Some of you might already know about the wonderful writing trio of Lauren Willig, Karen White, and Beatriz Williams, aka Team W. They successfully co-authored a novel a couple of years ago called The Forgotten Room, which went on to be a New York Times bestseller and an Indie Next Pick. They’re back this month with The Glass Ocean, available now wherever books are sold. The Glass Ocean is a captivating historical mystery that links the lives of three women across a century – two deep in the past, one in the present – to the doomed passenger liner RMS Lusitania.
Book Club Girl Presents a Book Club Girls' Night Out at William Morrow with New York Times bestselling authors Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, and Karen White moderated by Carol Fitzgerald from Bookreporter.com. Join us for a thought-provoking, in-depth conversation while mingling with other book clubs over wine and hors d’oeuvres and meet the publishing team behind these fantastic authors! Get tickets here.
What follows is a three-way conversation between these talented and charismatic authors, as they reminisce about how they’ve made this writing team work for two books.
Lauren: People often ask us how the three of us came to write together. It all began at the bar of a long ago writers conference (as so many good stories do) with a few cocktails and a bottle of red. We were bemoaning the fact that we couldn't do this sort of thing all the time, when someone-- Beatriz? Karen? That bottle of merlot?-- pointed out that if we wrote a book together we COULD tour together. But there was that pesky little problem of, you know, writing a book. This was back in the days of Fifty Shades, so we decided that, clearly, what we needed to do was write a Scottish set novel called "Fifty Shades of Plaid" featuring the hills of Scotland and its playful sheep. Who could resist? We rolled up to Karen's editor and announced our brilliant scheme. She very delicately suggested we drink some water and sleep it off. But, even once the wine had worn off, we couldn't quite get the idea of writing together out of our heads....
Is this how ewe remember it, my dears?
Karen: My memory isn't as good as yours, Lauren (some might even call it baaaad), but yes, that's what I recall. And the look of shock and horror in my editor's eyes made an indelible imprint on my brain. I do remember the idea of writing a book together (even if it wasn't set in Scotland) stuck with me (in a good way). I was sitting at my computer after I returned home, shopping at bodenusa.com… I mean um, er, working on my manuscript when Beatriz sent me an unrelated text. Out of the blue, an idea flashed in my head (an old idea I'd been kicking around for a stand-alone book) about three women living in the same apartment building. Then Beatriz responded with a text about a Gilded Age mansion in Manhattan that had family connections. After that, Lauren jumped in with more brilliant ideas and the next thing I knew, I was on a plane headed to New York and Alice's Tea Cup, where the three of us stuffed ourselves silly with tea and scones and outlined our first collaboration, THE FORGOTTEN ROOM. Was there really no Prosecco or wine involved? Just tea? Maybe Beatriz remembers more accurately....
Beatriz: I just remember being so buzzed from all that tea, I wasn’t sure if we were geniuses or madwomen. But it made sense, right? All three of us write novels that weave together multiple narratives in different time periods. If we created a book about three women living in three eras—say, the 1890s, the 1920s, and the 1940s—and we each wrote one of those characters’ stories, spun around a central mystery we concocted together…why, that would mean more fun and less work for all of us! Simple writer arithmetic! We presented our plan and our tea-stained sample chapters to our agents, who somehow managed to convince Karen’s editor to buy this proposal, and a year or so later our dream came true. We found ourselves on an airplane to Florida in January, ten days of book tour before us, nothing but sunshine and cocktails and bookstores full of readers, not a care in the world. Then, as we swung through Atlanta, our editor called us up with some surprising news. Do you remember that moment, Lauren?
Lauren: You mean the moment when we were snowed in at Mohegan Sun with a famous professional comedian who couldn’t believe we weren’t faking it when we didn’t know who he was? Or that time…. Oh, wait. You mean the night when they told us we’d hit the New York Times and the USA Today list, right? At first, we thought it had to be a joke or a mistake—but there it was, from our agents and our editor! When we wrote our first collaboration, we had no idea if it would make any sense to anyone but us. Scratch that—we had no idea if we could even write a collaborative novel! We’d all written a lot of books by ourselves, but none of us had ever worked with anyone else. In fact, if you’d asked me a year before, I would have choked on my tea and told you not to be insane. Write with someone else? Relinquish control over my story? No way. But writing together turned out to be such a joy, right, lovelies?
Karen: Seriously—collaboration with Lauren and Beatriz has been such a highlight of my writing career. I mean, to get all that glory with only having to write one third of a novel is pretty awesome, right? Um, and sharing a brain with two amazing writers has been a real joy. Especially our book tour—remember, ladies? We dubbed it The Best Book Tour Ever—and not just because Waffle House and Beef Jerky Outlet retweeted us, either! Sharing the creative process has really fed my own artistic well, in addition to my new appreciation for pecan waffles (thanks, Beatriz). The only downside was when Lauren and Beatriz kidnapped me and put me in New Hampshire in November. I don’t know how I thawed my poor fingers enough to type out the outline for collaboration #2 (The Glass Ocean). Maybe Beatriz knows.
