Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Creative Bond

by L.J. Sellers

Since there's an extra Thursday this month, Jordan and I decided to host a guest blogger. So today L.J. Sellers stops by to discuss her latest thriller, and the benefits of working in tandem...

Last fall my husband started building his seventh trike, just as I started writing the fift
h book in the Detective Jackson series (my tenth novel altogether). Dying for Justice was released last week, and yesterday Steve took his first ride on the new trike. Always having a creative project in the works is one of the bonding elements of our 23-year relationship. He listens while I talk about plots, publishing, and promotion, and I listen while he yaks about Type 1 Volkswagen engines, fiberglass bodies, and adjustable foot pegs. He reads my novels, and I take trike rides with him. I believe he gets the better deal, but I’m biased. Still, I think the three-wheeled motorcycles are so cool, I’ve given my main character, Detective Jackson, a trike-building hobby.

You wouldn’t think a three-wheeled motorcycle and a crime fiction novel have much in common, but the creative process is surprisingly similar. Both start with a concept, a simple idea that each of us has been thinking about and can’t wait to develop. For me, it could be a vivid opening scene or a
character that sparks the whole novel. For him, it’s often a type of engine or a new way to connect the two halves of his vehicle.

Next is the planning/designing phase. The first part of this process is all mental. We both spend a couple of weeks thinking about our projects, turning them over in our minds until they began to take shape. I can look at the expression on his face and know he’s thinking about his next trike. Honey
, you’re focused on your trike and haven’t heard a word I’ve said, have you? On the other hand, I do a lot of my brainstorming while I’m exercising. (Those endorphins help produce some great plot twists!)

Then the tangible planning takes place. For me, it means outlining. Determining and plotting, day-by-day, what happens in the story and in the investigation, then mapping it out in a Word document. For Steve, my trike builder, planning means drawings. He starts with a pencil drawing of the whole trike, then progresses to CAD versions of all the individual components, including dozens of parts for the frame alone. We each modify our plans as we go along, seeing what works and what doesn’t.

Then he starts building and I start writing. For both of us, this is the hands-on work, the joy, and how we spend the bulk of our time. We’re both happiest in the crafting phase. Of course, we have occasions when we get stuck. I’ll realize a plot element doesn’t work because of wrong timing and have to back up and revise. He’ll recognize that two components don’t fit together the way he envisioned, so he’ll stop and redesign.

But it’s just part of the process. We know from expe
rience that we’ll work through whatever glitches we encounter. In all our years, he’s only abandoned one trike project, and I’ve only abandoned one novel. (But my agent at the time discouraged me from it, and I may finish the thing yet.)

I don’t mean to imply we’ve always worked in tandem—in fact, we’re often in different phases—but we do have a similar process and timetable. And eventually, we both end up with a finished product that we’re proud of. Some people insist that what we both do is art, but we think of our projects as crafts…and now, small businesses.

Here’s where the difference comes in. Steve sells each trike (or motorcycle) to a single individual to enjoy, and I sell my novels to thousands. But we both love what w
e do and can’t imagine our lives without a project in the works. Sharing a creative compulsion is a big part of what keeps our relationship healthy.

What is your creative process? Do you have someone you can share it with?


L.J. Sellers is an award-winning journalist and the author of the bestselling Detective Jackson mystery/suspense series. The Sex Club, Secrets to Die For, and Thrilled to Death have been highly praised by Mystery Scene and Spinetingler magazines. Her fourth Jackson story, Passions of the Dead, has just been released. L.J. also has two standalone thrillers, The Baby Thief and The Suicide Effect. When not plotting murders, she enjoys performing standup comedy, cycling, social networking, and attending mystery conferences. She’s also been known to jump out of airplanes.

10 comments:

  1. Hey LJ

    So glad to have you here at TKZ. Also glad you posted a pic of that 3-wheeler. I was picturing something for kids, self-propelled. HA!

    Good luck on your new series book. And to answer your question, I have a strange process and each book is different. I don't plot. I only think of major points in the novel, but I like to "discover" things as I write. But the one thing we have in common is talking over plots with our husbands. I like to tell folks that our version of quality time is plotting how to kill people over breakfast.

    Happy launch...and welcome to TKZ.

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  2. LJ, thanks for dropping by TKZ and sharing your writing techniques with us. I’m fortunate to work with a co-writer (Lynn Sholes) so sharing the writing process is easy (most of the time). Our writing technique is somewhat similar to what Jordan mentioned. We start with a “what if” concept, then discuss major plot points and events. We usually come up with at least a dozen or so events (we call them snapshots) that we know we want in the story. Then we proceed to tie them together and figure out how to make them work in a logical manner. Lynn often describes our writing process as similar to patching together a quilt. The object is to produce a thriller that doesn’t read like a patchwork quilt but instead forms a solid, believable story.

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  3. Thanks for hosting me and sharing your creative habits. I'm now writing a futuristic thriller, a new genre for me, and doing a little less planning than usual. It's exciting and intimidating.

    I hope blog readers click through on Steve's link to see more pictures of his trike and trike components. Very fun vehicles!

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  4. L.J., I tend to prepare similarly to you. I give myself 10 days to do a complete plot outline and storyboard--write a brief summary of each scene (who's in it, what happens, time, place) on 5x5 notecards. Sometimes I use them all, sometimes I don't. But it helps me immensely when the actual writing process starts. Thanks for posting!

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  5. Those trikes are gorgeous! Does he have an umbrella option for Eugene?

    I would love to just sit at my computer and write, but I've tried that and ended up with so many rabbit holes it looked like a bad sequel to Watership Down.

    On the other hand, I seldom re-read a book. So if I plot too much, it's as if I've already read the thing, and the writing of it is more of a chore when I'm looking for as much joy as possible.

    For me, major plot points in the manuscript are planned (I use a notebook in Scrivener), and then I just plot a few scenes ahead at a time. At least, that's what I'm doing now and it seems to be working.

    Continued success on your amazing Detective Jackson series and stand-alones. I can't wait to read your futuristic thriller. Probably a lot of trikes for common transportation . . . ;-)

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  6. Thanks for joining us today, LJ, and for the great post!
    I'm lucky enough to have a few friends to bounce ideas off of as writing progresses. It's amazing what a difference it makes!
    As far as process goes, mine is similar to Jordan's, in that I stumble across something (usually a news item) that sticks in my head and I build from there.

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  7. Hello, LJ! Nice to have you here. My husband is wonderful for helping me make male characters sound like men! I have a tendency to tap their feminine side. LOL.

    They say opposites attract and it is so true w/Jim and me. While I plum my imagination for new stars to turn into books, Jim plums the skies with his telescope for stars that set his imagination flying. While he can't fathom the creative process, I go blank when he explains the hundreds of light years it took that itty-bitty point of light to reach us. But, we manage to entertain each other, endlessly.

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  8. I'm with Jordan and Michelle, I just kinda stumble across ideas. But I do bounce things off my wife all the time. She's an invaluable source of inspiration. She'll say something and I'll take a completlely different direction sometimes.

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  9. John---your description of going in a completely different direction gave me a chuckle. That's COMPLETELY how it is in our house too. My husband is so patient. Ha!

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  10. Thanks again for hosting me. It's been fun hearing about different creative style, and I appreciate the opportunity to show off the trike. :)

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