Linda Howard and Linda Jones on Critters, Cakes, and Writerly Collaboration
Ever wonder what would happen if two of your favorite authors teamed up on a novel? Quite a number of you got your wish when blockbuster authors Linda Howard and Linda Jones teamed up to write Running Wild. The start of an all-new contemporary Western series, Running Wild arrived to glowing reader reviews and just hit the New York Times bestseller list. We thought it was the perfect time to ask the ladies to join up again and tell us a little bit about themselves and their golden partnership.
LH: Carlin, the heroine of Running Wild, does a lot of cooking even though she doesn’t really know how. In fact, food seems to work its way into a lot of scenes. Do you think people were subliminally affected, and gained weight while reading the book?
LJ: How can you not read about biscuits, cornbread, pie, and cake and not be drawn to the kitchen? Uh, sorry to anyone who gained a pound or two while reading the book. But I think it’s only fair, since I gained a pound or two while we were writing it!
LH: I think you mentioned that, after reading the book, your hubby headed out to buy some apple pie. Personally, I’ve never cooked a pie in my life, don’t really care for them. How about you?
LJ: I love pie. Lemon meringue, key lime, chocolate. However, I don’t make pies. They’re always such disasters, in my hands. I want someone else to make my pie for me. My grandmother made great chocolate pies. I don’t have the gift.
LH: My mother-in-law made wonderful fried pies, and I’ve tried those because my hubby likes them, but I’m no good at it. And lattice pies, or any pie with crust on top? Forget about it; if I can’t make good fried pies there’s no way I can make a pie with crust, especially since I don’t like them anyway and don’t want to waste the time practicing.
LH: On to another subject: When we’re working on a book together, we often head up to the Great Smoky Mountains to get in some quiet, some good writing time, and in-person plotting. What’s your best tale/memory about stuff that’s happened to us while we’re working up there?
LJ: One word. Critter man.
LH: Not only is that two words, you now have to explain.
LJ: Hmm. Critterman, one word. How best to convey this in a short paragraph? Flying squirrels in Linda H’s attic. A very helpful and decidedly unique man who specializes in handling critters. A nice pair of binoculars and a nose for squirrel urine. Maybe you had to be there. Do we need to talk about your penchant for exploding electronics, and how many times I’ve had to say “Step away from the microwave?” How’s that for changing the subject?
LH: Okay, so I’m the only person you know who’s managed to actually set fire to white chocolate in a microwave—in fewer than thirty seconds. The little square didn’t even melt any; it just burst into flame. That can’t be my fault, and don’t bring up the fire alarms. Moving on to what evidently interests us more than almost anything else: food. I spent many years mired in biscuit-failure before I finally learned how to make a great biscuit. What’s your equivalent of biscuit-failure?
LJ: No-fail white cake! No, that’s not right. You kept on trying with the biscuits. I gave up on the white cake. One thing I tried and tried to learn how to make was the shrimp-something that my husband loved. Every time I tried, he said it would be better if I had done something different. More celery, less this, more that. On the final attempt, I told him to enjoy his shrimp-whatever because I would never make it again. I didn’t. It’s been . . . thirty-five years? I kept my word.
LH: That tale sounds familiar. Way back when we were first married, I cooked supper one night—Cornish hen—and asked my husband how he liked it. He said he didn’t. l picked up his plate and tossed the food in the trash. He said, “I wasn’t finished!” I said, “You are now.” Thirty-mumblemumble years later, he hasn’t complained about his food since—at least not until he’s finished.
Somehow we moved away from work and back to food, so . . . moving back to work: For two seat-of-the-pants writers, we’re both extremely logical, but our logic takes completely different forms. We’ve done two books together, and I’m still not sure how it works. Do you have any ideas? Do we complement each other, or is it more of a tug of war?
LJ: We do usually find the truth in the middle, on those rare occasions our minds take us in different directions. We’ve never not been able to find an answer we both agree on, even if it takes us a while to get there.
LH: I’m not certain myself how we do it. We have a situation in the book. You point out why such-and-such won’t work. I point out why something else won’t work. We ponder. We come up with alternatives. We say “What if -” and somehow one or the other of us thinks of something perfectly logical that’s been staring us in the face the whole time. That’s good, especially when we’re faced with situations neither of us has ever faced before, such as driving off a cliff in the middle of the winter in Wyoming .
That’s enough about work. People are writing in that they’re trying your Never Fail White Cake. Good idea, or not?
LJ: Good idea! I want to know if anyone out there can make it work. I mean, was it just me?
LH: Confession time: I couldn’t bake a layer cake to save my life. The best I can do is a sheet cake. How are you on cakes, seriously? Didn’t you take a class on it or something?
LJ: I don’t do pies, but I can do layer cakes. Strawberry, chocolate, caramel. (No white cake on that list of favorites, you’ll notice.) I have always been able to do cakes. My grandmother made the most awesome layer cakes. She’d always be mad as a hornet if they fell apart on her, but those falling apart cakes were the best. Moist, icing soaked into the cake . . . wonderful. (Okay, I think I just gained a pound thinking about her fudge cake) And I did once take a cake decorating class. For a while my kids got Bugs Bunny, Ghost Busters, cars, trains, elaborate cakes that took hours to decorate. And then I started to write and it was back to plain layer cakes for their birthdays.
LH: What do I take away from this? I hope we’re better writers than we are cooks!
Intrigued? Read the first chapter of Running Wild here. Still concerned about what they meant by “Critterman”? Leave questions and comments for the Lindas below!