Wednesday, May 13, 2015


How can two lawyers be better than one?

Taking advantage of the synergy of different talents and experience.

            When we do book-signing events and school programs for students, we often get questions like:  What’s it like writing together as co-authors?  Do each of you write specific chapters?  Do you brainstorm together first, and then decide who writes what?  And if in writing the story, there is a major shift in plot, how does the one writer know whether or not to go with the change?
We enjoy bouncing ideas
off our readers.
So far, we have enjoyed working together as co-authors.  As brothers, we get along well, and have a healthy level of mutual self-respect, so we can freely share ideas and challenge each other without worrying too much about egos.  Each of us has had a career in law, and as lawyers, we were constantly dealing with other lawyers, who often had overblown egos.  When we came together as writers, we had already had much experience in working around another person’s ego while still getting the job done.
In addition, we grew up just a few years apart in a very large family, and then, we each went on to have large families of our own.  While there is not much room for any over-sized egos in a large family, there are certain qualities, like peace-making and courtesy that are highly prized.  Both of us have been extensively trained in the qualities of kindness.  Finally, we both have strong-willed wives, and if we can work jointly with them in a close, personal family relationship, then we can certainly work jointly as brothers in the less intense environment of storytelling.
We have found our differences in personality and experience to be a distinct advantage and are more creative when we’re bouncing ideas off each other and discussing a broad story line, but we brainstorm only in a general way.  We actually write separately, and then confer later on what we have been doing, including any plot shifts.  Though we sometimes disagree on wording, there is usually some friendly give and take as we consider alternatives, then we quickly agree on the final wording.  We both appreciate the different perspective and skills the other brings to the joint writing process.
We are very different in how we approach the creation of a new story.  Andy used to be a planner (a habit that came from writing as a lawyer), but in fiction writing, he no longer likes to plan ahead.  He likes to develop his characters, and then let them take the story wherever it is going to go—he likes to be surprised.  On the other hand, I am definitely still a planner.  I am always making lists and outlines, not only for the current story, but for future stories as well.  In addition to our young adult horror series, we also have written the first two books in a young adult science-fiction series.  Separately, Andy is working on a literary fiction novel about an old lawyer dying from cancer, a story close to his heart.
Andy doesn’t like having other people around him when he is writing, especially when he is creating new material.  There is no real reason for this, just sometimes people bug him.  I have to organize my surrounding work environment.  Once everything around me is in order, then I can detach from the real world and write in the strange, new worlds of my mind.
If Andy hits a tough spot in the story development, it is almost always because of outside distractions.  If he can get rid of the confusion and noise around him, he can keep writing.  He does best when he can find large blocks of undisturbed time.  If I hit a tough spot, I don’t try to force it.  I stop, leave the house, pick up some fast food (Chipotle is always good), and then I can come back refreshed and ready to move the story forward.  I find that fresh ideas come naturally when I am eating.
We both find that once we start telling a horror or sci-fi story, the bounds of the story are limited only by our combined creativity and imagination, and that no matter how mature we might be in the real world, we are both still just kids in our worlds of horror and fantasy.  It is hard to get better than that.

Friday, May 8, 2015


Why do we like scary?

Learning to be storytellers from Mom.

