Writers Roundtable: An interview with NY Times bestselling author Gay Hendricks and Tinker Lindsay
By Antoinette Kuritz and Jared Kuritz
Note: The authors will appear at a “Discussion & Signing” event at Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore (7051 Clairemont Mesa Blvd, San Diego, CA 92111) on Saturday, March 1, at 2 p.m.Co-authoring novels seems to be a trend. But so often in co-authored books, the reader can tell where one writer leaves off and the other begins – what elements are generated by each. From the blending of two disparate voices to agreement on plot and character development, co-authoring presents unique challenges.
But for screenwriter and Harvard graduate Tinker Lindsay and multi-New York Times bestselling relationship book author Gay Hendricks, these challenges seem non-existent. And in The Third Rule of Ten, the third book in their Tenzing Norbu mystery series, they once again give the reader a multi-layered novel in which a compelling and sympathetically flawed hero takes center stage in a book you won’t want to put down.
How did they come up with an ex-Buddhist Monk private eye as their character? Why did they decide to write together? How did they blend their male and female voices to create such a compelling hero? Enjoy their answers to these questions and more – and then get to know Tenzing Norbu in all three of the books in this series.
You were, I believe, a college professor. You left your position to form The Hendricks Institute. What prompted such a leap? And did you do so before or after your first successful book?Yes, I was a professor of Counseling Psychology for 21 years at University of Colorado. After we wrote Conscious Loving in ’90 and got on Oprah a couple of times, we were off and running on a seminar/lecture career that has taken us around the world a million frequent flyer miles worth. I loved my university career, but I haven’t missed giving tests and grades.
Tell us a bit about your work through The Hendricks Institute.The Hendricks Institute offers seminars and training programs in the Conscious Loving approach to relationship enhancement. We train about 100 professionals a year in our training program, and several thousand more each year in our relationship seminars.
There is no doubt you are a successful psychologist and relationship coach. How has your work been informed by your personal relationship? And how has your relationship been informed by your success as a psychologist and coach?Since 1980, my relationship with my wife, Kathlyn (known to friends as Katie), has been the greatest source of inspiration and learning I could have ever imagined. Our work and our home life are one and the same; we’re both passionately dedicated to helping people have great relationships.
How natural was the transition to writer for you?I’ve been writing stories, plays, newspaper articles and other things since I was a kid. Writing for me is both a form of high play and a business at the same time. I actually went for a teaching career, instead of the more lucrative private practice route many of my colleagues chose, so I could have plenty of time for writing.
You have written more than 20 nonfiction books, and been very successful doing so. What led to your interest in writing fiction? And particularly, to writing mysteries?I have
lovedreading mysteries my whole life, starting with Hardy Boys and accelerating when I discovered Sherlock Holmes. I read so many Sherlock stories in 9th grade my teacher started calling me “Sherlock” as a nickname. It was a dream of mine for 50 years to create a character as interesting as Sherlock. I’m incredibly delighted by the way the series has developed.
Your educational pedigree is outstanding, with a degree in American Lit from Harvard. Did you choose your major because you loved reading, or because you saw it as a road to becoming a writer?Thank you! Actually, I majored in English by default. I’ve always been an avid reader, and dabbled in all sorts of writing, including for the Harvard Crimson. At the end of freshman year, when instructed to identify a possible major, I decided I “should” branch out, “should” do something different. I waffled between Education, History, and for a hot second of insanity, Political Science, before finally landing on Social Relations (Harvard-speak for Psychology). But the introductory course had more to do with pigeons and Skinner boxes than the human psyche. In short, I hated it. Around the same time, I learned Transcendental Meditation. I took to TM like a duck to water. I could apply its underlying philosophy to everything I studied, but especially to any and all literature. By the end of sophomore year, every course I wanted to take fell under the broad heading of “English.” Faced with the obvious, and I changed my major to “English and American Language and Literature” (Harvard-speak for English).
How did your education inform your writing?I would say that my life has informed my writing more than my education. That said, my education gave me very specific tools, from a deep understanding of the importance of grammar and punctuation, to an appreciation for clarity, rhythm, and voice. I had one teacher who insisted on outlines, and I still like to do that! Also, I believe well-read readers make the best writers, and my education exposed me to the talents of many, many brilliant authors, poets, and playwrights. As a writer for The Harvard Crimson, I discovered journalism per se was not for me—too objective, too much about separating from events, rather than truly experiencing them. But I learned a lot, from the importance of research to how to meet a deadline. To this day, I enjoy writing nonfiction using fiction techniques, and vice versa. For me, the melding of truth and fiction is where magic happens.
