Transcripts

Keeping the Series Fresh with Joyce and Jim Lavene 5/8/03



Legend:
Questions from the Audience are presented in red.
Answers by the Speaker are in black.
The Moderator's comments are in blue.

Mary Rosenblum

Good evening everyone! Tonight, our guests - two for the price of one - are Joyce and Jim Lavene. They have written and sold more than forty romance and mystery novels together since 1999 (including the award winning Sharyn Howard mystery series).

 

They also write non-fiction articles and short stories. They are active in local and national writer's groups and live in North Carolina with their family.

 

Personally, I am totally impressed with anyone who can turn out that many novels in that space of time!

 

Clearly marriage must really help with productivity! :-)

 

Joyce and Jim, welcome to our Professional Connection!

 

We're delighted to have you here

Joyce and Jim Lavene

Thanks Mary, we're glad to be here.

Mary Rosenblum

I have to say, the idea of being married to another writer seems like it could be either

 

wonderful or absolutely awful! Clearly you folk make it work,

 

so I'm curious. Were you both writers BEFORE you were married? Or did marriage come first?

Joyce and Jim Lavene

We cheated. We worked together before we wrote together.

 

Only Joyce wrote before we were married.

Mary Rosenblum

That's cool!

Jim Lavene

I was a late bloomer.

Mary Rosenblum

But clearly you make it work! You collaborate on everything, right?

Joyce and Jim Lavene

Right!

Mary Rosenblum

Whose idea was it to begin collaborating?

Jim Lavene

It was mine.

Mary Rosenblum

To be honest, I'm intrigued about your Romance novels...at least these should have

 

real male characters, yes? :-)

Jim Lavene

As real as she'll let me make them.

Joyce Lavene

Haha ! :-)

Mary Rosenblum

Well...Romance is a shall we say...uh...ideal sort of world anyway. :-)

 

So do you have a system that you always use, when you work on a novel?

Joyce and Jim Lavene

Yes.

 

We always start with characters, then add plot.

Mary Rosenblum

That's how I start most of my fiction, I have to admit. Character first.

 

So how do you divide the work? Chapter by chapter? POV by POV?

Joyce and Jim Lavene

We don't divide.

 

We work out the idea, then outline.

 

Then we create the rough draft, then do revisions.

Mary Rosenblum

So, does one person type for awhile, then get up and the other takes over?

Joyce and Jim Lavene

Sometimes but Jim is the fastest typist.

Mary Rosenblum

I'm impressed. I have collaborated before, but we used dual POVs and each wrote the scene where

 

that POV was on stage, then revised the other writer's scene.

Joyce and Jim Lavene

We create the scene and characters by talking together as we type.

Mary Rosenblum

You are the first collaboration I've run into where you share the draft all the way through.

 

Sounds great, actually! Good reason to get married, LOL.

Joyce and Jim Lavene

It works for us. It's like storytelling.

Mary Rosenblum

Clearly you like to tell similar stories! Do you ever have arguments about what comes next?

Joyce and Jim Lavene

Yeah. 32 years in April...

 

We think a lot alike.

 

Sometimes we disagree over something

 

but we have strict rules in our partnership.

Mary Rosenblum

What kind of rules?

Joyce and Jim Lavene

We have to agree on a character, scene or a plot before we write it.

 

It probably works for us because we were in business together before.

Mary Rosenblum

Alright...you two are just too perfect! :-) It's not fair! And probably explains why you

 

have 40 novels out in about four years!!! :-) So what kind of business were you in?

Joyce and Jim Lavene

We were in the supply business

 

but we are far from perfect... we're just willing to work with what we have.

Mary Rosenblum

And you clearly do that very well! I'm quite envious! I think it would be a LOT of fun to work

 

with someone regularly!

Joyce and Jim Lavene

It is a lot of fun. We travel together,

Joyce and Jim Lavene

dream together. We've always been best friends.

paja

Working together, do you need time away from each other? How do you arrange that?

Joyce and Jim Lavene

Both of us have separate hobbies that gives us time away.

Mary Rosenblum

I'm curious. What kind of hobbies do you enjoy? Although how you have time for hobbies,

 

prolific as you are, escapes me! :-)

Joyce Lavene

I'm into herbs and painting.

