Barb & J.C. Hendee live just outside of Boulder, Colorado, close to the Rocky Mountains. Both are online college instructors in English. J.C. teaches for Metropolitan State College of Denver, and Barb teaches for the University of Colorado at Denver. Barb's short fiction has appeared in numerous genre magazines and anthologies. She is the author of the novel Blood Memories. J.C.'s poetry, nonfiction, and short fiction have also appeared in many genre magazines.
About Barb Hendee
An Interview with Barb Hendee
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The process of collaboration seems to be different for every pair of writers who collaborate. Before we get to your special case, could you say a bit about how that process works for you?
Barb Hendee: We're currently working on our seventh and eighth novel together-books one and two of the second series, so the process has evolved a bit over the years. Since we're writing a series . . .
J.C. Hendee: or a linked set of series, a saga as we call it . . .
Barb: we always need to know "what happens next."
J.C.: And we're constantly keeping track and double checking "what happened previously."
Barb: Where the overall arc is concerned, our main job for each new novel is to plot that book's specific sub-story-in great detail-as built upon the stories of past books and series. Each book's story unto itself has to further the story within the current series.
J.C.: It also has to setup potentials for subsequent books in the current series and further the overall arc of the whole saga in one or more ways. So as we move forward, we are always looking backward as well as forward.
Barb: We start with long chat sessions in which I take notes, and J.C. lets his mind run wild. We call this the "basic story" phase, where we consider series and saga, and then look at where the chosen characters are at for the story of the moment. . . the story of the current book. Then we start an actual chapter-by-chapter, scene-by-scene, character POV outline. I usually start this off and run it as far as I can, and then turned it over to J.C.
J.C.: After reading through Barb's stuff, I add in my own alternations and expansion. I'll try to push a little further along into new stuff if possible. Then Barb reviews what I've done and we both kick back with the original story notes and the outline so far, and talk some more.
Barb: He has fabulous ideas that are all over the place, and I'm very linear and good with connections. He also has an eye for the big arc of the saga, while I stay focused on the immediate book, and between the two of us, we get the current novel to go where it needs to within the greater saga. This process goes on for about a month until we have an outline around 100 pages.
J.C.: Or until the process of expanding the outline starts to become miniature pieces of "drafting," and then we start drafting for real. One of us drafts-Barb usually starts this-and the other one comes behind to revise and expand. Then the first one starts at the beginning, working forward, and the other one comes behind, again . . . and again. By the time the novel is ready for our editor to read, very few people can ever tell who wrote what. Our daughter, Jaclyn, is best at this, but even she has guessed wrong a few times.
Have you tried earlier different systems of collaboration that really didn't work? How did you fine-tune this to be efficient for you?
Barb: We wrote Dhampir on the fly-while we were working at other jobs full time, so that one is not really indicative of our process. Thief of Lives was the first novel where we began to develop our "phased" process, and we probably didn't plan enough before we started drafting.
J.C.: Now we know we both have to know the story from beginning to end in great detail before we should begin the actual prose work.
Barb: I think with each book, we've become more organized in our initial planning process.
It's really uncommon to have a husband-and-wife team of collaborators. Can you describe how that works day by day? Do you read each other's work day by day, or do you preserve a sphere of privacy until some particular milestone is reached?
Barb: Oh, gosh, when we're in the middle of a novel project, I like to get up, make coffee, and get started as soon as possible because my best writing hours are in the morning. I also write steadily for hours at a time, and sometimes J.C. has to remind me to take a break.
J.C.: I work my way more slowly into the day's writing and get started mid-morning-but then I write later in the day. Unlike her, I'm more of sprinter, where I'll writer for 30 minutes, get up and move about, and then dive back. So we are often several chapters apart. Hence the need for an extended outline where we both know what's going on in any part of the book.
Barb: But there certainly is a span of time-sometimes weeks-between when one of us has written something and the other one revises it.
J.C.: We also have another more innate advantage: we've been doing nearly everything together for over two decades. From school to careers, including as online college English teachers and even other jobs, we've always had lives in all dimensions that intertwined. Not that it's all done without thought or awareness, but we actually like our lives that deeply meshed. The writing . . . the collaboration . . . it's just an extension of how we chose to live, as well as a developed process for what we do.
