|Connie Brockway & Christina Dodd: Friendship Power|
Not that long ago in a place not that far away, Christina Dodd labored and labored and labored on a book whose very name still retains the power to make senior editors break out in cold sweats. It took her ten years to break into publishing with a different book no one thought could sell -- a medieval romance about a sight impaired couple. Dodd's Candle in the Window not only won the Romance Writers of America's prestigious Golden Heart and RITA Awards, it became one of the most frequently reprinted romances of all time.
Connie Brockway sold her first novel, Promise Me Heaven, and all the ones after that, though she claims -- very earnestly -- to have failed in her efforts to yank open the door to vampire romance. She and Dodd became friends anyway. Many awards, bestsellers and interminable marches through Manhattan later, they remain fast friends and staunch fans of each other's work. Recently, they collaborated on an unusual anthology, Once Upon a Pillow, composed of interconnected stories that tell the history of a remarkable antique bed. And they're still friends. At the 2004 Washington Romance Writers Retreat Brockway and Dodd talked to Crescent Blues about their collaboration and their new solo projects.
Crescent Blues: How did you meet?
Connie Brockway: Christina remembers how we met the first time. I don't remember.
Christina Dodd: The first time we met was at the National Conference in St. Louis. She sat down at the table with Susan Kay Law and Susan Sizemore, who I knew, and who were in Connie's chapter. Connie had just sold her first book. Little birdies were pretty much twittering around her head, she had stardust on her shoulders -- she was a happy girl.
But then . . .
Connie Brockway: Then it was the next year in New York. We both had agents at the same agency, and he took us out to brunch. We sat down next to each other, and apparently the birds had disappeared, and the stardust had dissipated.
Then we really connected, and we decided, rather than taking a taxi the five hundred and fifty-nine miles back to the hotel, we would walk. So we both had blisters, and we got to know each other really well.
Crescent Blues: Is that when you decided you were simpatico?
Together: Oh, yeah. Definitely.
Crescent Blues: I was wondering if there's a connection through your love of or work with animals too. Christina, you've got the link to Canine Companions for Independence on your site, and Connie, you've got a page with nothing but paw prints on it.
Connie Brockway: I'm going to turn it into a link to the Minnesota Wildlife Rehab, where I'm on the board of directors.
Crescent Blues: But you also own dogs.
Connie Brockway: I have two dogs.
Crescent Blues: Do you consider that important to the relationship?
Connie Brockway: I think that people who like dogs are always good people. [Laughs.]
We have noticed something so odd, David and I. We like people who name their dogs people names more than we like people who name their dogs dog names. So if we ask, "What's your dog's name?" And they say something like "Ronald." We know we'll like them.
Crescent Blues: In your talks, you both touched upon how you put stories together. You mentioned that you know you'll cull back so you deliberately write more --
Connie Brockway: Not deliberately. [Laughs.] Not deliberately.
Christina Dodd: She whines about it all the time. [Laughs.]
Connie Brockway: It's one of those grim things where I call Christina up and say, "Guess, not how many pages I wrote today, but how many pages I cut today."
Crescent Blues: Do you both write in the same way? In other words, what's your procedure for writing? That's one of the things we like to address in Crescent Blues -- that there is no one "right" way to write.
Christina Dodd: Absolutely, there is no one way. I charge ahead, then in the morning, I get up and revise the pages I did before. That pretty much puts me back in the story, and I start writing again. I don't overwrite like Connie does, probably because of the revising I do every day. And I usually do a big revision somewhere in the middle. Usually, by the time I get to the end of the book, it's pretty much what I expect it to be.
Crescent Blues: Do you outline?
Christina Dodd: Oh, absolutely. I start with about ten to twenty pages of synopsis. Then I tend to [plan] so many chapters ahead. As long as I know what's going to happen, I don't have a sense of panic.
It needs to be specific stuff. As I go along, I will have revelations: oh, the next chapter going to be like this, and I know what's going to happen three chapters beyond that. And I will lightly outline those so I know where I'm going. It's when I get to the point where I don't know what happens next that I get that stark panic and am no longer able to write.
Crescent Blues: What about you, Connie? Is your creative process more a matter of discovering the book as you go along?
Connie Brockway: I also start with a synopsis. But I don't hold myself to the synopsis, because a lot of times when I'm writing I'll discover a better way to go. The plot usually does not change a whole lot from the synopsis, but the characters might. That might be a consequence of something overheard or something that I read.
Last night, for example, I decided on a completely different ending to this third book [of the Rose Hunters trilogy]. It goes for a completely different tone. Not the big finale, action-wise, but the tone the character s going to set. I thought: Of course, that's the way it's going to work. And it was because I was watching Donna Kaufmann.
Crescent Blues: Do your characters ever get away from you?
Connie Brockway: No.
[Dodd shakes her head.]
Christina Dodd: That's why I like writing, because I'm in charge. It's the only time in your life that you're truly in charge.
Connie Brockway: I've always said that all authors are control freaks. This is the ultimate expression of it. You vill do exactly what we tell you to do. [Said in a comically exaggerated accent.]
Crescent Blues: Could you tell Crescent Blues readers a little bit about your plot weekends? How did they come about?
Connie Brockway: Christina, you started those.
Christina Dodd: No, I didn't start them. A friend of ours -- Susan Mallory -- did it with her friends. When she moved to Houston, then she and I started. We bring in about five people. Usually, you have a couple of people flying in. You sit in a hotel room or somebody's house for three days, and you plot books.
Each person has so much time to plot a book . . .
