Last week I reviewed the book Assignment: Nepal by J.A. Squires, and mentioned that I hoped sometime to read an interview about the combined writing process of these two authors, collaborating under the Squires pen name. And then it occurred to me that perhaps I shouldn’t wait around for someone else to ask those questions, so I pinged Echelon Press and asked if the ladies might be open to an interview. To my delight, they said yes! Without further ado, I’m pleased to introduce you to J.A. Squires, otherwise known as Susan and Jeanette…
Kana: Thank you so much, Ladies, for agreeing to an interview! I’ll jump right in… Let’s start with your “collective” pen name–I’m intrigued by the fact that the pair of you work under a single name. (It’s fitting, given how seamlessly you present a single writing voice–I’m just curious about the choice.) You don’t conceal the fact that the book is a collaborative effort, so what led you to decide on a single author name for the book? And how did you settle on that particular name?
J.A. Squires: Jeannette already writes novels under a couple of different pen names for different genres; she discovered early on that readers like to follow a certain author who consistently gives them what they expect. So we knew right off that we wanted to have a unique name that readers would identify solely with Irene’s adventures. (We considered using two names, but felt at the end of the day that two names might be tough for readers to remember — and we wanted to make this as easy as possible for them!)
The name itself felt very natural: the J is obviously for Jeannette, with the S in Squires for Susan … and Squires seemed like an easy name for people to remember. It’s really that simple.
Kana: In a similar vein, can you talk about your decision to remain relatively anonymous? Your biographies on the publisher’s website indicate that both of you are well-known in your respective fields, but nowhere are your surnames mentioned, and you’ve clearly made a deliberate choice in that regard. Perhaps you don’t want to overshadow the author J.A. Squires, whom you’ve brought to life with your joint effort–is Squires a “character” in your world as well?
J.A. Squires: We really didn’t want this series associated with anything else — we wanted it to stand on its own, so that’s why we deliberately didn’t give readers any other information that would dilute the connection between J.A. Squires and Irene Adler.
Is J.A. Squires a character? It’s an interesting question, and we’re still working on the answer! Susan sees it very sensibly as a means to an end, but Jeannette’s intrigued by the question. Probably as time goes by the author will become more and more real as an entity to both of us.
Kana: Clearly the two of you bring different backgrounds and experiences to the writing; I understand that one of you is an anthropologist and the other a published author. Can you describe the ways in which your own experiences and backgrounds inform your brainstorming-and-writing process?
J.A. Squires: Well, anthropologists are scientists, and Susan’s mind is precise and clear—and she tends to want people to behave that way as well. Jeannette, on the other hand, knows that people frequently do irrational things and that it’s that very irrationality that often creates drama. So you can imagine what some of the conversations sound like!
Perhaps the major difference is that once the novel has been plotted, the anthropologist thinks that the work is done, while the author knows that the characters may well bring her way off-plot as the writing process progresses.
In addition, when the idea was first discussed, we were living near each other, which made collaboration far more informal; one of us now lives in Massachusetts and the other in Texas, so our style has changed.
Kana: Collaborating on a book must certainly have its challenges. You have double the intellectual resources of a single author, but merging your individual contributions so seamlessly must take some work. Can you describe your process? I’m curious about all its aspects, from brainstorming and solidifying the elements of the story’s plot and characters to the actual composition. How do you do it?
J.A. Squires: Irene Adler’s very existence is due entirely to Susan. She had the idea for the first book in the series, “Assignment: Nepal,” when visiting a friend in Kathmandu; and early on she enlisted Jeannette’s help in bringing the story to life. The way we’ve worked it out, on that and subsequent books, is for Susan to do most of the plotting and Jeannette to do most of the writing, though those lines are occasionally blurred. But there would be no series without Susan.
To be honest, we generally start with a place we want to explore. Kathmandu, Nepal. Oxford, England. Oslo, Norway. Then Susan starts thinking about what an anthropologist might find interesting there; and from that we think about what nefarious things might lie in wait for her.
A lot of it is serendipity … or luck. We started out with Irene as a university professor, and then realized that, even taking sabbaticals into account, she couldn’t do the kind of traveling we wanted her to with that restrictive a job. Certainly she couldn’t afford to! About that time, Jeannette saw the movie “Rounders,” which is about professional poker players, and so it was out of pure chance that Irene’s primary money-earning profession took shape. (Of course, that led to months and months of poker research, so just because it was luck didn’t mean that it didn’t also take work!)
So we figure out the plot (lots and lots of back-and-forth here), and then Jeannette goes to work writing it. She sends the first draft to Susan, who picks it apart, pointing out where it needs more work, a character requiring more development, problems in the plot, etc., etc. Then back to Jeannette to incorporate all those suggestions and to do a rewrite. Then we enlist a few outside readers for comments, and Jeannette incorporates *those*. Then it goes to the editorial team at Echelon, and more changes are made. By the end of the process, we’re very happy indeed to say good-bye to the book!
Kana: Let’s talk about Irene Adler. I have to tell you, I’d become a dedicated fan of this character before I’d finished the first twenty pages of the book; I ‘m pretty sure she could entertain me with a rendition of her grocery list! This question may overlap with the previous query about writing process, but can you talk specifically about how you brought Adler to life?
J.A. Squires: We’re very glad you like her; we’ve heard a lot of positive things about Irene. She’s grown up a lot since we first created her. Susan originally wanted her to be super-smart (and therefore bring a touch of intellectualism everywhere she went; though she thought that making her clumsy as well would endear her to readers), and we played with that for a while … but it just wasn’t working. About the time that we brought poker into the equation, Jeannette started thinking about what *she* likes in a protagonist, and the obvious answer was, “someone who makes me smile.” So we added in the missing component to her character–humor–and voila!
Kana: I’m encouraged by the subtitle (“An Irene Adler Mystery”) to suppose I can look forward to more reading experiences in Adler’s company… Is there another book in the works?
J.A. Squires: Yes. The second book, “Assignment: Robin Hood” is through its first draft and being discussed /edited for the rewrite; we plan to have it to Echelon in late winter/early spring if all goes well. The third book, as of yet untitled, is still in the vague-woolly-thoughts stage; Jeannette’s going to Norway next September to research it. We’re hoping for many more such adventures!
Kana: Again, thank you so much for indulging my curiosity–and thank you for the read I so enjoyed!
J.A. Squires: It’s truly our pleasure.