            In our young-adult horror series, Dimensions in Death, our protagonists fight for their lives in a battle with monsters that seem to come from nowhere around an old, abandoned mansion in Trona, California, an actual, small, mining town located on the Searles Valley dry-lake bed in a desolate region of the Mojave Desert, near Death Valley, and in fact, death is a good description of the environment.  Very few kinds of plant or animal life can survive there, let alone grow naturally, and many of those that can grow there are deadly.           
Welcome to Searles Valley --
Andy takes in the view.
            Trona is a real town and the desert environment around Searles Valley is the perfect stage for this kind of horror story.  While the events of the tale are limited only by our imaginations, the location of each event is firmly anchored in the reality of what is Trona and its Mojave Desert location.
Trona Cemetery in foreground with
Searles Valley Chemical Plant
seen in the background.
            Both Berk and I grew up in Trona (and later in Ridgecrest, located 25 miles west), and we knew the area well, but we still return there on occasion to make sure our descriptions of the local geography are accurate.  All natural landmarks (and some unnatural landmarks) described in the books actually exist, and their descriptions add to the bleakness of the story.  A desolate landscape is a great backdrop for the giant, marauding, alien predators that are preying on the townsfolk and visitors of Trona.
             In addition, we have researched some far-out theories of astro-physics, so that Mojave Green can answer the questions raised in Pitch Green, and also, so that Fatal Green can answer other questions raised in both of the prior books.  But remember, this is not a science fiction series.
            The tale is fast-paced horror, suspense and mystery thriller, based on pseudo-science, rather than magic and mysticism.  In the end, everything our heroes encounter must have some kind of plausible explanation for what is going on and for where the monsters are coming from.  And, there must be some way for the protagonists to defend themselves, fight back, and maybe in the end, prevail.
            Both of us have always enjoyed hearing and telling good scary stories.  It was a basic part of our growing up experience.  We don’t remember a time when we weren’t telling spine-chilling tales.  We vividly recall lying awake for hours as small children after hearing a horrifying saga told right at bed time, leaving us thinking that every creaking noise, every whisper of wind, was the latest monster coming to eat us alive.
            Once, as children, we heard some mysterious thing scratching on the window screen of our bedroom, which was an extra room, shared by three brothers, built on the back of the house.  All of us dived under the beds, screaming for help.  Turns out, it was our mom—we should have known.  She was bringing clothes in from the line and stopped to pick up a stick to reach up and scrape across our window screen.  She was full of surprises, and we grew up thinking all moms were like that.
            Mom was always thinking of new ways to scare her own children, or anyone else for that matter.  Once, when still a newlywed, she snuck up the basement stairs of Grandma Washburn’s old house and flung open the kitchen door, shouting “BOO!” startling her mother-in-law, sister-in-law and two-year-old niece.  Grandma was not fond of such hijinks.  Pointing an accusing finger at our mother, Grandma exclaimed, “Clara!  For shame! For shame!”  By the time our father got there to see what was going on, everyone in the room was in tears.  He thought someone in the family had died.
            That did not cure Mom though.  She had a talent for scaring anyone and everyone.  One Halloween when I was in junior high, an older brother and sister, Allen and Linda, received permission to throw a big Halloween party for their high school friends.  The culmination of the party, its climax, was a scary story told by Mom.  She said she woke up about 2:00 am, and the story just came to her as she lie there in bed.
            At the party, Mom sat on the fireplace hearth in the front room.  About twenty teens sat on the floor around her feet.  The lights were off.  Only a few rays from an outside streetlight found their way into the room through the window curtains and drapes.
            Telling the story in a hushed, grim voice, Mom spoke as if she were sounding a deadly-serious warning.  Soon, some girls started to whimper.  The boys were “obviously” too brave to complain, but at one point, an older boy suddenly got up and left the room, not to come back until the story was over.
            As Mom talked, Allen crept around the outside of the house to an unlocked front-room window.  When Mom reached the zenith of horror in the story, Allen opened the window and climbed into the house.  He was wearing a full-head mask, colored with glow marks along the dark-red gore painted on the distorted face.
            The screaming and crying was glorious.  Even some guys screamed and tried to run away.
            That was, without a doubt, one of the best Halloweens EVER!
            You could say our love for scary stories is nothing more or less than a chromosomal phenomenon.  However we came by our fascination for horror stories, we love them still and hope to keep telling them for a long, long time to come.  If Mom were still here, she would be so proud.

Friday, May 1, 2015


What are some of your favorite childhood books?

Learning to be a storyteller.

1950s Mom & Dad
Picture taken by first child.

As a child, Andy loved Dr. Seuss.  Later, A Collection of Short Stories, by O. Henry was a favorite, and as a teenager, he was fascinated with The Illustrated Man, by Bradbury.  Growing up, Berk was on the lookout for Edgar Rice Burroughs, and as he got into junior high and older, he was always searching for new and interesting sci-fi writers.  In addition, as youth, we read all kinds of mystery and horror, including stories published by Alfred Hitchcock, with titles like, Stories My Mother Never Told Me.  We loved those scary stories, and in fact, our mother did tell us some of the best scary stories.
Pitch Green and Mojave Green are the first two books in The Dimensions in Death young-adult horror series.  The first book is based on a scary story we told as kids.  The general outline for the novel-length version of our first book came together late "one dark and stormy night" in November of 2010.  We were attending a writer’s conference in Manhattan.  As we rode the subway from one end-of-the-line stop across town to the opposite end-of-the-line stop, and then back again, we mapped out the basic elements that we needed to expand the childhood story into a full-length novel.
Andy wrote the first rough draft, then Berk took it over to edit and expand the tale.  In writing the first book, the ground work was laid for many sequels and prequels in a young adult horror series.
            The second book, Mojave Green, is a continuation of the first story, but that part of the story has no history.  It was written new from scratch.  Same with the third book, Fatal Green, due out later this year.  Each book combines horror, suspense and mystery, moving forward as our protagonists fight for their lives in a battle with a monstrous evil presence, hiding in the old, deserted Searles Mansion in a small mining town, Trona, California, the perfect setting for a horror series.
            While there actually was once a Searles Mansion, built in 1888, not far from Boston, MA, that mansion is now long gone and has nothing to do with our tale’s mansion in Trona.  The original childhood story had a mansion in it and that is the source of our Searles Mansion, named after John Searles, an actual Nineteenth Century Death Valley prospector.
1970s Mom & Dad
With their first grandchild.
            Trona is a real mining town, located in Searles Valley, not far from Death Valley, but there is no actual mansion in Trona.  In high school, we explored the hundreds of square miles of isolated desert and high-mountain country around Trona.  Those experiences provide a location and backdrop for the events in The Dimensions in Death series.
            We have always been story tellers, first to siblings, then to our children, and now to our grandkids.  Scary stories are a family specialty.  We can’t count the number of times Mom scared us witless with her scary stories.  A few years ago, Berk started writing a young-adult science fiction series, so when Andy also tried his hand at writing fiction, it didn’t take long for us to come together as The Brothers Washburn (as in The Brothers Grimm) on a new young-adult horror series.  Mom would be so proud.  We have also written the first two books in an unrelated young-adult science fiction series.
We both find that once we start telling a horror or sci-fi story, the bounds of the story are limited only by our combined creativity and imagination, and that no matter how mature we get in the real world, we are both still starry-eyed kids in our worlds of horror and fantasy.