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!
My wife Janet Lynn, and I have been writing together for several years and are just completing our fourth co-written murder mystery novel. Since our stories are set in the 1950s, we have to research many of the locations that have either changed or no longer exist. And because our storylines take us to distant places, we travel to many of those sites in order to get it right. Google Earth is great, and the web is invaluable, but there is only so much you can learn from these resources. Nothing beats being there in person. This works out great because we both love to travel.
For our first Skylar Drake Mystery, SLIVERS OF GLASS, we traveled to the northern California wine country, including Sonoma County, Bodega Bay and Santa Rosa.
STRANGE MARKINGS took us to Molokai where we researched pre-statehood Hawaii. This was the only Hawaiian island that wasn’t overly developed and gave us an idea of Hawaii before all the high-rise buildings.
Las Vegas in the mid-1950s was the setting for DESERT ICE. Most of our time was spent in the Special Collections at the UNLV Library, the Clark County Library and the Nevada State Museum. The Mob Museum to really give us the flavor of Vegas in 1955. We also had the opportunity to interview a Las Vegas Dancer and the daughter a notorious mobster who lived there in the 1950s.
When we tell friends and family about our trips, they turn green with envy and mistakenly think we are on a vacation. Nothing could be further from the truth, although we do learn things a “normal” tourist wouldn’t. We are entertained by the people we meet and the historical tidbits that come to light during our research.
Success in our research may stem from the questions Janet asks hotel staff, restaurant wait staff and sometimes random residents we meet on the street. She’ll ask, “If you needed to dump a dead body around here… where would you put it?” The result is one of two different reactions. First: The person will take a couple of steps back and look around for an escape route. Or Second: They’ll provide specific locations of abandoned buildings, intersections, cemetery names, coves, cliffs or other places. This can seem a bit disconcerting, because that response means they’ve thought about this in depth. There are times I’ve felt like taking a couple of steps back myself.
Our most recent book is a prime example. SLICK DEAL is set in 1956 on Santa Catalina Island. (only twenty-something miles off the coast of southern California.) We did exhaustive online research before consulting the Long Beach Main Library. We happened to be on Catalina Island for other reasons a few months ago and stopped in at the Visitors Center. They also referred us to the Avalon branch of the L.A. County Library , which happened to be closed at the time we visited. We next visited the Chamber of Commerce, who, once again, referred us to the Library. This wasn’t going to work, so we visited the Catalina Conservancy. Guess where they referred us. Yes, the Library. We thought we had it solved when we went to the Catalina Island Museum. Again, they said, to try the Library. This prompted another visit to the Island when the Library was open. We scheduled it during the month our story took place and many questions were answered. The staff was helpful and even provided white cotton gloves so we could rummage through their archives.
Some of the most interesting facts came from the guide at the Avalon Casino “Frankie of Avalon,” who grew up on Catalina. There was also a fellow at the golf-cart rental shop, and a couple of waiters. Does that sound like a relaxing vacation?
Once we visited these locations, we were struck with inspiration and appreciation for the locales.
Online research is great, but physically visiting the places where your story takes place can supply all your senses with sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and the personality of the people you meet. As a couple writing together, we have a great time and, after four books, we’re still married.
Like Michael Landon when he thought up Highway to Heaven, or like David Boreanaz when he signed on to do Bones, I am about to embark upon my third series. I’ve written four books so far in my award-winning and Amazon bestselling romantic comedy In Love in the Limelight series and two books so far in my series set in the heart of the Cotswolds, the Drakenfall series. So if I’ve not yet written all the books for these two series, why start a third? Well, it all began last October …
For the holiday season of 2016, I contributed a Christmas short story “It Doesn’t Show Signs of Stopping” to a limited release holiday anthology It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Chick Lit. As I always do whenever I am part of an anthology, I read all the stories in the anthology as soon as the book comes out, if not sooner if I can sneak peeks at the stories by bugging my fellow authors. So, last November, I started reading another of the stories in the anthology, “The Miraculous Power of Butter Cookies” by Holly Tierney-Bedord, an author I kind of knew from some of my writer’s groups. Hm, I thought. Another Christmas cookies story. Then I started reading and OMG I was swept away by prose so warm and wry and gosh darn evocative and deceptive in its simplicity that I immediately thought of Flannery O’Connor. I kid you not. It was that good. When I was done with her story, I messaged her and told her how totally amazeballs she was. Then I read a chick lit book of hers about a woman who goes on a reality show to win the man of her dreams, Bellamy’s Redemption. I don’t even like watching reality shows, but I could not put this book down and I could not stop laughing! And the romance was subtle but squeefully wonderful! Seriously, the book amused me to such an extent that sometimes I will be doing the dishes or walking through the grocery store and I will think of a scene from the book and just burst out laughing! Then I read one of the best books I can ever remember reading – Holly’s Surviving Valencia, a masterpiece that starts out as compelling women’s fiction and twists and turns into a thrilling, suspenseful, and ultimately chilling mystery. The scenes of the narrator growing up in the shadow of her adored, incandescent sister Valencia are achingly perfect, and the journey of how the narrator learns to survive her sister’s untimely teenage death captivates to the very core. But then the book becomes tricky and eerie, when a past thought long-dead surfaces like the Loch Ness monster and keeps you guessing until the VERY. LAST. CHAPTER.
It is rare that I discover an author who so transports me, let alone one that I kind of know! Then early this year, I got a message from Holly. “Would you be interested in co-writing a cozy mystery with me?” Umm … are you talking to me? I mean, yeah!!! Heck, yeah! Are you sure you mean me? Turns out, when she read my romantic comedy Miss Adventure, for the fist time in a long time, her internal editor did not even engage. She was swept away by the ease of my prose and she lost herself in my story.
Does this sound like kismet, or what? We have since become fast friends online and she even let me read her upcoming, soon to be released women’s fiction saga, Sweet Hollow Women. Let me just say, Mmmrrh!!!!!
We have been tossing ideas back and forth over email for a few months now, and finally … this past weekend, I flew to Wisconsin to meet Holly!!!!! It was like Sleepless in Seattle,but without the kid, and the romance was in the form of what we decided to put in the book. We hammered out the final outline of the first story in what we aim to make a helluva series – I have never before been so galvanized by writing!
Holly … cozy mystery … writing with someone I admire to the high heavens and like a heck of a lot besides … Mmmrrh! Stay tuned for more details as the story develops …
When she was a kid in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Geralyn Vivian Ruane Corcillo dreamed of one day becoming the superhero Dyna Girl. So, she did her best and grew up to constantly pick up litter and rescue animals. At home, she loves watching black & white movies, British mysteries, and the NY Giants. Corcillo lives in a drafty old house in Hollywood with her husband Ron, a guy who’s even cooler than Kip Dynamite.
What happens if no one else sees the creatures calling to you from your back yard?
Or your perfect crime is not as perfect as you planned? What if a city-dweller on vacation meets a tribe of head hunters in the middle of the jungle?
Or if the best player on the boys' high school sports teams . . . is a girl?
What happens if everything you thought you understood goes . . . OFF THE RAILS?More info →
Celebrate all year long through Romancing the PagesMore info →