Jim Lavene

I tear apart computers and put them back together...

Joyce and Jim Lavene

We have a fairly rigid work schedule.

 

Hobbies always stay separate.

Mary Rosenblum

You really seem to have established a very solid working and living relationship. I truely am impressed! Do you ever

 

have trouble with deadline pressure? You sound too efficient for that, actually!

Joyce and Jim Lavene

Yes. especially with revisions.

 

We hate revisions.

Mary Rosenblum

Oh, I'm so happy to hear that you're human!!! (I'm laughing). Tell you what.

 

I'll swap you. Trade you first drafts for revisions. I hate first drafts!

Joyce and Jim Lavene

Oh those are fun...

 

We just hate when we're done with a story

 

but it comes back again.

Mary Rosenblum

I think that's always true...hating to be done with a story. You've given all these people

 

real lives and now you have to go on! Do you find it

 

difficult to put those characters out of your head and start the next book?

Joyce and Jim Lavene

Always.

 

We spend so much time in their heads

 

it's as bad as when your kids finally get interesting --

 

then they don't want anything to do with you.

Mary Rosenblum

Yeah, or when they leave home and move out of the state! Actually

 

that could be a big problem when you are moving so quickly from book to book, I would think.

 

How do you 'exorcise' that book to begin the new one?

Joyce and Jim Lavene

We always take a break and get away for a while between books.

Mary Rosenblum

Good way of doing it!

rupbert

Has one of you ever had a block in creativity or motivation?

Joyce and Jim Lavene

Yes Rupbert, everyone does from time to time.

 

We've learned to back off when that happens,

 

take apart a few computers and paint a few pictures.

mbvoelker

How do you develop your characters? Do each of you work on one of them or do you work on them together?

Joyce and Jim Lavene

We mostly work on them together,

 

except for those individual flashes of brilliance --

 

you know, guess what I learned about that character.

Mary Rosenblum

Does either of you have 'the last word' if you can't agree, or does it vary?

Joyce and Jim Lavene

It varies. There are always degrees of passion.

 

We try to honor whoever is most passionate in their ideas.

Mary Rosenblum

Good compromising!

mfuchs

How about scenes? Do you split them? Rewrite each other?

Joyce and Jim Lavene

We don't split scenes. We tried that, it causes to many problems

 

and we always rewrite together.

Mary Rosenblum

Sounds as if you could use two keyboards and one screen!

Joyce and Jim Lavene

One keyboard, four hands, one big screen

 

and God help anyone who has to get up to go to the bathroom

 

in the middle of a scene.

Mary Rosenblum

Well, I've done one-piano four hands playing, but never tried it with a computer keyboard! Actually

 

I am finding this very fascinating because I suspect this is a very rare form of collaboration. You really do think alike

 

and create alike, obviously.

Joyce and Jim Lavene

We do. Both of us have very dominant personalities.

Joyce and Jim Lavene

It wouldn't work any other way.

Mary Rosenblum

You're right, I suspect it wouldn't.

nan

Which did you start with first -- romance or mystery?

Joyce and Jim Lavene

We started with romance first because we thought it was the easiest market to break into.

 

We wrote our first mystery because our editor told us it paid more.:-)

Mary Rosenblum

So, for those hungry and unpublished writers out there, did you find that

 

your guesses were correct? Not to mention your agent's claim?

Joyce and Jim Lavene

Yes, romance is still the easiest place to break in as a novelist.

 

As far as mystery, it's only better respected than romance.

Mary Rosenblum

I agree. I've found that of all the genres, mystery gets the most respect. Do you have any tips for the Romance writers in the audience

 

who are trying to break in?

Joyce and Jim Lavene

J&J Learn the rules. Follow publisher's guidelines carefully. Don't give up!

Mary Rosenblum

Good ones!

mfuchs

Were both of you big readers of those genres -- of Romance?

Jim Lavene

I'm a big Scifi reader. We've written a few of those too. But the market is tough.

Joyce Lavene

I'm the romance reader. We both read mystery.

annie

Are there any series in Romance or is that only in Fantasy and Mystery?

