Before she and Jill Gregory wrote their first book, The Book of Names, Karen Tintori was just beginning to write fiction after a career in public relations. Then she met Gregory, whose novels have appeared on the New York Times Best Seller List and been awarded the Romantic Times Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence and Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice awards for Best Western Historical Romance from the Romantic Times.

Tintori and Gregory, whose new novel is  The Illumination, live and write in Michigan.  They were kind enough to answer a few questions about their writing process and their new novel from WVFC’s Elizabeth Willse (whose  review of the book appeared last week in the Newark Star-Ledger.)

How did the two of you meet and start writing together?

We met when our children were in a mother-toddler class together and fell in love at the age of two. We had to get together outside of class so they could play, and as they became friends, we became friends. Later, we discovered that we were both writers and decided it would be fun to write something together.

Our first novel together, Something Borrowed, Something Blue by Jillian Karr (one pseudonym back then) was excerpted by Cosmpolitan Magazine and became a CBS TV Movie of the Week, starring Connie Sellecca, Ken Howard, Dinah Merrill, and Twiggy.

How does your process of working together play out?

How do you divide up the planning and writing of the book?

We write everything together, in the same room, on the same computer, at the same time — like we’re doing right now to answer these questions.

We start our work day by first going to lunch to talk over what we’re going to write that day, planning out the scenes or the chapter, working out any plot problems. We take turns at the keyboard, on alternating days, sitting side by side so that we can both read the screen. We write “out loud,” both of us free to interject or change a sentence, or a word, and there’s a lot of discussion interspersed with the writing.

We do everything together from concept to plotting to character development, including the actual line by line writing. The only thing we might do separately is research at home on our own time, sharing it with each other, and forwarding it to the other if the information was found online.

Likewise, the one who isn’t at the keyboard on a given day will occasionally go to a separate computer, connected to the internet, in case we need a bit of instant research — i.e. a restaurant in New York, a street or landmark in Rome, or need to know how long it would take a man on the run to get from D.C. to Israel — that sort of thing.

Where and how did you do the research that shaped the plot of the book, such as the connection to Daniel, or the hamsa eye symbol?

We are devotees of the public library. We both are lifelong avid readers and do our research in books, and what we can’t find readily in books, we hunt down online.

We spend several months researching and developing the plot and the way the threads will intertwine. In the case of The Illumination we wanted to write about the evil eye and about a little known biblical treasure we had come across in a book. We deduced that, logically, that treasure ended up in Nebuchadnezzar’s Palace at a time when the biblical prophet Daniel was an advisor there. This biblical treasure, which had been stolen when the First Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and the Jews were taken in captivity to Babylon, later disappeared with the fall of the Babylonian Empire.

So we brainstormed, and imagined that Daniel might have hidden this treasure on the night that Cyrus the Great conquered Babylon, and that he encased it within a pendant fashioned like an evil eye amulet to protect it and to scare off potential thieves from opening it.

We then looked for everything we could find on this little-known biblical treasure, on the prophet Daniel and on the ancient and widespread belief in the evil eye and concocted a thriller which begins in modern-day Iraq and immediately moves to New York, Rome and then to Jerusalem, where the biblical treaure originated.

What does a typical writing day look like?

We start with lunch, possibly a trip to the library or bookstore — and if the MegaMillions Lottery gets to a certain point (over $50 mil) a detour to the drugstore for lottery tickets and chocolate to energize us, along with our coffee or tea, while working.

Then it’s the computer, piles of books on the desk, on the floor and on the shelves all around us, and eyes on the screen until six or seven o’clock and we’re too drained to write another word. We do a lot of additional research and reading at night, separately, and both of us are constantly mulling and thinking about the story — and calling each other when we have epiphanies.

Are there any disagreements you’ve had in your co-writing relationship and how do you resolve them?

When we first began writing together, we made a pact that we’d leave individual egos at the office door, and that we were both committed to our friendship and to writing the best book we possibly could. When we disagree, we do a lot of listening to each other’s points of view, and one of us will eventually agree to try it the other’s way. We know that nothing’s written in stone, and we can always change something if we find it doesn’t work. And, although we polish our writing as we go along, we also do a thorough final polish from the first word to the last and by the time we’re done, every line of it belongs to both of us.

When readers have asked us who came up with one line of dialogue or one phrase, we’re hard-pressed to remember.

How do you balance the demands of writing against other aspects of your life?

Writing is a huge part of our lives, but we don’t work side by side on weekends, unless we have a speaking engagement. And we keep our evenings and weekends free for our families, friends and personal business. Evenings and weekends we might also choose to read up on our subject or to do research for an hour or so, or take care of the non-writing side of an author’s life — answering fan mail, blogging, keeping up websites, social networking sites, etc.  Even when we’re not actually working though, we can never really get the story or our characters out of our heads. And sometimes, even after seeing a movie on a Saturday night, the wheels start turning and we might get a brainstorm about a twist we might incorporate into our current book.

How do your families support your writing or inspire it?

Our families are very supportive. They are often our first readers, giving us feedback on proposals and early chapters, even before we send them on to our agents.

What book have you read more than any other and what keeps you coming to it?

Jill — One book I keep coming back to is THE CRYSTAL CAVE, BY Mary Stewart. It’s such a fabulous book, incorporating myth, early history and a brilliant re-imaging of the life of Merlin from the King Arthur tales.

Normally, I don’t revisit books as often as I used to do when I was younger because I can never totally recapture the magic of that first discovery — and there are so many new books I’m always wanting to read that I don’t have the luxury of going back to old favorites.

Karen — One of my regrets is that I know I will die before I get to read all the books I want to, and that there are classics I’ll never get to. So many books, so little time is my mantra.

There are only two books I’ve re-read — The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger, and the play, Arcadia, by Tom Stoppard. I couldn’t find a flaw in either one, they were so perfectly told.

What question do you wish interviewers would ask you?

How did you first hear that Steven Spielberg wants to direct and produce a movie based on your book?  We wish!

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