I am pleased to be welcoming Liv Constantine (the writing duo of Lynne and Valerie) to Novel Kicks and the blog tour for their latest novel, The Last Mrs Parrish.
What’s your typical writing day like and as a duo, how do you approach the writing process?
We are in touch everyday via email and FaceTime. We both write in the mornings and email that day’s work to each other. Late afternoon, we jump on FaceTime and give each other feedback on the pages we’ve each read. During these talks, we’ll also bring up any issues either of us is having with character or plot, and brainstorm solutions. Then we assign scenes for the next day. This goes on every day, usually even Saturdays, and occasional Sundays depending on our deadline.
What are the advantages of writing together and also, what are the challenges?
The advantages are numerous. Firstly, we get along great and enjoy each other’s company so we have a wonderful time coming up with the story, the characters, and twists and turns along the way. Our sessions are infused with a great deal of laughter and fun. When we get stuck writing a scene, a simple MORE HERE in the middle of a paragraph and an email to the other results in it coming back all filled in! It’s also great to be able to bounce ideas off your co-writer and to get input when you’re at a loss for where to go next. The biggest challenge is making sure our scenes mesh, both contextually and emotionally. A lesser challenge for us (fortunately) is the need to be open to hearing criticism and the other’s point of view.
The Last Mrs Parrish is your debut thriller. Can you tell me a little about it?
It’s a story of two women: one who has “everything”, the other who has “nothing”. The story was born of a conversation we were having concerning the phenomenon of the “trophy wife”. We began to imagine how this trope might be turned on its head, and the more we talked, the more intriguing the idea sounded. It was then that we decided to write the story of a woman who befriends a wealthy woman with the intent of stealing her life and giving it a big twist.
How do you approach the editing process? What are the challenges of this with the physical distance between you?
There’s no question that editing is the most time consuming and tedious process for us. This is often a four or five-hour exercise as we facetime, both of us with the document open on our computers, and go through the manuscript line by line. More than once!
What elements do you think make up a good thriller?
Suspense is critical– keeping the reader wanting answers to questions and turning those pages; but it’s vital that you play fair with the reader. Authenticity in character and action is a must. Nothing pulls the reader out of a story more quickly than a cheap plot device that doesn’t ring true, or when a character does something totally contrary to her nature. Pacing is also a key element in a good thriller.
What do you think is the most important – Plot or Character?
This is such a tough question and one that is debated over and over. The two are so intertwined that it’s almost impossible to choose, for without a good plot you have no story and without believable characters the story doesn’t matter. We begin with an overall plot, however, we let the characters drive the story. We’re always asking the question “Would she do this, say this, believe this.” And if the answer is no, then the plot has to change. If you think about the stories that move us, it’s usually the character that’s most memorable. Elizabeth Bennet, Scarlett O’Hara, Katniss Everdeen, Eliza Doolittle, Michael Corleone, Hannibal Lecter, Atticus Finch, James Bond, and Jay Gatsby are all examples of characters that live on. Does that mean that character is more important than plot? We go back and forth on this one.
Which authors do you admire and why?
Lynne: David Morrell because he’s such a diverse and interesting writer, and he cares so much about the craft. One reviewer called him “The mild-mannered professor with the bloody-minded visions.” I’ve gotten to know him over the years, and he’s one of the most approachable and generous writers I’ve met and is always willing to lend some advice to a new writer.
I also love Mark Twain and his brilliant wit. More often than not, when I hear a fabulous quote on writing or life, it’s attributed to him.
I greatly admire Margaret Atwood for her thoughtful and thought provoking writing, her activism, and the way she gives back to the writing community.
Valerie: I love both the stories and exquisite writing of Ian McEwan. His novels are timely and provocative, his characters deeply drawn. I think he is one of our finest living writers. And he’s also an amazing gardener!
Another long time favourite is Sinclair Lewis. Witty, humorous, winner of both the Nobel and Pulitzer Prizes, his writing turns a blinding and unforgiving eye on small town America. Dodsworth, Elmer Gantry, Main Street, Babbitt. They never get old.
I really admire Lee Child’s ability to continually turn out compelling and nuanced books in his Jack Reacher series.
If you were stuck on a desert island with three people, who would you like to be stuck with and why?
Lynne: I’d have to choose my husband and two kids for obvious reasons. But if this is a temporary detour, and I know I’m getting off soon…Meryl Streep because she seems like she’s got such a great sense of humor, and I think she’d be a blast to hang out with. Dean Koontz, because I love his books and he’d keep us all entertained and Jude Law – no explanation required.
Valerie: As Lynne said, if this were permanent, I’d have to take my husband, kids and grandkids. But as this is hypothetical, here are my selections. William Shakespeare – firstly to finally put to rest the idea that someone else wrote those magnificent works. Secondly, to sit at a master’s feet and listen. Next would be Frank Sinatra so he could sing to me. And lastly, Susan Sarandon, because she seems like she’d be lots of fun, politically compatible, and have great stories to tell.
What’s your favourite word and why?
Lynne: gobemouche is my favorite word because it’s so much fun to say and sounds so much like what it means – an extremely gullible person. It also reminds me of a word my father would have loved, as he was famous for making up fun nicknames for everyone. I’ve been wanting to use it in a book for a while, and if our editor doesn’t take it out, it might make it into our current work-in-progress.
Valerie: I don’t have a favourite word. But if pressed, the word I love hearing the most is sunshine, because that means it’s a bright, glorious, sunny day, and those are the best days of all.
What advice do you have for someone who is thinking of or in the process of writing a novel?
Decide if it’s what you truly want to do, and if it is, then a few things: Read. A lot. Not just great works, but also books on the craft. Take a writing class, find a writing mentor, use beta readers as you work through your drafts. Keep a daily writing schedule that is consistent. Never give up.
About Liv Constantine:
Liv Constantine is the pen name of sisters Lynne Constantine and Valerie Constantine. Separated by three states, they spend hours plotting via FaceTime and burning up each other’s emails.
They attribute their ability to concoct dark story lines to the hours they spent listening to tales handed down by their Greek grandmother.
THE LAST MRS. PARRISH is their debut thriller.
The Last Mrs Parrish was released by Harper Collins on 28th December 2017 and is available in UK book shops and online. To read my review, click on this link:https://www.novelkicks.co.uk