THE INSIDE STORY (2) — An Idea Comes to Fruition

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.


109 Replies to “THE INSIDE STORY (2) — An Idea Comes to Fruition”

  1. I absolutely loved the idea(s) and the stories. I found it even more enjoyable than the ones I’ve read where each author picks up where the last one left off. The different voices can get confusing at times, whereas The Story 3 different ways was more to my liking (Obviously, I’m rambling). I’m so glad you didn’t shelve the idea and kept looking for an outlet. Thanks for All you Do!

  2. I’m not sure if I’ve read It Happened One Season, but I did read It Happened One Night! I’m glad you found authors who were willing to try. I thought the results were great, and it introduced me to Stephanie Laurens!

  3. Hi Mary!

    I loved the background of writing It Happened One Night and It Happened One Season and even though I know it’s always bad luck to respond first I had to let you know how much fun it was to read how they came to be written!

    I think one reason I love to read so much is because I wasn’t fortunate enough to inherit that special gene or creativity! I’ll never forget being in the 5th grade and my teacher taking me aside after reading a story I wrote for her class where she encouraged me instead to “stick to the facts” if I wanted to be a writer and leave the hope of being creative to others!

    I think it takes a special person to write a wonderful story from their imagination (and hard research) to entertain us and take us to a place that we never would have found otherwise. For that I am grateful to all the wonderful hours who write (and re-write until it’s perfect) the stories I so enjoy!

    I love reading anthologies because there are always those times that we want to read a shorter story that can take us to other places or experiences that transport us to another time and place, one we wish we could live in and be part of ourselves. Most of all I always seem to find that one character in your books that I up feeling like I know and can understand what they are experiencing at the time. For that I thank you and all the other authors who bring romance and a new perspective into my life! You ever fail to entertain and delight!

  4. As a teacher of writing, I hear from my colleagues that prompts produce artificial writing. But it seems a good way to assess and compare student work, so we do them. I have always enjoyed seeing the different ways that students respond to a prompt. We do not have contests, but I always share the best pieces on the WhiteBoard. My students love that. Who knows? Maybe one day one of my students will be inspired by this way of writing.

    1. I teach writing also, and we do the same thing. One prompt can generate so many ideas. I remember one time several years ago where the prompt was to describe something beautiful or interesting. I had papers ranging from describing the winter season to a pink angel tombstone. As for interesting, a boy described in great detail an old car in his grandparents’ yard. I loved seeing the very different ideas.

  5. I love this idea. I also remember having a writing assignment where the teacher gave us the beginning of the first sentence. It was so much fun to let the creative juices flow and finish the story.

    1. It seems many teachers can take the credit for instilling a love of writing in so many of us by assigning us tasks that made us think to get our creative juices flowing. The teacher in our English village school had been re-activated from retirement to compensate fore the loss of teachers serving in the armed forces during the war years. She delighted in making us think.
      During composition we were given the theme only: Habit; Benefit or Hindrance. I was nine.
      I had no problem on which habit to choose. My father’s family were Welsh miners, and musical. If they weren’t singing they were whistling. My father was an inveterate whistler and from the time I was two I was trying to imitate him, by three I was getting the hang of it and by the time I was five I was puckering up with the best of them.
      It drove my mother up the wall. “Stop that infernal whistling,” she would cry. Most of the time I had no idea I was whistling, I was on auto.
      It came to a peak for me just after Christmas when Mrs Rolfe died. She was a kindly older lady who always invited me inside while she got her money, rather than leave me standing out in the rain; at Christmas she had given me two eggs (in the midst of wartime rationing in Britain) and a handkerchief embroidered in the corner with violets.
      It was raining hard when she was buried and I stood at the side of the cemetery by the Lynch Gate and cried. On a fine day in Spring I was busy planating seeds in the family vegetable lot behind our thatched cottage when my mother called me inside.
      Standing in the tiny living room was a tall well dressed gentleman holding an attaché case. I had been named in Mrs Rolfe’s will. He read it to my mother and I.
      “…I leave the sum of 25 pounds to my paper boy Ronald Price, whose cheerful whistling brought me so much pleasure.”
      I have never stopped writing, although retired now.

