We all had splitting heads the next morning, and some of the ideas we’d been throwing around seemed a little less brilliant in the hard light of day, but we couldn’t quite shake the idea of working together. We all wrote books with interweaving historical narratives, the sort of books that are sometimes called time-slip and sometimes dual narrative, in which you go back and forth between different characters in different eras to explore the ways in which the past impacts the present. Karen had been playing with an idea for a book set around building, three women, in three different eras, tied by one central location, and one secret. Beatriz said she had just the building in mind, a Gilded Age townhouse in New York, so the three of us convened on Alice’s Teacup on 64th Street, ordered three pots of tea and more scones than we like to admit—and that’s when the magic started.
None of us ever collaborated on a book before. We had no idea if we could collaborate on a book. But as the tea flowed and the clotted cream piled on scone after scone, we realized that our minds just worked together. Someone would throw out an idea and someone else would start bouncing in excitement and exclaim, “And then if we added this other thing to that….” Before we knew it, it had been four hours, roughly sixteen pots of tea, the waiters hated us, and we had plotted out the whole book, chapter by chapter. The characters were so solid, it felt as if they were sitting there at the table with us.
We’ve now written three books together, but that first book set the pattern for how we do it. We get together in person to plot the book (after one memorable plotting session in New Hampshire in November, Karen, who does not like the cold, instituted a rule that all plotting sessions be held south of the Mason-Dixon line), then, once we’ve plotted the whole thing out, we each “claim” a character and retreat to our own separate parts of the world, where we write round robin. The first person writes her chapter, sends it to the next, who reads the previous chapter and then writes her own, and so on. So you’re always reading the most recent chapters by the other authors before you write your own, which means voices and themes and metaphors naturally mesh and meld. After that, we get together for another three days to edit—and then, a year later, go on our publisher-paid girls’ trip! Er, book tour.