Joyce and Jim Lavene

Publisher's don't like series romance right now.

 

We are doing a SF romance series.

Mary Rosenblum

I was just going to mention the SF and Fantasy romance lines. They are new and growing, I gather.

Joyce and Jim Lavene

Yes, paranormal too. LOR and Harry Potter are changing everything.

Mary Rosenblum

Change is good. :-) New Markets! What about your Sharyn Howard series. Want to tell us a bit about it?

Joyce and Jim Lavene

We love Sharyn Howard. She's good and strong and honest.

 

Sometimes she makes mistakes but she deals with them.

 

Sharyn is the third generation sheriff in a small town that's dealing with changes from growth

 

and lifestyle.

Mary Rosenblum

And in each book you have an historical murder along with a current murder? Am I right about that?

Joyce and Jim Lavene

Yes. we incorporate one retro murder that ties in with what's happening now.

 

Sometimes the murders go as far back as the one in our December 2003 book from the

 

Civil War.

Mary Rosenblum

Now how many books have you already published in this series?

Joyce and Jim Lavene

In December it will be eight books.

 

But we were just asked to sign for another three books.

Mary Rosenblum

So do you ever worry about the Cabot Cove Syndrome (Murder She Wrote), where the city has the highest per capita murder rate in the US?

 

And congrats on that three book deal, by the way!!

Joyce and Jim Lavene

Yes. thanks.

 

But all murder mysteries are that way.

 

We handle that somewhat by making each one of our books one season, spring, summer,

 

therefore we only actually have 4 murders in our small town each year.

Mary Rosenblum

That's not bad. :-)

mbvoelker

How do you prevent the series from going stale and getting repetitious?

Joyce and Jim Lavene

It's something you have to work on from the beginning.

 

We've given ourselves a huge and growing cast of characters from many time frames

 

but we still worry about it and that keeps us on our toes.

Mary Rosenblum

Each book is a stand alone though, right?

Joyce and Jim Lavene

Yes.

Mary Rosenblum

I think that is probably the most difficult part of any series,

 

that and handling the character. How do you approach the problem

 

of creating the character each time for the novice reader while not boring your regulars?

Joyce and Jim Lavene

Sharyn has changed a little in each book.

 

One reader wrote us recently about how she's grown as a person.

 

We love that. We try to keep up with little hints about the past in each book

 

without spoiling the backlist for new readers.

mbvoelker

Do you have plots planned out many books in advance?

Joyce and Jim Lavene

We plan three in advance because we sign contracts 3 at a time and

 

our editor likes to have some small idea of where we're going.

paige

40 books in 4 years adds up to 1.2 books per month. How many hours a day to you write?

Joyce and Jim Lavene

8 to 10 hours a day. 5 days a week and sometimes 4 on Saturday.

Mary Rosenblum

Either that or you've developed novel writing software!

paja

What method do you use to keep each character's traits and physical aspects correct?

Joyce and Jim Lavene

We have a HUGE excel spreadsheet.

Mary Rosenblum

I bet, considering the number of books in the series.

 

Do you regularly bring back characters from early books...outside your core of regulars, I mean?

Joyce and Jim Lavene

Yes, there are always characters we find that we love

 

who don't fit in to the immediate line up. We bring them back later.

Mary Rosenblum

How many books do you work on at once? Or do you do them one at a time?

Joyce and Jim Lavene

We always have one book being plotted, one book being written

 

and one book in revision.

Mary Rosenblum

Efficient!

mfuchs

Do you rewrite as you go, or finish a draft first?

Joyce and Jim Lavene

When you sign those contracts, you have to learn to keep your butt in the chair.

 

We always do a rough draft first. We tell the story, get the whole thing down.

 

We don't care about grammar, punctuation, etc. We just tell the story,

 

then we go back at least two more times and polish.

Mary Rosenblum

Well, that's about the number of run-throughs my work gets. It seems like solid method to me. :-)

Joyce and Jim Lavene

It's usually enough to catch problems...

Joyce and Jim Lavene

J&J then there's always the editor's input.

