Lifelong Texans, James Reasoner and L.J. Washburn have been husband and wife, and professional writers, for more than thirty years. In that time, they have authored several hundred novels and short stories in numerous genres. They live in the small Texas town they grew up in.
James is best known for his westerns, historical novels, and war novels. He is also the author of two mystery novels that have achieved cult classic status: Texas Wind and Dust Devils. Writing under his own name and various pseudonyms, his novels have garnered praise from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and the Los Angeles Times, as well as appearing on the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists. He recently won the Peacemaker Award for his novel Redemption, Kansas. His website is here.
Livia J. (L.J.) Washburn has been writing professionally for more tan 30 years. She received the Private Eye Writers of America Award and the American Mystery Award for the first Lucas Hallam mystery, Wild Night. Her short story “Panhandle Freight,” a Hallam story in The Traditional West anthology, was nominated for a Peacemaker Award. Her story “Charlie’s Pie” in the Wishing For a Cowboy anthology won the Peacemaker for short fiction. Her website is here.
What is the most adventurous thing you’ve ever done?
Walking across the border from El Paso into Juarez with my husband James and our two young daughters to go to the market.
What adventure would you like to have that you haven’t done yet if money and skill were no problem?
I would love to travel. I had health issues that prevented it when I was younger, and now I take care of my elderly dad so I can’t travel very far away.
My favorite author is my husband. James Reasoner has been on The New York Times bestselling list many times, but sadly since he is a ghost writer, most people will never know who he is.
Some other favorites are Rex Stout, Kim Harrison, and Leonard F. Meares, an Australian author who wrote hundreds of westerns under various pseudonyms.
There's almost nothing in common among those authors as far as genres go (although James has written mysteries, like Rex Stout, and westerns, like Len Meares), but they all created colorful, interesting characters and told fast-moving stories, and those are things I strive to do, as well.
Color says something about a person’s personality. What’s your favorite color?
Green. I love spring when everything turns green.
If you could have a do-over life, what one thing would you do differently? What would you do again?
I would back up all my husband's and my manuscripts and family photos and leave copies elsewhere. When our home burned up in a wildfire, we lost everything.
What is your writing process from conception to finished manuscript?
I start by talking over the basic idea with James to make sure there's really enough plot there for a book. From there I write an outline, which in my case is a summary of the plot with enough detail to keep me on track but enough leeway so that I can add things I come up with during the actual writing. The actual manuscript for a novel generally takes me six to eight months, with maybe another month after that for James and I to both go over it.
Are you a planner, panster or both?
Both. I like to have the structure of the book figured out and in place before I start, but I want the freedom to veer off onto any interesting paths I come to. Just not too far off.
How do you research for your books?
I use the internet a lot, but we started writing before it existed so we have a pretty good research library of our own that we've assembled over the years.
What is your all-time favorite movie? TV show?
I'm not sure I can name one favorite movie, but some of my top ones would be To Kill a Mockingbird, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Casablanca, It's a Wonderful Life, and Once Upon a Time in the West. As for TV shows, I tend to like sitcoms. My current favorite is The Big Bang Theory, but I was a fan of The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Bob Newhart Show, and Friends. And I loved the humor in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
How important do feel writing workshops are to a writer?
I couldn’t say since I’ve never been to a workshop. I do think it’s important to know other writers, and that’s one way. There is so much you can learn from other writers about what not to do.
If you could learn one new skill, fear and money no deterrent, what would it be?
I don't have time to do everything I try to do now. I can't imagine adding anything else!
If you had a million dollars to donate to any one charity, what would it be?
Scottish Rite Hospital in Dallas. Our youngest daughter was born with Klippel-Feil Syndrome, and we were both broke writers. They basically saved our little girl’s life with a new surgery that had never been done on a child as young as she was. And they took care of her until she was 18 with braces and yearly checkups without charging a penny. Then they gave her a scholarship to help with college.
Don’t give up your day job. Sadly, it’s very, very hard to make a living writing.
Did anyone mentor you or help you along the way?
Oh, definitely. My mentor is my husband, James Reasoner. He is the only reason I wrote my first story.
What is the best advice anyone ever gave you?
Don’t expect to make a living writing for at least ten years.
If you could live anywhere in the world you wanted to, where would it be? (Language is no barrier.)
Somewhere with a beautiful beach.
Where do you write?
Most of what I write is in our country home living room sitting in a recliner with two little MinPin/Chihuahuas in my lap alongside my computer. It makes for a crowded lap. Also made it interesting when I broke my arm and couldn’t grab my computer when the UPS truck came up and the dogs had a fit and jumped up to bark. Laptop now sports duct tape.
How much time do you devote to writing each week? Do you have a day every week that you take off?
I am either writing or making covers or formatting 12-16 hours a day, seven days a week. A day off is when I only work eight hours. I even had James bring my laptop to the hospital so I could publish a couple of things after I snapped my humerus in half. When I wasn’t working on the laptop, I had a book I was editing on my Kindle, so I put in full days both before and after surgery.
What is a genre that you have not attempted but would like to try?
James and I work together on many projects, and I can’t think of a genre that we haven’t tried.
Is there anything else you would like readers to know about you?
After being just on the writing end of the business for so many years, since starting Prairie Rose Publications with Cheryl Pierson I've discovered how much I really enjoy the publishing end, too. I'm a bit of a frustrated artist, and I really love designing covers for our books. It's a lot of fun putting the various elements together and seeing how the finished product looks!
Find out more about Livia and her books here.
Thank you to The Romance Room for allowing us to reprint this interview.