How to co-author a romance anthology in 11 days
Lol, as if! That 11 day comment was just an attention grabber. From conception to delivery, writing a Christmas themed romance anthology of novellas with some of the crew in my writing group took about as long as a humpback whale pregnancy . . . 11 months, give or take a splash or two.
So . . . conception, how did that happen?
It all began with a blog. A few years ago, we were a group of new writers, sharing our starts and stumbles in the world of writing in a blog with our writers' organisation. After a year of blog posts, we didn't feel quite so new and inexperienced anymore, so we left our blog to newer voices.
But how would we fill the gap in our lives? We loved working together. We loved being a tribe.
"Let's write an anthology," someone said.
We were recently interviewed for romance magazine, Blush, about our anthology (yes, I know . . . pretty exciting having so much buzz about our project) and the process of answering the questions made me realize what a journey the anthology had been.
Here are some of the thoughts we put together as we prepared for the interview:
(I've used initials, but here's the key: MM is Megan Mayfair, JK is Jayne Kingsley, SQ is me, Stella Quinn, and MB is Marianne Bayliss)
SQ: We talked about writing an anthology together in 2018, as we were blogging together for RWA at the time, and enjoyed collaborating, but we all had projects on the go and it was easy to get distracted. So, when the 2019 Christmas anthology idea was touted, we’d already had a year to incubate the idea, and we were raring to go.
JK: As Stella said the idea was planted a while ago. We decided earlier this year and set some deadlines (some we met and some we missed! Hahaha) but once a few of us had first outlines done the idea became more real and we were all hooked.
MB: We do like working together (stay tuned!) so it was a no brainer to put together a collection of our stories. Skype sessions at the start of the year revved our enthusiasm and, honestly, that never waned.
MM: I love any chance to work with this group of women, and this was such a fun idea to set our stories around the same town.
Why Hope Street?
SQ: I had written an island-based series and was ready for a change, and a snowy, seasonal mountain town by a lake perched between upstate New York and Vermont seemed as big a change from tropical islands as could be. Think Gilmour Girls crossed with Hart of Dixie, that’s the vibe I was going for. Plus, it meant I could have a road called Bear Mountain Road. What author could resist that?
JK: I had the pleasure of reading Stella’s April Showers story last year – which is set in Cathedral Springs. I won’t lie – I fell for the town as well as Duncan and Marianne during that book so when she said she was doing a whole series there and proposed we use it for our Christmas anthology it was a win win for me. For the anthology we each added our own touches, using Stella’s map to request spots for our stores etc. It was like a random game of monopoly and such fun!
MB: I first encountered this town when I beta read Stella’s novella The Umbrella Diaries which is set in Cathedral Springs. I was instantly hooked by the town and its people and was thrilled to be able to write a story set there. Though, spending time in Cathedral Springs with Christmas on Hope Street has impacted my own writing. The charming setting takes over my stories and I have to wrestle my characters to stay in the town I’ve created for them, but they all want to live in Cathedral Springs! I don’t blame them one bit!
MM: I had the idea of a Christmas movie festival at a retro-style cinema some time ago because I love Christmas movies and wanted to write about a few of my favourites. When Stella told us more about Cathedral Springs and I read her novella, my idea seemed like a good fit with the tone of the other stories and feel of the town.
SQ: Hope Street runs through the town, and that is the driving connection. We have a map, with named streets and businesses (many of which feature in the stories) and there is some character overlap.
JK: I originally planned to use another Christmas story I’d started writing last year but once we got more into the idea I knew that one wouldn’t fit. I wanted to use a vintage dress shop and a disgraced hero who was forced back to town to face his demons so that was it for me – my story was born. We had a few skype calls where we shared our ideas and bounced around suggestions which allowed us to link the stories in some way. I also wanted a devious cat in my story, mainly as I write with a devious cat always ready to pounce over my shoulder at my keyboard.
MB: We came up with our own stories but when I needed a walk-on character or location, I chose these from the other stories in the anthology. My heroine purchases a dress from the vintage dress shop in Jayne Kingsley’s story, Megan Mayfair’s cinema owner makes a brief appearance and the unveiling of Stella Quinn’s new bell tower poses some problems in the beginning of my story. Being able to include people, places and events from the other stories was one of the highlights of writing my own.
MM: We spent a bit of time chatting about physical characteristics of the town, but also about the ‘vibe’ of the town. While all the stories are different, I think there is a strong sense of community that runs through them all.
Humpback whales are pregnant for 11 months? Seriously? That's a long time . . .
SQ: Stella definitely cracked the formatting timetable whip! The project has been an excellent example of deadlines at work. We are all busy, juggling little people, jobs, coffee addictions, other WIPS . . . there’s nothing like a deadline to make you realise that you can write, even when you think you mind is mush.
JK: Fear that I’d miss out kept me on track hahaha! Stella and Megan finished their drafts first and I kept shifting my personal deadline around another project and then I told myself I’d finish it during the annual RWAus conference. I was pretty close to that deadline – I had to do a few re-writes as my original premise wasn’t working as well as I hoped but during our edits that was all smoothed out. I think we all kept each other on track – I’m seriously lucky to be able to work with Stella, Megan and Marianne – they are beautiful people and amazing writers!
MB: Stella was the timetabling guru. And I agree with Jayne – FOMO was a huge motivator. We read each other’s work and provided feedback, with each story doing the rounds of each of us. Stella read my first draft and gave feedback. I edited it then passed it on to Megan. She provided feedback on second draft and once that was edited, Jayne did the final read. The system worked extremely well. It was so exciting to read these wonderful stories and it’s mindboggling to think mine is in the same anthology. Stella, Megan and Jayne are supportive, generous and kickass and I feel so lucky to have them as my writing tribe.
MM: We kept each other on track and sorting out a beta reading and then proofreading schedule helped. Getting feedback at different stages from each other was valuable.
So what now?
Yeah . . . rumour has it there's a handsome poppa whale circling in the deep blue wordosphere, and there's a twinkle in his eye which is saying, "So, ladeez, who's up for a New Year's Eve anthology?"
Watch this space :)
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