D.E. Ireland for the Eliza Doolittle & Henry Higgins mystery series for St. Martin’s Minotaur. Their first book, Wouldn’t It Be Deadly, is now available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Meg and Sharon are sharing how they collaborate – and that two heads are indeed better than one.
TWO HEADS ARE BETTER
First off, we are long-time critique partners and college friends. We decided long ago to find a project to collaborate on together, but marriage, children and life put that on hold until one day, when Meg was driving to visit Sharon…
“I’d popped the My Fair Lady soundtrack CD into the car’s slot, singing along since it’s one of my favorite movies. And then, I was hit with “What if…?” BINGO! Once I arrived at Sharon’s house on Michigan’s west coast, I mentioned the idea – and we both thought it was the perfect premise.”
What followed was a ton of research. Although My Fair Lady served as inspiration for the series, we used George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion as our working model. Fortunately, the play was in the public domain.. Those familiar with both My Fair Lady and Pygmalion know they differ somewhat. But Shaw later added scenes such as the climactic one at the ball in a later reworked edition of the play, along with plenty of appendices for us to trawl. Of course, we had a head start on bringing to life the beloved characters of Eliza, Higgins, Pickering, Mrs. Pearce, the Eynsford Hill family, and Henry’s mother Mrs. Higgins. We did have to create backstories for each character including birthdays, education, siblings, parents, etc.
Then we started to consider the post-Edwardian world of Pygmalion. This involved intense research of the era, including famous figures, events, fashion, and even foods. We read the play many times, as well as anything Shaw had ever written about his characters. At this point, we chose to take some artistic license since our future plans for these characters may differ from how Shaw imagined them.
When it came time to plot the first book, Wouldn’t It Be Deadly, we did not have to look any further than Shaw’s play. In a later revised edition, the playwright included the famous scene at the ball where Eliza must pass herself off as a duchess to the Hungarian phonetics specialist. The Hungarian boasts to Henry Higgins that he makes his clients pay for more than just speech lessons. Perfect. Here was a character who dealt in blackmail, and blackmailers are often murdered by one of their victims.
We also decided that Eliza should make good on her threat in the play’s final act to teach phonetics. Having her become the blackmailing Hungarian’s assistant worked into the set-up nicely. But who was the murderer? That called for a bevy of suspects, each with their own compelling stories. As with all mystery plotting, this was followed by alibis, red herrings, clues, etc.
Once we had a polished finished manuscript, it was absolutely loverly to snag an agent who offered representation three hours after submitting a query, and who sold the two-book proposal to St. Martin’s in three weeks! Our second Eliza and Higgins pairing, Move Your Blooming Corpse, will be out in 2015.
Since we’re both research hounds, we split topics to save time. We’re also spelling and grammar sticklers, and work together on checking, double-checking and then triple-checking throughout our manuscripts. At the very end, we do a “read-aloud” marathon via telephone before submitting the final manuscript to our editor. This takes days, and it is fortunate we have been friends so long, otherwise we might never get through the process without drawing blood.
Indeed this literary partnership works because Meg and Sharon’s friendship began decades ago in college. “Even more important,” Sharon says, “is that we have been each other’s critique partners for twenty years while we worked on novels we wrote separately. After such a long period of time, we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses , along with understanding the other partner’s writing voice.”
Unlike some writing duos, both Meg and Sharon are involved every step of the way when writing these books. This includes plotting, first drafts, and as many revisions as necessary. Also, both must agree and approve literally every word that goes into the final manuscript. So while it is comforting to have a partner to commiserate with when the plot becomes challenging, or promotional efforts threaten to become overwhelming, it is not easy. And while two heads can be better than one, it is not for the faint of heart. But if you and a writing colleague have enough patience – and a sense of humor – you may want to consider a collaboration in your writing future.
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