It’s the worst nightmare of any pregnant woman – to hear the sobering news on her baby’s much awaited day of delivery, “There’s something wrong.” When a pair of lawyers starts searching for clues to infant deformities, they uncover a searing mystery which makes them question everything they ever thought they knew about the concept of free will. Such is the premise of A Jealous God, a contemporary cozy mystery (and the first of a new series) penned by Dee Wilbur.
Interestingly, this is the second time my cyber-path has crossed that of the “Dee Wilbur” author team. While doing interviews and research for an article about creative approaches to book promotion, I learned that the writers put their talents as tour guides to clever use and offer Richmond (Texas) tours of sites referenced in the plot, concluding with a Dutch-treat lunch at the characters’ favorite restaurant. Check it out at: http://fireandicebooktours.wordpress.com/2013/09/25/book-tour-a-jealous-god-by-dee-wilbur-tour-dates-11113-to-112913-medical-mystery.
Interviewer: Christina Hamlett
Q: “Dee Wilbur” is actually the pseudonym of two talented writers – Charlie Yates and Dee Pipes. So let’s start with a discussion of how your creative process works; specifically, who writes what?
Dee: Well, there are two of us writing each book and answering questions to this interview as well. I’ll let Charlie explain.
Charlie: There are two of us, each half an author. I generally work out the plot and write a fifty to seventy page outline of the story. Dee takes that, improves the descriptions of the scenery, spruces up the dialogue, supplies motives for the actions of the characters, and in general, makes the book readable. We meet face-to-face once each week, send frequent e-mails, and usually talk once each day.
Q: What were your respective writing backgrounds prior to deciding to collaborate?
Dee: After college, I worked at the Journal of Southern History (the academic publication of the Southern Historical Association) as an editorial assistant back when there were real galleys, page proofs, and typewriters. My experience at the Journal gave me great respect for fact checking, attention to spelling names, and a delight in the printed word. After the Journal, I worked as a technical editor at Texas Instruments and then as a technical writer at Compaq Computer Corporation. I consider developing the Compaq DeskPro 386 Technical Reference Manual my biggest writing accomplishment while at Compaq
Charlie: I had published about twenty scientific articles in various journals. The topics were either in endocrinology or radiology. I contributed to one chapter in a book on parathyroid hormone function.
Q: What surprised you the most about writing your first novel, A Jealous God?
Charlie: The most surprising thing about writing our first novel was the thought that you could make your characters say and do whatever you wanted them to. This was quickly followed by the realization that their actions had to be reasonable and consistent. So even as an author you weren’t completely free. Despite all our work and the work of three other proof-readers, we still had two errors go through. “Rue” should have been “roux” and . . . I’ll let you read the book and see if you catch the other one.
Dee: I was surprised at the amount of work necessary after we had finished the manuscript. We had a wonderful editor and incorporating his comments wasn’t particularly hard, but the proofing, re-proofing, and chasing down details took a lot of effort.
Q: What governed your decision to make A Jealous God a series?
Charlie: An idle mind is the devil’s workshop. Dee doesn’t want me to work with the devil. She says she fills that role. So when I finished my part of A Jealous God, she said to start on something new and quit bothering her to finish her part. Thus came about Justice Perverted.
Dee: Readers were delighted with Daphne and wanted to know what happened to her. Several characters seemed to have more to say, so we let them. The difficulties of writing a series, such as making sure that we keep recurring characters consistent, especially their names, are much more easily overcome than the challenges of starting another book with all of the environment to develop.
Q: What are some of the challenges involved in writing a series versus a stand-alone title?
Dee: I still work full time running a consulting firm, And Take Names. Charlie is retired, writes faster than I do, and has more time on his hands. So when he finished his work on the first book, and was tapping his fingers so that I would hurry on my part, I innocently told him to start on something else. After we published the second book, Justice Perverted, our publisher said that she felt that a third book in the series would establish the series and we could do something else and then come back to the Richmond Series. Unfortunately the third book, A Foolish Plucking, ended with a cliffhanger, so after many threats from our readers we had to quickly publish the fourth book in the series, Ravening Wolves.
Charlie: In writing a series you have to be sure that details match. This is especially hard for us in regard to names. We can’t get away with glaring errors as did A. Conan Doyle having Dr. Watson get shot in two different places while he was in India in two different books. Ralph Waldo Emerson said,” A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds and little statesmen,” but consistency can be the nemesis of an author writing a series.
Q: Where do you get the ideas for your plots?
Dee: We put Charlie in a dark room for ten minutes by himself after feeding him spicy food.
Charlie: That’s close to the truth, but really I look at the world around me, and I let my mind drift. For instance, in A Jealous God, I remembered an old industrial plant I had seen as a child south of Richmond. I always wondered what they made there. So I decided they must have made “nerve gas,” and the story just evolved. I saw that my high school football team had a bright young coach and some excellent players. Why couldn’t they be the Texas AAAA State Football Champs? So began Ravening Wolves.
Q: Settings of books often play as important a role in the plot’s development as the characters themselves. Tell us how you went about choosing your locations.
Charlie: I had heard the old admonition: Write about what you know. I know a lot about Richmond. It’s a weird and wonderful place. Hey! Why not?
Dee: When we first met and decided to write a book together, I immediately left on a trip with my mother-in-law. I told Charlie to have an outline of the book ready when I returned. I thought we were going to write a book on cognitive psychology. When I returned, he presented me with a seventy page outline of A Jealous God. The book was set in Richmond, Texas, the small town where Charlie lives, so I was trapped. By the third book, A Foolish Plucking, Charlie had taken all the heat from the home town crowd, and he was ready to share the fun. I grew up in Liberty, Texas, another small Texas town. So part of the story takes place in Liberty.
