Three Pittsburgh writer couples on navigating love, life, and revisions

click to enlarge Three Pittsburgh writer couples on navigating love, life, and revisions
CP Photo: Jared Wickerham
Jim Daniels and Kristin Kovacic in their South Side home

When Dave Newman and Lori Jakiela started dating, they tried to figure out how to navigate the demands of a new relationship while also making time to write.

One challenge they faced was Jakiela’s large family, which included some family members she wasn’t “super crazy about.”

His solution? Stay home and write.

“We need time to write,” Newman told Jakiela. “We don’t need to hang out with your second cousin who says mean shit about you all night. We can stay at home.” They’ve done that for 22 years.

The necessities of writing — solitude, space, and inspiration — can often affect relationships. Striking a balance between two passions can be tricky. When two writers find a way to work together, collaboratively or not, creativity can be enhanced and feelings deepened, even if egos are occasionally bruised.

Rachael Lippincott and Alyson Derrick met in a class at the University of Pittsburgh. The first draft of their young adult book, She Gets the Girl (Simone & Schuster), was “a copy-and-paste of what had happened to us,” Lippincott says.

“So, to relive those moments was really special before we gave it up to our characters and let it become theirs with every subsequent draft.”

Now married and new parents, Lippincott and Derrick have adjusted to being in a relationship and parenting — Derrick says their four-month-old “stole our shared office” — but the advantages have been many.

“I’d say it has brought us closer together and made our personal relationship better,” Derrick says. “Creating stories with another person definitely requires a very open mind, which isn’t something that has always come naturally to me when I’m writing, or fixing something around the house, or trying to learn something new. I’ve always been a real do-it-yourself kinda gal, but I’m learning that good things happen when you trust your wife!”

click to enlarge Three Pittsburgh writer couples on navigating love, life, and revisions
Photo: Courtesy of Lippincott and Derrick
Rachael Lippincott and Alyson Derrick

Kristin Kovacic and Jim Daniels have been married for 37 years, having met at a reading at Hemingway’s in Oakland. Daniels has since become one of the most productive and lauded writers in the region, publishing numerous collections of short stories and poetry. Kovacic is an acclaimed essayist and a Pushcart Prize winner.

They’ve been able, in nearly four decades together, to adjust to the demands of family and careers.

“I just can't think of any instance where one of us has resented the other for our writing time,” Kovacic says. “Maybe when we had little kids at home and we were sharing a lot of childcare and the demands on our time were really attached to that, but I've never resented the time Jim is working, and I can't imagine Jim ever resenting mine.”

Cognizant that time is precious, Kovacic and Daniels don’t share drafts until they have been thoroughly revised and edited. Even then, the process can be tough.

“We understand that some hurt is going to come with it, that it’s painful,” Kovacic says. “We’re going to critique each other’s work carefully, but the person being critiqued knows it’s going to hurt a little bit. I think, at this point, we’ve kind of developed calluses.”

For Jakiela, her husband acts as both a cheerleader and appraiser of her work.

“We can be very honest with each other about our work without coming to blows,” she says, noting that she’s published seven books, and Newman, eight.

click to enlarge Three Pittsburgh writer couples on navigating love, life, and revisions
Photo: Courtesy of Jakiela and Newman
Lori Jakiela and Dave Newman

“I also love his work,” Jakiela says. “And it sounds really silly, but I couldn’t be in a relationship with someone’s work I didn’t love. I admire him. He’s like a hero to me.”

Jakiela and Newman don’t collaborate. Nor do Daniels and Kovacic, except on “letters to our condo association,” according to Kovacic.

Alternately, the bond between Lippincott and Derrick was forged by their determination to work together. Lippincott had previously collaborated on screenplay adaptions and other mediums, but her work with Derrick immediately took on a different tenor.

“It was able to be so much fun in ways that the previous collaborations couldn’t be,” Lippincott says. “Laughing at our kitchen table at two in the morning, coming up with ideas, drinking tea on our living room couch and writing a couple chapters, going on writing dates.”

Derrick admits being intimidated when they first discussed co-writing, especially since Lippincott already had a successful writing career.

“I knew her writing was good and I knew she wrote fast. I wasn’t sure if I could keep up with her and her quippy dialogue,” Derrick says, adding,“But once we started writing, something just clicked. It was like I was writing to Rachael and she was writing back to me. It felt a bit like sending love letters back and forth as we exchanged chapters to edit. Writing She Gets the Girl with Rachael made me a much better writer.”

Derrick adds that she might not have been able to write her first solo book, Forget Me Not, scheduled to be published in April, if not for her collaboration with Lippincott.

“It gave me a ton of confidence, and in this industry, I think that goes a long way,” Derrick says.

Lippincott also feels that her partner’s influence adds so much to her life, both personally and professionally.

“Alyson enhances my work in so many ways,” Lippincott says. “Not only because she understands me better than anyone else, but because a lot of her writing strengths are my writing weaknesses. She excels at seeing the bigger picture, revising, figuring out what ‘feels off’ about certain scenes or characters, or moments the voice falters. I write fast and try to revise as I write. I make schedules and hit the gas pedal. Alyson helps me slow down and take in the view, and my writing is all the better for it.”

Daniels has published approximately 40 collections of short stories and poems, as well as screenplays since his first book of poetry, Factory Poems, was published in 1979. He’s never made any bestsellers’ lists, but has won awards, including the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s inaugural Brittingham Prize in poetry in 1985.

Daniels says he's comfortable with his level of success, and not “getting inflated all over the country.”

“All of that is a demand on your time, and I’m not a naturally public person. I’m sure that is great on some level, but the amount of writing that gets done in our marriage, and what we have, it’s what matters most.”