It takes two – at least in the Thurlo household – to create a novel. Our collaboration works because the two of us make one terrific writer.
Our partnership began after a long conversation where we each acknowledged our individual strengths and weaknesses as writers. We wanted to produce the best novels possible, so teaming up professionally seemed the logical way to go.
The subsequent years became a continual learning process. Writing a book is an incredibly uneven, unpredictable process that often takes us on a roller coaster ride of emotional highs and lows. Adapting to your partner’s eccentricities is a must. Taking into account that each of us has our own set of skills, voice, and method of working, we knew right away that we’d have to establish certain ground rules.
Sometimes, as it was in our case, it’s obvious who does what best. For example, my action scenes are horrendous. One time I got IUDs mixed up with IED’s. If David hadn’t caught it in time, our readers would have been rolling on the floor with laughter and our credibility lost forever. I also have no sense of direction, as evidenced by my driving skills. Without looking at my hands and/or wristwatch, I still have no idea which direction is left or right. Don’t even ask me to choose east or west. As a result, we decided right off the bat that David would choreograph all the action scenes and handle those details.
However, there’s also a yin to that yang . David’s weaknesses as a writer are precisely where I excel. My strengths lie in dialog, characterization, and in bringing out the emotions, essential to any compelling storyline.
Our latest Ella Clah mystery, Black Thunder, (Oct. 2011) is a perfect example of how our styles blend. In this suspenseful mystery Ella and her ad hoc investigative team have to track down a possible serial killer before he or she can strike again. At the same time, Ella struggles with pressures from home. Her little girl is now a teen with a mind of her own and those pesky, raging hormones that complicate every mom’s life.
The reviews for Black Thunder, our seventeenth southwest mystery, have been excellent. PW said it was an “insightful portrait of a native culture still evolving between tradition and modernity.” Booklist, the Journal of the American Library Association, also gave it a favorable review, calling Special Investigator Ella Clah a “compelling character”, and promised that our story “should keep readers on their toes until the final pages.”
We also have a brand new romantic suspense novel coming out Nov. 1, Winter Hawk’s Legend. In this story Holly Gates must hide out with Daniel Hawk, the security expert sworn to protect her. She finds herself falling in love with him though, unlike her, he craves no home or family – just the same freedom as the great hawk. This is a story about the power of family, of hope, and the courage to defy the odds.
Winter Hawk’s Legend is a landmark book – our 30th for Harlequin Intrigue. To date our publisher has sold more than a million copies of our Harlequins.
Romantic Times gave Winter Hawk’s Legend 4½ stars, which means “in a class by itself.” My favorite review, however, came out in Genre Go Around. The reviewer said, “Winter Hawk’s Legend is a superb Native American mystery starring a woman in peril who has no concept as to who wants her dead or her unknown adversary’s motive. Thus readers have an innocent doing an innocent thing leading to her danger mindful of Alfred Hitchcock. Readers will relish team Thurlo’s enchanting New Mexico thriller.”
To be compared to Hitchcock, at any level, made our year.
I believe what makes David and I such a strong writing team is that we’re two very different people. We’re opposites in almost every way imaginable. For example, I take things way too personally. A mediocre review can put me either in the dumps or have me diving headlong into chocolate. David is calmer by nature, and his objectivity often helps me maintain an even keel.
Even our approach to writing is different. I can spend countless hours working over a paragraph and have the ability to shut out all distractions when I’m on deadline. Unless the kitchen blows up and I find myself without coffee, I stay on target. David, on the other hand, has a hard time sitting still for long periods of time. He usually plots our books while on the move. Afterwards, I go over the details of the storyline and fine tune it. Once again, though our styles are different – or maybe because of it – we balance each other.
Though our team has been very successful, our collaboration isn’t always smooth. The very fact that there are two of us working on the same words, pages, and story almost guarantees that there’ll be disagreements somewhere along the way. Since our first priority is the novel we’re working hard to create, we’ve agreed to settle those issues in a manner we believe is most beneficial to the work. If it’s an emotional or characterization problem, I have the last say, but David’s opinion takes precedent on any aspect of the plot or the actions scenes.
The rewards of working as a team are clear. When it’s time to celebrate victories, you’ll always have someone who understands the sacrifices it took to get that starred review, or that brand new multiple book contract. Yet, as a married couple who also works together, achieving balance remains our greatest challenge. Pressure can wreak havoc on a partnership, be it business or personal, so it’s crucial for us to find time to do fun things together, too. On Saturdays or Sundays we might choose to watch a football game together while eating gobs of popcorn. At other times, we’ll take our trio of standard poodles for a walk in the bosque, the wooded banks of the Rio Grande, or go for a long car ride down country back roads.
Teamwork takes work, but in the end run, I’ve got to say I’d never trade it for a solo act. As Ella Clah, our Navajo tribal police investigator might say, “When you’ve got good backup nearby anything is possible.”
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