The first thing a reader might ask is: Isn’t trying to write a novel kind of … cheeky? Well, yes. And kind of daffy … hopeful … and misguided. Maybe not so much for Liz, because she already has two novels to her credit: one published by Avalon and another packed away in her dresser drawer. She has a master’s degree in journalism, and was staff writer for a local newspaper and book editor for a regional publishing company. Plus her nonfiction work has won numerous awards.
Despite the keen odds--or as Liz says, because of them--we have been resolved to have fun in the process. We’ve had a ball traveling around, learning interesting things about national parks, reading articles in the paper about slimy characters, and trying not to strangle each other.
You see, the few authors who have tried collaborating with significant others say it’s a bad idea, even suicidal. But here we are, still sitting, fingers curled over the keyboard. And where else but in a blog can you read about the heroic process of writing a novel with the person you sleep next to—a novel that hasn’t even been published. For, dear bleeder—that is, reader of a blog—blogs are the fields of dreams, dreams that someday someone will stumble across your scratchings, drifting about in the ether like so many scraps of paper thrown to the wind.
How the Novel Came to Be
About twenty years ago, David was in the neighborhood library browsing the shelves. He came across a book on Mormon polygamy and on impulse took it home. In those days, David had a lot more testosterone pulsing through his veins so he was fascinated with the idea of polygamy. And it was historically interesting as well. The U.S. nearly fought a civil war over polygamy. So he read the book back to front and front to back and then forgot about it.
Later Liz and David were thinking about writing some novels together and thought it would be nice to set them in national parks ….
Liz: Now, wait a minute! What I remember is that two of our friends had a little trailer that we fell in love with. Before we bought one ourselves, I requested that we rent a VW camper-van for a trip to Zion to see if we could survive a trip if we were restricted to a space the size of a business envelope. Despite the fact that the fridge wasn’t working and half the camper’s interior was devoted to an oversize cooler that doubled as an easy chair, we both came back alive and decided to buy a 17-foot fiberglass trailer called a Casita. I had the brilliant idea on the last day of the trip that we could write novels about a retired couple traveling to exotic locations. I distinctly remember this because I had just done what reporters most dread: I had spent a week on location and hadn’t taken any notes.
So we returned to Zion, this time in our brand-new Casita. We hiked to the wonderful Hidden Canyon and imagined finding a body there.
Zion is a raven’s flight from the fundamentalist Mormon communities on the Arizona border so David quickly recalled that book on polygamy. After that, we were deluged with ideas, buried under them
But you can’t write a mystery like a blog, running at the mouth, saying whatever pops into your head. No, dear bleeder, you find photos of your characters and pin them up on a bulletin board. You sketch their personalities and backgrounds. You make up time lines and chart plot points, and do an outline of how the whole thing fits together. This was Liz’s job because she is more careful and organized. That’s why she has a real job.
Meanwhile the story grew and grew like a bloated champion pumpkin lying out in a hot field, getting bigger by the day. David worked on the overall plot and high concept, along with the chase scenes. He came up with a great villain based satisfyingly on a former boss crossed with Mitt Romney. Liz worked on the interactions between the characters and their growth throughout the book.
It was a good division of labor, but Liz groaned every time David dumped a new scene on her desk, threatening to disrupt her interlocking storylines. Little sticky notes with steps in the various plot lines adorned every corner of her office. She moved them around daily, like furniture in a doll house.
David was like a bull in the doll house.Finally she crossed her arms, drew a line in the rug, and said, “Stop it! You send me one more exploding camper scene, and I’m getting a divorce!”
“But we’re not married,” David reminded her.
“Yeah,” she said. “And that’s why!”
Liz became the Boss Writer. She said she “had more experience,” which was true. David jumped-to when research was needed or when the detailed plot revealed a chink that needed to be stuffed with words. He had fun e-mailing strangers and was amazed that he got prompt responses from experts in mummies, dendrochronology, and forensics. Only the Mormons didn’t write back.
Meanwhile, he kept churning out scenes, though at a reduced rate. Instead of showing them to Liz right away, he dropped clever hints until she asked to see one. Now and then, Liz even asked him to do some writing, usually an action scene or one of the evil villain’s loony delusions. David was good at the delusion thing—a natural talent. And it was fun for David to blow up villains through creative stratagems. It made him feel puffed up, like a courting toad. A good antidote for falling testosterone.
Picking Up the New Trailer
When our trailer was ready, we sold David’s compact car and bought a van that was hefty enough to pull 3,000 pounds. Then David scheduled an appointment to pick the trailer up at the Casita factory in Rice, Texas. A three-hour briefing on how to operate it was required.
“Whoa,” David thought. “A pilot’s license for a trailer?”
Since David has a problem packing for big trips, he didn’t depart for Texas until the last minute. It was a 20-hour drive. Despite barreling along at 80 mph, he only got in an hour’s sleep. He did arrive on time, however, albeit a little stressed out. He even spent a few moments in the waiting room looking at photos of staff Christmas parties attended by women with big hair.
When the briefing began David was showered with details: tire pressure, winterizing, safety, how to hitch the trailer with 49 cables, chains, wires, and locks. “And don’t operate the fridge on DC current while driving,” the Casita rep warned. David took copious notes, which slowed down the briefing and annoyed the instructor who would have been a high-school teacher if he had had any less aptitude for teaching.
When it was all done, David proudly took possession of our Casita Freedom Deluxe and headed west to Zion. Changing lanes while driving through Dallas during rush hour was rather intimidating, but no one got crunched, and once beyond the city he began to relax. Towing a trailer wasn’t so bad. It just followed the van wherever it went, with power to spare. That evening he pulled into a roadside rest area and went to sleep.
The next morning, David arose refreshed, but the van’s battery was dead. Oops! He had left the fridge running on DC current, and it drained not only the trailer’s battery but the van’s as well. And the rest area was deserted. There was no one to help.
Eventually, a maintenance man came by to empty the trash and gave David a jump. But this was the first of many lessons, all fodder for the book.