Co-writing means ‘knowing you’re not on this ride alone’

I’m excited to have Jamie Tremain on Moving Target today. Jamie Tremain is the pen name of two Canadian authors, Liz Lindsay and Pamela Blance. Their debut mystery, The Silk Shroud, was released this past winter by Black Opal Books. It’s a page-turner involving stolen art treasures, kidnapping and murder.

Q. Pamela and Liz, whatever motivated you to co-write a mystery novel? It’s something I cannot imagine doing!

Liz: It’s all Pam’s fault. When we were first acquainted she was attending writing workshops, and had an assignment to come up with a couple of opening lines for a novel. I gave her two different ones. She liked both of them and started writing separate storylines, then handed them back to me to add to them.! One of them became The Silk Shroud, and the other is a completed manuscript that is waiting for us to revisit and revise.

Pam: Okay, I’ll take the blame.

Q. You should send a copy of The Silk Shroud to the writing instructor who gave Pam that assignment. Did you come up with the storyline together?

Liz: Should we admit that we didn’t have a clue when we started? That random opening line led to a central character, then to another character and then to a storyline. We really enjoyed the fact that the story revealed itself to us as we went along. Mind you, before The Silk Shroud started making the rounds with query letters, there were countless revisions and drafts.

Pam: Creating characters are a favourite part of the process for me. Each character adds his or her own twist. We each have our favourite characters and tend to lean toward them, and give them a voice. Liz is the devious one, so she gets to plot with my help. Plotting is her strong suite.

Q. Is your protagonist, Dorothy Dennehy, a version of either of you?

Liz: Dorothy is my alter ego in a lot of ways. She’s far more adventurous than I would ever dare to be. I love that she’s creative with disguises. And I’d welcome living on a houseboat similar to hers. Oh, and I do like those chocolate almonds.

Pam: Dorothy is definitely Liz. Although I could handle the houseboat and the chocolate almonds!

Q. How do you decide who writes what?

Liz: For The Silk Shroud, we took turns moving the story along, then handed it over for the other to review, tweak, and carry on with. That seems to work for us. But the other manuscript that we’ve finished and are eager to return to was done differently. We each took a character and alternated chapters in that character’s first-person voice.

Pam: I’m looking forward to getting back to that book. Quite a different way of working, and it would probably suit most writers who are considering collaborating. The manner in which we worked on The Silk Shroud and its sequel is not for the faint of heart.

Q. Tell us about your writing schedules.

Liz: I wish I had one. I’m still working 8-4 for a large bank and I try to carve out Monday, Tuesday and Thursday evenings to catch up with Pam. And we try very hard to have a face-to-face one Saturday each month.

Pam: I try to keep to Liz’s schedule but life often gets in the way. I am usually desperate for our monthly get-togethers as that’s when we look over what we’ve written and plot going forward.

Q. Do you impose deadlines on each other?

Liz: Maybe we should! I think we do, but in a very informal way. As in, “Hi Pam, have you finished up yet so I can get started on my section?”

Pam: Doesn’t she sound bitter! The shoe is on the other foot at the moment as it was I who was waiting for Liz. She could hear my frustration from Oakville where I live all the way to Guelph. Yes, deadlines are good. We will discuss them at our next meeting.

Q. Were there any scenes you were in disagreement over?

Liz: One in particular comes to mind: The scene in The Silk Shroud where Dorothy brings Paul to meet her father, Max Dennehy. I included an explanation of where Max’s cat, Houdini, came from. I don’t think Pam was keen on it, but it was important for me because it showed a side of Max that might not otherwise have been revealed.

Pam: Hmm, I conceded that, but I still don’t care for it. Our relationship is one of give and take so I let it pass because Liz is a crazy cat lady. I mean cat person.

Q. What scenes were the most difficult to write?

Pam: I found the love scenes and other intimate encounters difficult. I will have to research those topics!

Liz: So you can deduce who took care of those scenes. Thinking back, I don’t recall having difficulty with any particular scene.

