earl Stark, and the first one, STARK’S JUSTICE, featured part of that photograph on the cover, making me one of the few authors to portray my own character on a book cover.
The idea came to me a while back that it was time to do another Judge Earl Stark novel, this time as an original e-book. Livia has always been a fine photographer and has also discovered that she’s a talented graphic designer. She volunteered to round up some vintage Old West clothes and came up with an entire outfit for me to wear so that she can take pictures to use in designing the cover for the new book. So the legend of Big Earl lives on! (As soon as I can find time to write the book, anyway.)
LIVIA: Being able to work together like we have has come in very handy over the years. We work at home, so we were able to raise our family together and both of us were very involved when our daughters were in school. We were both on the local PTO board (James was even the president one year) and were able to take part in all sorts of activities such as math and science team tournaments and band and journalism competitions. Plus there’s the added benefit of just being able to spend more time together. When you both write for a living, there are always books to plot, characters to create, and story problems to work out, so you never run out of things to talk about!
JAMES: I couldn’t hope for a better collaborator, all the way around.
LIVIA: Neither could I.
James is giving away two copies of his newest paperback REDEMPTION: HUNTERS. Leave a comment to get your name in the drawing.
LIVIA’S HALLAM COLLECTION IS FREE FOR THE KINDLE MARCH 3-5th. Click on the book cover and it’ll take you there. AND THE AWARD WINNING HALLAM NOVEL, WILD NIGHT, IS AVAILBLE FOR THE KINDLE AND THE NOOK FOR ONLY 99 CENTS.