  6. I am a big fan of your writing/books, so much so that every time I buy one of your latest books my daughter (whom is 9) asks why I need another one of those Mary Balogh books and don’t I have enough already. I then have to tell her you are my favorite author and I love your stories. I have not had the privilege of reading either of these books nor do I own them. I would love to be able to win them so that I could have the opportunity to do so.

  7. I’ve always thought that different writers writing to the same prompt/idea is a chance to show how rich and varied genre romance is. Give each author the same basic building blocks, and yet each turns out a completely unique piece of art. Would love to see many, many more of these.

  8. I really enjoyed both volumes. Thanks for pusuing the idea. I actually have a collection of the Regency Anthologies for Christmas in which your stories are featured. I kept them and most Christmasses re-read them. This year my husband & I are going to Saudi Arabia for Christmas with my son, daughter-in-law and grandson who live there now. It will be an adventure and a very different place to spend Christmas. I plan to take a couple of your Christams themed books along for the long plane rides and also to keep my Christmas mood. Actually I guess this will be the closest to Bethlehem that I have ever been at Christmas.

  9. Have “It Happened One Night” and reread every year. Looking forward to the newest collaboration! (Had hoped that u would be in Toronto for the Word on the Street festival last weekend. I would definitely have gone down to see you!)

  10. They all look yummy and so different. A friend whose wife reads as many as I, her garage walls are covered in books and he’s built her more shelves, asked me how I can read so many of the same story. I tried to explain they’re the same but not and knew he just wouldn’t get it. If I get the book I’ll give it to him after I’m done reading it 😀 Thanks, Mary!

  11. As a child, i Loved getting to sit in a circle, with one starting a story and the next adding their own twist. The authors did this in their own creative way!

  12. What an intriguing idea! I think I have missed both “It Happened One Night” and “It Happened One Season” and would be thrilled to win signed copies of both. Thank you for the opportunity!

  13. I read both anthologies but it’s been awhile. Time to re-read them! My memory is not good but I remember loving the story you wrote in It Happened One Night. I have to jog my memory about your story in It
    Happened One Season. It’s always fun to re-read your stories, Mary.
    I’ll call the library tomorrow!

  14. I love the stories behind your stories! You are one of my favorite authors and although I haven’t had the chance to read these titles they are now on my “must find and read” list. Sorry I missed you in Saskatoon this past weekend.I would love to have attended the Word on the Street and possibly met you in person! Hopefully you can come again and I’ll get another chance. Keep up the wonderful writing so the long winter will pass more quickly with good books and a kitten or two curled upon my feet. Thank you

  15. These are fascinating books – I really love the idea of both of them. I hope the 4 of you come up with another idea along these lines, because it is fascinating to read the stories, and see how differently they came out.

  16. I really loved reading these books and the story behind them. Looking forward to the opportunity to read more in the future. Thank you Mary.

  17. Here I thought I have read every book you’ve written – how could I have missed BOTH of these! Guess I haven’t been visiting the bookstores as much as I used to, or maybe they just didn’t carry them (horrors!). Would love to win these, but if not I’ll definitely hunt them down and add to my collection.

  18. I usually don’t read anthologies unless I know all the authors, but these sound so interesting. More books to add to my TBR pile!

  19. What a great idea to corroborate with other authors like that! I’d love to read the stories you all have written! I don’t know how I missed the first book.

  20. I really enjoy when authors get together and do books together.. I enjoy the individual authors books also.. but it is interesting how you each write about the same story but they are so different.. Keep up the great work… Look forward to reading anything you write..

  21. That’s such a cool idea! I’ve always wanted to read your stories in these collections, but now I really want to read the other ones too.

  22. Ooh, I love the idea with different sub-genres! I think the differences would be amazing and so varied and I know that I would very much enjoy reading it.

  23. I’ve read “It Happen One Night” and thought wow that must have been fun to work with each other to make that work happen. What a treat though to think that you won all that chocolate at age 10 – I probably would have continued writing with a prize like that!!!

    As always I love your books/writing and appreciate the efforts you put forth!

  24. Oh my gosh! “It happened one night” was one of my favorite anthologies. And I didn’t know there was a “it happened in a season!” I want to read it!

