Monday, January 26, 2009

Authors of The Illumination

Karen Tintori and Jill Gregory
Authors of The Illumination

ISBN: 978-0-312-37597-3
ISBN-10: 0-312-37597-2

(Purchasing Information at

It is a great opportunity to be able to speak to authors who are collaborators on a book. We don’t often get this opportunity. Being a collaborator on a WIP (Work In Progress), I know that it is not always easy to work on a project such as a book with someone else.

Karen Tintori and Jill Gregory have been best friends for more than 26 years. By the time they wrote their first novel together, they decided that since they write with one voice they'd do it as one person--Jillian Karr, a combination of their first names. For nearly a decade, Karen and Jill concentrated on their individual careers while trying to figure out how to "out" the Lamed Vovniks. The Illumination, their second hidden history thriller, has just been published by St. Martin's Press in the U.S. and Canada next year, and in Germany -- again by Rowohlt, and by Pan Macmillan in Australia.

Karen and Jill are joined again at the brain, working daily on plotting their next thriller.

I am honored to be able to interview these two prolific authors. I hope you enjoy the interview, and take the time to ask them questions and make comments about their interview. ~Sue

Sue: How long does it take you to write a book together?

Karen and Jill: It generally takes us eight months to a year to finish a book, but by the time we've submitted a new proposal to our editor, the first three chapters are usually included. Plus we've already done thorough research on our subject matter and then write the rest of the book from a well-thought out synopsis.

Sue: Is there a genre that you would like to write in that you haven’t already, either together or singly?

Karen: My mother always told me I'd end up writing children's or young adult books. Right now I don't see it, but many of the other things she'd predicted I'd do have come true, so who knows?

Jill: I might like to write a fantasy or paranormal novel some day. I've written novellas with fantasy elements for anthologies, like the Once Upon A anthologies I wrote with Nora Roberts, Ruth Ryan Langan and Marianne Willman, but never a full -length novel. Some of my favorite books are The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Once and Future King, and the Mary Stewart Merlin books, beginning with The Crystal Cave.

Sue: How do you keep track of your characters and story thread?

Jill and Karen: We make notes and lists for ourselves. Sometimes we'll write down all the scenes we need to do, all the information we still need to reveal, all the major story points we need to cover. There are often so many threads that if you don't write down every single detail you want in the book somewhere or other, you can completely forget to put something in. So we make a lot of notes for ourselves. We also have a poster board on the wall with photos of our characters which we've cut from magazines and which we both agree resemble and personifies the character. Alongside the photos and around them, we scribble important facts about the character, age, eye and hair color, etc. As well as key dates and other information for the character's backstory.

Sue: Do you name your characters or do they tell you themselves who they are?

Karen and Jill: We very definitely name them. We have a baby name book we flip through and one of us will read aloud a name that strikes us and seems to fit the character, and if the other one agrees that it's a good fit, we retain it as a possibility. If not, it's tossed. We also use the phone book. Once, without looking at any book, while I was on the internet in one room and Karen was at the work keyboard in the office, we both suggested the same surname at the same time! It was for a character in THE ILLUMINATION. But this happens to us all the time. Our brains are in sync.

Sue: Do you base any of your characters on people in your real life?

Jill and Karen: No, not at all. We make them up out of whole cloth. We even avoid giving our characters the first names of family and friends. That way we are free to make them whatever we want them to be and what the story needs them to be.

Sue: What was the high point of collaborating on The Illumination?

Karen and Jill: The high point was when we began pulling all the threads together for the culmination of the story, and we came up with several very cool twists that made it all work. It's fun to spring surprises on the reader that flow seamlessly from the story.

Sue: What did you learn through collaborating on this book?

Karen: I learned that we needed to choreograph certain action scenes so that we both saw them exactly alike. Our protagonist, Natalie Landau, knows Krav Maga, the Israeli system of self-defense. While we researched the principles of Krav Maga, when it came to writing the fight scenes, we needed to go through the motions (in slow motion!) in order to understand the movements well enough to describe them in a way that the reader could easily follow the action.

Jill: Karen knew about the evil eye through her Italian background, but I wasn't as familiar with the belief. I learned a great deal about the far-reaching mythology of the evil eye. I knew a little bit before we started, but not how ancient and extensive this belief is throughout human history.

Sue: Do you have any tips for authors who would like to collaborate?