I won't say that. It's not so much time, but each person has a slot to plot a book and as much time as it takes. Some books plot very easily. Some are simply grueling.
The person that's being plotted says, "This is what I have so far. This is the kind of book I want." Then we sit down, and we start flinging ideas together. We brainstorm. Usually we get something. Usually we get a book.
Sometimes we have to stop on a book and go back later.
Connie Brockway: If it's really horrible, or it's not working at all, if you go to lunch . . . Yeah, if you put food in your mouth you start getting smarter again. [Laughs.]
Christina Dodd: It's amazing. If you put four or five authors together, those brains can come generally up with some pretty brilliant stuff.
Connie Brockway: Especially if they know that's what they're there for. There's no doubt -- we're not there to socialize.
Christina Dodd: We do. Connie Brockway: But mostly we work. Ninety percent of the time.
Crescent Blues: Christina, you mentioned that every morning you read what you wrote the day before, and that helps you get back into the book. Connie, do you have any particular writing rituals?
Connie Brockway: I do the same thing. I usually read what I wrote the day before and try to jump in from there. Sometimes I have to go back. Like this week, I will have to go back and read the entire thing, because you can't stay away from it that long.
Crescent Blues: What was the inspiration for Once Upon a Pillow?
Christina Dodd: It was my husband's idea. He came up with it -- I think in the car. He simply said, "An anthology based on a bed would be a great idea." I told Connie about it, and she said, "Oh, please, let me be in it."
We pitched it a good five years before we ever sold it. Nobody would touch it. Then, finally, Connie pitched it to her editor, Maggie Crawford, and Maggie liked it and had some really good ideas for it.
Crescent Blues: When did it change from an autobiography from the perspective of the bed to the current version with four related stories.
Christina Dodd: When Maggie said she didn't want it that way.
Crescent Blues: Still, Once Upon a Pillow is not put together like the standard anthology.
Connie Brockway: What makes it so different is that it is one story, and at the same time, it is four -- four, little stand-alone vignettes told from the point of view of the main character of the main story. I don't think that's ever been done before, at least not in a romance anthology. I think that makes it unique. And following the [point of view character], I think the main character really is the bed.
So having the main character appear in all four stories, yet having all four love stories be so separate and distinct, it was frickin' brilliant. [Laughter.] It was so high concept.
Crescent Blues: Reading your books and the excerpts available on your web sites and Amazon, I was struck by the fact that you both write in such different styles. Yet in Once Upon a Pillow, you managed to blend your voices to the point where the reader wasn't jarred going from one writer to another. How did you achieve that?
Connie Brockway: We have no idea, because we didn't read each other's stories before they were done. I have no idea.
Christina Dodd: I think it was the fact that we each wrote the vignettes, and they were tied to the same story. Those we did read. So I think that gave a smoothness to the entire book. I think that's how it worked.
Connie Brockway: I hadn't thought about that. How well we blended [our voices] has been mentioned to me a bunch of times.
Crescent Blues: One of the interesting things in Once Upon a Pillow was how well the stories segue into your upcoming novels. Christina, you did the contemporary story. Isn't one of your upcoming novels your first contemporary?
Christina Dodd: It's my second contemporary.
Crescent Blues: Did you deliberately choose the specific periods of your stories so you could lead into your upcoming books?
Christina Dodd: Absolutely. I wanted to start writing contemporaries, so I wanted to do the contemporary. And Connie wanted the medieval period, because she'd never written a medieval [romance].
Connie Brockway: I'd love to write another medieval [romance]. I thought it was just a blast.
Christina Dodd: I think it was a chance for us both to stretch.
Crescent Blues: Speaking of your new releases, would you like to tell our readers a little about Almost Like Being in Love?
Christina Dodd: It's the second of a series called the Lost Texas Hearts. The first one is Just the Way You Are. Basically, it's the story of four children whose parents are killed, and they're separated. They're all different ages, so each child reacts differently to the separation. Each of the books is a different child's story -- trying to find each other and trying to find out what happened to their parents.
Crescent Blues: And everything will culminate in the fourth book?
Christina Dodd: Actually, I've got three books contracted. I hope there will be a fourth book, but I'm not sure. They'll all be together by the end of book three, and the mystery will be solved by the end of book three. Then if there is a fourth book, it going to be just a little . . .
Connie Brockway: Gift.
Christina Dodd: Yes, a gift.
Crescent Blues: Who are the Rose Hunters?
Connie Brockway: The Rose Hunters are a group of Scottish orphans who were collected across the Scottish Highlands by a mysterious figure in an abbey. They were raised in a very remote location in this abbey in Scotland, where as part of their punishment [for fighting] they had to put together a rose garden and learn something about roses. That knowledge is utilized later when they become agents and try to infiltrate Napoleon's inner circle.
Napoleon's wife Josephine was the greatest collector of roses in the world. She literally had envoys, diplomats and royalty from all over the world bringing her specimens of roses.
The Rose Hunters' story is: they go as agents to France, and they are captured almost immediately, probably betrayed by one of their own. They don't know which one. They are rescued by an English colonel. They go to England, where they vow a debt of honor to the colonel's family. All the colonel's family has to do is send a rose to the abbey, and one of the guys will show up if trouble occurs.
Of course, there are three roses showing up in the three books. In the third book, you will find out who betrayed them in France and the solution to the overarching mystery.
Crescent Blues: Sounds like you're both working with the same themes right now -- a group of people working out a betrayal that involves the entire group and requires them to come together to resolve it.
Christina Dodd: No, I think . . .