La Familia Que Escribe Juntos…
(The Family that Writes Together…)
My dear friend Lydia Isales with whom I had worked for over a quarter century retired a few years ago.One day she was there and the next, up and out. A stellar lawyer and zealous protector of the environment, an editor and proofreader, she lent her eagle eye to the editing of my novel, Oil and Water, and another zillion legal documents. She took those very transferable skills into retirement with her, turning them into a vocation and maybe one day, a second career. She had been writing stories for Ezines, but then I heard something else was in the works — a novel she and her husband and son were working on in a three-way collaboration. Now, I had relied heavily on my husband’s commercial diving expertise when I wrote Oil and Water, but actually writing the book with him never crossed my mind. It sounds so unprecedented and out-of-the-box that I knew I needed a moment to sit down with Lydia and the family with a list of questions over a virtual cup of coffee (she now lives states and states away) and get the skinny on this new endeavor.
Rather than the traditional interview, this prolific group of writers is going to tell you what it’s all about in their own words. I’ve added bracketed information here and there to fill in a bit of background information.
Take it away, Lydia:
Lydia – Alan [Lydia’s son] has always been a writer. He started writing in elementary school and his writing has always shown such imagination and superb plot lines. He has always enjoyed fantasy books so it wasn’t a surprise that he first wrote in that genre. But hey, what a surprise, a Mom proud and boastful of her child. [Typical modest Lydia — I ask her about her and she talks about Alan.]
After I retired in 2014, I had a beginning sentence pop into my head. It was followed by a few other lines. So I wrote them down and saved that paragraph. It took me a couple of years to get back to it and another year to finish a 7-10 page story.
When I became ill with two “aggressive” cancers, I wrote a couple essays as therapy. I had a yearning to someday tap the underrepresented market of Puerto Rico [Lydia’s father was Puerto Rican and her mother is American; Lydia grew up in Puerto Rico where her dad was a practicing physician.] as the setting in a piece of commercial fiction and maybe join the two of them [husband David and son Alan] in writing a book.
The three of us started throwing around ideas of writing a book together and what wondrous fun it would be. We started sharing bits and pieces of things we would want to see in the story; a story not yet defined in any way. Alan wanted to incorporate boxing, I wanted to include Puerto Rican sayings at the beginning of each chapter, David was interested in placing it during an intriguing historical time.
It reminded me of an interview I read once of the Farrelly brothers who said something about walking around with a notebook and when something funny occurs to them, they write it down. Then they take those notes and write a movie script. When they described that to someone they were told, “but you can’t do it that way, that is not the way to write a movie,” and perplexed they said, “we can’t?” That always makes me smile when I remember that interview and feel a bit inspired by them.
In October 2017, I sent David and Alan an email telling them that I thought I had discovered our setting and time period. That led to our next few group meals, which included Alan’s wife Ankita, to discuss the characters; each author was assigned the task of creating a central character. We knew it would be a historical murder mystery, my favorite genre.
Alan wrote some pages first, laying out the murder scene. It was those pages that led each of us to start writing about ‘our’ character, still without the outline of the book. We then shared those pages with each other. Discussion again ensued. This led to more writing. When we had a total of about 100 pages, David took it all and started piecing it together. He consulted with us on what he was thinking and assigned us rewrites of some sections, but undertook many of those himself. Once we had that edited version, we were all full of ideas of what we wanted to include and started a list of scenes, characters and plot lines. I was the lead on doing lots of research although each of them also did lots of research relevant to their sections. The book really took off then; after about a year and many iterations later, we had a first full manuscript.
Throughout, David continued to have the lead on ensuring we were consistent and constant with editing and such. Alan really kept an eye out for ensuring we clearly expressed each character’s depth and complexity. After one particularly frustrating evening, we agreed that after full discussion on a given matter, if we were still not agreed, a 2-1 vote would be binding. [How democratic!] That ended up working.
As an example, David and I had some discussions just among the two of us, along the lines of: “You just wait, I know Alan will agree with me.” We painstakingly made sure we presented it to him as neutrally as possible so he would not know who was rooting for which choice. Of course, sometimes he came up with a third choice!
Writing does not come as easily to me as to David or Alan but I have found a creative outlet in that it helps me with my serious health situation. It is therapeutic.
I am a fan of Submittable as a source for where to submit short stories, both fiction and nonfiction. In 2018 I had three short stories and one essay published: two stories in Rigorous, one in Label me Latina, and an essay in Acentos Review.
I would like to continue to write with Puerto Rico as the backdrop; it is such a rich, untapped source. We have all three started to discuss a sequel but not in any concrete way yet. I am dedicated to the agent search at the moment.
Thanks, friend, the whole experience sounded exhilarating, especially the dispute resolution process! But you neglected to tell us the title of the book. Or is it a secret?
The working title of the book is The Dead Time at Aquirre.
Compelling! We’ll save the synopsis for when you are closer to a publication date.
