Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Writing as a Brother-Sister Team: Guest Post by Boyd Morrison and Beth Morrison

Writing as a Brother-Sister Team by Boyd Morrison and Beth Morrison

When people talk to us about writing a novel together, one of the first questions we always get is “How is it writing as siblings? I think that would be a recipe for disaster!” A lot of people might consider working with a sibling on a writing project to be a form of torture, but in truth, we’ve always gotten along, and we’ve loved working together on The Lawless Land. It helps that in writing historical fiction, we each bring specific expertise to the project. Boyd is a New York Times bestselling thriller author, and Beth is a professional medieval art historian, so writing an action-adventure novel set in the fourteenth century has been an ideal blending of our strengths. 

There are several other successful sibling duos, such as Lee Child and Andrew Child and Lynne Constantine and Valerie Constantine (who write under the combined name of Liv Constantine), but as far we know, we are the only brother-sister combo out there in the thriller genre. Being less than two years apart in age, and only one year apart in school, we were always close growing up. We both got our PhDs around the same time, and as adults, we’ve been supportive of each other’s careers. It seemed natural, therefore, to extend that team spirit into an actual collaboration. Of course, it wouldn’t have been possible without modern communication. With Boyd in Seattle and Beth in Los Angeles, we’ve had to contend with physical distance, although both being in the same time zone has worked in our favor. We constantly use text, phone, email, and shared documents to forward the project. Beth uses her commute home almost everyday to get in a good chunk of time with Boyd (and Los Angeles traffic helps prolong those meetings!). 

There are several benefits to working together as siblings. We find that our shared childhood often helps us communicate in a shorthand way that benefits our working relationship. We tend to think along the same lines, having been exposed to each other’s thought processes for so long. And when we reach a particularly thorny plot problem, we can always count on one of us cracking a joke or referring to some funny memory that helps break the tension. Our books also feature both strong male and female characters, so each of us brings something to the table in terms of gender perspective that makes sure we achieve a good balance. We are both lucky to have supportive partners, who don’t begrudge us the family time we constantly need to work on our novel. 

Our working methodology is quite iterative. We spend a lot of time up front devising the plot together. We try to do this part in person, as it is intensive work that profits from long days bouncing ideas around. Once we’ve decided on the entire narrative arc, we undertake the best part of the book-planning process: a trip to Europe where we retrace the journey that our characters undertake, making the most of the inspiration that the real places provide to fill in more of the detail for each of the sections. Eventually there is a chapter-by-chapter outline of all the major elements. Only then does Boyd take over to actually write the scenes. He sends each section on to Beth to give her the chance to weigh in and add all the true-to-life medieval minutiae. Boyd gives it a final polish and we move to the next section. Once we get to the editorial stage, we both read the whole book multiple times, and spend hours on the phone going over each proposed change. We only sign off when we are both thoroughly comfortable with the finished product. 

One of the great secrets to our success is the fact that we value each other’s opinions on all aspects of the book. Neither of us is satisfied until the concerns of the other are addressed. The completed text of The Lawless Land reflects a lot of combined effort. We hope that audiences can read between the lines and sense how much fun we had writing it. 


BOYD MORRISON is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of twelve thrillers, including six collaborations with Clive Cussler. His first novel, The Ark, was an Indie Next Notable pick and has been translated into over a dozen languages. He has a PhD in industrial engineering from Virginia Tech. 

BETH MORRISON is Senior Curator of Manuscripts at the J. Paul Getty Museum. She has curated several major exhibitions, including ‘Imagining the Past in France, 1250-1500,’ & ‘Book of Beasts: The Bestiary in the Medieval World.’ She has a PhD in the History of Art from Cornell University.

No comments: