How (We) Two People Write One Book

- by Karen Tintori

Recharged, if not refreshed, I’m back from nearly three weeks in Italy with my husband, traveling to Rome, Sicily and numerous cities in Emilia Romagna, eating pasta at least once a day (be still my heart) and gelato just about as often.  We also walked our tushies off — mostly uphill, it seemed — especially in the five gorgeous, cliff-hugging cities of Cinque Terre. 

Since the email connection I’d set up on the world phone refused to connect to the internet, distancing me that much more from my best friend and writing partner, Jill Gregory, my homecoming was particularly happy.   I missed my buddy, I missed our laughter while we worked.  It was past time to get back into our routine. Of course, I thought about her often in Italy.  Throughout the trip, our partnership and our books were a daily topic of conversation – mainly because friends and family kept asking when I/we were going to be published in Italian. Magari!  Don’t I wish!

Although THE BOOK OF NAMES has sold to twenty-two countries, Italy is not yet among them.  Neither have Italian publishers picked up my two books of narrative nonfiction based on the experiences of my Italian ancestors, UNTO THE DAUGHTERS and TRAPPED.  (Editori italiani, ascolterete?) 

After our first full day in Rome, we had dinner In Trastevere with a new friend and her family, meeting for the first time on the Ponte Cestio, the city’s oldest bridge, which was built during the first century B.C.  It was one of the sites she’d described in emails to Jill and me after we were introduced online by mutual friends on a genealogy listserv when I gave a shout-out for assistance from anyone in Rome.  She’d volunteered immediately and was of tremendous help in nailing down the nitty gritty of local color as we worked on THE ILLUMINATION, coming out in January, 2009 .  I couldn’t wait to meet her in Rome and thank her in person.  Since my new friend also writes — a fabulous blog, http://cookinginrome.blogspot.com/ — I’d brought along a gift of flavor-infused BBQ skewers.  She’d surprised me with a gift, too. 

“What do you bring a writer?” she asked, with a grin, as I unwrapped a brand new unlined journal.  We had just discussed our shared belief that there are no coincidences.  On the flight over, it had dawned on me that my journal detailing our three most recent trips to Italy was the only thing I’d forgotten to pack.  I’d told myself I’d pick up a new journal in Italy – and then decided that perhaps this trip, I’d just skip the daily recap.  I learned instead that I was meant to record this year’s sights, sounds and smells.

Like my relatives in Sicily who hosted the family wedding we attended, and my cousin Frank’s relatives in Savignano sul Panaro who’ve adopted us as their own cugini, and like the friends and relatives of theirs with whom we spent time, my new friend in Rome was curious about how Jill and I work together.  How do two people write one book?

It’s the question we are asked most often, but it was the first time I ever had to explain the process in Italian!  Bless my husband for bringing along our pocket English-Italian dictionary.

Unlike other writing teams we’ve talked to, Jill and I do everything together.  Line by line, word by word, from start to finish, from plotline to character development to “the end.”

About the only thing we do separately is some of the research, but even then we are usually online at the same time, shooting emails back and forth with information we’ve uncovered or descriptions of pertinent books we’ve ordered.  We talk out everything, finishing each other’s sentences as we work.  One day Jill sits at the keyboard and I sit in a chair alongside her, the computer monitor slightly tilted to the left so we can both see it.  The next day, it’s my turn to type.  If we need any instant research — say, the name of a restaurant in Mayfair, for example — the partner in the “jump seat” hops to the next room where there’s another computer, hooked to the internet.

Our brains are so in sync, we will regularly spit out the same string of words at the same time as we write.  We’ll go to name a character and both spurt out an unusual one – like Xavier – at the same moment.  In the beginning of our collaboration, that would have us flabbergasted for ten minutes with eyes wide and  mouths agape, exclaiming over how woo-woo it all was.  But after all these years, we’ve come to expect these identical verbalizations as our norm.

One of our weirdest brain syncs came this year while writing THE ILLUMINATION.  I was at the keyboard when we needed to name our fictional U. S. assistant under secretary of defense.   We decided on a given name, Elliott, with the help of a name book.   We then moved on to the surname, deciding to come up with one starting with a W before Jill ran off to the online computer to look up the duties of the actual Defense Department under secretary while I watched the blinking cursor and mulled. 

Warren, Warfield, Warbington.  I auditioned three random surnames in my mind before typing the next one that popped into my head – Warrick.  At that exact moment Jill shouted, “What about Warrick?” from the next room.

“Oh my God!  I just typed that!”

What are the odds?  But that’s an example of how the two of us work — with pretty much one brain.

I wonder if it’s because we are such close friends, or if it’s because we’re both Virgos, born only four days (shy of four years) apart?  But question it?  Never.

The afternoon following our return from Italy, I attended a bridal shower Jill and her step-sister hosted for their niece.  After the party, the groom’s parents, who I’d met that day for the first time, stopped me on the way to my car and the subject of writing came up.  “Let me ask you a question I’ve been meaning to ask Jill,” the groom’s mother said. 

This time, I got to answer it in English.

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