Marisa de los Santos and her husband, David Teague, are back for round two: After success with their first co-authored young adult novel, Saving Lucas Biggs, their second book, Connect the Stars, is out and has the makings of another hit.
The new novel tackles themes of bullying, finding identity and dealing with physical and mental challenges. It centers on two 13-year-old misfits on an unforgettable wilderness-camp adventure in the desert.
Marisa and David live in Wilmington with their children, Charles and Annabel, and the duo are a great combination for story-telling: Marisa is a full-time writer, author of the novels Love Walked In, Belong to Me, and Falling Together, all of which were New York Times bestsellers. Her current book, The Precious One, is also in stores and will be out in paperback this December.
Meanwhile, David is a literature professor at the University of Delaware. He has also authored the picture books Franklin’s Big Dreams and forthcoming The Red Hat, illustrated by Antoinette Portis, which will be out December 8 this year. His first solo-authored middle-grade novel, Henry Cicada’s Extraordinary Elktonium Escapade, debuts in January.
The two answered some questions for TSD about their inspiration, what it’s like to work with their spouse and Delaware connections readers can spot in the novel.
TSD: In Connect the Stars – as in Saving Lucas Biggs – the two main characters are each a boy and girl. Is it right to assume that again Marisa wrote the girl’s part and David the boy’s?
BOTH: Yes. So far, our co-authoring strategy has been to write in two narrative voices, one a girl’s and one a boy’s, and to alternate narrators and chapters as the plots unfold. Marisa has written the girls so far, and David the boys, although one day, possibly, we think we might reverse genders, just to stretch our imaginations and perhaps teach ourselves a bit more about writing and about middle-school kids.
David: After we finished writing Saving Lucas Biggs, the plan for our next novel was to send Margaret and Charlie to the future for their next adventure. We put the plot of this story together and had a call scheduled to our editors to pitch it, but in the meantime, I had to take the kids to swim practice, and Marisa went for a ride on her bike.
And on that bike ride, Marisa was visited by inspiration. She seems to have had a revelation about once every three minutes; we have a record of this, because every time she got an idea, she stopped her bicycle and texted me.
I didn’t see the texts right away, because I was in the pool swimming laps, but when I got out, the plot of Connect the Stars was waiting for me on my iPhone, outlined in SMS messages cascading down the screen.
Marisa: They went something like:
Two children in two different schools, facing seventh grade armed only with “unsuper” superpowers–
Audrey, who can tell when anyone is lying (not exactly an asset when you’re trying to survive seventh grade)—
Aaron, who has a mind that retains almost everything, but doesn’t really understand it all–
Two kids who can’t make it in their current environments–
Two kids who overcome almost insurmountable obstacles before they can grow into the people they are meant to be–
BOTH: And we have to admit, there is some of Audrey’s ability to read others in Marisa’s childhood, and once in a while, David may have let knowing all the answers in school substitute for friendship with his classmates.
But once Marisa imagined the characters and their challenges while out pedaling around Wilmington, Delaware, her mind turned to the problem of what those challenges would be, and where they would be set.
She thought of the desert. Specifically, she thought of the wilderness of West Texas. This is a precious landscape to both of us. We first visited it together in 1990, and we have loved the pure, clear air, the open spaces, the jagged terrain, the spikes and thorns and javelinas and blossoming cacti ever since.
TSD: What’s it like writing with your spouse?
David: It’s awesome. First, it’s great to have a writing partner of any kind. It’s a lot less scary, a lot less lonely, and on the days when you feel directionless, you force yourself to plunge ahead anyway, because somebody is waiting for you to finish your chapter, and do a good job of it, so she can begin hers. Second, it’s nice to write with your spouse, because it gives you something consequential to talk about besides the kids. Third, it’s great to write with Marisa, because she’s one of the most talented writers I know, and I grew immensely while working with her.
Marisa: Also, I think we complement one another. David’s imagination tends towards eye-popping plot twists and wild, unforeseen situations, and mine is all about deep, realistic characters. So we add texture to one another’s work.
TSD: In that same vein, tell us about your writing process(es).
David: For Saving Lucas Biggs, we sat down over the course of a few weeks and discussed the story until we had the basic idea, and then we wrote a highly-detailed 20-page outline as a roadmap: Marisa was interested in a time-travel story. And I had always remembered a specific historical event from American history and wanted to write about it—the Ludlow Massacre in Colorado. So we built a plot where one of the characters needed to travel back to a fictional version of Ludlow. After we established this, the direction of the story seemed to dictate itself in the course of a few conversations—and since Marisa wrote Margaret in the present and David wrote Josh in the past, we had the luxury of being in charge of our own details and time periods until the point in the book where the storylines cross—but we made sure to capture all this in our outline.
Marisa: And for Connect the Stars, the idea came to me on bike ride, and we had a basic story laid out in the texts I sent, but we also sat down and wrote a very detailed outline for this book, too, to guide us the rest of the way as we wrote. With two people telling one story, you need this kind of structure to keep both on the same track. By the way, both of us, after the experience of writing together, have become HUGE outliners, even when we write solo.
TSD: What do you hope readers take away from the book?
David: Do your best, and trust that down deep, the people around you are doing their best, too.
Marisa: Yes, what David said! Cut your friends—and even people who aren’t your friends—some slack because this being-a-good-human-being thing is hard!
TSD: Are there any Delaware-inspired details in the book that Delawareans can look out for?
David: People will recognize “Greenwood, Delaware,” a fictional place that should nevertheless seem familiar, and “Splashview Pool” might remind readers of certain swim clubs in the North Brandywine Swim League.
Marisa: And “West Chester County, Pennsylvania.” Although the biggest part of the book is set in the spectacular desert of West Texas.
TSD: What’s on the horizon for you two? Any plans for a new book to co-write?
David: Henry Cicada’s Extraordinary Elktonium Escpade, out in January. And that’s right—Elktonium is named after Elkton, Maryland, the hometown of its inventor, Henry’s mom.
Marisa: I am working on my fifth adult novel, part of it to be set in a town much like Rehoboth Beach. I also have an idea for a Young Adult novel I’m really excited about.
BOTH: We hope to squeeze in another collaboration somewhere among all these projects!