Wife, mother … how and when did you find the time to begin writing, and with what did you start?Ah, herein lies a tale. I married quite young, to an older, full-time actor. I became insta-mother to two young stepchildren, quickly followed by two more of my own. Writing full-time was impossible, at least for me. Instead, I founded a school, managed my husband’s career, traveled, paid bills, and ran a full, crazy household. Wine helped. In the late ‘80s, I resigned as School Board Chair. For several months, I wandered around in a daze of “what next?” The school was doing fine without me. My children were older. I was adrift. Some years before, a woman my husband and I knew was murdered, in a tiny town in the Sierras where we were building a vacation home. The murder remained unsolved, but I never completely forgot about it. During this aimless time, while up there, I learned that a crazy twist —and a second homicide—had just occurred. I went to bed with my head spinning, and woke up at three the next morning knowing I was going to write this story. I spent a year researching, including commuting to San Bernardino to attend two homicide trials. Then my husband was cast in a series, which meant moving to Baltimore for a year. I lugged two kids, multiple boxes of research, and the family Basset back East, and was able to shrink my world enough to make writing possible. Here’s how it looked: Drop kids off at school, walk dog, write for four-five hours, take another hour to surface mentally, pick up kids, cook dinner, help with homework, start again the next day. At the end of eight months, I had completed my first book. I returned to Los Angeles, joined a writers group, and three rewrites later had acquired a literary agent. I finally dared claim the vocation of “writer.”
What is the primary difference for you between editing, ghost writing, and writing your own material? What are the similarities?Writing is storytelling, whatever the genre, and is always an act of both courage and dedication. I believe all good writing sprouts from the seed of a good idea, and is brought to fruition through putting down the words, and then rigorously rewriting them. Inspiration, commitment, and craft – all are necessary ingredients. Whether I am editing my own work, or someone else’s, I use the same tools. Does the writing move me? Hold my attention? Does it feel true? Where am I stopped? Bored? Confused? And in the end, am I satisfied? I rewrite myself mercilessly, and often. When editing another, I tend to suggest changes rather than enforce them. My strength as a “conceptual” editor lies in teasing out an author’s intentions, and giving him or her suggestions for strengthening themes, as opposed to imposing my own. I often compare myself to a “dowser,” holding my forked branch over a manuscript or screenplay and noticing when it dips, for that indicates powerful themes and compelling story arcs.
What, for you, is the primary difference between screenwriting and writing novels? And how does your screenwriting inform your fiction?First, I should say that I love writing both. In poetic terms, a screenplay is more sonnet, or haiku, whereas novels are more like epic poems. Screenplays follow a highly constrained structure, and demand intense compression. The plot ideally unfolds primarily through action interspersed with dialogue. Visual and visceral actions, expressed by external choices, portray the internal shifts. Novels allow for a lot more descriptive leeway, both with plot and characterization. With a first-person narrative, as in our books, we can delve far more deeply into Ten’s internal emotional and psychological struggles. However, my screenwriting experience is extremely useful for writing these mysteries. Experience has taught me to choose active language, pay close attention to physical descriptions, emphasize visceral moments, and most especially to make sure the plots and themes interweave, hopefully in an exciting, and satisfying way.
For Gay and Tinker
How did you two meet?T: Gay says he “manifested” me, and I have no doubt he’s right. But on this earthly plane, he asked a mutual friend if he knew of a good fiction editor, and the friend, with whom I had worked as an editor on both a fiction and non-fiction project, suggested me! As it happened, I had several Gay and Kathryn Hendricks books on my shelf, and was already a huge fan of both his writing and his work.
G: I struck gold with that phone call. Tinker has turned out to be a dear friend as well as a brilliant co-author. I know just what Dizzy Gillespie meant when he said about Charlie Parker, “He’s the other half of my heartbeat.” That’s how I’ve come to feel about Tinker.
At what point did you decide to collaborate, and why?T: I was first hired by Gay to edit his manuscript of The First Rule of Ten before it even had a title! I loved the draft, but felt it was not yet a complete book. I presented him with a number of conceptual changes I felt would make it work as a detective mystery, and he invited me to complete the changes myself! Voila – I went from editor to co-writer.