Q: If Hollywood came calling, who would your dream cast be for your first book?
Charlie: I haven’t been to a movie in more than twenty-five years. I kept getting my feet stuck on the floor where soda and candy had been spilled. My reluctance aside, we have a screenplay for A Jealous God ready for their call.
Dee: Like Charlie, I don’t have the repertoire of actors to try to choose, but I do know we would definitely answer the phone! I imagine characters clearly and with some detail which made watching Gone with the Wind awful because the Tarleton twins were all wrong. And, if I make a mistake like I did with John Grisham’s The Firm and think that Mitchell McDeere is to break the race barrier at the law firm, then I am really surprised when the movie stars Tom Cruise and not Denzel Washington. We are not the right people to talk about casting. Now you understand that we don’t work from story boards created with magazine pictures.
Q: What has the feedback been from your readers?
Charlie: The response from readers that are still speaking to me has been excellent. Residents of Richmond have been delighted by the description of places they recognize. Many people have volunteered that they are pleased to have been chosen as a model for one of the characters. I don’t pop their balloons. If she thinks that she’s the model for Sandy, who am I to spoil her dream?
Dee: Recently at Bouchercon, the mystery conference, I was being introduced to a friend of a friend. My friend said “She writes as Dee Wilbur,” and the other woman said, “I’ve read her books.” It was a wonderful experience!!
Charlie: A dear ninety-four-year-old lady from my church called me over one Sunday after Sunday school class. She said, “I bought your book and read it. I enjoyed the story, but you used too many dirty words!” A close friend who is a Methodist minister had his wife read him all the sex scenes so that he could tell anyone who asked, “No, I didn’t read that.”
Q: What part of the writing process is the most fun?
Dee: Buying new fountain pens and new colors of inks. I enjoy creating the timeline for all of the characters. Even though we struggle with names and naming characters, I enjoy that part, too. I save all sorts of programs with lists of names so that I can recombine them to make character names.
Charlie: The most fun is figuring out the surprise endings for the books. I start with the ending and then work backward through the story to the beginning. The second most fun part is finding the title of the book. All our titles for the Richmond Series are based on Bible verses. The novels are not religious stories, but we always feel that there’s a Bible verse that is appropriate and catches the essence of the story.
Q: Alfred Hitchcock was a master at making cameo appearances in all of his movies. Does Dee Wilbur employ any signature tricks or insider jokes that we should know about?
Dee: Yes, we do. With A Jealous God a frog played an important role and in all the books since we have had something about some sort of frog. In one of them Cato, the lab, eats a frog (or several) and has to go to the vet.
Charlie: Yes. I am a retired physician. When my oldest son was ill, he called from his home about two hundred and fifty miles away to get a diagnosis and treatment for his illness. When he didn’t believe what I told him (which turned out to be correct), he called a college classmate of his who was a doctor for a second opinion. Now whenever he calls for a diagnosis, I asked him what his friend had suggested. I used his friend’s name as the name of the doctor in our novels. Also, my wife is the world’s greatest Statler Brothers fan. I had just purchased a set of Statler Brothers Christmas ornaments for her so I had a character purchase some for his wife.
Q: How did you go about finding a publisher for your work?
Charlie: We wrote one hundred query letters attempting to get an agent. We got one hundred rapid rejections. We changed the first page of our query letter to say, “This book is the story you have been waiting for. It will make your career. It has so much sex in it that when it is made into a movie it will get a strong R rating. When it is made into a T.V. series, it will be listed as TV-MA-14 with parental discretion strongly advised.” We sent out ten copies. Within two weeks we had five requests for the first three chapters. Two weeks later we had three requests for the entire book. Within two weeks we had contracts offered by two agents. Your success depends on the way you advertise.
Dee: We started with the agent because we heard that no publishers were reading manuscripts privately submitted. We have since learned that there are several (if not many) publishers that don’t require an agent.
Q: What do you know about publishing now that you didn’t know when you started?
Charlie: Publishers promise to help you with publicity, but in general, they don’t do much. They also move very slowly.
Dee: Publishing includes many things: cover design, layout design, editing, printing, and getting placement in book stores. We thought that they also did book tours, promotions, and lots of help. That’s not where publishing today is for the majority of new authors. The editing is still great and we love our covers.
Q: What are you currently reading and how has writing changed your reading habits?
Dee: I’m reading Called Out of Darkness by Anne Rice; I have read and delighted in her descriptions and sensual landscapes in Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt and thought I would like to read more of her non-paranormal. I am eagerly awaiting Book 3 of the All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness. And, I’m reading Some of My Best Friends Are Black: The Strange Story of Integration in America and the Fault in Our Stars. As an author, I pay special attention to series and to how authors treat their characters. I enjoy reading tricky series (see Harkness above), and I want to read respectful authors. I understand that typos that aren’t misspellings happen, but I really lose patience with a confusion of “to, too, and two.” I’m not sure I was this picky before A Jealous God.
Charlie: I am reading Predisposed: Liberals, Conservatives, and the Biology of Political Differences by John R. Hibbing, Kevin B. Smith, and John R. Alford. I just finished W is for Wasted by Sue Grafton, and I am eagerly awaiting The Gods of Guilt by Michael Connelly. I read very differently now. I get very annoyed with writers who have their characters do unrealistic, out-of-character actions. I can’t stand errors in fact, even in a work of fiction. Are you too lazy to look it up?
A Jealous God is available on Amazon and published by BookSurge.