How to Write a Mystery Novel With Your Mom
A biting rain streaks against the darkness on Antheia Island, dragging its cold fingernails across the sky. Ada Gentry Adair looks out the window of her cottage, an arcane book in her hand, its cryptic illustrations twisted with candlelight and shadow.
A brave young woman pushing against the boundaries of traditional society, Ada Gentry solves murders in Maine and finds long-missing paintings in the New Mexico frontier of the late 1800s. She’s at the heart of The Hardy Women’s Society series, a literary effort that grew out of an art project my mother and I started on a lark.
Making this all work takes some structure. We have weekly Wednesday meetings where we sit with our notebooks and glasses of red wine.
When people find out my mother and I write books together, we get a certain set of usual questions: How does that work? Do you both do the writing? Sometimes the subtext is plain: How do you manage to work with each other? You can see the questioner imagining such a project with her own mother or her own daughter and then tossing the idea aside.
With two books written and a third in the plotting stage, we have spent many, many hours together brainstorming plot points, discarding them, reworking them, writing, rewriting, editing, rewriting some more, crafting agent queries and building up the hardywomen.com website. Throughout this, we haven’t had a single blowout. Small debates and disagreements, yes. Dramatic arguments, no.
I can write all day long and halfway through the night. What I’m not good at is plot. I blame this on my poetry training, but it simply turns out that I work better with another person, a brainstorming buddy. My mother not only fills this role, but she is also a strong hand when it comes to historical research, botanic details (botany figures prominently in the stories), character development and guiding rewrites.
Making this all work takes some structure. We have weekly Wednesday meetings where we sit with our notebooks and glasses of red wine and send off agent queries, toss around plot “what-ifs,” and figure out how we can make life difficult for our protagonists.
Once the plot is somewhat hammered out, I disappear into writing mode and my mother follows along, making corrections, suggestions and edits, often in real-time. We use Google Docs online, so both of us and can see and work with the same document simultaneously, even though we’re in different locations. If I drop a typo in there during the flow of writing, my mother catches it and corrects it almost immediately.
What lies beneath all of this is a sense of excitement about the stories and characters and historical discoveries found during our research. (Did you know there was a fern madness that swept the Victorian world?) So many writers are solitary creatures and it works out really well for them. I, on the other hand, thrive with a cowriter when it comes to fiction. When someone else is there feeding into the process, my creative world opens up. It breathes more.
I want to tell people, “Yes, you, too, can write novels with your mom.” But it’s not going to be that easy for everyone. Perhaps our writing team functions so well because we put aside the mother/daughter dynamic when we’re working. We’re friends. We’re cowriters. We also just happen to be related.
Amanda I’m in love with that trailer!
[…] in harsh ways and in helpful ways. The first one stung a little. The next, just a squidge less. My co-author and I are up to 42 rejections and non-responses for The Library of Lost Trees (formerly titled The Hardy […]