Rosemary's Essay "Seamless In Severna Park"

My husband, Larry, and I sit at our dueling computers in opposite corners of our very small home office in Severna Park, Maryland. Most days we're at our keyboards from three to six hours. Larry has a way longer attention span than I do.

How do a husband and wife write a novel together so that it comes out "seamless," sounding like one author?

When I met Larry twenty-two years ago, I had no idea how to accomplish that feat--or how to write a novel at all. Here I was divorced for eight years, out on a blind date. As he was driving me home, he announced: "When I retire, I'm going to write a novel and I want you to help me."

Now . . . I was a career editor and journalist, I'd never written a word of fiction and neither had he. He was an electrical engineer. And I had only known this man for four hours! So I chirped, "Okay!"

We married the following year, but it was seven years later that we started writing together. Larry retired and, with his typical gusto, wrote the first draft of the novel he'd dreamed about. It's a suspense/thriller set in Hawaii called Cry 'Ohana. ('Ohana meaning "family"). Then he handed me his 450-page manuscript and said, "Okay, your turn."

Yikes! It was truly the halt leading the blind. This is the book on which we cut our fiction teeth. We've subjected it to two critique groups, three different titles, and umpteen drafts. It's been kicking around so long that now we're on the brink of self-publishing it. (We spend our winters in Hawaii, so it's loaded with local color and cultures, and we have a ready market there (we hope.)

But I didn't really have fun writing fiction until we launched into our first mystery novel, Locks and Cream Cheese. I love our characters, including the ones we love to hate.

When I tell my women friends about our office arrangement, they stare at me in disbelief: "How can you stand working in the same room? I'd go bats if I had to spend that much time with my husband." A Baltimore Sun reporter asked us: "How can any couple spend so much time together and not produce real-life mayhem?" It's chemistry, for one thing. And Larry's my soul mate. I'm convinced we knew each other in a previous life.

So how does the actual writing process work? Larry says he's more devious than I am, so he always conjures up our plots and writes the first draft. I come behind him, chapter by chapter, cutting, tossing, and dressing the narrative salad. I polish the prose, flesh out the characters, sharpen the dialogue. If a romance seems too sappy, I might charge the woman up, make her more feisty to give her scenes more conflict. Of course, that tactic has consequences; it can actually affect the plotline.

Then . . . with sleeves rolled up, we negotiate. Here's our typical scenario.

Larry: You cut that whole paragraph! It's cruel operating without anesthesia.

Me: Just a little judicious pruning, dear. (That's an expression I learned as an assistant editor at Harper's.)

arry: But it took me hours to create those metaphors.

Me: It's too much already. Less is more.

Larry: Talk about overdoing. Your description of Mr. Snitzel goes on for a whole page.

Me: But his backstory really gives him depth.

Larry: He's a grocery clerk, a pass-through, not a major character.

Me: You're squashing my creativity.

Larry: You're trimming my subordinate clauses.

Me: You're acting like a spoiled brat.

Larry: I can't stand to hear a woman cry.

Our jousting is usually short-lived. I sigh and submit. Larry licks his wounds, and we resign ourselves to the compromises required. Maalox helps, too. We both relish the writing process, although Larry says, "Some days it's harder to get down and wordy." And he groans when I even edit a one-paragraph business letter he's written. Well, you know how it is. Stephen King said, "To write is human. To edit is divine."

The great advantage to co-authoring is that you're never working in a vacuum. Reading aloud to each other slows down the word rate to a point where the minutiae, typos, and errors literally jump out at us. It's so necessary to hear what you wrote--what it sounds like. We might discover Clara walking into the room in a sequined gown and leaving in cut-off jeans. It's during the reading process that our individual writing styles blend into a single seamless product.

Recently, at a Left Coast Crime convention, I confessed: "Unfortunately, we work at different speeds. I'm the tortoise of the two."

Larry chimed in: "There isn't a hare of truth to that."

See what I have to put up with? The night we met, he slipped a pun or two into our dinner conversation. I parried with a small jab. "Do you pun in your sleep?"

"Sure," he said. "I was born in the Year of the Pun. That's the thirteenth sign of the Zaniac."

I still laugh. I'm pretty sure our marriage depends on it.