Team Writing: A Brief interview with Tori Carrington
May 30, 2005
It's standard operating procedure at RWA's national conferences to only allow members who paid for the conference or others who paid for a ticket to attend the keynote address and luncheon. In both 1996 and 2004, as a member of the press, I wangled my way in by offering up my first-born and promised that I would stand in the back. I had met the husband and wife writing team that make up Tori Carrington earlier in the conference, and when they say me standing there in the back, next to the waitress's "bus" stations, they took pity on me, pointed out an empty seat at their table, and asked if I'd like to join them.
I had to answer no (I realize those manning the luncheon were doing their best to assure that everyone who paid had a meal to eat, but RWA needs to get the word out to these folks that press people are quite capable of attending a function without stealing the food). Later I was allowed to sit down, but was told in no uncertain terms that I could not eat. So I was able to take the Carringtons up on their offer and sat down at their table (their table was otherwise filled with their fans). Both Lori and Toni encouraged me to partake of the meal but I was so scared at this point that all I would do was drink the glass of water sitting in front of me. This wasn't exactly a Blanche DuBois moment, but their hospitality is something I won't ever forget, and after spending some time with them I knew I wanted to interview them about what it's like to write not only as a team, but as a married couple.
The Carringtons have published more than two dozen romances, particularly impressive when you consider their first book went on sale in the late 1990s. Equally impressive is that they join a very short list of series romance authors - actually, the only other author I know who did this is Jennifer Crusie - to go from series straight to hard-cover. Sofie Metropolis, the first in a series of novels that melds My Big Fat Greek Wedding with Stephanie Plum, goes on sale in June.
While both the Carringtons (Lori and Toni Karayianni) participated in this interview, because it was conducted via email, the answers were written by Lori. While I think it is a fascinating look at an author who's quite prolific, the interview should be particularly interesting to those wanting to know what it's like not only to write as a team, but as a married couple.
--Laurie Likes Books
What were you two doing before you decided to write books?
Simply put, we existed. I was a certified computer programmer. I only worked in the field for a couple years, however, before deciding the one-sided nature of my relationship with a computer wasn't for me. I felt like the monotonous 40 hours a week I put into creating and maintaining and debugging bookkeeping and payroll systems on a dinosaur of a system (pre-Internet and email) for a company of a thousand was turning *me* into a monochromatic machine. Of course, being young and idealistic and itching for something that challenged and inspired me was probably also to blame for my restless unhappiness.
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It was around this time that my relationship with Tony began to strengthen and life and purpose-driven questions emerged the focus of many of our conversations (discussions we continue to this day, btw). What's it all about? If we're going to be putting in such a monumental chunk of our time working, shouldn't we be doing something we love? Five years from now, where will we be and what will we be doing? What would we like to be doing?
Tony was a few years older than me then (although he is unofficially a year younger now<g>), and his own desire to reach beyond class and economical boundaries surpassed even mine. After years of working in countless positions (from drummer for a successful pop singer in Greece to a lucrative stint as an industrial painter here), he'd long since hit a professional wall.
It was during this personal truth-seeking period, in the middle of one of our many conversations about a recent book one of us had read, that Tony uttered those unforgettable words, "Why don't we try writing something of our own?" that we both felt like we'd finally found that one thing we were meant to do.
So we promoted ourselves from armchair critics to producers of material for others to criticize.
Ah, but that's not the whole story of our professional lives, you say. It took us over thirteen years after that fateful day to sell our first book. What did we do during that time? Briefly, we both switched to positions of a more temporary nature, something to bring in enough to cover the bills and pay for typewriter cartridges, and we wrote. And wrote and wrote and wrote. Until now, 21 years later, we have 31 published novels to our credit, another 27 unpublished manuscripts languishing in the attic with the dust mites, and can unequivocally say that we would not change one moment of our struggle for fear of upsetting the chain of events that have led us to the complete delight and passion and satisfaction that saturates our lives now.
It truly is about the journey. Oh, okay. And the destination.
Incidentally, I thoroughly enjoy working (playing, really), with computers now. We personally maintain our own web sites and relish interacting with people all over the globe via email.
What is your own personal love story?
You mean the above isn't enough?<vbg>
Well, all right, then. We met at a Greek diner, of course. In the east side of Toledo, Ohio over coffee and baklava no less. It was a clearly defining moment – until then I believed “love at first sight” were words reserved solely for the romance novels we would eventually write. Not anymore. The instant I met Tony’s rich brown eyes I saw my future stretched out in front of me like the countless stretch of Greek islands in the sparkling Aegean. I glimpsed breathless joy and happy years spent together. Of us sitting on a front porch swing enjoying the weather and each other well into old age. Neither of us could have imagined that now, so many years after that first meeting, we would be where we are right now, doing what we're doing. Sometimes it seems like a dream. Like we're still standing in that diner seeing all this in each other’s eyes.
