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The Sirens of Suspense




Arizona native Sally J. Smith lives in Scottsdale with her husband. The rarest of breeds, a native Arizonan, she has been a writer since she could spell. These days she stays busy at her chosen professions of writing and freelance editing.

Jean Steffens also lives in Scottsdale with her family. She's a mother, reader, movie fan, and the Steffens' family chauffeur. She's active in church activities. Busy lady. Jean grew up in Chicago near Lake Forest, Jordan Welsh, P.I.'s hometown. 


Find Sally & Jean on Facebook and Twitter:


item1 TEAM WRITING item1

Sing to the tune of Gilligan’s Island theme song: “Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a partnership, and how we blend our different skills to write a manuscript.

Hello, it’s Sally (Sally J. Smith) and Jean (Jean Steffens), and we’re partners in crime, writing that is.

We met at Desert Sleuths Sisters in Crime, an organization for networking and professional support of crime writers. We worked together on a couple of committees, became friends and discovered we’re alike in a lot of ways and different in just as many. But we both liked writing the same kind of stories.

Jean had been working on a novel a while and asked me to read the manuscript. I did. And by the time we’d worked together on it we’d found a rhythm. We worked well together, and our writing styles meshed.

It was Jean's vision to create a private detective worthy of the Scottsdale lifestyle. Her idea evolved into Jordan Welsh, a trust fund baby rebelling against the restrictions of her high society upbringing. She works with a delicious bad boy who doesn’t mind inhabiting the outside edge of proper behaviors.

Stealing the Moon & Stars is the first Jordan Welsh and Eddie Marino Novel, from Camel Press. Our second in this series, Stealing the Golden Dream, is coming from the same publisher next spring as well as our first in a new series, Kangaroo Dreaming, a Digby Sloan Mystery.

* * *

Let us share with you the joys of team writing. The hair pulling. The scratching. Biting. Kicking. Punching. One reviewer said: "…they finish each others' sentences. Seriously." And that's pretty accurate.

There are probably valid arguments against team writing. But there's also a strong case for it. Together we write fast, and our first draft is much closer to final draft than any first draft we could write individually. Each of us brings strengths and weaknesses to the table, and we often find that one's weaknesses are bolstered by the other's strengths.

There's also the matter of discipline, the writer's Waterloo. Unless your writing partner happens to be as big a bum as you are, when that partner shows up at the appointed time, by George, you're going to write. No more cleaning out the hardware drawer. No clipping recipes from Weight Watchers Magazine or Bon Appétit. At nine a.m., we sit down at the computer and work through our schedule.

Another plus is that chances are pretty slim your partner will be unproductive or having a bad day at the same time you are. Although, we’d be lying if we said that hasn’t ever happened.

We work from a dynamic outline, which is always in flux—except for the beginning, the mid-point and end. We talk and talk until we know those elements of the book, and so far we’ve never changed them after we start writing. Our outline is a bit of trial and error. If she does this, why? What would she do when that happens? We talk it through, sketchy at first, then expanding and filling in some of the details—that’s for the first 3 or 4 chapters.

Then we start writing, see how it’s shaping up, if it makes sense, flows. We move through the book back and forth that way, working the outline ahead several chapters. After a while, the outline begins to stretch out much further ahead of the actual manuscript.

We find this the most productive and flexible method for us. We sort of clean up behind ourselves as we go along, bringing notes and suggestions regarding previous work to the next session. A two steps back, three steps forward pattern. In the end, we both agree upon every word in that first draft.

Can't answer for other team writers but that's the way it works for us. A little soft shoe, a little sleight of hand, Presto change-o, and we’ve written a book.

Some team writers divvy up the work. You know, you write chapter one. I’ll write two, and so on. But to us, that wrecks the voice. Our first draft is written based on our outline from start to finish by both of us together, sitting side-by-side.

Sally usually types. She’s greased lightning on the keyboard, a grammar geek, and almost as good at spelling as Word’s spell-checker. Jean obsesses over the “bible” (our critical tool that helps us maintain continuity as we work) and works the Internet for any reference work or questions that come up as we go along. She’s fierce at ferreting out obscure information from the depths of the deepest, darkest cyber-wells of the worldwide web, such as: how one escapes zip-tie handcuffs and other little tidbits that may someday put us on the radar of the FBI or Homeland Security.

In the end team writing is a matter of trust, flexibility, and friendship. My guess is what works for us might not work for everyone, but as they say in Paris, “Vive la différence.”



HAVE YOU EVER WORKED WITH A FRIEND? Tell us by commenting on the blog below or on our Facebook page and you’ll be entered to win a a copy of STEALING THE MOON & STARS! (U.S. entrants only, please.)



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