Mary Rosenblum

I think there's a point of diminishing returns in revision

 

where those i's you dot and t's you cross don't make enough difference

 

in the story to merit the time you spend! BUT...those revisions ARE important!

Joyce and Jim Lavene

They are. They're what separates a good manuscript from a great manuscript

 

but we've known some writers who can't get out of the revision stage.

 

They revise until there's no manuscript left. There's definitely got to be a point where you say

 

enough already. This is going out the door.

Mary Rosenblum

Do you ever disagree about whether or not you've reached this point with a particular book?

Joyce and Jim Lavene

Sometimes. When either of us has a doubt, we go over it again.

Mary Rosenblum

Your Sharyn Howard mysteries only account for some of your yearly avalanche :-) of books. What else are you working on this year, for example. Romance?

Joyce and Jim Lavene

We just finished a paranormal romance about an FBI agent who is psychic but loses her gift.

Joyce and Jim Lavene

We're finishing up a SF romance and a contemporary sexy romance.

Mary Rosenblum

Nice eclectic mix! What markets do you see as most open, among the Romance houses and lines?

Joyce and Jim Lavene

Contemporary with lots of sex is definitely hot. But almost every house is beginning to look for

 

fantasy and books with more plot.

 

Chicklit is hot too. We don't consider it romance but some people do.

Mary Rosenblum

Want to explain what Chicklit is?

Joyce and Jim Lavene

Chicklit is books aimed at the younger market. Bridget Jones Diary, that kind of thing.

 

They don't have to be hero and heroine falling in love and getting married

 

but they usually include the heroine falling in and out of love with several people.

mfuchs

Like "Sex in the City" on TV

Joyce and Jim Lavene

Yes!

Mary Rosenblum

I just posted a new Romantic Fantasy market on the website, by the way. Luna Books. It's in Writing Craft: New Markets

chatty lady

When you're new and unpublished the Editors just read the first paragragh or two. What if you've written an intricate mystery that takes many turns...if they don't read the story they won't know. What did you do about that BEFORE you became famous?

Joyce and Jim Lavene

It's called the hook. If you can't hook an editor into wanting to read on to reach your intricate mystery

 

you can't hook a reader in a book store whose kids are crying.

 

You only have a few seconds to grab their attention and hold on.

Mary Rosenblum

I want to amplify this a bit, since I work with a LOT of intricate student plot...the hook is not something that ends at the end of page one.

 

It keeps on going.

 

In other words, your first paragraph hooks the reader into reading paragraph two...and that one to paragraph three…

 

and it's not a matter of the reader 'getting to' your intricate plot...you're going to pull them _through_ your intricate plot with your strong prose.

Joyce and Jim Lavene

You are so right.

 

There should be a hook at the beginning and end of each chapter as well.

 

You want to keep your reader reading.

Mary Rosenblum

Good point! You want to end your chapter with something that the reader wants to find out

 

in order to keep them reading on after the potty break!

 

As prolific as you are, do you even worry that the well will empty and you just won't come up with

 

something new for the next book?

Joyce and Jim Lavene

All the time.

 

We constantly clip ideas from magazines and newspapers.

 

Also, having hobbies and playing with our grandkids keep us thinking creatively.

mbvoelker

Can you use the end of the book as a hook for the next book without annoying readers with something left hanging loose?

Joyce and Jim Lavene

A little. You have to be careful not to be too obvious.

mfuchs

Any intentions to do a mainstream novel? Or is that market too different?

Joyce and Jim Lavene

We are marketing a mainstream novel now. We wrote it last year.

 

Mainstream is a little different than genre. We like the expanse it allows you.

Mary Rosenblum

And you don't even need a plot. :-)

Joyce and Jim Lavene

Only if your VERY well known.:-)

Mary Rosenblum

I have a business question for you.

 

Since you are working in multiple genres, when you set out to acquire an agent

 

did you purposefully look for an agent who handled multiple genres, or did you simply luck out and

 

get someone good?

Joyce and Jim Lavene

We set out to find an agent who handled what we wrote. Our agent handles mystery and romance.

 

She doesn't get all of our work. We write too much for that. We handle a lot ourselves.

nan

Do your readers from one genre follow you into another?

