He composes poetry and pens often-humorous weekly columns. She’s written thousands of newspaper articles and has several unfinished short stories on the go.
But a pair of Langley writers and longtime friends have managed to take their mutual love of the written word and weave it into something neither had ever before created.
After a more than six-year collaborative effort, authors Natasha Jones and Jim McGregor have released their 328-page novel, Surfacing — beginning with a book signing at the City of Langley firehall last Saturday afternoon.
McGregor, a Langley Times columnist and retired fire chief joined forces with Jones, a former Times reporter, in 2006, to begin writing the story of a boy whose unique connection with his father brings the injured firefighter out of a three-year coma and helps set him on the road to recovery. But it’s a road with no shortage of bumps, potholes and potential wrong turns ready to trip up a family that is working to find its feet once again.
Sitting down to chat in a Langley City coffee shop — the site of many a meeting between the co-authors as they kicked around ideas for their debut novel — Jones and McGregor quickly admit that the book’s beginning was as much an effort to give one another a creative kick in the posterior as anything, after each admitted to being a chronic procrastinator.
“I’m a lazy writer,” said McGregor. “I need to have people push me.”
Building on an online model, where writers are invited to log on and add lines to a growing poem, the two decided they could try something similar with prose.
“I went home and fired off a few paragraphs,” said Jones. “Then he did.”
“We eventually sat down at 20,000 words — (and said) ‘I think we’ve got something here,’” said McGregor.
It wasn’t a matter of staring over one another’s shoulders and shouting out ideas.
That wouldn’t have worked, anyway, because they tend to hit their creative peaks at opposite ends of the day.
“Natasha is a night writer, I’m a morning writer,” said McGregor.
Instead, the two just wrote, taking turns building on the story and meeting every week to discuss which turn the plot would take next.
You might expect this would be the point where things could go seriously awry as two creative people try to collaborate about a single story.
But you’d be wrong.
“We never disagreed on a single plot point or character,” said Jones.
“We were really remarkably in tune, creatively.”
Although each writer pictured some of the characters a bit differently — in terms of their physical appearance — they were usually in agreement about what one of their fictional folks would say or do.
That’s not to say the process wasn’t challenging.
“We would pace the floor for 20 minutes, looking for one word that would make a paragraph sparkle,” said Jones.
At 85,000 words, they sent the manuscript to the first of two editors who would go over it.
“We thought we’d send it out and get it back (with a note saying) ‘This is great guys, don’t change a thing,’” laughed McGregor.
That wasn’t the case, and so the pair set the book aside for a year to help them gain a bit of perspective. But they continued to meet and discuss it.
Then, using some of the pointers gained during a one-day writing course they’d taken, the pair began making a few changes.
One valuable piece of advice: “Show, don’t tell.”
During a visit to a mountain lake, Jones knelt and felt the moss and slime, so she could use that information to convey all the senses of a man trying desperately to save himself from drowning.
Another tip they gained at the seminar: “Kill the darlings.”
It may be the greatest piece of writing in the world, but if it’s not relevant, it has to go.
“We went through it again, tightened it, lost scenes and characters,” said McGregor.
Then a second editor took the book and made it just that much better, he said.
“I would encourage anybody doing any kind of writing to get professional help,” he laughed.
Once they were happy with their story, Jones and McGregor sent it to a few publishers to gauge their level of interest.
The pair received some nice letters, but no offers to publish it.
So they formed Crystal Lake Press, named for the lake that features heavily in the book, and published it themselves.
Now that the writing and all the other decisions — what the cover would look like, which typeface to use and so on — have been made, the pair is concentrating on promoting sales.
“Neither one of us expects to be able to buy an estate,” said McGregor, “but we hope to cover our costs.”
Surfacing is available at Coles in the Willowbrook Mall and at Wendel’s Book Store in Fort Langley.
Online, it can be purchased at www.crystallakepress.com.
It is available for Kobo e-readers and at Amazon.com, it can be purchased in both soft cover and Kindle editions.
Jones and McGregor will also be at Otter Co-op, 248 Street and Fraser Highway, on Saturday, July 20, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.