My husband, Will Zeilinger and I are E. J. Williams and we co-write the INTERNATIONAL CRIME FILES, a hardboiled/thriller detective series that takes the reader from 1960s Southern California, then on to international locales. STONE PUB goes to Ireland and is our first book of the new series.
Every author has a unique way to begin writing a crime novel. In this new series, we asked ourselves, “What is at stake?” This question gives the reader something to look forward to as they delve into the story.
The nature of these stakes needs to be agreed upon when writing with a partner. All future books should have stakes of a similar or more intense level.
When we brainstormed about what would be at stake in our first story, we arrived at four great ideas. After talking about them and coming up with subplots for each one, we wrote them down and decided to meet again. Our second meeting focused on the pros and cons of each stake. After considering all of them, we chose the third stake. Once we had the stakes chosen, the story was ready to be outlined. We didn’t realize until much later that we had stakes for the next three novels, all ready to go!
Brainstorming is the best way for writing partners to set the stakes. Remember . . . the most crucial thing is to write a good story. So stay tuned . . . there is more to come.
STONE PUB will be published May 2021, it is the first in the series, and yes . . . we are still married!
Website: Janet Elizabeth Lynn
Website: Will Zeilinger
A writing partner or co-writer should be an actual writer—and someone you trust, respect, admire, and support, because two heads are better than one.
Writing is a lonely profession, and many times ideas get stuck in our heads. Having someone you can contact who knows you and the project.
Co-writers and/or writing partners are there for early feedback, bouncing ideas, critique, story direction, moral support, and so much more!
Some of the greatest writing, from novels to screenplays, to music, has been done by partners. Why is this so? Collaborative writing is one of the most productive and successful ways to write—If you find the right partner.
A question many writers have asked us is “How exactly does that work?”
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, but there are some strategies that can help, whether you need someone to co-write a project or someone to share a writing career… and maybe even life.
Because writing, like collaboration, is an intimate relationship, it’s best to begin looking at people you know. If you’ve figured out how to be together, you’ll have a better chance of successfully writing together. So, it’s no surprise that most successful writing teams have grown from close personal relationships—friends or family or lovers.
But what if you don’t have a friend, a spouse, sibling or lover who is “partner worthy?” If you can’t find someone you can collaborate with among the people you know, go meet more people. As the circle of writers you know expands, so do your chances of finding a compatible partner for your writing.
If you’re a college student, enroll a writing class, or take a drama class, or join a comedy group. Alternatively, attend writers’ conferences. Join writers’ organizations. It may sound overwhelming, but you have to get out there . . . socialize.
Remember, it’s crucial to find someone with qualities that lend themselves to a good partnership. Look at these for example:
Have the same sense of humor. This is a key factor for a human connection and a good collaboration. You may share inspiration, like what makes you laugh, or what keeps you on the edge of your seat. You can even consider what bores you.
Partners in any creative endeavor should have strengths that help the other, and each should be able to buoy up the other’s weaknesses. You need to understand your own strengths and keep this in mind as you search for a co-writer or writing partner.
Even the most compatible, peace-loving co-writers or writing partners will, on occasion, argue, and that’s not a bad thing. Different points of view are an integral part of collaboration. It is precisely the reason for getting together. Sharing differing views of the same project brings life to the final product.
I’ve emphasized the importance of knowing yourself and your prospective co-writer or writing partner, but it’s equally important to know their work. If you don’t, read something they’ve written. Request a writing sample and offer one of yours. If you don’t have respect for their writing (or vice versa), run don’t walk to the next candidate.
In the end, no one can know if writing together will work until they’ve tried it.
So choose the most promising co-writer or writing partner and see if it clicks. You just never know.
My husband, Will Zeilinger and I have been writing together for more than five years. We co-write the Skylar Drake Murder Mysteries, a hardboiled detective series that takes the reader to 1950s Los Angeles and other areas of the west. Our newest book, GAME TOWN, the fifth in the Skylar Drake Murder Mystery series, was released April 15!
Without organization, writing with a partner can be a disaster. Some partners just start writing and go paragraph, by paragraph each checking the paragraphs as they go. With this method, a book would take forever to finish, like a millennium!
So, outlining is the best way to get started on a novel with a partner.
But there are things you need to prepare prior to outlining. The important part is that you both agree and see the story in your heads as it unfolds.
Here is the process we follow:
1. Discuss when and where the story will take place. We chose to follow the seasons of the year. SLIVERS OF GLASS, which started the series, takes place in winter of 1956. Our latest book GAME TOWN takes place in early spring of 1957, with three books in between following the seasons of the year.
2. Research locations both of you would like to use, then pick one. This, we find, is where many stories fall apart. Many partners we know who write together can’t seem to agree. We usually pick 3 locations, Google them for the 1950’s, and pick one that we think will be the most interesting to the reader and us as writers. If we can, we visit these places.
3.Character Development is another thing that partners seem to have difficulty with. We each come up with a couple of character personalities and see which personalities we can use or combine into one. Usually we end up laughing over some of the characters we come up with. Then we get serious.
