Friday, July 30, 2010

Familiarity Breeds Content

"This first of an intended series is a satisfying whodunit that could make even a couch potato want to hit the slopes."
**Booklist on DOUBLE BLACK by Wendy Clinch

HANK: What does your significant other do? (Mine's a lawyer, and it's lovely to have in house counsel, both in my job as reporter and mystery author.) But when Jonathan's working on a closing argument, usually at the kitchen table, I stay out of the room.

I type my manuscripts in the study. When Jonathan comes into the room--I stop. I wait until I take care of whatever it is he needs. (What's for dinner? Where's the dry cleaning? Where did I put my book? Is it going to rain? Do we have any tape?) He leaves, I go back to my chapter. If he's in the room, no way I can work. Even if he's just reading. I know he's there.

My mother tells the story about when she and my dad were married--before he joined the foreign service, he was a musician/composer/music critic. Story goes, when Mom was around, he was so distracted, wanting to talk with her, that he couldn't work. (Or so I'm told.)

But there are some couples who thrive on togetherness. And are obviously very successful at working togther. Very. Very. Successful. Nick and Nora. Tracy and Hepburn. Burns and Allen.

Wendy and Jon.

All In The Family

WENDY CLINCH: I grew up with a family business. My dad had a clothing store on the Jersey shore that his father started back in the ‘20’s. He retired and moved to Florida years ago, but the store is still in the family. My brother runs it these days, although I think it’ll probably end with him.

Some things never change.

I’m still in a family business, but it isn’t retail. My husband, Jon Clinch, and I are both novelists. Jon is the author of “Finn” and the recently released “Kings of the Earth” (Random House). My first book, “Double Black: A Ski Diva Mystery” (Minotaur), came out in January. The sequel, “Fade To White,” will arrive next winter.

((HANK: Okay, okay, I can't resist. FINN! KINGS OF THE EARTH! If we're allowed to say it out loud, we're crossing our fingers for a Pulitzer. And of DOUBLE BLACK, Booklist says "...a brisk prose style, convincing dialogue, and a sure touch in describing the social strata of a resort town and the rush of a downhill descent." Now, Wendy, back to you. And yes, that's Wendy skiing at the top of the page.)

WENDY: To tell the whole story, this is the second time we’ve worked together. Jon and I had a small ad agency in the Philadelphia area for many years, so we’re used to doing things shoulder-to-shoulder.

Call it habit, call it affection, call it the comfort that comes from doing things in the familiar way: we still work together in one room. It just works out that way. Whichever one of us gets started first—me at the kitchen table, or Jon at the desk in the library—the other one just kind of gravitates there too.

Sure, we have our differences: Jon seems to mutter to himself a lot more than I do. We have different tastes in background music: I gravitate toward Motown and James Taylor, Jon toward Tom Waits and John Hartford. And I don’t write during the winter: I ski most days and only write during the off season. He writes year ‘round, only taking an occasional day off here and there.

But even though he writes literary fiction and I write light-hearted mysteries, being in the same business does have its advantages. It’s nice to have a spouse who understands the work that goes into putting together a good piece of fiction. We often bounce ideas off one another to get that all-important second opinion. And it’s convenient to have someone you trust sitting right next to you when the time comes to decide if something needs reworking. Our many years together in advertising definitely thickened our skins when it comes to that kind of thing.

Working side by side, we’re struck more by the similarities in what we do than by the differences. In fiction, people tend to draw hard lines between genres. Literary fiction should sound one way, a mystery another. But as far as we're concerned, those boundaries really don't matter much. Jon's books and mine both feature murders—yet only mine are categorized as mysteries. Each of us struggles to make every page, every paragraph, every sentence, and every word as perfect as we can—yet out there where folks decide what book fits on what shelf, that's the kind of thing that conventional wisdom says belongs on the literary side of things. The bottom line is that good writing—a story that engages, with characters who come to life, told in language that's right on the money—is always paramount. And it knows no boundaries.

Like my family’s store, our own little family business will more than likely end with the current generation. Our daughter is a science teacher, and hasn’t yet shown any interest in writing fiction. This could change -- she’s only in her twenties, and we didn’t begin writing till we were a few decades older. If she decides to follow in our footsteps, there’s plenty of room in either the kitchen or the library.

And if not, that’s okay, too. After all, I didn’t go into retail.

HANK: So, Wendy? What's the secret of working together? Jonathan reads my pages, of course. And I do admit, I edit his opening statements and closing arguments. But we're separate first. Everything else, yes, together. Grocery shopping, car to the mechanic, going to the movies. People laugh at us about it. But working--no.

How do the rest of you handle spousal appearances? Is here such a thing as too much togetherness? Or, like Wendy and Jon, have you worked out a system?

Wendy Clinch is the author of the Ski Diva mystery series, featuring amateur sleuth Stacey Curtis, and set in Vermont’s ski country. Her first book, Double Black, debuted in January, 2010, and her second, Fade to White, will be released in winter, 2011. Wendy is the founder of, the premier internet community for women skiers. A former advertising copywriter, Wendy spent more than 25 years in the field, most recently as a partner in her own agency in suburban Philadelphia. She now lives in Vermont with her husband, Jon Clinch, author of Finn: A Novel and Kings of the Earth.

DOUBLE BLACK: A SKI DIVA MYSTERY (Minotaur, January, 2010)
FADE TO WHITE: A SKI DIVA MYSTERY (Minotaur, Winter, 2011)


  1. Hi Wendy! Oh my goodness, if I had to write with John we'd kill each other. He's always convinced he's right.
    But he does edit my books for me and does a really good job of being picky.

