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When a Husband and Wife Collaborate (by Fred and Jan Yager)

If the act of creating is itself a mystery, then the act of creating a mystery is even more ambiguous. Which leads us to surmise that collaborating in such a complex endeavor is a virtual whodunit. In fact, one of the vague uncertainties in this obscure process is the outright impossibility of remembering who done what.

When we collaborate, we bring to the process our own creative genes, visions, and talents that, when joined, form something uniquely different. There may be similarities between this new creation and those that we have created on our own, but it also becomes something altogether different.

In order for this collaboration to work, our two voices will dissolve into one. And as the novel evolves, it takes on not only a voice of its own, but also a life of its own as well.

As mystery lovers, we want to be surprised at every turn. In order for the ride to be thrilling, you can't know when the dips and turns are going to take your breath away. So we write with that in mind. We also strive to create interesting enough characters so that the reader will also want to take the ride.

If there's a formula for how character development and plot are supposed to blend, we don't have it. We're not sure anyone does. But it's that secret recipe that often separates what you like and what you don't. It's called individual taste and a good part of the mix involves the reader. With us, the collaborative process really starts with the rewriting. Until then, we're both pretty much doing our own thing, and we come at it from our distinct perspectives. The writing part is still pretty much a solitary activity since we exchange drafts and discuss our drafts but do not sit nearby. (However, our separate offices are right next door on the lower level of our house.)

For our first novel, Untimely Death (Hannacroix Creek Books, 1998) we went back and forth like this more than twenty times before we were comfortable with it. Then we rewrote it a half a dozen more times after that to get it just right.

With Just Your Everyday People (Hannacroix Creek Books, 2001), the process was a lot faster. Maybe ten rewrites from start to finish.

In both cases, the stories evolved from an idea Jan had. Untimely Death began with a detailed outline. Just Your Everyday People began as a dream. But we are both strong willed people, so we both were able to inflict an equal amount of our creative energy into the final product. Since we are both our own toughest critics, the book had to appeal to both of us. When we're both satisfied, that's when we're done.

Once the book was published, we thought it would be twice as easy to promote our novels since two authors for one book should mean that we could handle twice as many opportunities as one author. The reality proved to be quite different. Almost everyone, from bookstore event organizers and TV or radio talk show hosts to feature writers expected both of us to be involved in every promotional activity.

Recently, as we drove to a social engagement an hour away, we were discussing the plot of our third co﷓authored mystery. As we got into a heated debate over some of the key attributes of one of the leading characters in our new novel, we wondered what other married couples talk about on their long drives, or what we used to talk about before we started writing novels together.

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2001 issue of Mystery Readers Joumal® The Joumal of Mystery Readers Intemational®. Copyright © 2001 by Fred and Jan Yager. All rights reserved.