Has collaboration ever caused a fight?
Barb: Oh, we get asked this question all the time. It's one of our most commonly asked questions. In March, we will have been married 23 years. We get along very well, and almost never argue about anything.
J.C.: That's because she won't fight with me . . . it's very annoying.
Barb: We rarely argue during planning or drafting phases-although of course it's happened. If we are attempting to come up with an answer to a complex story problem, and neither one of us can think of something that will genuinely work without opting for an easy out, we have become a bit tense.
J.C.: She gets tense . . . I'm temperamental.
Barb: No, you get grouchy. Most times it happens after our editor's revision notes come back on the current book, and we are asked to change something he is too attached to. Sorry, baby, but that's the truth.
J.C.: Hey, it's not secret. I need my two days to prowl and snarl about the house, like a badger in a briar patch. And a day or so later, there's an email from our editor with a smirk behind the text: "Is he done yet?"
Barb: And he is, and we get to work once again.
You've just moved into what I believe is a larger living space, where you had the chance to organize your offices from scratch. How did you do that? Are your offices similar, or do they reflect very different people?
Barb: Yes, we just moved from a small two-bedroom condo in Colorado just under 1000 sq.ft. Now, we are in Oregon in a three-bedroom house of 1600+ sq.ft. But J.C. and I have always shared the same office, and our desks are only a yard apart at best. We need to be in the same room if we're working on the same project. But this new office has been a bear to organize! I'm not sure why. The space is bigger, but it's been hard to arrange the desks and furniture in a comfortable design.
J.C.: And get the light right, mess with the window fixtures, repaint the room (possibly again), position the cats beds so they stop stealing our chairs, fight with the wireless network that keeps going down, etc. And the office was once a little girl's room, and I still have to get those painted puffy clouds off the ceiling. Speaking of conflict points, my dear mate failed to mention that we've always had a challenge in resolving the work space: she's a fairy and I'm a dragon. Can't remember where I first heard that analogy, but fairies (as writers) like light, air, space and openness, but all arranged just so; dragons want dim, moody dens packed with all possessions within a claw's reach. It's a challenge finding the right balance to create an environment that is comfortable and undistracting for both of us. It's going to take some more time in this new place. Oh, we put in a dimmer switch as well, so we could compromise on the lighting.
Does one of you handle the public role?
Barb: This is a tough question. We really don't have a public role (smiles). We'll do conventions sometimes, and we've done a few readings, but our book schedule is pretty tight, and we don't do a lot of personal publicity.
J.C.: Overall, if and when we get out to a convention or other promotional event, we work it like we work our books. If the people running the event want to split us up, that's fine. But most of the time we do panels, readings, etc. together. And public appearance is almost always extra to us. Personally, I don't believe it does much (if anything) for career building as a writer. In general, the only thing that sells a book is if someone the writer has never met-and never will-picks up the book, reads it, and likes it enough to hand it to some else and say: "you've gotta read this!" Personal promotion is of no use until people already know who you are . . . by your work. I've seen many writers who think selling themselves will sell their books, but I haven't seen many for whom it worked that way.
Barb: He's not quite as cut-throat as he sounds. Even though I'm probably the more "friendly" one, J.C. usually handles the fans writing to us through our web site and in person at conventions. He's great with them, and he comes off as more "knowing" than I do in public. A few years ago, he had four beautiful posters for Traitor to the Blood made up for a convention. We put them on the walls and pillars of the hotel. On Sunday morning, this teenage girl walked up to him with one of the posters in hand and asked, "Will you sign this for me?" He blinked and returned, "Where did you get that?" "Oh, I took it off the wall," she answered. He figured that took some moxie, so he just signed it for her with a grin.
Is there a sense that one or the other of you has final say in the end? Or do you take turns being "right" when you disagree.
Barb: Really . . . we always just come to a consensus. I don't know how. Normally, one of us will say something in passing such as, "I know Magiere's mud slide scene is entertaining, but it doesn't add anything to the story."
J.C.: Like the original sausage scene that once was in Thief of Lives . . . sigh
Barb: It's been five years-let that go already! One or the other of us will be the reasonable one, saying "I think it might need to go." Sooner or later the other gets the point. It's not about being right; it's about what's right for the story. We come to agreement, somehow, then move on to the next story.
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