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Two writers, one name

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Published:

Story by Barbara Schuetz

Ask a happy couple why their marriage works and they’ll likely say because it’s a partnership. Daniel and Patti Burke of Pleasant Prairie would agree wholeheartedly, and they should know. They are partners not only in marriage but in business as well; they even share a pseudonym.

The Burkes are the owners of Murder-By-Design, offering interactive murder-mystery parties. They have co-authored several plays and recently released their first novel under the pen name Pat Lawrence (combining Patti’s first name and Daniel’s middle name). Both are veterans of community theater with careers in education. Patti teaches music at Prairie Lane Elementary School; Daniel is a retired English teacher and school administrator.

Their dual collaboration began 11 years ago when they were cast as husband-and-wife actors in a community theater production of “Moon Over Buffalo.”

“It was kismet,” Patti said.

Daniel was smitten from the start, but Patti played it cool.

“At the end of the second act, there’s a passionate kiss,” Daniel recalled, “but all through five and a half weeks of rehearsal, every time we got to the scene, Patti would say, ‘We can stop here.’ During the last week of rehearsal, we finally had to kiss.”

“And I was hooked,” she said.

They married in 2005 and two years later launched Murder-By-Design. The enterprise stages lighthearted murder-mysteries, with dinner or lunch, in corporate offices and community halls, at participating restaurants, even in private homes. Audience members make up the cast, playing the suspects, victim, culprit and sleuth.

Writing the humorous whodunits was a natural progression for the newlywed actors, and to date, they have scripted six playful mysteries, including “Love Pens a Deadly Verse,” “Death Bemoans Her” and “The Case of the Deadly Seance.”

“Each play has 10 characters — five males and five females,” Daniel said. “We give them funny names like Clare Voyant and Hugh Mongous. One character is dead, or is going to die, and each of the remaining characters has some relationship with the deceased.”

A real-life incident prompted Daniel and Patti to write their two-act comedy, “Squirrels in the Attic,” that has been produced by a handful of community theaters in Wisconsin and Illinois. “It’s about empty nesters whose only child comes back to live with them after a car accident” with her boyfriend in tow, he said.

Empty nesters themselves, the couple could borrow from real life for their dialogue, too. Daniel has three daughters and Pat has two sons — “not quite the Brady Bunch,” she joked.

Maybe it’s due to maturity or because they’ve been married before that this couple finds working together so easy and satisfying. Patti thinks it’s because they really complement each other. “We’re like yin and yang.”

They wrote “Squirrels in the Attic” sitting opposite each other at their partners desk, talking through the dialogue. Writing a novel, however, required a more complex method.

Their first novel, “Jarred Into Being,” is quite a departure from fun-filled mystery plays. The heroine is a strong-willed, orphaned teen determined to survive the corrupt world that controls her. A news item Daniel ran across supplied the seed that grew into this thriller about sexual exploitation and government corruption.

The year-long project started with a month of research. Then the pair agreed on a theme, developed the major plot elements and began to write. “I’d write a section or chapter and send to Patti,” Daniel said. “She would suggest additions, deletions, make notations and send back to me. We knew where it would end, but we were not always sure how we were going to get there. I’d say, ‘What should happen next?’ and we’d discuss it.”

“That’s the beauty of both of us working on it,” Patti said.

Daniel likens their collaboration to riding a tandem bike: “One author steers but both help it move forward, agree on a direction and settle on a final destination.”

No arguments over plot twists or character flaws? Neither Daniel nor Patti could think of any disagreements on the job or the homefront — except for how much to feed their lovable English bulldog, Diesel, and the ending of the novel.

“I argued that the story should end; she wanted one more chapter,” Daniel said.

“I wanted to know what would happen next,” Patti added. “That was a sticking point for a while.”

Although an epilogue sums things up nicely, the couple has left the door open for a sequel — just one of many projects, including a political thriller, the Burkes have on their “to-do” list.

Sometimes they dare to dream even bigger. With one of Patti’s sons in Los Angeles trying to break into film, someday they might be walking the red carpet to the premiere of “Jarred Into Being, the Movie”!

To learn more about Murder-By-Design, call 262-496-6366 or visit murder-by-design.com. For details on “Jarred Into Being,” go to patlawrence.net.