4. Outlining starts with me. I follow the three-act method. I rough it out then give it to Will. He goes through it, adds scenes, changes a few things and gives it back to me. This “back and forth” continues until we are satisfied, about ten times.
It is important to understand that an initial outline doesn’t mean it is carved in stone. The outline and story morphs as we do research and as the story unfolds. But the outline is something you both agree to then watch it develop.
My husband, Will Zeilinger and I co-write the Skylar Drake Murder Mysteries. A hardboilded detective series that takes the reader to 1950s Los Angeles and other areas of the west. Our next book, GAME TOWN, will be available Spring 2019. Needless to say, at this time we are in the throes of writing and researching!
Someone said, “You can’t write about old Hollywood unless you experience it.” This is so true! Neither my husband nor I are from LA and didn’t experience gang infested 1950s LA. So we take field trips, such as the Raymond Chandler’s L.A. Tour. We research the clubs and hangouts of the time then visit the nightclubs, hotels, and restaurants (Turns out to be loads of fun).
To begin our journey for this series, (even before we started writing), we took a trip to San Diego and the Sheriff’s Museum. We called ahead and scheduled interviews with several retired policemen, including one that worked the L.A. beat in the late 1950s. This gentleman was a wealth of information on police activity in Hollywood and the surrounding area. Our first novel in the series, SLIVERS OF GLASS, takes place in spring, 1955 in Santa Rosa.
Research for STRANGE MARKINGS was mostly gathered on our trip to Molokai, Hawaii. Natives we interviewed told us about the many legends and what it was like living in the area in summer, 1955. As each person talked about their experiences, plots and subplots emerged for us.
We found people living in the areas at the time each book took place and interviewed them. Since DESERT ICE takes place in Las Vegas, Fall, 1955. We interviewed a dancer who worked on the, then new, strip. Will also had a college buddy who lived in Boyle Heights in the 50s, so we interviewed him and his sister for the same book where the first murder takes place.
SLICK DEAL takes place in Winter of 1955, is base on interviews with local people in Signal Hill, and Avalon, on Catalina Island all in southern California. After lengthy interviews my husband and I commented how the spoken word conjures up images and ideas so easily.
GAME TOWN, our fifth book in the series due for release in April 2019, takes place in spring, 1956. We decided to keep it in Hollywood for the first time. We recently took an afternoon and drove around old Hollywood looking for body dumps that would have been in existence in 1956. We stumbled upon a lovely apartment building, El Royale, circa 1929. We weren’t allowed in the building without permission from a resident, so we drove around and looked it up on the internet when we got home. What an amazing place for several scenes!
Whether writing about faraway places, or in a different era, visiting locations or places that imitate the area helps us develop plots. Interviews with those familiar with the time or location add “flavor” to our story. So if you are writing about a famous lodge in Switzerland, take a trip to a Ski Lodge close to you when it snows.
Question from a guest at one of our recent book events: “You two write crime fiction but how do you come up with some of your characters? Are they like, people you know—people like me?”
We get asked that question more often than you’d think, and the answer is that creating characters is probably one of the aspects of a story we spend the most time discussing.
Since we are co-writing the fifth book in the Skylar Drake Mysteries, our main characters are pretty much fleshed out. In each story, we reveal a little more about their personalities and histories. But these were developed before we ever wrote a word.
We made a profile of each character which included their backgrounds, their physical description, their likes and dislikes, and added any little quirks they might have. Please understand when we say quirks, we’re not mocking or making fun of a person’s physical or mental challenges, rather, some of the people we’ve known are downright weird.
This is the same process we’ve used for new characters in subsequent stories. Some of the “quirky” traits are more pronounced in some characters than in others, to the point that we always seem to find a character for our story who is plainly odd.
As to whether our characters are disguised versions of real people—We’d have to say, no. Not really. We like to “people watch” at malls, concerts, airports, the checkout line, at church and even in our writers’ groups.
When we were both working full-time, we found a never-ending supply of personalities and quirks in the people we worked with every day.
For instance, one of us worked with a person who would sit at lunch and eat in a circular pattern around his plate – usually clockwise. If you asked him a question or distracted him in any way, he would stop and return to the top or “12 o’clock” position on his plate and start over. This person had a management position but clearly qualified as quirky. We haven’t used this quirk yet, nor the one of the woman who would not eat or drink anything purple.
We’ve even drawn on classmates from childhood, high school or those we’d met on a few of our first minimum-wage jobs.
From our discreet observations, we write character sketches, talk about them and morph them into a unique personality.
These “people watching” experiences for character development also lead us to great conversational snippets that we use in some of our dialog. You’ve probably heard the phrase, “You can’t write this stuff.” And in truth, sometimes great characters or dialog falls into our lap.
In our fourth co-written mystery, Slick Deal, you’ll see how Skylar Drake and Casey Dolan react with quirky characters to work out the murder. With our fifth Skylar Drake Mystery in the works, we are still discussing and creating characters for his latest adventure—and yes…we are still married!
Eight humans must send earthbound ghosts to their final reward.More info →
Lady Elinor Ashworth always longed for adventure, but ...More info →