Karen: We work differently than most writing teams we've come across. We write every line together and spend great chunks of time together, discussing every aspect of our characters and the story. It helps if your writing partner is your best friend, because a writing partner is a lot like a marriage -- you need cooperation, give and take, and a willingness to compromise.

Jill: Every collaborative team has their own way of working. Both partners have to feel comfortable with whatever way they choose, and you have to have mutual respect and a willingness to put the book first, before your own ego. In other words, if your writing partner doesn't like an idea, don't take it personally. Either convince the other person of the idea's merit, or drop it and move on with an open mind.

Sue: What do you find as the most challenging aspect of writing? The most rewarding?

Karen: The most challenging aspect of writing is avoiding the temptation to procrastinate -- either by checking your email, doing a little more research, or any other device to keep your butt from the chair. The absolute best is when Jill and I are writing and the one who isn't at the keyboard that day is pacing the office as the words roll from our mouths and fingertips, and both of us are totally of one mind and in the ultimate writing zone.

Jill: The most challenging is facing a blank page on the computer screen. It is also challenging to start a book, knowing all the difficulty ahead of weaving all the strands of the story together in a natural, yet suspenseful way and in balancing plot, character, narrative, dialogue, pacing, etc. The most rewarding moment is feeling that what you've written will grip the reader and surprise, intrigue and entertain him or her. Also, the absolutely most rewarding moment is when you write THE END.

Sue: Do you have any additional comments you would like to make?

Karen: Writing is the best job in the world, and probably the most masochistic. At the end of a day, Jill and I are often left whimpering, so exhausted by our mental gymnastics that a three hour rumba class would probably have taken less out of us. Plus, ours is a job, like motherhood, that doesn't end at 5 P.M. The book -- and whatever problems we're having with it -- rumbles in our heads twenty-four hours a day until we reach the end.

Jill: It takes many months and sometimes a year to write a book, but all the while, you're hoping that it will only take the reader a day or two to tear through the book. Our goal is always to enthrall the reader so completely that he or she won't be able to put the story aside. That's what we strive for with every book --that's foremost in our minds throughout the writing process.

Sue: Thank you so much for allowing me to interview you and have you on my blog. It was a real pleasure for me. I look forward to reading more of your collaborations.

Make sure you make a comment or ask a question of either Karen or Jill or both to be entered into a drawing for a free copy of The Illumination. Don’t forget to add an email address where you can be contacted if you are the winner.

Again, thanks to Karen and Jill for being here!

(Purchasing Information at

Here is a synopsis of THE ILLUMINATION, by Jill Gregory and Karen Tintori:

Natalie Landau, a museum curator with an expertise in Mesopotamian protective amulets and magical beliefs, has received a puzzling gift from her sister Dana--a necklace with a blue evil eye pendant on it. The Evil Eye is a symbol of protection common throughout the world, with a history connecting it to many religions.

When Natalie learns Dana was murdered only hours after sending the gift, she begins to think her evil eye amulet had something to do with her sister’s death. As she races to discover the origin of the pendant, Natalie is sucked into an international battle between powerful religious factions, each battling for the eye, which turns out to be far more valuable—and far more powerful--than she could ever imagine.

(Purchasing Information at

Here are some comments about The Illumination.

“The intrigue is high. The excitement is palpable. The story is priceless. Combining mysticism, history, and fanaticism, this is one thriller that's simply impossible to put down until you've reached the ending - breathless and so well satisfied. Tintori and Gregory are first rate story tellers! ”--M.J. Rose, international bestselling author of The Memorist

“Jill Gregory and Karen Tintori return with another extraordinary thriller after their outstanding The Book of Names. Their new novel, The Illumination, skillfully weaves history, ancient art, dark legend and religious fanaticism into a story of high-stakes terror and international intrigue. The excitement stays at a high pitch from the opening scene at the looted Iraqi National Museum to the final sensational twist. A page-turner. extraordinaire.”--New York Times bestselling author Douglas Preston, co-author of The Monster of Florence and The Wheel of Darkness

“Stirring and imaginative. A tense, intelligent, and surprising thrill. Drum tight in execution, fueled by imagination, the plot is as sharp as a broken shard of glass. If you like your tales loaded with intrigue, treachery, and a wealth of secrets you're going to love The Illumination.”-- New York Times bestselling author Steve Berry, author of The Charlemagne Pursuit and The Templar Legacy

(Purchasing Information at


Anonymous said...