Beatriz: Actually, I thought you were just trying to dodge your share of the typing, but then I grabbed your hand—to put a wineglass into it, naturally—and thought for a moment I’d found an icicle instead. Thank goodness the wine defrosted you in time, or I don’t know how that outline would have turned out. We’d first conceived the idea of a novel set on the last voyage of RMS Lusitania during the book tour for THE FORGOTTEN ROOM—yes, we were that eager to do the whole thing all over again! I’ve been obsessed with the First World War for most of my adult life, and the Lusitania disaster is one of those tragic, mysterious, high-stakes events, both majestic and deeply personal, that—like Titanic before it, and even more so because of the enormous global repercussions—offers great scope for fictionalization. We initially envisioned a story that took place across the three passenger classes (first, second, and steerage) but we soon realized that wasn’t the best way to tell our story. For one thing, the sinking of the ship forms the natural climax of any Lusitania narrative, and we wanted to be able to transcend the tragedy of the disaster with a story of hope and closure, of what-came-after. And we also had a more practical problem: none of us wanted to write the character in steerage. Lauren’s excuse was her claustrophobia…
Lauren: It was when you suggested booking us all on the Queen Mary for research that I got nervous—what if you forgot to put air holes in my carry case when you tossed me in the hold? Truth be told, though, it had more to do with the way the plot shaped itself. We knew from the beginning that the plot was going to revolve around Robert Langford, a British journalist (who just might also be a spy), and the two women who loved him: Caroline, a Southern aristocrat married to a wealthy industrialist, and Tess, a hardscrabble con-woman. I vaguely remember our bouncing around the idea of trying to insert a third class passenger into the story, but it felt forced. And then, our very last night on The Best Book Tour Ever™, at an adorable French bakery/restaurant in Myrtle Beach, someone came up with the idea of adding in a modern character, a non-fiction writer hard on her luck, looking for that one big story that could make everything okay again. We’d done an event in Atlanta the night before, driven half the night to get half way to Pawley’s Island, slept three hours, then got on the road again at dawn to speak at a luncheon and signing, followed by another in-store signing-- but I remember that electric excitement, the way we all started speaking at once, tripping over each other with ideas upon ideas, so energized by the rightness of it. Either that, or Karen slipped something into our onion soup….
Karen: The only thing I’d slip into anyone’s soup would be Prosecco! Because Prosecco makes everything better. Especially brainstorming after only three hours of sleep. Chocolate helps, too. And those Dunkin Donuts Munchkins that Beatriz kept buying for the car rides “just in case we get hungry.” And caffeine. Definitely caffeine. Both Lauren and Beatriz write in coffee shops, while I write at home with my Keurig IV line to ensure a steady level in my bloodstream. So, yes, we could say it’s all those things that keep our creativity buzzing, but we all know it’s our three brains working together, our shared passion for story telling, and our deep friendship that are the real inspiration. Or maybe it’s the extreme temperatures that Beatriz and Lauren force me into might be the real reason for our success. I hope not, because I’d hate to make them carry all of my trunks and suitcases on the Best Book Tour Ever Part Two as punishment…
Beatriz: Or to work off all that sugar and caffeine? Anyway, whatever the fuel, it definitely kept our creative engines running in New Hampshire. Once we integrated that modern perspective into our Lusitania story—a historian trying to unravel the mystery of her great-grandfather’s involvement in a possible spy ring aboard ship—the characters and ideas flowed as easily as the Prosecco. Maybe even more so, because both Karen and I noticed that Lauren—ahem—didn’t exactly seem to be sipping her share. By the time we trekked home from the frozen tundra with our GLASS OCEAN outlines tucked into our laptop bags, we were ready to write this book to life. Never mind that we each had deadlines looming for our stand-alone novels, too. And as it turned out, Lauren was facing an even more important deadline of her own…
Lauren: Oh, goodness, don’t remind me! When we met at the Carlyle hotel in New York to polish up our final draft of the manuscript, it was a race against time to see which would come first: a finished book or my baby. (Note to self: a large baby bump makes a great place to balance a laptop.) One of the highlights of the trip was the surprise baby shower Karen and Beatriz threw me—at Alice’s Teacup, of course! And then we got our notebooks out and kept right on working over the pile of adorable baby clothes and the giant pumpkin scones (yum!). I have to say: if I’d wondered if our success with The Forgotten Room was the booze talking, working on The Glass Ocean was proof positive that friendship is better than gin when it comes to creativity (it’s even better than a caramel macchiato, and I do love my caramel macchiatos). One of the things I love best about the way we work together is how we move seamlessly back and forth between our lives and our work: we’ll be gossiping about something entirely unrelated (for example, the strange inability of spouses to replace toilet paper rolls) and then one of us will say, “Wait—that bit we were stuck on. I think I know how to solve it!” And we’ll be off to the races again. When we’re not together, we’re texting. Whenever my phone bings, I know it’s my mother, my sister, or another Daily Mail article from Beatriz….
Karen: Yep. One day we should publish our text exchanges. They’re rather brilliant (and very funny if I say so myself). Lauren brought up the friendship point—and yes, this thing we do has definitely drawn us together. We are all not just fans of each other’s writing now, but real friends. We can finish each other’s sentences, we can go shopping at the Kate Spade outlet (hypothetically, of course) and choose dresses for each other. And we always agree on dessert (the answer is always yes). When we were on tour, one of the most often asked question was about what we do about conflict. This took us by surprise as we have never had any! That’s the fun of the three of us writing collaboratively—we’re so different, but we’re like three pieces that all fit into the same puzzle. It just works. Or maybe it’s the giant pumpkin scones and Prosecco that glues us together?
Beatriz: I think it’s just the wonderful alchemy of female friendship. As we go through life, we make friends at school, at work, through our partner, through our children. You and Lauren are friends I’ve discovered through my lifelong passion for storytelling. And because we’re all writers, we all undertake the same monumental challenge each day—combining an intense creative vocation with the constant demands of raising a family. We understand and love each other because we share so many pieces of the same human experience. When we come together to create a new story, the result is magic.
Buy the book.
Download the discussion guide.
Watch a video.
Listen to an audio clip.