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Husband, Wife Team Up on Novels

September 28, 1986|DENNIS McLELLAN | Times Staff Writer

'Ann is the poet. . . . My prose tends toward the more serviceable type.'

In the early '70s, when she was at home in Laguna Niguel raising what she jokingly refers to as "curtain climbers," Ann Maxwell began writing science-fiction novels.

It wasn't easy with two small children under foot. But whenever she wasn't changing diapers or doing other motherly chores, Maxwell would write longhand on an ever-present yellow legal tablet, waiting until the little ones were asleep at night to type what she had written during the day.

Meanwhile, her husband, Evan Maxwell, was pursuing a career in journalism as a reporter at the Los Angeles Times, where he specialized in crime, immigration, international security, terrorism and law enforcement.

By 1983, a time when Evan had reached the point in his career where he felt he had done just about everything he wanted to do in newspapering, Ann's writing career was flourishing. Indeed, with eight published novels to her credit, she had just signed a lucrative, eight-book contract with Silhouette to write romance novels under the pen name Elizabeth Lowell.

Ann's success allowed Evan Maxwell to do what countless journalists entering middle age long to do but never get the chance: to give up the security of a regular paycheck in order to devote full time to writing fiction. Acknowledges Evan: "I consider myself just as lucky as hell that I had a two-year breathing span."

A Special Talent

That two-year breathing span has paid off handsomely--for both Ann and Evan Maxwell.

Together, they have written three mystery novels for Doubleday built around their Orange County-based private investigator named Fiddler, who, as the authors like to say, is "a man with a talent for solving everyone's problems except his own."

The first Fiddler novel, "Just Another Day in Paradise," came out last year to generally favorable reviews; the second, "The Frog and the Scorpion," was published in June, and the third, "Gatsby's Harvest," is due out next summer. Just as they did on three previous books written during Evan Maxwell's newspaper days, the couple share the pen name A.E. Maxwell on the series.

As A.E. Maxwell, the couple also recently signed a contract to write the first in a series of historical novels set along the North American Pacific Coast from 1865 to 1910.

But Ann and Evan Maxwell also have their own separate writing projects.

Evan, 42, has just completed writing a novel on his own, a thriller called "Agent of Influence." And, over the past two years, the ever-prolific Ann, 43, has published a mainstream thriller called "Tell Me No Lies," in addition to three romances and one science-fiction novel.

With such a heavy output, it's easy to see why they spend the majority of their days holed up in their separate home offices.

For the husband-and-wife writing team--he was a political science major and she was an English major at UC Riverside when they met in the early '60s--collaboration comes as easily as their conversation during an interview in their book-filled Laguna Niguel living room.

Just as they are different in personality--he's methodical and thorough, he says, while Ann is "able to cover vast distances in a single bound"--they say they both bring different skills and outlooks to the word processor.

'Flash of Blinding Insight'

Ann, according to Evan, "is the flash of blinding insight. She's much more attuned to human attributes and to the dramatic realities of life, whereas I like the process: how things happen. Ann is the poet, vastly more concerned with style and expression and with the play of words. My prose tends toward the more serviceable type."

On the Fiddler series, Evan explained that "the mechanics of it are we rough out a story line (including characters and motivations). I write the first draft, she writes the second draft and we iron out any differences on the third draft--the third draft is not really a draft, it's polish."

The reason they chose to write the Fiddler series and other books under the shared but singular pen name of A.E. Maxwell rather than as Ann and Evan Maxwell is simple.

"We hate double bylines and I think most people react negatively to a double byline," said Evan.

When readers see a double byline on a novel, Ann added, "they have the feeling they're going to get two halves instead of an integrated whole."

But with the Fiddler novels, Evan said, "it works with a relatively even tone."

"Most people are quite surprised to find out it was a true collaboration," said Ann. "In fact, a lot of people, once they know, say, 'Oh, I know who did this in the book, and I know who did this,' and they're almost invariably wrong."

"She's the tough one," Evan said, noting that there are several crucial developments in "The Frog and the Scorpion" that weren't present in his first draft of the book, which concerns a Muslim extortion plot against a wealthy Jewish Iranian immigrant who is in the country illegally.

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