  25. I’m a romance book junkie! I’ve been hooked since I read Rosemary Rogers “Sweet Savage Love” many years ago. Although I like full length novels best, I think it’s fun to visit a variety of characters in an anthology-especially around the holidays. Variety is the spice of life! I have read and will read anything you write. Your collaborations have been with many of my other favorite authors so they’ve been fun to read. Keep them coming!

  26. The phrase, “Wouldn’t it be interesting if we…” is fraught with peril (tongue firmly in cheek). Actually, I find it very intriguing to play the What If game and I applaud you for persevering and finding like-minded writers who play the same game! I have read a library copy of the second collection of stories and enjoyed it immensely, especially because of the four different styles/voices. Thank you for challenging your readers.

  27. OMGosh my 2 favorite Authors come together with a series. I know I haven’t read these so they would be totally NEW to me!!

  28. I have also given writing assignments to my students (I used to teach college writing) and they would all come up with vastly different ideas from just a sentence prompt. Sadly, none of theirs were good enough to win chocolate bars 🙂

  29. Alas, I had a similar assignment in high school. Write a book review beginning with the sentence: [Blank} is a realistic character because he reacts to situations realistically.” One of the most dreadful sentences I’ve ever seen…..
    But I do agree that the idea is fascinating!

  30. I loved these books, it’s such a great concept!! Each author gets to weave their tale independently and with the common threads that run through each story
    It’s really intriguing to see how each of you had a slightly different angle on things. Hope that you will do some more of these they are hugely enjoyable!!g

  31. I am such a huge fan and when I saw these novels, I let out a huge sigh. These stories sound wonderful and the covers are gorgeous. I would LOVE to be your winner.

  32. I always love reading your books.If I need to reread a book I always choose yours because a second reading reveals even more! Thank you for all your great books!

  33. I enjoyed reading about your collaboration with other authors. I know you are a tightly knit group. And I love the idea of the competition between your readers. What fun is that! Very often we readers are also wanna-be authors but either don’t have the talent, the discipline or the wherewithal to complete a novel, so the collaboration with an author is the next best thing.

    Thanks for sharing

  34. I confess I have not had the pleasure of reading either of these but would love to! It reminds me that my own true life story is ” It Happened One Day ” and that day was also in May when after 34 years of having no contact my first love showed up at my door. He’s my husband now…………

  35. Love your blog, so interesting as are all your books. Would love to win anything written by you, as you are one of my favorite writers. Thanks for sharing your talents .

  36. Thank you for mentioning these two collections. I think it is a very clever idea for different people to develop a story based on a common premise. I intend to look up both collections and read them now. I just finished “A Precious Jewel” and “An Ideal Wife” and visited your website to find out if any of the other characters from those two stories had a book of their own. I was particularly looking for a book about Boris and Laura. My best wishes to you. You are a gifted writer and I hope to continue enjoying your books for far into the future.

  37. I’ve read both of those books, and found them very enjoyable. In fact, I love anthologies. Sometimes I just want a “quick fix” and they fit the bill perfectly.

  38. I love the anthologies. I am addicted to books, and these offer me the opportunity to read stories by several of my favorite authors all at once. It has also been a way to be introduced to authors who are new to me. I thank you for the explanation. Terrific Idea!

  39. I have not read these stories yet, but I will put them on my wish list. I love your writing Mary. Any book with Mary Balogh’s name on it will be wonderful!

  40. Mary,
    I enjoy your FB posts so much and your books even more. It was nice to get a taste of what it’s like to be in the thick with other authors and work together but not together. I would treasure a n autographed copy. I only read 6 books a week on average. That’s since I retired back in January.

  41. I love that idea! It’s interesting to see what different minds can come up with. LOL! The whole feminine side of the family are voracious readers. We devour books like candy & share them with one another. I have boxes in storage that I have to pull out for my daughter to go through. LOL! Even if I don’t win… Thank you for the hours of enjoyment we as your humble readers get out of each & every book! <3

  42. You are such a great author. I know buying your books I will always get a great read. Heartless is my all time favorite, my book is worn out from me thumbing threw my favorite pages. 🙂

  43. I enjoy it immensely when my authors get together and run creative juices. What has been most entertaining to me is when you all write your own stories, but weave in each others characters within your own story thereby creating an even larger community of overlapping stories for the reader. Did I get my thought across?

