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Critique Partners, Continents Apart

M and J 1Two of my favorite books I’ve read thus far this year are Untouched by Maisey Yates and Having Her  (here’s my review) by Jackie Ashenden. Though both books are contemporary romances, they have little else in common. Or so I thought.

However, when I was at RT in May, I met Maisey and was startled to find out that, for years, she and Jackie have been critique partners. This is even more startling when you consider that Maisey lives in rural Oregon and Jackie lives in Auckland, New Zealand. Curious how that works, I asked if they would talk with me at RWA in July. The following interview is taken from that conversation and from emails I’ve exchanged with the two.

Dabney: Hi, ladies! So let’s dive right in. How did you two first begin collaborating?

Maisey:  I knew of Jackie from her posts on the Harlequin message boards, her blog and her runner-up position in Harlequins “Feel the Heat” competition. Neither of us were published at the time.

We started DMing on twitter, talking about writing, and submitting, etc. We clicked, and we exchanged email addresses for ease. Then it came up that were were both writing manuscripts with the same theme! So one of us suggested we exchange them. I was ready to offer her some fabulous advice and point out just where she’d gone wrong…but instead I stayed up all night reading, and laughing and CRYING and had NO SUGGESTIONS for her.

I had a crit group already, but one thing I found is that…well, I tend to bombard people with stuff. I work fast and I work enthusiastic and…it’s a LOT. Jackie produces work at roughly the same speed I do. She also reads fast. So, though we were part of a larger group for a while, we started exchanging work between the two of us because our processes/pace were so similar that it just WORKED.

Since the beginning, we’ve both gotten published, both have an agent and both work with multiple editors, so when we read for each other it’s mainly to call each other out on things like not pushing a scene far enough. We don’t nitpick each other, because an editor will do that.

The BIGGEST thing we do for each other, is brainstorm. We Skype about character and story, and that has been instrumental in changing my writing life. I swear I get less revisions now that I get to talk things over with Jackie. (She’s a GENIUS at character and conflict) We approach writing in a VERY similar way, which is very helpful. I find it really hard to talk things out with people who approach books in an entirely different way because it’s almost like speaking two different languages.

We usually have a few discussions about a particular book. In the beginning, when we’re establishing character and plot, and then as it goes on, we usually have to talk out an issue with either the hero or heroine in a greater depth. We toss around ideas, and usually…we’re better at solving each other’s problems than we are at solving our own!

And yes, we read EVERYTHING the other one writes. As we’re working, not as a whole, which can create it’s own problems, but is good for character/internal conflict especially.

Jackie: Bah, Maisey got in before me. As usual. She’s always just that little bit faster….

So yeah, to add to what Maisey said, it was a matter of our processes being very similar and us both being totally obsessed with and serious about writing. For me talking out a character before I start writing or when I run into problems is hugely important to me. And because Maisey and I think very similarly about our characters, Skyping with her is a massive part of my process. She also is hugely encouraging so when I’m feeling doubty about something, she helps me stay on track and keep perspective, and not go wailing about tearing my hair (which happens, believe me).

I too have learned so much from her – I’m an over-thinker, analysing every permutation of a conflict, while she’s really good at getting to the heart of the matter quite quickly. I’m a complicater, she’s a simplifier, which fits very nicely together when discussing conflict. She also calls me out when I’m holding back on a character, or when I’m getting way too neurotic about something, and that helps too.

I think having another viewpoint on your story from someone who’s outside it can be massively helpful. And like Maisey says, we speak the same language when it comes to approaching character so we can articulate the problems to each other and get an idea on how to fix it too.

It sounds like a mutual admiration society I know, but Maisey is the reason I kept writing when I was about to give up. She basically kicked my butt, told me to stop whining and get on with it. Which is really what you need sometimes.

Dabney: How long have you two been doing this?

Maisey: Close to five years.

Dabney: How do you manage the time difference?

Jackie: When Maisey’s in winter, and I’m in summer it works the best.

Maisey: If we can’t speak, we email.

Dabney: How long had you been working together before you actually met?

Maisey: Four years. We met at RWA in Atlanta in 2013.

Dabney: Was there anything surprising about when you actually met?

Maisey: It was weird that it wasn’t weird.

Dabney: Do you each have a favorite character from the other’s work?

Maisey: I take a lot of ownership of Vin. (The hero from Having Her.)

Jackie: She thought he was hot from the moment Vin appeared (in an earlier book). She said to me, “Kara’s going to hook up with him and he’s a dom.”

I love Alik in Maisey’s Heir to a Dark Inheritance.

Dabney: What are youall working on now?

Jackie: My first book with St. Martin’s Press is coming out this November. It’s called Mine to Take and is the first of my Nine Circles series which features a group of billionaires bound together by power, secrets, and need.

Maisey: It’s Jackie, so it’s twisted.

Jackie: Also, in August, I’m releasing a book called Living in Shadow with Samhain. It’s set in New Zealand and is part of a loosely linked series.

Maisey: I have a new series called Copper Ridge set in Oregon. There are (mostly) cowboy heroes, and a small town at the center of the books. They’re about love and family and there’s an awful lot of food. The first full length book is called Part-Time Cowboy and will be published in April 2015 by Harlequin HQN.

Dabney: Do either of you have any plans to venture into self-publishing?

Maisey: I don’t have any reason to self-pub. What I am doing now is really working for me.

Jackie: Same for me.

Dabney: Well, this was fun. Thanks so much for talking to me.




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08/18/2014 8:28 pm

That’s a great relationship for working. Thanks Dabney!

08/18/2014 8:34 am

Really fascinating interview – I can see that having a similar “”approach”” to creating any work of art would be most helpful in a critique partner. Getting advice from someone that works the process differently could be very distracting!
Dabney thanks for publishing this – please fix the links to the reviews!

Dabney Grinnan
Dabney Grinnan
Reply to  PatW
08/18/2014 9:53 am

Thanks for the link tip. Don’t know what went wrong there, but they are working now.