I make it a practice to email authors when I really enjoy their work. Call me a crazy fangirl, whatever! I like to tell author's what really works for me. As well as being a great story teller, Jane’s writing style is very fluid. The sort of thing that possibly escapes most reader’s notice, but as a freelance editor as well as a fledgling author, I appreciate well written prose when I see it. So another congrats are in order to Jane (and/or her editor *grins*). This is from the email I sent about a year ago:
Can I just say “Wintergreen” has to be one of the best "sequel" books I’ve read. To me, the anticipation of a couple getting together in the first place is what makes a romance, so sequels often don’t cut it. However, the way you handled the story and the knowledge from the get-go that the pairing would have its difficulties was fantastic. The conflict didn’t feel manufactured and the resolution was well done. I’m not a fan of external conflict being brought in just to create tension in a story. However, in this case, the action in book two had almost been foreshadowed in book one. The tension and conflict still centred around the characters’ past and personalities, with the action being the vehicle to carry that forward.
So, I sent the above to Jane and a discussion followed which I’m blogging here with her permission. Firstly, her response:
JD: Thank you so much for taking the time to write to me; it’s much appreciated!
I’m so glad Wintergreen worked for you. I loved Dan and Tyler and I wanted to do a sequel and see just how they were getting on a few months down the road. I think there were a lot of pointers in Wild Raspberries that it wasn’t going to be easy to them, yes; just too much dragging at them from the past.
I like to think that now they finally made it on their journey :-)
AB: I’m glad you're not tempted to drag it out further with another book. So many authors do.
JD: I don’t think I could really get into it; one book is usually enough, though Alexa and I did do a trilogy together and enjoyed it.
AB: Though, the next time it would be interesting to be a “fly on the wall” when Tyler gets to retirement age and Dan is at his peak (ie in his thirties). Transitions in relationships are a great source of conflict.
JD: They are! But they’re only, what 14 years apart? When Tyler’s 65, Dan would be 51 :-) ; not that far apart maybe? So, if they last that long, I don’t see it being an issue because they’d have adjusted to it by then.
AB: I’m interested in your collaborative process with Alexa. Do you do it character by character i.e. in role-play or are there elements each adds?
JD: We usually write a character each and tag back and forward, sometimes a paragraph, sometimes more. And we’re not possessive; we often borrow each other’s characters for a few lines. I wouldn’t write:
Would you like a cup of coffee, X
and then send it to her; I'd use her character to answer and pass it over when it got to somewhere more interesting.
With each book, we've become less attached to a single character; in our most recent one, “Room at the Top”, though we each dreamed up a character, when we came to write, we would write long tags, using each other's characters freely until it got to the point where they were jointly owned, really. It made the writing go much faster and the story flow better, I think.
Because, I also collaborate with other writers in an online soap "Redemption Reef", I followed up this question with a couple of other to clarify matters:
AB: I gather you each take a particular character then and write the next scene from that viewpoint by yourself, is that correct? But, that would mean you would have to have some idea about what each of your characters is going to do in that scene, so you must have plotted something out. How much pre-plotting do you do when you're co-writing?
JD: We don't do a whole scene on our own; sometimes it's a paragraph, sometimes even a line. It's totally dependent on the story. We alternate POVs so if the chapter's from 'my' character's POV, maybe I'd handle anything that added something new to what we know about him or write a particularly emotional bit, but the more we write together, the more the lines blur. We used to add notes, 'hope it's okay, I borrowed your character for a few lines' but we don't now, we just do it and we're way faster and the voice is more consistent, I feel. Think of us as being parents to each character; one of us gave birth to him but we bring him up together :-)
Plotting we do outside the story via email. We'll sketch it out roughly, with a few highlights to include, get started, try to incorporate the highlights -- sometimes the story shifts direction and they don't work -- and plot in more detail as we write. It's a very fluid, easy process. Mostly, the story tells itself.
AB: If you each "own" a character. Which ones are yours and which are Alexa's?
JD: See above :-) To start with, we have a character each and swap their bios, maybe include a photo so that we get a mental image. But once we start writing, these days it's all a melting pot. This is a snippet from Room at the Top, written from Jay's POV (Jay was my character, Austin was Alexa's and we shared Liam). From memory, I'll try and divide it as we wrote it, but honestly, it's hard to remember because we have such a close joint voice so I can't swear who wrote which :-). I'm in italics. So you can see that we're both writing both of them.
“It’s not—” Jay took a deep breath and abandoned the argument before it began. “I’ll be good.”
“If you are, I’ll buy you something special,” Austin said. “It’ll be like Christmas. Really late Christmas.”
“Or really early.” Jay didn’t care either way. He loved Christmas, and the most recent one he’d spent with Austin had been as close to perfect as he could have wished for. They’d had an amazing tree and piles of presents, and Christmas breakfast had consisted of the two of them snuggled on the couch in their almost identical new bathrobes, sipping hot chocolate and eating fresh cinnamon rolls. The apartment had smelled like cinnamon for days. “Too bad there won’t be candy canes.”
“Yeah, I think those are a seasonal thing. Have a good afternoon, okay?”
“Love you two.”
“Love you three,” Jay said. If he’d heard anyone else say that, he’d have rolled his eyes at the sap overload, but when it was between them, it felt like a joke only they got.
He tucked his phone away and left a scatter of bread crumbs for the ants.
