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April 23, 2010

Susan Wiggs and Elizabeth Wiggs Maas: How Planning a Wedding Sparked a Book

Posted by Anonymous

After the wedding came….the book with the real story behind the wedding, which will be in stores next January. Here Susan and Elizabeth share some humorous behind-the-scenes stories and lively banter about the wedding, the book deal and writing together.

TONED Susan Wiggs and Elizabeth Wiggs Maas.jpg

What made you decide to write together?

Elizabeth: My mom is my best friend --- so the idea of sharing a project with her sounded awesome. Of course, this was before our epic battles over my wedding occurred. Still, even when we were duking it out over cupcakes, writing the book together was always a treat. She brought out the best in my writing, and I like to think my stunning good looks inspired her as well.
Susan: HOW I PLANNED YOUR WEDDING: The All-True Story of a Mother and Daughter Surviving the Best Day of Their Lives is the book I needed to read when I went looking for information on planning your daughter's wedding. The books I found were so terribly complicated and serious! This is a real-world glimpse of what really went on, and I know a lot of women will related, because over the course of the book, we gathered a lot of stories. Many universal emotions and situations arise in this process. We tackled each one, gloves off!
Can you each share a story about one of the books you wrote together?
Elizabeth: The official announcement of the book deal came as a surprise to me. I was visiting my parents one afternoon and my mom asked me to remove a particularly crude joke I’d written on my blog. I indignantly put on my uppity pants, reminded her of the engorged love scenes she’s published, and told her that if she wanted me to get rid of the joke she would have to give me 20 bucks. Real mature. She wiggled her eyebrows at me and said, “I’ve got something WAY better than 20 bucks to give you.”
I didn’t believe her but curiosity got the best of me, so I cleaned up my blog. As I was monkeying around with that, my dad sneaked into the room holding a camera --- and that’s when my mom told me. The resulting slideshow is pretty hilarious. In the matter of about 10 frames, I move from incredulous disbelief, to wary acceptance, to utter glee. I still feel that glee every time I realize how lucky I am to be able to co-author a book with my talented mom.
My only regret is I didn’t make my parents wait to tell me until I’d put on some makeup. My cheeks are begging for a touch of bronzer in those photos.
Susan: She won't thank me for giving you this link, but I think it's adorable. In fact, our agent sent them to the publisher to let them know we were accepting the offer, so they had a glimpse of their newest author.
How do you share your writing responsibilities?
Elizabeth: For the first draft of the HOW I PLANNED YOUR WEDDING, we created the manuscript in Google Documents. This allowed us to edit the book simultaneously --- as my mom made changes, I could see exactly what she was doing. We had a couple of Vulcan mind-link moments where she would begin to rework the same sentence as me at the exact same moment. And it was pretty fun to leave a couple of surprises for her. If I saw her updating a specific section, I would scroll to the end of the page and write POOP in really big font for her to find when she got there.
The responsibilities were easy to share with this book because we weren’t trying to contribute to the same narrative. Each chapter features a section by me, then one by her, and so on, so readers know whose voice they’re hearing. And, as the apprentice, I was in charge of the more mundane work like formatting, chapter titles, the appendix, etc. 
Do you outline, or do you write as the story unfolds?
Elizabeth: The very first step in writing HOW I PLANNED YOUR WEDDING was coming up with a list of chapters and a bit of detail about what would go into each one. That served as the frame on which we built the book. After the first draft, we read back through the manuscript and identified missing pieces that still needed to be written – for instance, I completely forgot to write about the wedding reception (you know, the five-hour party that I spent over a year planning? Yeah. I neglected to mention it a single time in the first draft.)
Susan: We had really great input from our editor, Deborah Brody, and editorial director, Margaret O'Neill Marbury, and also our agents Meg Ruley and Annelise Robey at the Jane Rotrosen Agency. In a marathon conference call, we brainstormed topics. Then Elizabeth--ever the "A" student --- created what we called the "book map"--an organized list of topics that would become our chapters. Much more than fiction, a project like this demanded organization and outlining. Thanks to the pre-writing work, the actual writing went fairly quickly. It was great writing about the experience as we were experiencing it. Promotes honesty.
