A&E

Long-distance collaborators

Peninsula, Seattle novelists take books to market -- together

At her home in Scotts Valley, former attorney Christine Z. Mason was writing "Boundaries: A Love Story," a novel about a forbidden love affair between cousins. Meanwhile, in Seattle, G. Elizabeth Kretchmer, a former finance and accounting executive, was also working on a novel involving secretive relationships, dysfunctional families and abandonment issues.

The novelists met online through the Pacific Northwest Writers Association and began critiquing each other's work, providing detailed suggestions as they exchanged chapters and later manuscripts. Through their collaboration, they became friends.

This week, after years of working together long distance, the writers will take their collaboration and friendship to new level. Not only will they meet face-to-face for the first time, but they will also promote their novels jointly at bookstores in Palo Alto, Los Gatos, Emeryville and Watsonville. In fact, Kretchmer will stay in Mason's home during her visit.

Kretchmer's book, "The Damnable Legacy of a Minister's Wife," focuses on Lynn Van Swol, an obsessive mountain climber who writes unsent letters to the daughter she relinquished for adoption 30 years before. She is unaware of the existence of Frankie, her rebellious teen granddaughter, crisscrossing the country on the road to trouble. With good intentions, a narrator from the afterlife tries to get them together, creating havoc.

Mason's "Boundaries" also features sticky relationships, specifically that between first cousins Kaia and Mark. Her mother and his father are embroiled in a long-term, secretive love affair. When Kaia is 16, her mother leaves her in Berkeley with an overprotective, alcoholic father, ostensibly to jump-start her career in New York. Meanwhile, Mark's mother has bipolar disorder. Complications abound.

For writers like Kretchmer and Mason who want to sell their work, promotional appearances are part of the marketing plan. However, most go it alone. Promotional tours are expensive, particularly for those who self-publish, as Kretchmer did, or share production costs, as Mason did with Robertson Publishing. It was Kretchmer's suggestion that they tour together. "It makes things a lot more interesting" for authors as well as attendees, she said on the phone from Seattle.

Mason agreed. "I just have a feeling we're very similar in our views," she said, chatting at Prolific Oven in Palo Alto. "We've both had previous careers. We both take writing very seriously. I almost always agree with everything she says in her critiques. I feel like we're on the same wavelength."

Kretchmer remembered that it took a little while to trust the collaboration. "We didn't know each other," she said. "We didn't know each other's goals." She knew she'd found a worthy collaborator when she saw that Mason's comments were almost identical to those of the editor she had initially hired.

An instinct for revisions wasn't all they shared. Neither writer gave up her career because of writing. In fact, both women left their professions to raise children, and wrote in their spare time. Now, with children largely out of the nest -- Mason has a grown son and daughter; Kretchmer has three sons, one of whom is still at home -- the women are writing full time.

"Both of us began our careers in more structured, left-brained fields before eventually finding our way to our truer callings," Kretchmer noted. "We are both strong, opinionated women, but we are also sensitive, as evidenced through our writing discussions. These are the basic foundations of our friendship, I would say, in addition to our love of writing."

"Write what you know" is a common writerly admonishment, and in "Boundaries," Mason draws on her background as an attorney and an artist. Unlike Jean, the career-obsessed mother of her novel, Mason said when her daughter was born in the late 1980s, "I didn't want to devote that much attention to career. I always loved art and photography, ceramics, printmaking, stained glass. I was happy to give up my law practice." She also includes vignettes from New England, where she spent time early in her career.

While Kretchmer sets part of her novel in the Pacific Northwest (where she lives) and in the Chicago area (where she was raised); she is a hiker, not a mountain climber. "Nor have I ever been a minister's wife," she said. However, in researching the book, she spent time in Alaska, interviewing climbers at the Denali base camp. "If I only took what I know, it could be pretty boring," she said. "I take what I know and embellish upon it."

Nonetheless, she added, "We are both drawn to writing about motherhood and other family matters, with underlying subjects and themes that elicit discussion and perhaps even controversy. By allowing uncomfortable topics to surface, both books elicit emotional reactions. That's what makes a great story, right?"

What: Authors Christine Z. Mason and G. Elizabeth Kretchmer discuss their novels

Where: Books Inc., Town and Country Village, 855 El Camino Real #74, Palo Alto

When: Monday, Oct. 27 at 7 p.m.

Cost: Free

Info: Go to booksinc.net or call 650-321-0600.

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