Learn the art of collaboration from three best-selling authors – how they did it and managed to remain friends!
Three Piatkus superstars – Eloisa James, Julia Quinn and Connie Brockway – sat down one day and decided to write the extremely romantic, extremely funny and utterly enchanting The Lady Most Likely. Unsurprisingly, this went down rather well on all accounts and on Boxing Day this December, the trio return for the next adventure, The Lady Most Willing.
Before you run out to reserve your copy, did you ever wonder how these ladies manage to stay civil while writing? Does one among three rule the roost?
Read below for an insight into the conception of the books and how one stupendous book manifests itself from three separate writers. Pull up a box of pralines and enjoy!
Julia Quinn: We actually came up with the idea for The Lady Most Likely in 2006.
Eloisa James: It’s kind of crazy. The book had a 2011 publication date. I think we might win the award for the longest lag time between conception and publication.
Quinn: Eloisa and I were on the phone and she was telling that she needed to come up with an interesting side project.
James: I was just beginning my Desperate Duchesses series (six interconnected Georgian novels). It felt as if I would be writing that for the rest of my life. I needed something small and fun to do on the side!
Quinn: And I had just finished up the Bridgerton series (eight books about a single family) and was feeling the need to stretch my writerly wings. So, I asked if she wanted to do an anthology.
James: I said yes, but then I said no. I love writing novellas – they’re like Hershey’s Kisses: perfection in small packages – but at the same time, I think that historical readers, in particular, read not only for the romance but also for the world building: the sense that the hero and heroine live in a different time, in a very different place. It’s hard to get those kind of details about a historical world into a novella . . . it got me thinking – what if, instead of having four stories that occur at the same time, we approached the anthology in a more linear fashion and had the stories follow one right after another? We would keep the characters consistent and frame the book with an overarching plot that moves through each section. It would be a novel! A novel in four parts.
Quinn: Which quickly turned to three parts. It took us about 10 minutes of planning to realize the project would be much more manageable with three authors instead of four.
James: We came up with an idea right away. An English nobleman decides he needs to marry, but he doesn’t want to deal with actually finding a bride. So his sister makes up a list and then invites all those women to a house party in the country. Our hero moves down the list, trying to find a bride, but the women keep falling in love with other people.
Quinn: Eloisa is being too modest. She came up with the concept all on her own. I believe my contribution at that point was, ‘Great idea!’
James: The next step was to find another author. This was trickier than it sounds. It couldn’t just be someone whose writing we admired. We had to find an author whose style worked well with ours. We never intended to make it seem as if one person had written the entire book, but if we really wanted it to be a novel in three parts, it had to flow.
Quinn: After our first six choices turned us down, naturally we thought of Connie Brockway.
Connie Brockway: Hey!
Quinn: No, really, she was our first choice.
Brockway: That may be true, but only because Eloisa had incriminating photos from an old writers' conference, which pretty much guaranteed I’d be easy to work with. And, by the way, Eloisa, I still need the negatives.
James: I had an ulterior motive. Connie had stopped writing historical romances in 2005, and, as a historical reader, I wanted her back.
Brockway: I was definitely missing the historical world. Added to which, I have always loved to write novellas. They’re my favorite form of writing. It’s a satisfying trick to be able to convey a character’s entire world, her past and a future, in one short visit to her life. So when Eloisa asked if I’d be interested, I think I said yes before she finished the question.
James: Once we had our lineup, the next step was to sell the book. For the UK, we knew we wanted Piatkus, since Julia and I both publish there.
Quinn: Then came the “black hole.”
James: Years passed.
Brockway: Seriously, what did we do? Did someone have a baby? Something must have happened because it was almost three years before we started writing.
James: There were no secret babies involved in the making of this book.
Quinn: Every now and then Eloisa would e-mail and say something like, ‘Uh . . . Remember that book we sold?’ And I was always under deadline, so I’m sure I answered with something like, ‘Not now!!!!!!’
James: I kept waiting for our editor to send us a reminder.
Brockway: I thought maybe they forgot.
James: Strangely, no one gave us a deadline.
Quinn: I don’t do well without deadlines. Okay, I don’t do well with deadlines. But I really don’t do well without deadlines.
James: It was getting ridiculous. We had to get to work. The plan had always been that we would get together for a retreat and hammer out the outline.
Brockway: I offered my cabin in the wilds of Minnesota, but Eloisa and Julia were total wimps and wanted someplace warm.
James: We were going in January!
Quinn: I got out a protractor and slide rule and quickly determined that the most convenient place for us to meet was New Orleans, more specifically the French Quarter.
