When I was ten years old, I wrote a story as a school assignment. The teacher gave us the opening sentence (“Rat-a tat-tat went the postman’s knock on the front door”) and we all wrote our stories. Mine ended up being 25 pages long and was entered in a competition, which I won. The prize was a box full of Cadbury’s and Bournville chocoalate bars, a treasure indeed in post-WWII Wales, where commodities were scarce, especially luxury goods. It was from that story assignment that I developed the idea that if any four or fourteen or forty professional authors were all given the same plot idea to work on, the resulting stories would be so different that readers could enjoy them all without feeling that they were reading the same thing over and over again. It seemed to me that if all these stories were then put into one volume with an explanation to the reader, it would be a fascinating read.
Unfortunately (at least it seemed unfortunate to me), I couldn’t find anyone to agree with me after I had become a published author. Whenever I tried out the idea on editors or fellow authors, I was greeted with polite silence and puzzled looks, as if the listener wanted to ask me why anyone would want to read the same story over and over again. But a few years ago I was out on a book signing tour in the Detroit/Chicago area with a group of other romance authors. I explained my idea one day during a long bus journey to Candice Hern and Jacquie d’Alessandro and both of them loved it. All three of us got excited about it and talked about nothing else for an hour or two. We were determined to do it! We thought four writers would be the ideal number. But who would be the fourth? We considered various possibilities, having decided to keep it as a project for Regency historical stories. Stephanie Laurens was at the head of our wish list, and Candice just happened to have her email address. She sent off a message to distant Australia–and had an almost instant response. An enthusiastic one! Stephanie was in.
And so the project was on. We got on an email loop together and hammered out the technicalities as well as the all-important plot idea we would all work on. We finally agreed upon a three-part three plot idea: (1) the action had to happen all within 24 hours (2) the hero and heroine had to meet at a country inn, (3) they had to have met ten years before but not since. The only artificial restraint we put upon our stories was to choose a season each–mine was spring (my story takes place on May Day). We also told each other the names of our main characters so that none of us used the same ones. Then we wrote our stories without any sharing or collaboration. It was only after they were all written and copyedited that we finally shared stories. What fun that was! And I was quite right–all four were vastly different from one another. The stories are very different as are the characters, the tone, the voice. Avon published the volume, It Happened One Night, in 2008 and it went onto the New York Times bestselling list.
We had had so much fun that of course we had to do it again. The second time, though, we planned it a little differently. We ran a competition for readers to suggest a three-point plot idea. Choosing a winner from more than 1000 entries was extremely difficult, but Phyllis Post won with this idea: (1) the hero is the younger brother of a lord. He was a military officer during the Napoleonic Wars but now lives the life of a recluse (2) the heroine is plain and quiet and has never had a serious beau (3) the hero’s brother, who has only daughters, begs his brother to marry and produce sons to carry on their family line. It Happened One Season came out in 2011.
It really is exciting knowing and working with other authors! And now I have a vague dream of using the same basic idea but with writers of different sub-genres within the romance world. Maybe one day… However, that long-ago school assignment has already had quite far-reaching effects!
To one person who comments here before the end of next Tuesday, October 1, I will send signed copies of both anthologies (signed only by me, alas). Last week’s winner of DASHING AND DANGEROUS and BESPELLING JANE AUSTEN was Rosanna Miscio . Thank you for all your comments. I always enjoy them greatly.