G: Tinker re-wrote the first chapter, to show me how she’d like to flesh out details and add richness to the narrative. I was blown away by the quality of what she showed me and decided to invite her to be my co-author.
Your main character, Tenzing Norbu is so unique. How did you two bring him to life?T: I’ll let Gay describe how he and Tenzing met.
G: One night four years ago I woke up in the middle of the night and I wanted to read the mystery novel by my bed, but my eyes were too tired so I decided to make up a mystery novel in my mind. I said to myself, “Who’s the story about?” Immediately an image came to me of a 30ish man, slightly Asian-looking, standing on the bluffs of the Palisades looking across the Pacific toward Asia. I asked him, “What are you doing?” He turned to me and started telling me what was happening. Every night for the next week I would wake up around 3 a.m. and work on the story in my head. After a while I got so fascinated with the character and the story that I couldn’t stop.
T: When Gay described the character of Tenzing Norbu over the phone to me during our first conversation, I was blown away (and maybe a tiny bit jealous.) As I told him at the time, original detectives are almost impossibly rare these days, yet he had somehow birthed one. What I brought to the mix was an insistence that Tenzing be a bit more damaged, especially in the arena of romance. Given Gay’s area of expertise, it was just too delicious an opportunity to make our hero a kind of poster boy for flawed relationships.
What does Tenzing represent to each of you?G: To me he’s a model for the present and future person we need on this planet, a person who has a strong spiritual center as he goes about dealing with the realities of life as he finds it. I admire the way he is curious about the world and always open to learning, even though he does have a tendency to get in his own way quite often.
T: For me, Tenzing represents the place of longing for wholeness that resides in each of us. Like me, he is deeply human, endlessly flawed, yet ever-hopeful that transformation is possible. Ten’s desire to live fully in the outer world while maintaining inner serenity, to be mindful as well as fully engaged, mirrors my own aspirations. Writing him has become its own ongoing spiritual practice!
Tell us a bit about your collaborative process. Who does what?T: Gay is Mr. Genius First Draft! He comes up with both the initial twisty plots and turns, and fabulous cast of characters. He delivers the main melody. I am the “riffer.” I tease out identifiable “rules” and underlying theme, from the material, and apply each to his overall storyline. I also add physical and descriptive detail, aided by research, which I adore doing. Sometimes I’ll add a few twists and turns of my own, in consultation with Gay. He is impressively open to, and supportive of my work, and I am astounded by the skill and originality of his.
G: I love writing the first draft, which usually takes me 3-6 months of daily writing. Figuring out the plot is big fun, as is dreaming up new characters for Ten to interact with. Once I’ve written the basic story I hand it off to Tinker, who does her magic on it.
What are the benefits of writing collaboratively?G: I’ve co-written nine non-fiction books with my wife, Katie, so I’m used to collaboration. Tinker is a dream co-author. She makes my writing better, more detailed, more vivid. She also loves the research part of it. She has dug out some incredible useful material from places I would never have looked. For example, Tinker will spend days riding around with a tabloid photographer to find out how the paparazzi world operates.
T: I have the benefit of working off of a preexisting manuscript, which means I get to play off of another’s work, rather than face the terror of that blank page. The drawbacks? Can’t think of any drawbacks, but that has everything to do with Gay’s artistic generosity and innate flexibility. We really do share a commitment to conscious collaboration.
There is a depth to your novels. They are multi-layered without being preachy; they stand as fast-moving page-turners, but they are something more. How would you describe them to the uninitiated reader?T: (I love your descriptions here, actually. Can I steal them?) We like to call them “mindful mysteries.” Our hope is that they are both a rip-roaring story, and a glimpse into the inner world of a practicing Buddhist. The stories are character-driven, our hero an urban warrior, armed with spiritual, as well as actual, weapons.
G: Those are the kinds of mysteries I love to read, and since there aren’t many of them around I decided to write my own. Take, for example, Sherlock Holmes or the extremely quirky hacker-heroine of Stieg Larsson’s “The Girl Who…” series. Those characters will live as long as people read because they both have incredible spiritual depths to them as they go about grappling with the mysteries they take on. I set out to write the Tenzing mysteries with Sherlock Holmes as my compass; my goal is to write a character with as much enduring fascination to readers as Sherlock Holmes. That’s a high bar to set but it keeps me inspired every day to put everything I’ve got into it.