Joyce and Jim Lavene

Definitely. We get letters all the time from people who read us in multiple genres

 

and non-fiction.

Mary Rosenblum

What kind of nonfiction do you do?

Joyce and Jim Lavene

We do craft of writing articles

 

but our favorite is interviewing people and telling their stories.

 

We write some articles for our local paper and national magazines. We also wrote a book about

 

Diabetes. Jim became diabetic when he turned 40.

Mary Rosenblum

I would just like to make the point to our audience that for those who would like to make their living entirely by writing,

 

you are doing it. And you are doing it

 

without hitting the Rowling or King multimillion dollar blockbuster. You are doing it in a real

 

way by finding out which markets you can get into and writing a lot, well. So those who want to be full time writers. This is how you do it! And it's rare, too. You work hard at it.

 

Congratulations!

Joyce and Jim Lavene

We always tell people that there is a whole world of writing possibilities out there.

 

You don't have to be a big name author to make money.

Mary Rosenblum

And I have to be honest, that very few people are willing to apply butt to seat for ten hours a day to do it.

 

Sounds much better as a 'one day' dream! :-)

Joyce and Jim Lavene

That's for sure. It's always surprising to us how many people

 

are willing to work 8 hours a day to earn a living

 

but they expect to write a novel in one draft.

Mary Rosenblum

It is kind of amazing, huh? :-)

mfuchs

Do you feel relentless pressure to produce? Or is it okay because you enjoy the process so much?

Joyce and Jim Lavene

We LOVE what we do. There are no words to describe the thrill of knowing

 

you get to wake up and be a writer today. You get to hang around with great people( your characters),

 

look at notes from people who like or dislike your work. It's great!

Mary Rosenblum

I agree. And it's one of those things that you simply won't be able to do if you DON’T love it.

Joyce and Jim Lavene

And it's too hard and takes too long if you don't love it.

Mary Rosenblum

Joyce and Jim you have been great guests! Before we let you go, would you like to tell us about the books that are coming out soon?

Joyce and Jim Lavene

Thanks. Our seventh book in the Sharyn Howard Mystery series comes out in June.

 

They are fighting fires in the Uwharries and an arsonist in Diamond Springs

 

and our next book in our SF romance series comes out in June.

 

Chrysalis is about a planet being destroyed by pollution that decides to fight back.

 

Thanks for having us tonight. We enjoyed being here.

Mary Rosenblum

Do give us the title of the Sharyn Howard mystery! I got it wrong, last time!

Joyce and Jim Lavene

The mystery is LAST FIRES BURNING.

Mary Rosenblum

I plan to buy it! Thank you so much for coming! I hope you'll agree to come back at some future time

 

and perhaps spend an evening talking about making a living as a writer by working hard rather than writing the blockbuster.

Joyce and Jim Lavene

Definitely.

wendyhaber

What an inspiring interview! Thank you so much!

flashman

I never thought I'd ever become a writer.. I hated writing essays in school. two years ago and many years out of school, I started the writing course with Long Ridge.. I got lucky I guess, cause since I started I have also been writing a column in a weekly Paper and have been freelancing for another one recently.. I plan to write some novels, but I want to learn the ins and outs of writing first..I have much encouragement along the way...Should I start a novel now or wait till I finish my course?

Joyce and Jim Lavene

Thank you for being here Wendy.

Mary Rosenblum

My vote is to start now, flashman. What do you say, Joyce and Jim?

Joyce and Jim Lavene

Start now. Orson Scott Card says we all have about 10,000 words of crap we have to get out of

 

our systems. The sooner you start, the better.

arfelin

J & J, you two have something very special going on. Thanks for doing the interview.

Mary Rosenblum

I think Arefelin speaks for all of us, Joyce and Jim.

 

We'll let you go! I'm sure you've already put in a long day!

 

Thanks for coming! I'll talk to you about coming back later on!

 

I'm sure we can learn a lot more from you.

 

You were great guests!

 

Great, Mary. thanks

Mary Rosenblum

Thanks, and good night!

 

I'm looking forward to reading your new mystery!

Joyce and Jim Lavene

Let us know what you think. We hope we were helpful. Good night.

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