Who has final say? Does “Mom always rule,” or how do you handle writing conflicts?
Elizabeth: Weee-elllll….Mommy does get the final say. At least, that’s what she thinks. I mentioned before that I’m in charge of formatting the manuscript, which is the last thing we do before sending it to our publisher. That’s when I go back and add more controversial stuff, or delete the part she wrote about how my only friend growing up was a stuffed doll named Baby Bobby.
Susan: Elizabeth grew up around a writer, and she always thought it was the worst job in the world. You sit in a room alone all day, no one comes to see you and you don't even get to wear pretty clothes or take the ferry to work. However, there was a moment when I knew she would be a writer, and that was when she was in junior high, writing a paper about the poet, Edward Lear. She asked me to help her edit her piece, and her way of accepting corrections (or not) and editorial input (or not) told me she had the judgment to be a writer. She's always been very sensible about that. So much of writing in commercial publishing is listening to others, because it's all about the reader.
What do each of you bring to the table?
Elizabeth: I bring my dazzling beauty, razor-sharp wit, and an intimidatingly high I.Q.
Tee hee. Aside from being the bride --- which is kind of a vital ingredient for a mother-daughter wedding book --- I try to be as frank as I can in my writing. I want HOW I PLANNED YOUR WEDDING to provide a dose of sanity to brides afloat on a sea of diamond-studded aisle runners and glittering Italian-imported chiffon. There are simply times during a gal’s engagement when she will want to rip her hair out (or her mother’s), but there aren’t many bridal resources that acknowledge the rough-and-tumble parts of wedding planning. Reality shows featuring crazed brides and their harpy mothers are overly dramatized, and the average person can’t really relate. I’ve tried to be very blunt about some of the conflicts I experienced planning my wedding --- the tiffs my mom and I had were very normal, but at the time I was heartbroken because I thought most brides floated through their engagements on clouds of happiness and love. And, yeah, there was a cloud of happiness and love. But I also think it’s important to be candid about the fact that planning the Big Day is a challenge, and a bride doesn’t need to doubt her relationship with her fiancé or her mother if she hits some bumps in the road.
My mom, on the other hand, managed to keep a 10,000 foot view of the wedding. In the book, and in the actual planning process, she could always see the bigger picture. When I was fretting over the color of the bobby pins in my hair trials, Mommy was reminding me that my groom wouldn’t be thinking about my hair as he said “I do” to me.
Susan: I like to think I bring the long view of things. With 25 years as a published writer and 30 as a married lady, I have a different perspective, and I think our differing places in life add contrast and interest to the text. I also have a lot of loyal readers, so we're hoping that bit of name recognition will draw attention to the book.
What’s your favorite snack food/drink when you are writing?
Elizabeth: Simple: Diet Dr. Pepper with five ice cubes and air-popped popcorn sprinkled with fake cheese powder. Is that disgusting? My kidneys just shriveled a little as I typed that. But I am single-handedly keeping the Kernel Seasonings company in business.
Susan: Did I raise this child? Growing up, she never had a whiff of Dr. Pepper or cheese powder! While writing, I favor M&Ms and Lady Grey tea. That's much more upmarket, don't you think?
Do you have advice for anyone who would like to write a book with their mother or daughter?
Elizabeth: Trust your mother. She really does know best. On a more concrete level, it’s important to figure out a good way of collaborating. For my mom and me, it was Google Documents. 
Susan: Respect each other and --- on the page, at least --- don't shrink from conflict and drama. That's what people like to read about. A conflict, and a positive approach to resolving it. Also, be hilarious if you can, but try not to sound forced. Real life situations are inherently funny, if you look at them the right way. And let your natural voices come through. One of the charms of collaboration is the chance to hear a story in different voices.

HOW I PLANNED YOUR WEDDING: The All-True Story of a Mother and Daughter Surviving the Best Day of Their Lives by Susan Wiggs and Elizabeth Wiggs Maas is due in stores January 2011. You can visit Susan Wiggs' official web site here.