Q. What are the downsides of co-writing a novel?

Liz: As we often say, we have to leave our egos at the door when writing together. We may have to defend something we’ve written if the other doesn’t see it the same way. But if the reasons are legitimate, a compromise can be reached. Honestly, I don’t see any real downsides. Other than—and I think Pam would agree—our writing times often don’t coincide, which can be frustrating.

Pam: I certainly agree. Mostly it’s being available at the same time. I’m doing a home reno at the moment and we both have large families, so time and life gets in the way.

Q. What are the pluses of co-writing?

Liz: Too many to mention! It’s marvelous knowing you’re not on this ride alone. I don’t know if I could write completely on my own. To have another person on the same page—literally—and offering encouragement, inspiration and motivation has become a standard for us. Two pairs of eyes to critique and catch errors and make suggestions. Wonderful!

One of the main advantages is that we each have our own strengths. And as we’ve learned, there’s more to writing than just writing. Promotion and marketing go hand-in-hand with editing and character development. Pam has a background in sales, and she isn’t shy about approaching people to promote Jamie Tremain. That’s not something I’m comfortable with. I bring the technical side of things to the table. Maintaining websites, Twitter and Facebook accounts, and I love dotting those i’s and crossing those t’s.

Pam: Again I agree with Liz. She is analytical and a technical person. I am neither of those. And she corrects my POV errors. I add the fluff, and marketing and promotion is part of my background so it’s up to me to get out there more.

Q. What would you suggest other writers look for in novel-writing partners?

Liz: You need to at least like the other person. Having similar interests, writing styles and creativity processes are good. But the most important thing is respecting each other, and being able to listen to—not react to—suggestions or criticisms of what you’ve sweated over to get onto the page. The story has to come first.

Pam: Ditto.

Q. How did you come up with the pen name Jamie Tremain?

Pam: My maiden name is James, and I was called Jamie in high school.

Liz: Tremain comes from a family surname—Tremaine.

Q. Did the novel require a lot of research?

Liz and Pam: We would both have loved nothing better than doing hands-on research in Portland Ore., but, alas, our bank accounts wouldn’t back us on that. Thank goodness for the internet which provided interesting details. And reading online newspapers in the area was a great way to determine weather conditions and local events.

Q. Why a mystery novel, and not a mainstream, historical, romance or fantasy novel?

Liz: I prefer to write the type of story I like to read. And while I do enjoy hefty historical fiction, I don’t think I’m disciplined enough to tackle writing a historical novel.

Pam: Like Liz, I write what I enjoy reading. I like thrillers and crime/mystery so that is where our writing has taken us.

Q. What was the best writing advice you’ve received?

Liz & Pam: From author Louise Penny on showing vs telling: She suggests when writing a scene, closing your eyes and imagining you are seeing it on television or on a movie screen. How are characters interacting? What’s going on around the edges? Write what you see, and how it makes you feel.

Q. What was the worst advice?

Pam: There is a plethora of advice out there. Most of it is written from one person’s experiences so I take most of it with a pinch of salt. But I can’t think of any really bad advice.

Liz: I agree. You can drown in advice and guidelines, and become paralyzed with fear that you’re not doing something right. I suggest knowing your grammar and then finding your own style.

Q. What do you hope readers take away from The Silk Shroud?

Pam: I hope they’lll be entertained and read right to the end. And beg for more stories from Jamie Tremain.

Q. Will there be a sequel?

Liz: We are hard at work on the sequel, which is tentatively titled Cut Short. And as our minds work faster than we can get ideas down, we already have one or two ideas for spinoffs. So much to write, so little time!

Thank you, Jamie Tremain!

Follow Jamie Tremain on her blog, on her website  and on Facebook.

And you can download The Silk Shroud (Kindle version and paperback) at the Amazon store in your country.

Liz Lindsay, left, divides her time between a career in banking and fiction writing. She lives in Guelph, Ont. Pamela Blance grew up in Scotland and immigrated to Canada in the 1960s. She now lives and writes in Oakville, Ont.


About rosemarymccracken

Rosemary McCracken is a Toronto-based fiction writer.
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