Monday, September 10, 2012

How the Collaboration Worked

by Annette Lyon

I cannot count the number of people who have learned about the Newport Ladies Book Club and then come to me asking how in the world I can collaborate on a project of this magnitude . . . and still love my cowriters. Some of these people have worked on collaborations that have caused them to want to pull their hair out, and, in some cases, they've lost friendships over collaborations.

The answer, for me, comes down to (1) how the project worked (2) who my cowriters are. Those two things have made the project not only not frustrating, but an absolute joy.

Today, I'm talking about how the writing the series worked in the first place.

How Writing the Newport Books Worked

If we'd tried to write one book by four people, I doubt it would have worked out too well. That's too many fingers in the pot, too many opinions and points of view.

But that's not what happened. We have four distinct books with four distinct voices. No one told me what I had to write or boxed me in, choosing my character and plot for me.

Instead, as we brainstormed together, we each came up with a character we were excited about fleshing out, a woman with a specific problem we each thought would be interesting to delve into and pick apart.

Once we had our main characters and their primary conflicts, we had to figure out how each character's story intersected with every other character's, because without that element, we wouldn't hit the target of what we were trying to accomplish.

One of the next things to choose was the books the club reads, and then each of us was assigned to do the primary writing for one of the book club scenes. Those scenes were then forwarded to the others, and we'd rewrite them completely from our character's point of view, often adding details another character wouldn't know, or cutting details that didn't matter as much to our character's story.

The same went for any shared scenes. No spoilers, but to give you an idea: there are scenes between just Daisy and Paige, ones between Paige and Athena, and Paige and Olivia. Sometimes I wrote the scene first and passed it on to the person writing the other character. Sometimes the other person did, and I rewrote it from Paige's point of view. It worked so seamlessly that I've pretty much forgotten which scenes I didn't draft first.

As we fleshed out the stories and wrote more, we found additional things to nail down, like where each character and minor character lived. Heather was particularly helpful with that, as she's lived in the general Newport area, so we as stared at maps, she could point out where Paige would be able to afford an apartment, and maybe where her in-laws lived, how far away Ruby (the founder of the club) lived from each character, and so on.

We tried to get together about once a month to coordinate stories and do marathon writing sessions. Part of this was because we were all working on other projects as well, and the Newport books were "play time." When we got together, we could set aside other projects and focus just on these books.

Josi near the end of a writing day, after our
late lunch/early dinner, writing Daisy at a hotel.

A typical marathon writing day/weekend looked like this:
-Meet at a Utah County library as soon as it opened (the most central location for us).

-If possible, get a study room, where we could talk and hash things out instead of having to be silent.

-Write like mad, with breaks to spitball and ask questions (if we were in a room), until about 3PM.

-Break for a late lunch/early dinner at a local restaurant. (Most commonly, Zupas or Olive Garden.)

-Those who could stay overnight then checked into a local motel and brought along snacks to last us the night. We changed into pajamas and wrote, wrote, wrote, until we were bleary-eyed and brain dead, usually around midnight. Sometimes not all of us could stay the night, but often those who couldn't still came to the hotel to write in the room for a few hours.

-Wake up around 7AM and write like crazy until it's time to pack up and check out.

Heading off to write after the kids were in school on Friday and then coming home by noon the next day, proved to be a way of getting time to work on the project with my coauthors with relatively minimal impact on my family. (A must.)

During our writing days, we'd often lift our heads from our keyboards and ask things like, "What kind of car does Daisy drive again?" and, "Where does Paige's ex live?" We Googled constantly to learn about all kinds of things, like Greek Orthodox funerals. We found a website with the exact church to use. I used Google Earth to see, up close, the bookstore Paige finds the book club flier in. And so on.

Once, when Josi and I were in the room alone briefly, she said that the storyline for Daisy would work out better if Olivia's mom was dead, and if Olivia had stepchildren and was a grandmother. I agreed, and then we both hunkered down to write more.

That day, Julie was in the middle of finishing another writing project, so while she was with us, she wasn't working on Olivia quite yet. After the conversation Josi and I had, Julie came into the room, and we informed her that oh, by the way, Olivia's mom is dead. Hope that's okay. And she's got stepkids and grandkids.

Julie got a deer-in-the-headlights look for a second, but as she pondered the idea, it grew on her. Next thing we knew, she'd written a story that not only included those things but hinged on them. And, of course, Olivia turned out to be a totally awesome book.

Julie working on Olivia at the hotel.

I think one reason the process worked so well is that we uncovered a different way to write. We've all been doing this for a long time; it's easy to fall into a rut. But this was fresh and challenging in a new way. We genuinely enjoyed the process and were excited about the books, and I think that excitement and passion shows in the final products.

Personally, working in other people's characters and scenes into my own book was a different kind of challenge, and one that was a blast and which stretched me as a writer.

I can say without question that this project has been a highlight of my writing career, and one I'm so grateful to have been part of. It's been a blessing to me in many ways, not the least of which is discovering just how amazing my writing friends are.


  1. It's so fun to read this. All the memories . . . Especially since Josi and I have been swapping RUBY & SHANNON shared scenes all weekend and working through several details.

  2. Thanks for sharing those experiences Annette. I just finished Paige, and last night I was thinking, how do they keep all of this straight! The books are amazing, and I can't wait for Athena. So glad to hear Rudy has one to, she's a fav.