Do you really write together?  I mean . . . really?

Yes. One of us will come up with an idea for a story, and then we brainstorm and plot together, developing a rough outline for a book. We live in the Rockies, so this usually takes place on hikes. One of us will write the first draft, letting the story happen as it comes. After that, we divide and conquer by allocating the writing of additional scenes or re-writing existing scenes that don’t fit. After this comes the real work: twenty to thirty re-drafts accomplished through hard-copy redlines or sitting side-by-side and reading the manuscript aloud, which is very important for rhythm and dialogue. About the time we lose track of the number of drafts, the manuscript seems ready for other eyes.

Where do you get your story ideas?

From the ether. Truly. The idea for our last book showed up after we arrived home after a long trip, and Stephanie sat down on the couch with her laptop hoping to peck out a few ideas. The first thing that came into her head was the line, “I’m hearing voices.” Within an hour, she had the first chapter of the book, which three years later, has stayed pretty much the way it arrived on that mysterious afternoon.

What are your favorite books?  

Jim’s Favorites:

  • Holes, Louis Sachar
  • The Giver, Lois Lowry
  • Sea of Trolls, Nancy Farmer
  • Looking for Alaska, John Green
  • Liesel & Po, Lauren Oliver
  • The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman
  • A Day No Pigs Would Die, Robert Newton Peck
  • Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
  • In the Land of White Death, Valerian Albanov

Stephanie’s Favorites:

  • Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card
  • Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky
  • The Fault In Our Stars, John Green
  • Th1rteen R3asons Why, Jay Asher
  • Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson
  • Shiloh, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
  • Unwind, Neil Shusterman
  • The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett

Best advice for writers?

Read. Read. Read. Know your genre, and that means reading hundreds of books. Go to your section in the library and exhaust it. Read the Newberry and Printz award winners and honorees for the past twenty years, and pay attention to the New York Times Bestsellers for your genre.

Get a notebook with at least four sections. Use one section for ideas. Write down story ideas, character traits, and anything interesting you overhear on an airplane.

Use another section for notes on other books. Outline your favorite books, paying attention to the number of scenes, subplots, and even word count. Copy the first page and highlight important lessons, such as how the writer establishes voice, how and when he uses adverbs (if at all), how he creates conflict and motivation. Go to the Acknowledgements section and see if the author lists the editor and agent. Review the copyright page and note the date, publisher, anything interesting in the summary (such as the protagonist’s age and internal and external conflicts), and – if for no other reason than we find it fascinating that this is listed here while the editor’s name is not – the font.

Use another section for plotting. Outline all the scenes in your favorite books and movies. For a great exercise, fill out a page everyday with a new story idea and try to come up with 40 one-line ideas for scenes.

Use the last section for business. List the editors and agents of recent books in your genre. List conferences, websites, contests, and anything else that will move your career forward. For the cost of a $5.00 notebook and some inevitable library fines, you can give yourself quite an education on the craft of writing and the workings of the publishing industry.

But above all, make your reader care.