How could you possibly write alone – Lisa Leighton and Laura Stropki

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By Lisa Leighton and Laura Stropki

One of the most common questions we get (especially from fellow writers) is how can we possibly write together? Not only are we two separate people, but we’re sisters. Sisters who grew up tearing clothes off of one another in the hallways of our high school. Yes, yes we did. And while we’ve learned a lot in the ten plus years we’ve been working together, from day one we’ve asked a different question in return. How could you possibly write alone?♥

But let’s back up to the beginning. Way back when, I (Laura) was a middle school Language Arts teacher outside of Baltimore and Lisa had recently moved back home to Cleveland from Chicago. This is pre-Instagram, blogger heaven and Lisa devoured blogs like nobody’s business. I preferred young adult books after that corner of the market had exploded following the success of Twilight. Plus, I could recommend books to my students…and Lisa. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson was one of the first YA novels I sent home that sealed the deal for Lisa. Whenever I’d introduce myself to a new group of students, I’d halfheartedly tell them that one day I’d like to write a book. It wasn’t something I seriously considered, more like something I’d throw out there because I couldn’t actually write a book. Or could I?

Lisa always dreamed of being the person who wrote the backs of books. Now we understand that this isn’t necessarily a job title, but a responsibility that probably falls to the editor, an intern, or the author herself. She was also consistently complimented on her witty emails and social commentary and secretly dreamed of writing a blog. But she couldn’t actually write a blog because she didn’t have anything interesting to write about. Or did she?

Enter our marathon phone conversations. Because we lived away from each other, we’d often wind up talking on the phone until all hours of the night. We dreamed out loud about ways to make money. We could open up a sister store together and sell…something. That idea petered out quickly because opening up a store costs money. We threw around a few other terrible business ventures until one of us suggested writing a book together. But not just any book. A young adult book. And not just any young adult book. A young adult book that teachers like me would love. This was getting good. We were getting excited. And then Lisa threw out the bomb that changed everything. We would update classic novels. We would start with Pride and Prejudice, because how do you not start with Pride and Prejudice? And it’d be easy, I promised. I’d read a lot of young adult books. We could totally do this. We were geniuses. No one had ever done this before!

Fast forward. Little did we know, about a million other far more talented authors had, in fact, done that before. Also, it’s not easy. We did end up writing a terrible update of Pride and Prejudice we called The North Shore. A real low was passing the finished manuscript along to our dad on the guise that it was written by a friend of ours. After reading, he said it wasn’t his cup of tea. But we didn’t let the feedback from our first and only beta reader stop us. We submitted to agents and were widely rejected.

But here’s the thing. Buried in those rejection letters were these little glimmers of hope. Agents who encouraged us to keep trying because they liked our voice or the characters were interesting or with some polish we might, just might get there. So we didn’t give up.

Today, our writing process looks eerily similar to that first exercise all those years ago. We have a marathon phone conversation even though we live five minutes from one another. We dream of an idea. We dream of characters. We discuss a potential plot. If we wake up the next morning and the idea still has legs, Lisa will have a go at the first chapter and pass it along to me. I edit Lisa’s words — she’ll sometimes leave me notes in the text to insert setting description here or Google this or describe what the character looks like because she’s the big sister and she’s the boss and it’s only natural. After I’m done editing, I add the next chapter into the document and send it back to her. She edits my words, adds the next chapter and sends it back to me. Lisa fixes all of my dialogue and dominates our voice while I am much better with the details and cadence of words. We are both readers and writers. When Lisa gets her hands on the document, she takes the book in a direction I hadn’t dreamed of and when I get it back, I’m newly inspired.

I never imagined I would actually write a book one day like I’d shared with my students because I was missing that vital piece. I hadn’t found my writing partner. We might not crank out a book in a month like those early days and life and kids and day jobs and reality often gets in the way, but there’s always that next idea, those late-night conversations and the thrill of reading a brand new chapter you didn’t believe you could write. And when that chapter is stretched and reimagined and eventually grows into a book, that’s the true magic.

Lisa Leighton and Laura Stropki are sisters who live in Cleveland, Ohio. They have two husbands, five children and two dogs that are technically half brothers. The sisters grew up fighting over terrible clothes and sharing Harlequin romance novels and Christopher Pike mysteries. Represented by the fabulous Rebecca Podos of the Rees Agency, their goal is to write the kind of books they would have stayed up all night reading without killing each other. So far so good. Now You See Her out June 26th through HarperCollins is the pair’s fifth book, sixth if you count The North Shore.


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