    But when I'm writing, I like to be left alone. Ihave to bite my tongue when he brings me coffee because that interruption has probably shattered twenty minutes of writing in my head.

  2. Oh Rhys, you made me laugh and spit coffee into my keyboard--we'll call you the "writing diva!" I would never turn down coffee:). My John is working from home since he retired from his other job a couple of years ago. It was rough going at first--I really KNEW he was there in the house and it disrupted everything. But now we work quite happily--I pester him more than the reverse. if I could get away with it, I'd chat with him about every plot question that surfaced:). Often.

    Anyway, I agree with Rhys that it wouldn't be easy to have two fiction writers in the house. How do you keep from comparing yourself to him and vice versa?

    Love your cover and your idea--what a terrific job you've done of rolling your passion into writing! I think I've retired from skiing but I'm going off to buy the book and read about it through you.

  3. Hank, great questions and Wendy...wonderful answers. I'm intrigued by the way you and Jon end up working shoulder to shoulder. What magic you have together and what magic you are each conjuring up in your books.


  4. Interesting topic. My husband is an editor and as such, works all the time, which means he sometimes works at home. This is never good.

    At home, I cannot work with anyone near me. Every little sound or movement is a distraction. If I need to be productive, I have to go to my office, close the door and lock it.

    But I can camp out at any busy public place--restaurant, coffee shop, library, airport--and tune out music, conversations, screaming babies, video game sounds, etc. Doesn't bother me at all.

    I finally decided it's because, deep within my soul, I know that at those public places, no one is going to knock on the door and ask me where I hid the ketchup bottle.

  5. Frank and I have written 2 non-fiction books together, which worked great because he would do one chapter and I'd do another. The editor couldn't tell who wrote what, or see a drastically different style, but we wrote from different rooms -- HAD TO. (Not to bore anyone with the details of his writing habits vs mine)Then we tried to write a mystery together. It was the closest we've come to divorce in over 30 years of marraige.....It's a great plot but it wasn't worth the legal bills.... LOL. Now we just read each other's work and offer suggestions == which I believe makes both of us better writers SEPARATELY.

  6. Ramona, that's too funny. But I agree! In the newsroom, with TV's blaring and people yelling and all hell breakning loose--no problem, I can bang out my script.

    It's not the noise, right? It's the..what. Tension? Attention?

  7. Pat--you're so wise to have figured it out! And very successfully, I might add.

  8. My beau is about the farthest thing from a writer. He builds and paints. My distraction on my writing days is looking out the bank of windows in my lovely second-floor office and watching him nail shingles to a roof or paint clapboard.

    I, too, have to be alone to write at home, but I can write a chapter on my netbook on a cross-country flight in an airplane with no empty seats, or on the hour's commute home from work on the train, surrounded by strangers.


  9. Hubster first went to working half time, then retired. Normally, he's engrossed in whatever he's doing, but I did have to train him that just because my fingers weren't clattering over the keyboard didn't mean I wasn't working. I didn't mind the real questions, but when he'd simply call across the space between our offices to give me running commentary on his incoming e-mail or a tv show, I pointed out that I really didn't need to know stuff like that.

    Then he'd stand in the doorway and raise his hand if he had something he deemed interrupt-worthy.

    He doesn't like it when I invade his space, either, so we get along OK. Plus, we made sure our new house had rooms for two separate offices.

  10. Must have quiet. Sometimes I leave the house to write. Coffee shops are great. No one bothers me. But then I have to buy a cup of coffee. Hmmm. Not always the best thing. I can write with iBuds in my ears and listen to classical or Latin music. If the buds are in, my hubby knows not to bother me. (Most of the time).

    Mystery Lovers' Kitchen

  11. Teee heee heee. I certainly don't think I could train my husband to raise his hand when he had something to say....

  12. To be honest, everyone, I'm not sure how we do it. We just do. We've been married 34 years and worked together in advertising for 20 of those, so maybe we're just used to it. When we started our agency years and years ago, I remember thinking that this would never fly. Somehow, though, you learn to accommodate. Plus those who know Jon know that he's a great guy and supremely talented. And me, well, I'm sunshine and lollipops and extremely easy to deal with. Right, Jon? (He nods his head and sagely says "Yes, dear.")

  13. Hank, I definitely CAN NOT write when my husband is home. Unfortunately, our house isn't big enough to have one, let alone two offices, so our modular desk is in our bedroom. Our desk chairs are about four feet apart and when he's sitting at his computer he has to crack his neck, clear his throat, burp, fart, and eat sunflower seeds. When he falls asleep in his chair, out of the corner of my eye, I can see his head constantly bob. Then if he goes to bed while I am still at my computer, I can hear him twitch like he's chasing rabbits or something. Who could possibly write under those conditions?! :-)

  14. Julie, I am howling. Can't you write a short story about that? It sounds almost--Thurberesque.

  15. At our house, we say to each other "What you say, I do."

    Sometimes it's even true!

  16. Last week I had a writer friend as a house guest and, what with that hot weather, we sat back to back in my tiny office and worked in the only air conditioned room in the house. I got MUCH more done than I usually do because I was embarrassed for her to see me gadding about in email and on the Internet instead of nose to the grindstone.

    Wendy, John - you guys have a very special relationship - how great that you can help each other the way that you do.

  17. Double Black has one of the best opening lines of any mystery this year! I was hooked from that line. Anxiously anticipating the next one!

  18. Thanks, Shel!

    For those who don't know, here's the opening line to "Double Black:"

    When Stacey Curtis found the dead man in the bed, she knew it was time to get her own apartment.

  19. Wendy, you beat me to it! And I love that, too..