Livia & James Reasoner Share Their Writing Secrets



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.


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41 thoughts on “Livia & James Reasoner Share Their Writing Secrets”

  1. I have been reading and enjoying Livia & James Reasoner books and stories for some time. Occasionally I correspond with James through email and he is always very prompt in responding to my emails. I read and enjoyed the first Redemption Novel and would appreciate having my name entered for a “freebie”. Thanks James and Livia for the many hours of pleasure you have given this avid reader.

    James Powell
    220 East Ironwood Dr.
    West Monroe, La.

  2. James and Livia,

    It’s easy to see how well you collaborate from how fun this post was to read. I had to head over to Amazon and get the first book in the Wind River series before I posted my comment. It caught my eye, as I grew up in the Wind River area of Wyoming.

    It was wonderful “meeting” you both here at Petticoats and Pistols and I look forward to reading your books!!


  3. Livia and James, it’s an honor to have you visit P&P. I enjoyed reading about your collaboration and am glad you found a way to work together. I’ve written six anthologies with three other authors and although it was different from what you guys do it wasn’t that easy either. Several of the anthologies took place in the same town, same event, and with some of the same characters. We had lots of challenges to get our stories to mesh together. If I were to collaborate with another author I’d want her to do all the research because it’s not that fun for me. Like you, James, I prefer the actual writing part.

    Wishing you both lots of success! Your books look amazing.

  4. I forgot to say I’m glad you haven’t shot each other yet. LOL We may need to inspect you for holes though. I’m sure there have been some less than smooth moments. It probably helps though being married. You have to kiss and makeup. My hat is off to you both.

  5. I also think it’s very neat that your publisher put your picture on the cover as Earl Stark. I don’t know of anyone else who has gotten that privilege. That would definitely make the book more special.

  6. I enjoyed learning how much Livia has been involved. And their covers have a beautiful feel.


  7. Hey Livia and James,
    Welcome to Petticoats and Pistols today! So glad you’re with us! Like Linda, I admire you both for the simple fact that you are still alive and still married. LOL But from your post, and just knowing you, I know you guys have a special relationship after all these years to be able to work together as well as you do–that is soooo wonderful. James I have an Uncle Earl that I think would love your books about Earl Stark. Loved that picture, and can’t wait to see what the cover for the one you’ve got in the works looks like. I know Livia is a fantastic hand with her graphic arts and photography as well as writing and editing. I really enjoyed your post today and am so glad you’re here.

  8. Welcome, Livia & James,
    I enjoyed learning about your lives and the writing that you have collaborated on which sounds fascinating and inspiring. Wishing you continued happiness and success.

  9. Thanks, everyone! We’re very glad to be here. James and I were just discussing the fact that we’ve never had a real argument where writing was concerned. I appreciate the comments on the covers I’ve designed. I’ve just started working on covers in the past year or so and I really enjoy it. I’ve always been a pretty visual person.

  10. Linda, I would have liked it if the publisher had used the picture of the entire group on that cover, so the people who were with me could have been on it, too, but I guess that would have made it too small. As it is, my friend Bill Crider (a fine writer himself) has enjoyed giving me trouble about it for years now, since that’s his hand holding the gun right behind my head!

  11. I am quite impressed–more with the fact you can do this together! Good for you–while my husband and I are very close–we can’t do a joint project. He can help me out of a computer jam,and I can help him find his own page on FB-haha!–but that’s it.
    Now I write and read Western Romance, but I still love a good old Western. At this moment, on my Kindle, I’m reading a collection of shorts by Jory Sherman.
    Enjoyed you interview very much.

  12. Livia, you do an awesome job–it’s hard to believe you’ve only been working on covers for a year! You have a real talent for it. My daughter is like that about the visuals–she’s an artist, too. What’s in the works with your fresh baked mystery series?

  13. Loved reading about the two of you collaborating on stories. What a great way to work together. And what great luck for us to have you here to blog today.

  14. Livia and James, hello neighbors. I live just a few miles from you. Livia, thank you so much for the books you donated to my church bazaar. I have read your Peach books, and am now launching into the L J Washburn books. I haven’t read your books, James, but I certainly will. So nice to see you posting here. Cheryl is also on another group blog, and so is Tanya. We love western writers. Thansk for sharing your method today. Best wishes for continued success!

  15. Thanks for coming today,,interesting post,,I love your books,,dont have a ereader yet but thinking about it seriously

  16. Everyone has made us so welcome. Thanks! Celia, I have a couple Western romance novels, Mending Fences and Spirit Catcher. They’re under the name Livia Reasoner for ebooks and Elizabeth Hallam in paperback. Editor insisted on a pen-name.
    Cheryl, I wish I was an artist, to me that’s magic. I just play around with graphics and photos. Caroline, I was happy to donate the books. You’ll enjoy James’ books. He’s an amazing writer. Vickie, you can find many of our books in libraries, or used bookstores. Most of what we have up as ebooks were published before. Vickie, I love my kindle. So many books to read.