I like to joke that ever since learning about Greece, I wished I were Greek. Since that wasn't possible, I did the next best thing: I married a Greek.
How does writing as a couple work?
Briefly, I'm (Lori) the chief writer, Tony is the master plotter (why do I always feel like bowing when I say this?). After trying on several different hats early on – my writing the female protagonist vp, Tony the male, switching off on scenes, etc. – we found this approach worked best for us, especially since we're targeting the female market and, well, if Tony had his way there would be many references to crotch scratching and spitting and nekkid tin roof sitting.
Having said that, however, our roles frequently blur and blend. We spend days brainstorming ideas and talking plot points before we begin each book, and do the same several times during the writing of each manuscript, you know, when characters balk or when either of us has a "eureka" moment. And Tony does an intensive edit during the process, peppering the manuscript with his naughty wit and astute reflections.
Since we write full time, our days are pretty regimented. We write from about eight in the morning until one in the afternoon, break for lunch and a siesta, then are back in our shared office again by seven or eight at night until about eleven or so most every day. Half our evenings are devoted to keeping our extensive web sites (www.toricarrington.com and www.sofiemetro.com) updated and chatting on-line with fellow book lovers and fans. Some would argue that technology and the web serve to further isolate people. We disagree. We've met some of our best friends on line. And there’s something uniquely beautiful about meeting someone you've talked to for sometimes years on-line in the real world. We have fans we call friends in faraway places like Pakistan, Bulgaria and Australia we probably would not have connected with outside our books. That would be a shame, indeed.
Can you further explain what it means that Toni is the master plotter and you are the writer? For those of us who don't write fiction, please walk us through this in more detail.
Following lengthy brainstorming sessions, Tony will carefully lay everything out, scene by scene, chapter by chapter. He truly is a master when it comes to plotting. From Aristotle and Shakespeare, to Dwight Swain and Ronald Tobias, he's studied them all, and formed his own unique method of piecing together conflict so that it not only arcs throughout the entire book, but is present in sometimes subtle, sometimes obvious ways in each scene and whenever the character is present on the page. When's he's done, I take that plot and the characters and run with them, writing the first draft through to the end. Well, when all goes well, anyway. Occasionally a character will balk at Tony's well laid plans, or I'll have a "eureka" moment, and I'll have to stop writing until we can reconfigure everything to accommodate him or her or me. But generally we have the character and story so tightly nailed down before I write the words Chapter One, that I don't run into many problems. And having that road map to refer to frees me to delve deeper into the characters' hearts and psyches without having to worry about where I'm going, allowing me to draw from my skills, which I believe lie in characterization.
During the writing process, Tony takes the manuscript in chunks and edits it, comparing it to the plot to make sure the characters or I aren't veering too far away from the original intention. A capital offense, in his personal how-to book, because the smallest deviation could rob the story of its climatic ending.
Does writing together make the process go faster?
Yes and no. Compared to a lone writer's routine (and this is pure speculation, because neither of us have written alone), I think it takes us longer to get through the brainstorming and research sessions, simply because we enjoy doing both so much. And, of course, we have all those delicious heated discussions to get through, agreements to reach. After that, everything goes quickly. Why? Well...let's just say it's awfully hard to play hooky when your partner is sitting across the desk from you. And those writer's blocks? An unacceptable cop out in our house because we're always here to talk each other through them.
How do you handle disagreements?
Well, we choose our weapons for each particular battle and whoever’s left standing wins.
But rather than spiked clubs and actual implements of war being involved, we debate the issue until one wins the other over, or exhausts the issue and a truce is called. Or until our editor enters the picture and chooses a victor, but this is the last and seldom used route. A lot of compromise is involved in any relationship, but whereas you can generally let things like leaving the toilet seat up slide in a marriage, in a working collaboration each issue must be addressed and dealt with immediately. So our solid marriage lends to a better working liaison, and our successful writing collaboration makes for a happier marriage. The best of both worlds! Well, at least until it comes to the remote control.
Do you ever talk about writing solo?
Oh, sure, occasionally we talk about it. You know, usually when one of us has the ultimate blockbuster idea and the other vetoes it. We both have files bulging with just such ideas. Hmm...but somehow neither of us seems to get around to doing anything about them beyond a harmless whine session every now and again. Maybe one day. But right now we're having too damn much fun doing what we're doing.
It's one thing to write as friends or as mother and daughter, but as
spouses, how do you keep work from bleeding over into your personal lives,
and vice versa – or is this simply unimportant?
In essence, we compliment each other, I think, both on a personal and a professional level. Best of both worlds, really. I can't say enough about living with and loving someone who not only, well, "gets it" but "shares it." All of it.
They say you shouldn't mix business with pleasure. We say that blending the two is the perfect recipe for ultimate happiness.
Thanks, Lori and Tony, for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer these questions. I know you're getting ready to start the Baklava Express to celebrate the release of Sofie. Good luck!