Shining Together: A Guest Post From Shine! Author Chris Grabenstein

It’s true: my wife J.J. and I wrote a book together—and we’re still married!

That book is Shine!, new from Random House Children’s Books. It’s a story about a young girl who finds herself in a posh prep school where everybody is a blazing star. She’s more of a blender; happy fading into the background. In time, she discovers that who you are is more important than what you accomplish.

J.J. had the initial idea for Shine! Growing up in an environment where accomplishments and awards were highly prized, she wished she had read a book when she was kid that said who she was as a person was even more important than landing on the honor roll or winning the lead role in the school musical.

I, of course, have collaborated on books in the past. James Patterson and I have written over two dozen books together including the I Funny, Treasure Hunters, Jacky Haha, and Max Einstein series.

But Mr. Patterson and I don’t live together.

J.J. has been my first editor on everything I’ve ever written. (She has a very short attention span and makes me cut out the boring parts). But Shine! was the first time we ever sat down to write an entire book together.

So, how exactly did that work?

Well, first we spent months blocking out a very detailed outline. VERY detailed.

That’s a technique I learned from James Patterson. When I work on a project with him, he creates an extremely detailed outline with all the twists and turns plotted out.  I execute a first draft from that outline and check in with him every month with new pages.

With J.J., we checked in every day.

We also discovered that we have extremely different writing techniques.

In college, I majored in Communications at the University of Tennessee. J.J. studied music and theater at Northwestern (yep, that’s why our star’s father is a music teacher).  At the end of my freshman year at UT, I took a typing test. We needed to do 30 words a minute before we could take any sophomore level courses.  From then on, every assignment we turned in had to be type written.

When I graduated, I could type over one hundred words a minute. In fact, working as a temporary typist was how I supported myself when I first moved to New York City to pursue a writing and comedy career.

So now, when I write, I think through my fingertips.

J.J., on the other hand, has a theatrical background. For years, she toured the country doing musicals.  She also appeared Off Broadway in the long-running hit Nunsense.  Today, she works as a voice actor, creating lots of different characters.  (She narrated my Haunted Mystery series from Random House.)

When J.J. writes, she wants to act out all the scenes. And play all the characters. Something I was doing in my head and sending down to my keyboard (and she thought I was just typing).   This led to some very interesting scenes in the writing room.

During some of the writing process (have I mentioned that Shine! took over two years and seven drafts to complete?), I was on book tours.  Co-writing was almost easier when we weren’t cohabitating! I could do my typing, send it to J.J. She could act out the scenes (with her only audience being our cats) and give me notes or do major rewrites in the margins.  She’d send pages back to me for more typing and thinking. Then I’d send them back to her…

(Hmmm, maybe that’s why Shine! took over two years.)

Now that the book’s been published, it’s been fun for us to celebrate our “baby” being out in the world.  We even gave it a nice book birthday party.

The number one question people ask us is, “Did you have any arguments when you wrote the book.”  Of course not.  Wait a second. J.J. is looking over my shoulder as I type this. She says we did have disagreements. And spats. Even one or two tiffs.

Well, we’re just going to have to agree to disagree.

The second question we get asked most often? Will there be a sequel?

That’s hard to say. Shine! feels like a standalone. Then again, when I wrote Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library I thought that was a standalone too.  The fifth book in the series will come out in 2020.

So, the answer to the sequel question is, “We don’t know.”

One thing we do know: if we work on it together, it will definitely be fun. And we won’t have a single argument. Or, maybe we will.

Shine! is on B&N bookshelves now.

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