  17. Cheryl, I missed one of your questions. The next Fresh Baked Mystery will be The Wedding Cake Killer. I gained 10 pounds writing that one. Baked so much cake to find the right recipe. It’ll come out Nov. of this year. I’m working on the outline for the book after that. I can’t decide on the title, The Fatal Funnel Cake, or Black and Blue Ribbon Brownie. Either one will mean baking plenty of goodies.

  18. James, this comment was posted to the announcement about your coming. I copied and pasted it in here.
    * * *

    I would love to read Redemption Hunters.
    Jerry Guin

  19. What a wonderful relationship you have. I have never read any of your book, but they do sound very interesting books about the west to read..

  20. The Reasoners are a dynamic duo and a source of great inspiration to me and my wife. I’ve read a number of books by them and always come away thoroughly entertained.

  21. Sounds like a fantastic partnership. I like that you draw from each other strengths and apply that to your books. Thank you for a great post. Redemption Hunters sounds like a great Western read.

  22. What a wonderful description of a true partnership and marriage. My wife won’t read anything I write unless it’s a birthday or Valentine’s card and to read about how you two make it work is truly inspiring. Here’s to you, and may you keep going strong forever and ever.

  23. I haven’t read any of your books, but would love to. So many books to read, so little time. Enjoyed the interview and hearing the great example you are of marriage.

  24. By the mid 90s, James had become one of my favorite writers due to his short stories which kept jumping out at me from various western anthologies- in recent years I’ve become a big fan of Livia’s as well. It’s cool to learn more about the process of their collaboration!

  25. Thanks, everyone! Kathy, “so many books, so little time” is something we say to ourselves all the time. A friend of mine once told me that the worst thing about being a writer is that it interferes with your reading time. There’s some truth to that.

    He also told me something else that’s become my motto: “You never regret the books you buy, only the books you didn’t buy.” If you could see my office you’d know those are words to live by as far as I’m concerned.

  26. Wow I am very impressed that you two were obviously made for each other. I cannot remember reading any of your books but I am going to remedy that soon.

  27. Welcome to the Junction, Livia & James! I’m impressed that you two can work together like you do. My dh of 31 years won’t read my books. He does, however, help with the weapons research, so I can’t be too mad. lol

  28. James and Livia,

    I love this post..Its so interesting how you write together..My husband was always supportive of me and my writing..I lost him unexpectedly in Oct..He was the love of my life and you are blessed you two have been married for so long….This May we would have been married for 25 years….

    Again love your books….


  29. Livia and James, we really appreciated your comment about being home and able to raise your kids together. I’m betting that as adults they will always treasure that! Hats off to you, friends.

  30. Thanks so much, everyone. Your comments mean a lot to us. Melinda, so sorry for your loss. Rich, it was great fun being around the kids so much while they were growing up, and they’ve always been willing to pitch in and help us out with research, proofreading, etc. Sometimes they catch things that we miss!

  31. How wonderful that the two of you get to work together and do it so well. With couples both having to work to make ends meet these days, it is rare that parents get to spend as much time as they would like with their growing children. You were lucky to be able to have the best of both worlds. Your children were lucky to have you so present in their lives.
    You two are a triple threat: writing, graphic design, and photography. It is great when you can tie everything together yourself and put a book out just the way you want it to be.

    Thanks for an interesting post and best of luck with your future books.

  32. Patricia,
    While we’re still writing print books for regular publishers and don’t plan to give that up any time soon, it really is nice to work on the self-published books and know that the only ones we have to please are ourselves . . . and the readers, of course!

    On the other hand, when a book doesn’t sell well, we don’t have anybody to blame but ourselves, too.

  33. 35 years is a long time to be married and remarkable as writing partners. I am sure that cooking up westerns together has helped both of you learn even more about each other.
    I love westerns and your books look fabulous.
    I congratulate you on your long marriage and wish you all the best in your writing careers.
    Sorry I got here so late. I have my niece with me this weekend.

  34. I always love reading books by a husband and wife duo – always happy to find another couple’s books!! I look forward to reading yours! 🙂

  35. What a great post! It amazes me how well you work together. I have tried working with my husband and we really lock horns. It doesn’t work very well at all.

  36. Something we all share here is that love to read. I’m sure that is one of the reasons writing works so well for us. Thank you all for the wonderful responses.

  37. I really like reading Westerns. I have yet to read one by these authors so would really like to win this book.

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