Interview Liv Constantine’s double life
There are friends, then there are friends so close they can finish each other’s sentences.
Sisters, and best buddies, Lynne and Valerie Constantine do that literally; the successful fiction-writing partners know if one of them is stuck on character development or draws a blank on completing a chapter, the other is there to pick up where her sister left off.
“I can’t imagine writing without her,” says Valerie Constantine, 72, of her youngest sibling, Lynne, 58.
The best-selling authors of the well-received psychological thriller, “The Last Mrs. Parrish” (Harper-Collins, 2017), grew up in the Baltimore area. As children, they were big readers, but didn’t focus on writing as careers, says Lynne, who moved with her husband and twins to Westport about 14 years ago and now lives in Milford. “I always thought I’d be a lawyer and was in marketing.”
Valerie’s first job was in the Nixon White House in the scheduling office. As a registered Democrat, she says the experience “was interesting and fascinating” and left her with “tons of stories” that she didn’t write.
“I always loved writing. I don’t know if I thought from the beginning that’s how I want to earn my living. (It) was always in the back of my head that I have a story to tell,” says Valerie, who lives in Annapolis, Md., and is the mother of four sons.
Lynne left marketing after having her children and home-schooled them until they entered middle school about five years ago when she started writing under the pen name, LC Shaw. She and Valerie’s first collaboration as writing partners was the Greek-American family saga, “Circle Dance,” inspired by their heritage and stories told by their Greek grandmother. Writing under the nom de plume Liv Constantine (a combination of Lynne and Valerie’s first names and their maiden name), they found “overnight success,” Lynne says tongue-in-cheek, with “The Last Mrs. Parrish” (Harper Collins, 2017).
“We had plenty of rejection, (but) we kept on plugging,” she says. “When we finished ‘Mrs. Parrish,’ we felt good about it and submitted it to five agents.”
The women signed with an agent Lynne met at ThrillerFest, an annual convention of thriller writers in New York City, who loved the book and sold it quickly. After publication, the novel was picked by actress Reese Witherspoon for her online Hello Sunshine Book Club. With that exposure, “sales skyrocketed,” Lynne says. “(The book) definitely got a lot more attention and got into the hands of a lot more readers.”
When they started “Mrs. Parrish,” the tale of an unscrupulous, money-hungry young woman who wheedles her way into a friendship with a beautiful philanthropist, with the intent of stealing her very wealthy husband, they didn’t think of genre, says Lynne, who came up with the story idea. Set in a fictional town in lower Fairfield County, there are many twists and turns and dark secrets, which their agent suggested made it a natural fit as a psychological thriller, Valerie says. The sisters wrote it in about a year, Lynne says. Living states apart, their writing process can be intense, but there is rarely any difference of opinion they can’t work out, she says.
“About 70 to 80 percent of the writing takes place virtually … emails and FaceTime,” Lynne says. “We talk each day and give each their marching orders. I may write a chapter and ask Valerie if she wants to finish it. By the time (the book) is finished, we both have touched every page.”
When asked about the pros and cons of writing with her sister, Valerie says, “There are so many more pros than cons. Scheduling the times we have to be on FaceTime is probably the biggest con. Editing can be real tedious and time consuming … going through (the book) line by line.”
But the best part is bouncing story ideas off each other and helping each other out when needed. Working together “makes (the story) so much richer and layered,” Valerie says.
If there’s any criticism or conflict, we don’t take it personally, Lynne says. “If we don’t agree, we talk it out. If we are stuck, we may go to the editor for a tie breaker. Once we discuss (an issue), it usually works out.”
Their latest thriller, “The Last Time I Saw You” (Harper Collins), comes out on May 7. This time they’ve added murder to the mix set in old-moneyed Maryland. Seamlessly written, the page-turning whodunit will keep readers on their toes with the characters’ dark secrets and lies.
The authors will be going on a month-long book tour for “The Last Time I Saw You” that will include Connecticut and Maryland. Both women are looking forward to being on the road with each other.
“We love being together,” Lynne says. “It’s so much nicer when you have to speak. It’s nice having a partner.”
“I feel so fortunate at this age to be able to do something so rewarding and do it with my sister, who is my best friend,” Valerie says.
Eileen Fischer is a freelancer writer and former editor of Sunday Arts & Style