New York Times best-selling authors Karen White, Beatriz Williams and Lauren Willig met on the writers’ conference circuit and immediately bonded.
“One night at one of these many conferences, we retreated to the hotel bar together, moaning about how lonely it was going on a book tour alone and how much more fun it was being together, when suddenly the light bulb moment happened,” Willig said. “One of us, goodness only knows which, had the brilliant notion that if we wrote a book together, our publisher would tour us together — and pay for our bar bill.”
Williams said the friendship is the key to their success. They refer to themselves as “Team W.”
“We’re such fans of each other’s books, and fans of each other as people, and working together on these books hasn’t just preserved our friendship, it’s made us closer,” Williams said.
Team W’s latest collaborative book is a historical mystery, “The Lost Summers of Newport.” The authors will speak at Feinstein’s at Carmel’s Hotel Carmichael at 7 p.m. May 17. The free public event is hosted by the Carmel Clay Public Library. To register, visit carmelclaylibrary.org.
The authors shared how the collaboration works with Current in Carmel:
Do you come up with the ideas collectively?
Willig: “It’s absolutely a collective process. We like to call ourselves the Unibrain, because it’s like having one brain in three bodies.”
White: “Since the very first collaborative novel, we have approached each book as ‘our book’ and the characters as ‘our characters,’ which is why readers can’t tell where one voice ends and the other begins. We’re not completely sure if this was simply by instinct or perhaps due to the fourth W (wine). Regardless, it’s almost magical when we get together to begin plotting a book.”
Williams: “Honestly, by the time we’ve finished putting everything together, we can’t even remember who came up with which idea. From beginning to end — conception, research, outlining, detailed plotting — we’re in an almost continuous conversation with each other, either by text or in person.”
How did you decide on Newport for the setting?
Willig: “We were all fascinated by the storied history of Newport, and by these grand houses that have seen so much history come and go. Each era in Newport’s history has its own unique aspects, which helped shape the various characters and dramas in the book.”
White: “All three of us have written individual books that go back and forth within different time periods. This is because we find that the way that the past always informs the present is an immersing way to tell a story. In ‘The Lost Summers of Newport,’ each time period (1899, 1957 and 2019) is connected to the Sprague family and its Newport mansion, Sprague Hall, with each generation of characters revealing bits and pieces of the mystery until the final chapters bring it all together in a satisfying, and twisty, conclusion.”
Williams: “Like a lot of our premises, the very first spark came out of a real-world snippet we shared with each other on our text chain. We were chatting about a reality show in England in which a reality news crew followed along as the owners renovated a stately home, and we thought about all the history and secrets tucked into the old walls. What if we moved that scenario to one of America’s stately homes, we wondered? And Newport is really the first town you think about when it comes to storied mansion, it’s just an iconic setting, in real life and in fiction.”
How does the writing process work?
Willig: “Since we all live in different places — I’m in New York, Beatriz is in Connecticut, and Karen is in Georgia — we make a point of getting together to plot the novel in person, and not just because we’re looking for an excuse for a girls’ trip, although that is a factor. Usually, it takes about three days for us to flesh out the idea and come up with a complete chapter by chapter outline of the book. Then we retreat to our separate corners of the world, do all the laundry that piled up while we were away, and start writing.”
White: “Sadly, 2020 threw a wrench in our plans. We were supposed to go to Newport in April of that year to begin plotting ‘The Lost Summers of Newport’ and had to come up with a Plan B. Technology stepped in and we were able to plot via FaceTime over several sessions/days and in between child care, elderly care and grocery shopping. We kept ourselves well-supplied with coffee and wine, depending on the time of day, so it was almost like being together in person.”
Williams: “We really missed those serendipitous ideas that come out while you’re having dinner or drinks or just walking around after breakfast. And, of course, we missed all that on-site research together, which, luckily, we were able to pick up at the end when pandemic restrictions lifted and we were finally able to meet in Newport while wrapping up the manuscript.”