Friday, May 25, 2012

A Sisters Mystery Writing Team

by Jean Henry Mead

Sisters Loretta Jackson and Vickie Britton collaborate on two mystery series featuring Wyoming Sheriff Jeff McQuede and archaeologist Ardin Cole. They've co-authored forty-two books, over a hundred short stories and articles, and have traveled to Russia, China, Scotland and other countries for research.




 When did the two of you decide to collaborate? 


We first joined forces to write a mystery-romance entitled, Path of the Jaguar. Although we had always critiqued each other’s work, we had written solo for a number of years. Then, while on vacation in the Yucatan, we were struck by the same idea for a story and were interested in using this exotic place as a setting. Although we were accustomed to editing each other's work, writing a book together was an entirely new concept. However, we were pleased with the results, and we’ve been collaborating ever since.

Does one of you begin the book and then pass it on to the other? And what happens when you disagree on the plot?

Basically, one of us rough-drafts a section of the book, generally a chapter, and the other edits. This method allows each to have input into every chapter and gives our writing unity. Luckily, our writing goals and styles are very similar.
We don’t often run into big disagreements because we use a detailed plot outline and discuss the characters in depth, Of course, sometimes the book takes an unexpected turn, and when that happens, we talk and compromise. We have often been asked, “Do you have to sacrifice creativity to write with another person?” The answer for us is a definite no. Working together increases the flow of ideas. We learn from one another and have as a result expanded our interests. The merging of our individual creativity produces a novel neither one of us would have created alone, yet one that is uniquely our own.

Tell us about Sheriff Jeff McQuede.

In our first full-length McQuede novel, Murder in Black and White, Wyoming sheriff Jeff McQuede becomes suspicious when a robber breaks into the Coal County Museum and steals only one item—a black and white class photograph. Under the name Jerome Slade the photographer had printed two ominous words: Never Graduated. Then, when a body is unearthed beneath the newly-demolished school, McQuede realizes Slade had not left Black Mountain the night of the spring dance. He uncovers hidden rivalries between Slade and his classmates. When he discovers that Heather Kenwell and the woman of his dreams, Loris Conner, were rivals for Slade’s affection, McQuede fears finding out the truth. Theft, blackmail, and another brutal killing lead to photographs taken by Black Mountain’s eccentric photographer, Bruce Fenton. While others see an innocent collection, McQuede sees murder in black and white.

Why did you decide to place the series in Wyoming?

We share a love for the Old West. Loretta taught English and Creative Writing on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Vickie lived in Laramie, Wyoming, for fifteen years, where she took courses on forensics and history at the university. We were fascinated by the heroes, the outlaws, and the legends of the area. This resulted in the completion of our three-book Luck of the Draw western series: The Devil’s Game, The Fifth Ace, and The Wild Card, published by Avalon Books, and Robert Hale’s Stone of Vengeance, which concerns the legend of Tom Horn.
Jeff McQuede, a rugged, but appealing, contemporary sheriff grew out of this body of work—westerns with their strong elements of mystery. Sheriff McQuede first appeared in a collection of short stories, A Deal on a Handshake, released from Whiskey Creek Press in Casper. He is the star of the High Country Mystery series purchased by Avalon. The first three novels are Murder in Black and White, Whispers of the Stones, and Stealer of Horses.

How did your Ardis Cole mystery series originate?


Ardis Cole is our first series character, an archaeologist who travels to exotic places around the world. In the course of investigating an old mystery, a new crime develops. To make our settings authentic, we traveled to Russia, China, Scotland, and other locations. The first book, The Curse of Senmut, is set in Egypt. Books in Motion published the eight books as an original audio series. They will all soon be offered in hardback and paperback from Rowe Publishing. 

Our interest in archaeology inspired us to begin another series for Solstice Press, the Arla Vaughn: Pre-Columbian Treasure Series. The first two books in the series are The Mayan Mask of Death and The Lost City of the Condor.


What are the best and worst aspects of writing?

The most important advantage to the creative life is the continuing possibility for growth. In his old age right before his death, Michelangelo stated that he wished he could begin his work at the point that he was ending it. A writer always has plans and goals and that makes his or her life happy and meaningful.
With so much to learn, the worst part of writing is the long apprenticeship. In addition, the same people who write could make more money in some other field, for, although good at times, the pay for most part is never steady or dependable. Writers must be concerned with other compensation—they provide instruction and entertainment for others.

Who most influenced your own writing?


While we often enjoy reading the same author and types of books, our influences were very different. Loretta reads Erle Stanley Gardner and many Western authors such as Louis L’Amour. She loves the vivid, terse style of John Steinbeck and Ernest Hemingway. On the other hand, Vickie grew up loving gothics, which were very popular at the time, so writers such as Phyllis Whitney and Virginia Coffman were a big influence. She is also intrigued by Somerset Maugham and Ruth Rendell, whose works contain such excellent characterization. Authors shared in common include Aaron Elkins, Margaret Coel, and Tony Hillerman.

Advice to fledgling collaborators?

