Nothing that begins with champagne can ever be dreary. That is how A Day of Fire: A Novel of Pompeii began—with Stephanie Dray, Kate Quinn and me toasting the release of one of Kate’s marvelous novels.
We three have a longstanding tradition of hanging out on release days, primarily to keep whichever of us has a book launching from relentlessly checking Amazon rankings or curling up in a fetal position (if you’ve never released a book, believe me it is as terrifying as it is gratifying). All sorts of things get discussed at these luncheons—including the types of plot points that seem perfectly normal to historical novelists, but send waiters scurrying away concerned. On that particular day, however, our history obsessed brains turned not to poison or regicide but to doing something creative together. Specifically to continuities—collections of short stories that each stand-alone but also interlink to form a larger novel—which were increasingly popular in historical romance, but hadn’t made the leap to straight historical fiction yet. Maybe it was all the bubbles, but we were determined to change that.
Writing is generally a solo effort, and it can be lonely. So when you have a chance to work with some of the people you like best in the world, you go for it—even if that means taking a risk and building a bridge to somewhere historical fiction hasn’t yet been. What began with three writers (champagne glasses held high) expanded to six as we brought three more accomplished writers on board: Ben (sole male and only non-yank—pity him oh readers), Eliza (expert in all things Indie publishing) and Vicky (leaping fearlessly from YA to adult fiction). And that is when the real fun began.
People often ask about the difficulties of coordinating six stories and six authorial personalities. But the truth is A Day of Fire was a joy. Although writers working on their own certainly come together to talk out plot snags, we quickly discovered that in a collaborative novel group brainstorming rose to a new level. And with that came a tremendous sense of “all for one and one for all.” Creation of A Day of Fire was the most social writing experience I’ve ever had. Early on four of us were able to gather to break bread and work on a master timeline. That was really special (see picture of us all looking happy).
But by far the most exciting part of working as a unit turned out to be writing scenes collaboratively in real time.
You see, we decided that if a character “belonged” to a writer (meaning that writer created him/her) then that writer and that writer alone should govern the character’s dialog and actions. So, when any Day of Fire author had a scene featuring a character created by another, we set up a virtual meeting with that co-author inside a google document and wrote the scene live. The very first scene I authored in this manner was the interaction between Sabinus and Capella at the tavern—the one that takes place immediately after Capella has serviced him. Wow was that exhilarating! Like a roller-coaster ride. I had an outline of goals for the scene that I’d shared with Stephanie, but once the starting gun went off and we were writing—sometimes both at the same time—it was both frenetic and fascinating.
Our thought in designing scenes this way had been to build consistent characters. What I don’t think anyone anticipated was that our characters would become more alive by interacting with other characters in real time. I thought I knew who Aemilia and Sabinus were before I wrote my first word. But I got to know them far better when they reacted to unexpected and unscripted things that Stephanie’s Capella or Kate’s Diana said or did. I discovered facets of Sabinus and Aemilia’s personalities that caught me by surprise and took my breath away. This was particularly the case with depth of Sabinus’ decency and sense of duty. And I know that the same was true for other members of the writing team. I honestly believe the extra depth that was infused into the novel’s cast by our authorial interactive scripting is a big part of why readers have reacted so favorably to A Day of Fire.
Not only did I grow closer to my characters by collaborating in A Day of Fire, I grew closer to my co-authors. We became a family, a team. That feeling was so strong and so universal that after A Day of Fire went out into the world, we made the decision to officially become the “H-Team”. And we committed to creating more collaborative work. The Team’s next book, A Year of Ravens: a novel of Boudica’s Rebellion, is actually the week of November 17th! Unfortunately, I was not able to be part of that because of conflicts with the deadlines for my next solo novel, Medicis Daughter, which releases in two weeks- keep an eye out for it. But I look forward to sitting down, meeting the new additions to our family who came on board for Ravens, and creating with the team again—with or without champagne.