Saturday, March 30, 2013

And now for something completely different

Our guest blogger this weekend is Victoria Abbott. Who is Victoria Abbott, you ask? An award-winning rose by another name. Read on...

When is your book not your book? This is a question I never thought I’d ask, or answer. However, now I have to. Your book is not your book when it’s a collaboration. Of course, it is your book as you contributed, but it’s also your collaborator’s book. It’s everybody’s and it’s nobody’s. And to make matters worse, it probably doesn’t sound like either one of you wrote it. Trust me.

I know this because the first book in the book collector mystery series, a collaboration with my daughter Victoria and me, has just been released.  The Christie Curse is a mysterious creature, as befits a work of crime fiction. We are very happy with the outcome: a lighthearted mystery introducing amateur sleuth Jordan Bingham, a young researcher and would-be grad student, who has scored a job with a curmudgeonly and obsessive wealthy book collector, Vera Van Alst, the most hated woman in Harrison Falls, NY.  Jordan is tasked with tracking down a play that Agatha Christie may have written during her mysterious eleven-day disappearance in 1926.  Unknown short stories have been discovered among Christie’s papers in recent years, so it’s existence is certainly possible.  As Jordan’s predecessor died under tragic yet murky circumstances, the quest turns out to have complications.  

Victoria and I both appreciate the Christie tradition and the golden age of mysteries, and enjoyed weaving familiar elements into the work. A historic mansion? Check? Peculiar servants? Check. Multiple suspects? Check. Again, don’t ask about the process. However, we also wanted a contemporary woman who could stand on her own feet and who had her own life and life lessons. How she ended up with that family of minor criminals, isn’t entirely clear, but she’s the only one in the family to go straight, even though she did get a set of lockpicks for her Sweet Sixteen. We wanted Jordan to have animals in her life. We like the texture that animals give a book. Now we feel kind of bad about all those scratches on her ankles. What is wrong with that cat? And we certainly weren’t seeking a pug. But one found us.

People are very curious about how it came to be. I wish I knew. I’d tell them.

Among the challenges we face: remembering to say we and our without sounding like we are imitating royalty, as in: “We are not amused.” Of course, we are amused as we find our characters very funny and entertaining. It’s a bit tricky to deconstruct how they came to be that way. Being two creative and intuitive people, we don’t work in a straight line.  We don’t plot on paper. Our minds hop around, ideas fly and nothing is linear. No outlines need apply. Plots unfold as the book goes on. Characters reveal themselves the same way. Naturally, there are no firm policies about who does what and who writes what. We’ve tried alternating scenes and each writing as a particular character. However, what seems to work best is a long talk over the phone—with no distractions such as each other’s facial expressions—acting out scenes with dialogue and sometimes action. Duck! Watch your ankles!

Of course, we love surprises and we certainly got a couple in the resolution of our tale.

The down side of this approach is that we might each envision a character as looking and acting quite different. Takes a bit of fixing.  We are now in negotiations for a character’s hair. I say bleached blonde. She says dyed flat black. We have settled on a wig. Stay tuned. This will be resolved in book two: The Sayers Swindle.

Never mind, we both agreed that the librarian, Lance, should be spectacularly hot. Indeed. And that the pleasantly besotted young police officer would have a problem with blushing. Jordan’s got to have fun.
Still there’s the plotting. Always tricky for those who work without outlines. As Barbara likes to say when she nears the end of a novel, “How am I going to land this sucker?”
We might not even agree about what kind of sucker it is we need to land. However, we’re here to make the case that no tears were shed and no voices raised during our first landing. Sure there were spasming jaws from time to time and sometimes fixed smiles with matching stares. But all that’s behind us when we beam at our bouncing new book.

Maybe by the time we work our way through The Wolfe Widow, we’ll have our process figured out. We have been very happy to visit here at Type M and will try to angle for a return invitation to let you in on the secret. 

Victoria Abbott is a collaboration between the always very funny and creative artist, photographer and short story author, Victoria Maffini and her mother, Mary Jane Maffini, award-winning author of three mystery series and two dozen short stories. Their three miniature dachshunds are understandably outraged that a pug and some Siamese cats have wiggled their way into the series.
Find Victoria on Facebook
Or follow them on twitter @abbottmysteries
They’re dying to tweet you.


Frankie Y. Bailey said...

Congrats on the book -- and on a successful collaboration!

Victoria Abbott said...

Thank you, Frankie! We lived to tell the tale.

Barbara Fradkin said...

I can attest to this! I am sharing a launch with these two in two weeks! The Christie Curse and The Whisper of Legends, another unusual pairing!