Monday, December 13, 2010

How the Anthologies Began...

Our editor asked how we started writing anthologies, so I decided to let everyone know the sequence of events:

This all started as one of those two-o'clock-in-the morning ideas right after Christmas in 2006. It just wouldn't let me go back to sleep! The idea was to write an anthology (my favorite genre) about four sisters, with different writers doing each of them. The title would be Snowflake Secrets.

I'd met Sherry Derr-Wille at EPICon (the conference for EPIC-the Electronically Published Internet Coalition) in March of 2006 when my first book, 31 Months in Japan: The Building of a Theme Park, written with my husband Larry, was a finalist for the 2006 EPPIE award for nonfiction. Sherry and I both felt we were meant to meet and talked about it at the conference. I bought one of her books and enjoyed her writing style.

So, when the idea came to me, she was the first collaborator I thought of, even thought she lives in Wisconsin and I'm in California. I wrote her with the idea, and she said she was in. By EPICon in March of 2007, I had the prologue and the poem tying the story together finished and gave them to her to read. She had first choice of the sisters and picked Carole because she was spunky!

Her friend, Debbie, also from Wisconsin, was supposed to take another of the girls. The intent was to have two Wisconsinites and two Californians.

Christie Shary is a member of our writing group, Lagunita Writers, in California. She had just completed a book, and I thought her style would work well with the overall concept. She picked Sonata.

I decided I wanted Allegra, so that left Melody for Debbie.

Unfortunately, Debbie had emergency surgery shortly after EPICon and was many months in recovery. (Fortunately, she is fine today.)

I asked another writing group friend, Julie Christiansen-Dull, if she'd like to write Melody. I thought she might enjoy it as she has a granddaughter named Melody. She agreed, but about two weeks later had to bow out due to other family obligations. (Julie is one of those writers who has a drawerful of wonderful unpublished manuscripts.)

Luanna Rugh overheard the conversation with Julie at our writers' group meeting and asked what we were talking about. At that time, we were just finishing up a two-year once-a-week Wednesday night get-together with Lu and her husband, Len, to cut the manuscript of their book, Promises Kept: How One Couple's Love Survived Vietnam (2010 EPIC eBook Award winner for nonfiction) from its original 1300+ pages down to just over 400. That week, I let her read the Prologue for Snowflake Secrets, and before they left, she had the first three chapters of Melody outlined in her head! For a self-described non-writer, Lu created my favorite of all the four sisters. (Melody's the one I'd most like to just hang out with.)

Sherry finished first. (She's the jackrabbit of us all. She also writes a minimum of 1000 words every day. An Aspen Grove Christmas, our latest anthology, is book number sixty for her!) I finished second with Allegra, the Prologue and the Epilogue. But Lu, who got into the mix last, finished ahead of Christie.

During the process, I created a complete family tree and timeline for all the events we wrote about. I also created a running description of our fictional town of Aspen Grove including all the buildings and people. (Several readers have said they want to visit there. So do I!) While writing this one, because all the stories intertwined, we were in constant communication with each other. When each of us finished a chapter, we shared it with the others. Sherry even gave Christie some plot ideas for Sonata that worked extremely well.

My biggest challenge was playing 'Continuity Queen' to make sure the entire story flowed seamlessly. That took some suggestions and a lot of gentle persuasion and compromise. Then our top-secret best-weapon and proofreader, Darcy Bowen, volunteered to read the whole thing. She found a couple of inconsistencies I had missed and several other mechanical errors. (Darcy gets a signed copy of each book in return. It's a good deal for us, and she loves our books!)

Shortly after we began the project, I emailed Sherry. Since she is published by several different publishers, I asked which one she thought would be the best match for the book. Unbeknownst to me, she talked to Debi Womac of Whiskey Creek Press about it to see if they'd be interested. She knew Debi's favorite genre is also anthology. Debi immediately responded that they wanted it! We had a publisher, and the book wasn't even finished!

We set a September 1 deadline for submission. The book was published in Valentines' Day 2008, and a tradition had begun.

We all loved doing the first one so much, we decided on another. We chose to each take a seasonal theme, and Seasons of Love was born. This is the only one written in third person with four separate novellas without direct connection. Mine, Winter Song, is based on a true story, so it was a lot of fun to write. Seasons of Love was published on Valentines' Day 2009.

After that one, we all wanted to continue, but decided to go back to the format of the first one: four novellas embedded in an overall story with each novella told in first-person. Directions of Love, about four friends, was published on Valentines' Day 2010 and is currently a finalist for the 2011 EPIC eBook Award for anthology.

Next, I decided I wanted to write a Christmas book, and the others agreed. (All of my novellas, except Finding Love in Paradise for Directions of Love, are holiday themed.) So An Aspen Grove Christmas became our next project. We didn't have an overall story for this one at first, but that evolved as the stories did.

Sherry, again, led the way. Her novella, Cory's Christmas, gave us characters for some of the others. We also recycled characters and locations from previous books.

Christie was in the midst of a very traumatic year, and we weren't sure she wanted to or would be able to write her story. At the same time, Cheryl Gardarian, another member of our writing group, had heard some of Lu's and mine. One meeting she said, "You know, I have a story that would work perfectly for this book." I gave her Sherry's story to read since it was finished. Cheryl had previously bought a couple of the earlier books and knew a lot about the town. Like Lu before her, she finished in record time with a terrific story and perhaps the most memorable character in the book, Rose Marie Carmichael. Christmas Treasure, really is! But for us, the real treasure is Cheryl herself. She's a terrific writer, and her story fit perfectly.

But Christie surprised all of us, perhaps including herself, by completing The Gathering in time for submission in September.

In order to get the book published during the holiday season, everyone worked at an unbelievable pace, but I think the result, An Aspen Grove Christmas, was worth it!

The other night, Len and Lu came for dinner. After we ate, Len picked up a copy of the book that was lying on the coffee table and started to read while Lu and I took care of the things we needed to get done, and Larry helped. When they began to leave, it was obvious that Len didn't want to stop reading, so I offered to give him that copy which Lu could replace when she got her shipment.

Suddenly Larry bellowed, "You can't give my copy away!" I hadn't realized he'd started reading it and was about halfway through! (I gave Len his own copy.) Even both the guys would deny they read 'romance novels,' they're especially enjoying this one. Maybe it's the cowboys...