What from your individual life philosophies do you bring to your Tenzing Norbu series?G: Philosophically Ten and I are very similar. I read a Hardy Boys mystery about Tibet when I was in elementary school. That began a lifelong fascination with Buddhism, meditation and all things spirit-related. I have a 40-year meditation streak going, not having missed a day of meditation since 1973. This fascination culminated in the fulfillment of a dream to ride my bicycle to Lhasa, visiting all the major monasteries in Tibet along the way. I’m so grateful now for that trip, although it nearly killed me, because it gave me the “feel” of Tibet and the Tibetan people.
T: I am equally obsessed with mysteries and mindfulness, and bring both passions to these books! I am drawn to the dark side of human suffering, yet also practice as much as possible inviting in the light. I have meditated in some form or other for over thirty years yet have absolutely no interest in retiring to a cave. I believe in the benefit of deep, ongoing, inner exploration, and have loved bringing that commitment to inner growth to Tenzing’s world.
There is a seamlessness to the books; it is impossible to tell who wrote what. How do you accomplish this?G: Put a gold star on Tinker’s forehead for that one! She’s the master-polisher.
T: I am so glad to hear this! I believe this seamlessness is possible for two reasons. First, Gay and I share a remarkably similar approach to life and take the same joy in reading, or writing, a good detective yarn. Second, when I work on Gay’s drafts, I feel utterly free to run my writing wand over the words, as if I had written them myself. In other words, I act as if I am self-editing, so that in the end, I can’t even say what is his, and what is mine. This is possible because we have compatible voices.
What do you think makes Tenzing such a compelling hero?T: His fearless heart, his troubled past, and his desire to do good. His sense of humor. His humility, and his humanity.
G: Yes to those, and also that he’s always willing to invent something new and creative in the present, rather than relying on the plans he’s made or the way it’s been done in the past. Sometimes this gets him into a lot of trouble, but because he never strays from his own code of honor he is able to go through harrowing difficulties and come out the other side.
Judging by the book titles, I am guessing you foresee 10 books to the series for Tenzing. Is this correct?T: I would love for there to be ten! From your mouth, to our publisher’s ears…
G: I originally conceived it as a trilogy, but once I got into the third one I realized there were more stories I wanted to tell. For now I’m leaving it open, whether there’s ten or less or more. I’m about as allergic to plans as Ten is!
How has Ten been received thus far?G: We’ve been richly blessed, particularly with the reviews we’ve received. I’ve been reading reviews of my work since first book came out in 1975, and I’ve never seen anything like the reviews we’ve gotten on the Ten series.
T: Our reviews, both from bestselling authors, and from hundreds of anonymous readers, have been extremely positive. I love that both the “self-help” world and the “mystery” world seem to love our books. My favorite responses, though, have come from readers who let us know that they were not only entertained, but in some way changed by our story-telling: one woman said she was helped enormously when she applied Tenzing’s techniques for “letting go” to a difficult job; another man said Tenzing’s struggles with his father mirrored his own, and he’s resolved, after reading The Second Rule, to break the pattern and make amends to his own son. Maybe my favorite review so far? “Good book. Taught me to meditate.”
Can you give your readers a hint as to what to expect in Ten’s future?T: In the future, Tenzing will find himself ensnared in the underbelly of human trafficking. He will also revisit, and ultimately commit to an ex-girlfriend, this time with an actual chance of success! Farther into the future, a deeply wounding, repressed relationship from his past will reappear, and wreak havoc on not only Ten, but his two best friends, Lama Yeshe and Lama Lobsang.
G: A woman, unfamiliar to me, accosted me on the street in Ojai recently and admonished me as follows: “I don’t like that new girlfriend of his. I wish he’d go back with Julie.” I was able to ease her mind; readers can expect some big changes in his love life. He also has a major challenge come up in his relationship with Bill; they both have to face what it really means to be a man and a friend. I want these books to reflect the real-life changes we all have to go through in becoming authentic spiritual beings in daily life.
Antoinette Kuritz and Jared Kuritz are the team behind both STRATEGIES Public Relations and the La Jolla Writer’s Conference (www.lajollawritersconference.com).