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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Writing as a Team: An Interview with Betsy Duffey & Laurie Myers, The Writing Sisters

I'd like to introduce you to today's interview with a duo for a change -- Betsy Duffey and Laurie Myers, The Writing Sisters. These two sisters were destined to write and began critiquing manuscripts at an early age for their mother, Betsy Byars. Some of her writing achievements include the National Book Award for Children's Fiction, Edgar Award and the prestigious Newbery medal.

It always helps to have the writing genes in you of an award winning writer. Still they had to make their own way in the writing world on their own skills. They went on to become authors of more than thirty-five children’s novels. Their first book for adults is  The Shepherd’s Song. Let's see what we can learn from them!

When did you get the idea that maybe you could become writers like your mom?
Even as children we considered ourselves writers. Seeing our mother write gave us a realistic idea about what it takes to be a writer. She would write for hours every day at a desk in the corner of her bedroom. We shared the joys and pains of writing even as children. 

We both started writing when our children began reading. We wrote the books that we wanted them to read. When those ideas began to come we knew what to do – write for hours a day! When you are raising children you are in their world and for us children’s books was a good fit. We had so much material to work with all around us.

Your bio seems to show the books started taking shape more as a second career. Why was there
a delay in starting?
The delay in starting was more an issue of time and maturity. We both had different careers in medicine first. We both married and had children. Then the desire to write came and the time to write was there.

You and your sister and mother have collaborated on multiple children’s’ books. How did you split up the work 3 ways?
Our first collaboration included our mother and the two of us. We worked individually on our chapters then met together, sitting around Mom’s kitchen table where we wrote the first and last chapters to tie the book together. This worked well for us and we did three more books the same way.

When our mother stopped writing we continued collaborating as sisters but adopted a different work strategy. We have a shared document system that we can both access on line. Now we can change and rewrite each other’s work. It helps that we both had years of experience working with editors and critique groups and having other people give input to our writing. 

Who has the final say of what goes into the book?
Our agreement is that we never go forward with a change or an idea unless we both agree. That makes the issue of who has final say a moot point.

Many non-writers think writing for children is easy, but it still needs a story arc like any other
book. Has any one book been more challenging than another?
Children are a pretty tough audience. They won’t continue reading a book unless they are rewarded with every word. The Shepherd’s Song was so different for us. We had never written a book with over 64 pages. We had never written a book with adult themes. But, writing for children honed our skills. So many things are the same. You need memorable characters, strong plot, tight writing. Adults like a good story too.

How do you keep the writing fresh and contemporary after so many books?
Each book brings a different character, setting and theme. The Shepherd’s Song was especially challenging in that it had twelve different characters, and settings. The research makes it interesting for us. We love exploring a new setting online and often visit the location we are writing about.

You’ve now switched styles and are writing adult novels. Why the change?
The change for us came with the idea, to write about Psalm 23. We both felt that we wanted to integrate our faith with our writing and first began to look at how to do that for children. We felt that God was leading us into something deeper and we were drawn to the Psalm. At the same time we couldn’t see it as a children’s book. 

Will you still write for children? Are there any other writing styles you’d like to try?
For us it is more about what ideas and inspiration comes. Right now we are continuing to write stories using scripture as a catalyst for change in the characters. Our next book focuses on the Lord’s Prayer. We have also written several devotional series and are always open to new things.

How do you write? Do you do an outline first? Do you do individual character development before doing the full plot? 
This was a source of tension for us when we first began to write together. Laurie is a plotter. Betsy a seat-of-the-pants writer. We had to find a balance between outlining and allowing the story to develop naturally. We like to use a storyboard – a large poster board where we can map out the story but still move things around. The process of working together required our surrender of the work to God. When we both let go of the control of the book we begin to work together and appreciate the skills and the wiring that God gave each of us.
Have you discovered some secret that has helped your process for writing? We have always been avid readers. We know books from reading books. A thought that has helped us is that writing is the creation of reading. When we get stuck we think if I were reading this book what would happen next. What would this character say? What would I want to read?

Do you use writing programs such as Scrivener?
We don’t use writing programs. Because we collaborate we write on an online document together.

Books that are Christian themed are growing in demand. Why do you think that is occurring?
People want to find meaning in their lives and are constantly disappointed by the world. Readers are drawn to stories of hope. The Shepherd’s Song strikes a chord with those who wonder if their life matters.

What is some of the best writing advice that you’ve received or could give?
Our mother was so wise. I was lamenting one time about a rejection and the realization that I had written a book that was not publishable. She told me that no writing is ever wasted and I’ve held onto that. Some things we write to learn the skill of writing. Some things we write and resurrect parts of the book years later. Some things we write to work out our own issues. Nothing is wasted.

Any last tips about writing that you would like to add?

Writing is a journey. We have watched our mother write for over seventy years through many ups and downs. We have each had our own journey with successes and failures. We can enjoy the process through the ups and downs.  

That's all for today's interview. I hope it helps you on your own writing journey. If you'd like to know more about Betsy Duffey and Laurie Myers, here are some ways to do so.        The Shepherd’s Song

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