Now, let’s hear a bit from Lydia’s husband, David:
David – Becoming an author? Serious consideration started when I traveled from Philadelphia to Atlanta to move Alan to a new job. He had written his first fantasy novel, and being an unofficial editor, I found the experience intriguing. During the journey long south, I mentioned some ideas I had and with his encouragement, we discussed a plot. I had already jotted down a few interesting scenes involving character interactions and medical facts that I felt would pique a layperson’s fancy. On returning to Philadelphia, I dove in.
My writing schedule can be in fits and starts, but I’ve always been one to embrace flying by the seat of my pants. I abhor routine. I generally find my best writing is in the morning, after my mind has had a good night’s rest. I began writing during my last two years of doctoring. Sometimes I would query Cathy, my office manager, for a woman’s perspective and sometimes I’d ask patients or their parents (I’m a pediatrician), if their field was pertinent to a character or plot line. My favorite inquiry was to an EMT. I asked him if he had any colorful terms for a suicide by hanging. He broke down after I pestered him long enough.
“We call them ‘wind chimes’,” he offered with some embarrassment.
This crass description of suicide was incorporated into Second Chance.
If I hadn’t become a doctor, I’d probably be teaching. Nothing gave me more pleasure than to have a knowledgeable patient – and I don’t mean someone who spouts off about the latest drug, or what they read on medline sites on the internet. To describe a medical condition in simple layperson terms was a particular joy I felt during patient interactions. In writing Second Chance, as well as the follow up novel, Bucket List, I carried a similar desire to teach my readers medically related topics that were introduced.
As far as writing a novel together, I was first a reluctant participant, expecting hurt feelings would be in the offing once critiques were shared. Each of us was responsible for a central character, and I was pleasantly surprised that after permitting the ‘tweaking’ of our pride and joys, I think we all felt our characters benefited. For example, if differences on a character’s actions or emotions were expressed, votes were cast and majority decision ruled. The lesser players were written by anyone who wanted to do it. In the end, having three authors was not the hell I expected. It’s not unusual to have three subplots in a story, so it afforded each of us an independence most writers need. And we found weaving the three together was not difficult at all.
Lydia was the first to express an interest in collaborating on a novel, and she quickly expressed a desire to place it in Puerto Rico, her birth place. With few historical fiction novels centered on the island having been published, it was an easy sell. After a little research, the Spanish-American War rose to the top of the list.
Thanks, David. It’s great to see family unity surviving what may have, at times, devoted into a contentious situation. Sounds like something you may be willing to do again.
Now let’s hear from the third member of this writing triumvirate, David and Lydia’s son, Alan.
Alan-Ideally, I give myself a half hour to an hour a night to write or edit, hopefully a couple hours a day on the weekends; realistically, it ends up being three or four nights a week, enough to stay engaged in the story, not enough to burn out with everything else going on. I started writing in college, and same as probably everybody it embarrasses me to read what I wrote when I just started. And yes, I’ve been writing while being a practicing forensic scientist, though it can get difficult to balance that.
When we started writing this book together, it was more like we settled on the idea that there were no recent books that we were aware of based in Puerto Rico which surprised us since the island has such a rich culture that could be explored in popular literature. From that, we settled on different characters we wanted to write, and we each would write a chapter from our chosen character’s perspective, share that with the others, and build the story from there, step by step. The structure and plot evolved as we got deeper and deeper into the story, editing each other’s work and discussing how we wanted the story to progress.
As for my work experience showing up in my first book, A Dragon’s Bloodline, I think a bit of it does — not the science, which wouldn’t fit in that world, but in the way some characters look at evidence of crimes and violence, and the analytical pattern of their thoughts. And while it’s true that I have a lot of different interests, I enjoy writing because it lets me indulge my imagination, and get lost in different worlds and times; I especially like thinking of scenarios that I haven’t read or seen, and trying to imagine how people would react in those situations, and then try to build a plot around those scenarios. I think I inspired my parents to write (I was first to publish something, even if it was self-published) rather than the other way around, though we may disagree on that. But they certainly encouraged my writing career, reading my stories and giving me their comments, even editing. They could see I enjoyed it, and I think for them that was enough.
I’ve never made a point of trying to convey messages in my stories; but think about it, and I hope I give people a sense of wonder, at the complexities underlying life, and encourage them to think and imagine.
Given unlimited options for my writing, I’d prefer to keep writing books, playing with different genres, challenging myself; that’s what I’ve found helps my writing the most, trying to write something different than I did before, in a different style or from the perspective of a type of character I haven’t written before. My two biggest influences on my writing are Robert Jordan and Terry Pratchett. Jordan because of the incredibly complex and detailed world he created in his Wheel of Time series, and Pratchett because he was able to find humor in every subject. Beyond that, I always got a sense that while [Pratchett] had a clear-eyed view of humanity’s many frailties and flaws, he was still able to find something redeeming about our struggles.
I hope to have three or four more books written ten years from now, both with my parents and some of my own fantasy stories. We certainly have enough ideas to write at least that much, it’s just finding the time to put them down. However, at the moment I personally have only one book out, A Dragon’s Bloodline, independently published on Amazon.
Thanks, Alan! You’re an inspiration, as are your folks.
We’ll be watching for The Dead Time at Aguirre and I look forward to spreading the word when the book launches. Thanks so much, Ackroyd-Isales clan.
pam lazos 6.9.19