When writing a book together, it is most important that both writers have the same vision of the finished novel. Even then, they must make compromises. Many partnerships fail because one writer stubbornly clings to a chapter or idea that doesn’t fit with what the other author is writing or which doesn’t quite fit into the book as a whole. You must build on the other writer’s work and not go off in a different direction or destroy or “unwrite” what the other has accomplished. Fortunately we share similar backgrounds and experiences, which make co-authoring much easier.


We have just completed a guideline for creative writers entitled, Fiction: From Writing to Publication, one we hope will be of use to others in the exciting journey of creating a novel.


 When did the two of you decide to collaborate? 

We first joined forces to write a mystery-romance entitled, Path of the Jaguar. Although we had always critiqued each other’s work, we had written solo for a number of years. Then, while on vacation in the Yucatan, we were struck by the same idea for a story and were interested in using this exotic place as a setting. Although we were accustomed to editing each other's work, writing a book together was an entirely new concept. However, we were pleased with the results, and we’ve been collaborating ever since.

Does one of you begin the book and then pass it on to the other? And what happens when you disagree on the plot?

Basically, one of us rough-drafts a section of the book, generally a chapter, and the other edits. This method allows each to have input into every chapter and gives our writing unity. Luckily, our writing goals and styles are very similar.


We don’t often run into big disagreements because we use a detailed plot outline and discuss the characters in depth, Of course, sometimes the book takes an unexpected turn, and when that happens, we talk and compromise. We have often been asked, “Do you have to sacrifice creativity to write with another person?” The answer for us is a definite no. Working together increases the flow of ideas. We learn from one another and have as a result expanded our interests. The merging of our individual creativity produces a novel neither one of us would have created alone, yet one that is uniquely our own.

Why did you decide to place the series in Wyoming?

We share a love for the Old West. Loretta taught English and Creative Writing on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Vickie lived in Laramie, Wyoming, for fifteen years, where she took courses on forensics and history at the university. We were fascinated by the heroes, the outlaws, and the legends of the area. This resulted in the completion of our three-book Luck of the Draw western series: The Devil’s Game, The Fifth Ace, and The Wild Card, published by Avalon Books, and Robert Hale’s Stone of Vengeance, which concerns the legend of Tom Horn.


Jeff McQuede, a rugged, but appealing, contemporary sheriff grew out of this body of work—westerns with their strong elements of mystery. Sheriff McQuede first appeared in a collection of short stories, A Deal on a Handshake, released from Whiskey Creek Press in Casper. He is the star of the High Country Mystery series purchased by Avalon. The first three novels are Murder in Black and White, Whispers of the Stones, and Stealer of Horses.

How did your Ardis Cole mystery series originate?

Ardis Cole is our first series character, an archaeologist who travels to exotic places around the world. In the course of investigating an old mystery, a new crime develops. To make our settings authentic, we traveled to Russia, China, Scotland, and other locations. The first book, The Curse of Senmut, is set in Egypt. Books in Motion published the eight books as an original audio series. They will all soon be offered in hardback and paperback from Rowe Publishing.
Our interest in archaeology inspired us to begin another series for Solstice Press, the Arla Vaughn: Pre-Columbian Treasure Series. The first two books in the series are The Mayan Mask of Death and The Lost City of the Condor.


What are the best and worst aspects of writing?

The most important advantage to the creative life is the continuing possibility for growth. In his old age right before his death, Michelangelo stated that he wished he could begin his work at the point that he was ending it. A writer always has plans and goals and that makes his or her life happy and meaningful.

With so much to learn, the worst part of writing is the long apprenticeship. In addition, the same people who write could make more money in some other field, for, although good at times, the pay for most part is never steady or dependable. Writers must be concerned with other compensation—they provide instruction and entertainment for others.

Who most influenced your own writing?

While we often enjoy reading the same author and types of books, our influences were very different. Loretta reads Erle Stanley Gardner and many Western authors such as Louis L’Amour. She loves the vivid, terse style of John Steinbeck and Ernest Hemingway. On the other hand, Vickie grew up loving gothics, which were very popular at the time, so writers such as Phyllis Whitney and Virginia Coffman were a big influence. She is also intrigued by Somerset Maugham and Ruth Rendell, whose works contain such excellent characterization. Authors shared in common include Aaron Elkins, Margaret Coel, and Tony Hillerman.


Advice to fledgling collaborators?

When writing a book together, it is most important that both writers have the same vision of the finished novel. Even then, they must make compromises. Many partnerships fail because one writer stubbornly clings to a chapter or idea that doesn’t fit with what the other author is writing or which doesn’t quite fit into the book as a whole. You must build on the other writer’s work and not go off in a different direction or destroy or “unwrite” what the other has accomplished. Fortunately we share similar backgrounds and experiences, which make co-authoring much easier.

We have just completed a guideline for creative writers entitled, Fiction: From Writing to Publication, one we hope will be of use to others in the exciting journey of creating a novel.

Vickie and Loretta are featured in the recent release, The Mystery Writers.

2 comments:

Morgan Mandel said...

I can see where compromise would be very important when collaborating. I don't always agree with myself sometimes and have to change things!

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