  44. Mary:
    I would really love to be able to be a lucky winner of your books It Happened One Night and It Happened One Season. I have not read these yet, but they do sound like books I would just love to read and own. I have read other books of yours and love them. You are a terrific author.
    Thanks again for offering these books in a giveaway.

  45. I enjoyed both of these immensely. I’m glad your idea came to fruition – twice – and these two books were written. I’m so sorry you had to wait so long though. Do you think you’ll do this again? I do love reading your books.

  46. I’m really surprised you had trouble drumming up interest. It sounds like it would be a fun idea to me and IF I were an author, I’d love to participate in that group. I have the first one, but not the second.

  47. I have not read these books yet. I will have to read them reading list. I think that it would be very interesting to know what four different people came up with for the same plot. I love reading please keep up the writing.

  48. I think it’s interesting how one small assignment, or maybe not so small, in school can take off and lead one into an exciting career. I’m thankful for your assignment. I’ve enjoyed every book of yours that I’ve read and always look forward to when another one comes out.

  49. I am a reader not a writer…alas! My Mum passed this passion onto me and introduced me to Georgette Heyer and I have been an avid reader of regency romances ever since. As I live in Australia Stephanie Laurens is my favourite but I have just finished reading the Merridew Sisters books and loved them. Thank you for the wonderful stories that bring regency England to life and thank you for encouraging other writers in their efforts. I think the idea and the collaboration of authors for It Happened One Night and It Happened One Season is wonderful and I can’t wait to read them.

  50. P.S. Mary
    Sorry meant I had recently read The Proposal and the Arrangement. Got that mixed up there.Just finished holidays and mostly all I did was read so there were quite a few regency romance books by all different authors.

  51. Mary, I read everything you write and enjoy all. Just please don’t start writing vampire stories– what is with that???

  52. I enjoyed both anthologies and look forward to future collaborations. What a treat to find some of my favorite authors all in the same volume.

  53. I absolutely adore every book that you write. I have read all of your stories and reread most of them and I can’t wait for new ones to arrive on bookstore shelves. I have a kindle but I do prefer the feel and smell of a book. I am currently rereading “A Summer to Remember” when I have spare moments from working on my Masters Degree in English Education. Keep on writing!

  54. I really enjoy your books. I just finished The Arrangement and can’t wait for The Affair. The first book of yours that I read was The Rake. It is still one of my favorite books.

  55. I think the idea is brilliant. If my two daughters and I were to each write a story with some set key points they would also turn out very differently. I’m a romance lover whereas they are paranormal/sci fi geeks. So keep up the good work.

  56. Anthologies are vastly underrated! I have enjoyed yours and many others, especially The Mammoth Book of Regencies. Not the same premises, but all wonderful stories. Keep up your excellent ideas of collaboration!

  57. I’ve enjoyed both of these anthologies, and agree with you: To the same music, you can choreograph a hundred dances, and all of them could be fascinating. The idea niggling at my imagination is an anthology featuring a contemporary tale and three different periods of history, unified by legend, location and love…

  58. I love the idea, can’t wait to read the books. It sounds like a lot of fun for both writers and readers!

    Thank you for all the hours of reading pleasure your books have brought me.

  59. I really enjoyed both of these books. I especially liked that they were all connected. I think you and the ladies should get together and write another story (or five)!

  60. I was a big fan of Stephanie Laurens and only read It Happened One Night because of her. Fortunately through that novel I have subsequently enjoyed hours and hours of wonderful storytelling. So that you for coming up with the idea of It Happened One Night because it is that book that introduced me to you as an author.

  61. Almost finished with The Arrangement, such a sweet story! I love reading your books and would love to read It Happened on Night/ Season as well. Never been disappointed!

  62. I love all your books and have read many but have not read those two, however they sound like another great read from one of my favorite authors. I am also a collector of all your books and would love to have these in my collection.