Did they even eat bread? Maybe he’d look it up when he got back to the library. He was going through Dewey numbers in his head as he crossed the road, but he made it to the other side, so he must’ve looked both ways.
end of chapter
Hope that helps!
AB: Why do you collaborate?
JD: Alexa and I both started off writing fanfic (still do!) and worked together on several fics in the Buffy fandom years ago. We enjoyed it so we decided to try co-writing a novel. At that point we’d both had solo novels published. I find it fun, because you get to read at the same time as writing. I once collaborated on a fic with three other people and we posted a new chapter daily for eight months, each taking turns to write it, and we were as much fans of the fic as writers of it. I find that there’s no writer’s block when you’re collaborating; if you’re stuck, you do a short tag and your partner digs you out and then you return the favor. It gives it a very organic feel, especially in the sex scenes; you’re not controlling events and it’s looser, more natural.
AB: Do you find it difficult to write by yourself?
JD: No, not at all. I'm pretty prolific :-) I do find it’s much faster to collaborate, though. Solo, I aim for 1000-2000 words a day; with Alexa, we can knock off 5,000 a day easily.
AB: Do you have other things you’ve written that you are looking for publishers for? Or are you flat out writing for your current publishers?
JD: I have four publishers, Torquere and Ellora’s Cave for my solo novels, Loose Id for the books with Alexa and Total-e-Bound for short stories (it just sort of happened that way) and no, everything I write is usually at their request so I don’t have anything hanging around. I aim for a solo novel and a co-written one a year plus a few shorts.
Recently Jane responded again when I reviewed her book “Hourglass” at Goodreads which also appears in m,y previous blog post.
JD: That is such a great review; thank you! I don’t just mean it’s good because you liked the book either; I love that you really took the time to detail your feelings and responses to the story as you read it. It was so interesting to see the book through your eyes that way.
Emboldened, I asked her some more questions which she was kind enough to answer:
AB:. When you set out to write “Hourglass” did the concepts about the structure come first or did they grow with the story? In other words, was the “how” you were going to write the story always there from the start?
JD: It was, yes. I had the idea of the TV show first and then I decided it'd be fun to not just refer to it in the book, but to plot it out in detail. From there, I got the idea of starting each chapter with a snippet of script or a show-related article. They were masses of fun to write and of course, I could use them to echo something going on in the ‘real’ story (though in some ways, both sets of characters felt equally real by the end).
AB: What prompted that decision? Did something else inspire you?
JD: Nothing in particular. I guess as a fan myself, I know just how it feels when a show is cancelled so I drew on that, and I own many scripts of shows, which I love reading. They came in handy as templates so that the scripts were as authentic as I could make them.
AB:. How much of what I interpreted as being deliberate was, or am I reading into it much more than you did consciously?
JD: Sometimes, I’ll write something and people will read more into than I consciously intended, but with Hourglass I was very deliberately setting up echoes between the actors and the characters they played and structuring it in quite a complex way. It was like someone sitting between mirrors and seeing endless reflections of themselves. There was a story within a story within a story.
AB: Would you ever write something so untraditional again (not necessarily using the same methods but other more deliberate devices)?
JD: If an idea comes to me that would fit that format, sure, why not?
AB: How did Torquere receive the story?
JD: I don’t recall any issues at all. I sent it in; my editor, Vincent Diamond, liked it, and we worked together to polish it up.
AB: Do you have an editor there who encouraged that style or was it more of a case of “Well you’re a well-respected author of the genre so people will forgive you for your untraditional story telling style?”
JD: I work with different editors there but I’m sure whoever edited it would have been supportive. To be honest, it never occurred to me that it WAS all that untraditional or out there. I thought the concept with the chapter headings telling a parallel story was interesting but I’m sure it's been done before (what hasn’t? :-)). Ben introducing and ending it, well, I liked Ben and I didn’t see why the story had to be solely about Ash and Lee; there seemed room in the story for him. They were actors; they needed to be directed, if that makes sense.
AB: Do you regret that m/m romance particularly is becoming formulaic?
JD: I read a fair bit of it now that I have an e-reader, and I don’t know if it is or it isn’t really. The genre of romance itself does have a framework that readers like because it’s reassuring and that goes for m/f, m/m, or f/f romances. I definitely like stories to push the boundaries, but I’d be pouting if there was an unhappy ending so maybe I don’t want them pushed too far!
AB: What would you like to see more of in the genre?
JD: Nothing comes to mind. There’s a huge variety of settings and heat levels as it is, plus crossovers with SF, horror, mystery and such. I think it’s a vibrant, growing genre, especially with the surge of interest in e-books and I’m proud to be part of its growth.
AB: Any other comments you’d like to make on reviewers, readers and your future writing plans?
JD: I’m currently writing a solo novel for Torquere that’s my first novel not set in a contemporary setting. It’s a pre-industrial fantasy world, no magic, no dragons, but definitely not our world, with a theatrical background. An actor sees a young man fresh from the country in trouble and steps in to help him only to find he's unable to walk away once his good deed's done. I’m having a lot of fun (in a vaguely Hourglass way!) in having the actor quote from plays that I invented, and coming up with dozens of titles.
And to reviewers and readers alike, I have only one thing to say which is : thank you! Thank you for reading and for being interested enough to comment. It’s much appreciated.
"Room at the Top", Jane's most recent collaboration with Alexa is now available from LooseID.
A big thank you to Jane for so patiently answering my questions. I do enjoy knowing more about the why and how they write.