Sue, we didn't know that you write with someone else, also. We'd love to know how you and your writing partner collaborate.

Jill and Karen

Sue D. said...

Palmer and I live about an hour apart. We both lead such active lives that it is difficult for us to meet. Since we are collaborating on a workbook dealing with my book, I write a chapter, send it to Palmer, who then adds her thoughts. We try to meet face to face once a month to brainstorm and make sure we are seeing the same vision.

I think it is her baby because she felt a workbook was needed. She thinks it's my baby because it comes from book. She is putting a meditation cd of her own original music in it as well.

It is difficult long distance and I so envy *smile* the ability you two have to be able to be in contact like you are. If you want more information let me know and I will email it to you.

I just love your answers to the questions!

Anonymous said...

It sounds like you and Palmer have a terrific system, Sue. What you said about meeting once a month face to face to "make sure we are seeing the same vision" really struck home with me. I think this is the most important thing in a partnership -- seeing the WIP in the same way. If you can achieve that, whether you live far about or close together (Karen and I live only ten minutes apart) you're golden. Thanks for sharing. I love hearing all the various ways collaborative teams work!


mary said...

Very interesting. Learned a lot in compiling my own characters, etc. Thank you for the help and the invite.

I will look for more assistance from you. You are wonderful.

Sisters in Writing,
Mary Woodruff

Kathleen Givens said...

I loved THE BOOK OF NAMES and can't wait to read THE ILLUMINATION. So what's next for you two talented writers?

Kathleen Givens said...

You've just outlined two different ways of collaborating, but both seem to work. Do you always share the same vision? Any hints on how to get over differences of opinion?

Sue D. said...

I was waiting for Karen or Jill to respond and I know they will be around to do so. I will just go ahead and answer for Palmer and I.

Since ours is a non-fiction workbook, we don't always have the same vision. Sometimes I even find it hard to see Palmer's when she explains it to me. *smile*

However, collaboration is about give and take, compromise, and above all, love of what one is doing. When we both give a little, we both get a lot.

Anonymous said...

Fortunately, Karen and I usually see eye to eye on most things so we don't disagree too often. When we do, we argue our POV passionately (but calmly, lol), and most of the time one or the other of us will end up agreeing with the other.

Occasionally we reach a standoff, and then it might get tense for a moment as we're both thinking furiously, really trying to figure out what's best. We both respect each other's opinion enormously. So one of us always agrees at some point to give the other way of proceeding a shot.

We both know nothing is written in stone and we can always change it down the road if it's not working (we remind ourselves of this often ). The most important thing we do is just let go of any ego, and focus on what is best for the book. And the discussion is always healthy because it reinforces and realigns our vision every time.


Anonymous said...

For sure nothing's written in stone. And we also tell ourselves writing isn't brain surgery (smile).

Our original prologue -- which took place centuries ago in biblical Babylon -- never saw the light of day. We ditched it when we sold THE ILLUMINATION and began writing it in earnest.

That prologue did figure into the story later, much later, told in a recap by one of the characters. The prologue we went with instead took place during the looting of the Iraq National Museum in 2003.

Rather than showing the biblical treasure when it was hidden, we decided to introduce it in modern times, on the night it was snatched from the museum.

Sometimes change is good. And if we really get tied up in knots over something, we remind ourselves that no one is going to die if we make a mistake.



Kathleen Givens said...

Thanks, all of you. So basically one has to be a polite adult to collaborate.

Another question: How do you decide what the next project is? Does your editor make suggestions, or is it you two alone?

Anonymous said...

Generally we come up with our own ideas, but it can work both ways. Sometimes, the editor will do some brainstorming with us at the beginning stages of the book. Once, our editor had a specific idea and ran it past us and we used that as a jumping off point and built a story around it. But usually the two of us just start from scratch and run with it from there.

Jill and Karen

Sue D. said...

Thank you, Jill and Karen, for allowing me to be a part of your blog tour. I enjoyed it very much. I learned so much from you.

The winner for your book, The Illumination, was drawn from posters of your interview and your excerpt.

The winner is:

Kathleen Givens.

Kathleen, please send me an email with your name and address so that I can send you a copy of The Illumination that Jill and Karen has generously given. Send the info to me at

Thank you to all who participated!