  63. I first read It happened … on my new palm device when I started a new job and had a one hour commute to and from work on transit. I’d never read romance stories before and don’t know how I decided or if it was a lucky accident to buy the book. The only thing I used to read was science and science fiction. Years later I now have hundreds of romance books – and all of yours. I read and listen to them on an iPad my palm long since dead. Not a lick of romance in my own life. Not even something I see around me. I wish for both. Surely the world would be a better place. Keep writing your wonderful stories. I’ll keep reading.

  64. Loved both these books, and it didn’t hurt that the four authors are on my “must buy” list. Are you going to do it again? Please!!!

  65. I have always wanted to know the inspiration behind your ideas and this was perfect. My older sister and I live many miles apart and we used to promise each other that once we both retired we would write a book together but this makes me think, why wait? Maybe we will ‘practice’ on one of our short stories. I love to save reading your books until I have to go out of town and then I can get lost in the book instead of thinking about missing home and the parking lot view from the hotel room. Thank you.

  66. I was not going to post a comment this week but after just completing “Simply Perfect” I could not resist. What an enjoyable book and a lovely completion to the whole series of not only the Simply books but the Bedwyn and Pre Bedwyn sagas. So many of my favorite characters from these previous books felt like old friends. I am so glad that you wrote your school assignment and won a contest for that assignment at 10 years old because that was probably one of many roads in life that led you to become such a wonderful author who has brought so much enjoyment to so many of us. Thank you Mary.

  67. I like the idea. When my youngest was in grade school, her teacher assigned a similar type thing. I helped her write her story and it was published in a book sold by the Mill.

  68. I didn’t think I particularly liked short stories until a few years ago when I got Under the Mistletoe as part of a package deal on e-bay, and loved it. Since then, I’ve read both of these anthologies and really enjoyed them, though I don’t own either. I love that in addition to enjoying the stories themselves, there is the fun of seeing how each author starts with the same plot points and then goes off in her own direction. How fun to know that it was your idea…I’m very glad you persevered in the face of puzzled looks and blank stares!

  69. I have in past enjoyed reading and regency romances are my favourite i have not had opportunity in the last year to read due to parents illness; I found Slightly Married in a secondhand book shop three days ago and would like to tell you that my appetite for reading has returned! thankyou will work my way through your slightly series and anything else i can lay my hands on thankyou!!!

  70. Dear Mary,
    I am an avid romance reader. I have read every book by Nicholas Sparks and most every book by Jude Deveraux. Your books however have to be my favorite. Not only do they take me a away to every little girls fairytale setting but the make me laugh, smile, cry. shout out with frustration. Your books are the only ones that can do that for me with each new books I read. While I have not read the volume of books yet, I have them on hold at my library. I have never really written in to an author before, but your books are just so damn good. One of your books, a glass of good wine, and a nice afternoon is the way I keep sane.

    I have no creative bone in my body when it comes to writing but, I KNOW what makes a good book, and you have always had it.

    Thank you for doing what you do,

  71. Hello Mary Balogh,
    I really don’t know what to say, I’ve only just discovered you yesterday….when I needed and was searching out a quote on the idea/feeling of Fleetingness…..and I came across and loved, and used yours! Anyway, I just read your idea about 4 writers writing a story with certain info agreed upon….I think it’s brilliant and Very interesting and…Would Love to read that first one you did: It happened one night !! Your books sure look….enticing too, will have to search the library…;-) I wish you the very best, of everything ! Thanks for….being such a good writer and thinker, Sincerely…a new fan, Stella M.

  72. I actually think this is a great idea for a collection. I’ve read both of these, and the stories truly are very different in tone and feel. Hopefully, we will see more of these!

  73. Your idea reminds me a lot of a game of telephone we used to play in school. The teacher whispered a sentence in one child’s ear and they whispered it into the next one’s ear and the last person said it out loud. It was a completely different sentence. Very cool idea! Keep thinking like that and keep the books coming!! Love your books!!

  74. I loved reading many years ago….the route your first manuscript made before finally getting to the publisher.

    I know how much I would enjoy hearing you tell the story again! And for people who haven’t read the story ….Wow,all I can say it is a ‘miricle’ how your career as an author was launched.

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