Brockway: I'm a foodie, and once I looked up the restaurant reviews . . .
Quinn: It was remarkable how quickly the ideas began to flow.
Brockway: The first thing we did once we got to the hotel was figure out the characters. I believe we began with the heroines.
James: I seized on the idea of a young widow because (ahem) sometimes I feel as if I’ve written enough virgins for one lifetime. At the same time, I wanted her to experience the intensity of falling in love for the first time. So, her first marriage was not all that happy.
Quinn: I wanted to try something a little different, so when we decided that one heroine would be beautiful but painfully shy, I immediately said, ‘I’ll take her!’ I’ve never written anyone quite like her before.
Brockway: I had just finished two contemporary heroines in their thirties and wanted to write a young heroine, a very young heroine who is very sure of herself. Certainty lends itself to great comedy.
Quinn: Eloisa wrote the first draft of the prologue, which made sense, since it was mostly populated with “her” characters. She is a speed demon. By the time she came back with it, Connie and I had pretty much only managed to name our characters.
Brockway: And eat an entire box of pralines.
Quinn: That, I’m ashamed to say, is true. I also saw a hundred photos of her daughter’s wedding.
Brockway: It’s very important to look at stuff like that.
Quinn: It’s research. Absolutely.
Brockway: By the end of the first day, Eloisa had written about 25 pages, and Julia and I had maybe eight each.
Quinn: Which is good for me, by the way.
Brockway: Oh, me too!
Quinn: We got together to look at each other's work. It was great fun, but it was also important because we needed to get to know each other’s characters.
James: I think the most fun was when we got around to writing the epilogue. We had the idea of adopting the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the part where the aristocrats all sit around in their newly happy pairs and make fun of a terribly bad play production. So, we sat around with glasses of wine, and each of us voiced the snarky comments of our particular hero and heroine. I remember doubling over with laughter at some point: the scene was sweet and funny at the same time.
Brockway: You really had the sense that these characters would be longtime friends: that years from now that same house would be full of children tearing here and there while their parents drank champagne and talked about the summer in which their lives changed.
Quinn: So there we were, five days later. Eloisa was pretty much done and Connie and I had gained five pounds each and were not done. With much sadness, we went back to our real lives and the task of polishing then dovetailing our stories. But because we had those conversations, once back home the writing went incredibly fast.
Brockway: Eloisa and Julia kept changing their characters’ names. It drove me crazy. I ended up just calling them Asterisk 1 and Asterisk 2 in my manuscript.
James: Once everyone finished their sections, we e-mailed them to each other to read.
Quinn: As soon as I read their contributions, I felt like a hack.
James: Oh, come on!
Quinn: No, it’s true. I thought they were so good. But my ego was restored when I let my mom read an advance reading copy, and she told me my part was the best.
James: Moms are good that way.
Brockway: I read the stories and thought, ‘This is going to be fabulous!’ Note the use of the phrase “going to be.” Once we had the main stories, we needed little “connecting” chapters. We traded these sections back and forth, pretty much writing them in e-mail.
James: After much tinkering, we had a full manuscript: a prologue, three main sections, two connecting chapters and an epilogue.
Quinn: It was amazing. I remember reading the whole thing from start to finish and thinking, ‘I cannot believe we did it.’
James: Then we crossed our fingers and hoped our readers would enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed writing it.
Brockway: Because I'd already come up with an idea for a second collaboration! I called them up and said, ‘We're going to Scotland.’
Quinn: I thought she meant we were really going to Scotland. It was a bit of a let-down, I must say, when Connie and Eloisa nixed my idea of meeting in Edinburgh.
James: We met up in New York City, tacking it on to a conference we were all planning to attend, anyway. It was far more convenient.
Brockway: For The Lady Most Willing, we started off with a crazy old Scottish laird who is afraid his birthright will pass out of his family, so when his nephews are visiting, he crashes a ball, kidnaps a few young ladies and tells his nephews to choose their brides.
James: It was really great fun. The “brides” all knew the laird, so they knew they weren't in danger, even if they did get stuck in a drafty old castle in the middle of a Scottish blizzard.
Brockway: I think I speak for authors everywhere when I say you can't kidnap a few characters and toss them into a tumbledown castle without adding in a snowstorm to make them stay put.
Quinn: The only problem now is figuring out what we'll do next.
James: It's your turn to come up with the story.
Quinn: I know, I know. But this time we are definitely meeting up in whatever locale we set the story. I'm thinking Fiji . . .
An earlier version of this article appeared in Romance Writers Report.
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