Merriam Webster defines “anthology” as “a published collection of writings (such as poems or short stories) by different authors.” But within that definition, there is room for variations on form and format. Suzanne Ferrell describes the vision and the process that brought a collaborative anthology to fruition.
Capitol Danger is an anthology. Nothing unusual in that, right? Four stories written by four different authors all in the same romance subgenre. Been done hundreds, if not thousands of times. Sometimes those stories are in different subgenres but in a certain time period, such as a paranormal, a time travel, and a romantic suspense all taking place in regency England. Still they’re all complete, stand-alone stories meant for the reader to read individually.
That is not Capitol Danger.
A few years back Romantic Suspense author, Jeanne Adams and I were talking about doing a romantic suspense anthology. One of us, and to this day neither of us can remember who, said, “Have you seen that movie VANTAGE POINT?”
VANTAGE POINT was an action thriller movie about an assassination attempt on the U.S. President in a European city. The premise of the movie was showing the event, before, during and after from various points of view, giving a more complex presentation than just a simple, linear story.
Well, both Jeanne and I loved that movie. We thought, what if, we had one big event with the same set of bad guys and told the story from four stories occurring at the same time? How cool would that be?
Now, our juices were running, we brainstormed about the event. It had to be something fairly big and important to give us enough room to weave four different stories in it. With the election races just heating up, we thought, what if a group of terrorists tried to topple the new president. What about an inaugural ball? Jeanne, lives near Washington, so she knew there were various smaller balls held at hotels on inauguration night.
Next we had to decide if we wanted foreign terrorists or the home-grown variety. We decided that a home-grown sect might have more vested interest in restructuring the government. Frankly, those are the ones that scare both Jeanne and I the most, so we went with it.
Now we had the bones for our book. Overall plot. Check. Bad guys. Check.
The next problem to tackle, who could we con into going on this grand adventure with us?
Both Jeanne and I are members of the Romance Bandits, a blog group that formed from the 2006 Golden Heart finalists. In the Romance Bandits there are several people known as the “Boom Sisters,” we’re the girls who like action adventure books and things that blow up. Jeanne approached one of our fellow “Boom Sisters”, Nancy Northcott about joining our project. In the meantime, I had lunch with one of my close friends, J.D. Tyler, who writes both paranormal and romantic suspense books. Both Nancy and J.D. were as excited about the project as Jeanne and I.
So now we had our crew.
Next, we decided on the order of the stories. Jeanne volunteered to do the Prologue. For our anthology, we decided we needed a common starting point. Since the common denominator of the stories was to be the attack on the ball, why not show the opening scene from the bad guys’ POV as they made their initial move?
I already knew who my characters were going to be, two Treasury/Homeland agents from my book VANISHED, book #4 in my Edgars Family romantic suspense series. At the end of that book, I wasn’t quite done with Luke Edgars and Abby Whitson. Having them running an undercover op during the ball was a great way to let their story continue to play out. So I took the first full story in our book with UNMASKED. It’s a mobile story, one with my characters moving through the hotel to find an escape route.
Next up was Jeanne’s full story, DEATH UNDER GLASS. Jeanne’s story features new characters, Edward Millner and Retta Geminous, the sculptor of all the glass and crystal art hanging throughout the hotel’s ballrooms. Edward will be part of a new series Jeanne’s launching next year. When the terrorists attack, both bullets and glass start flying. A former Special Ops member, Edward was a medic, but now suffers from PTSD. Trapped in the ballroom during DEATH UNDER GLASS with the terrorists, as well as high-ranking cabinet and military leaders, their story focuses on taking down the bad guys in the room and saving lives until help can arrive.
Nancy Northcott took the third position in the book with her addition, DANGER’S EDGE. Nancy chose to use new characters also. FBI Special Agent, Greg Reed is on medical leave and attending the ball with his cousin. A beautiful young woman who is part of the wait staff catches his attention. Kelsey Mitchell is an undercover operative for the Arachnid Agency, working the ball to collect evidence on an exporter dealing in child sex slavery. When the gunfire starts in DANGER’S EDGE, both Greg and Kelsey find themselves trapped in the hallways with the terrorists and with no way to get communication outside the hotel. Their job is to find a way to connect with authorities and bring help before too many innocents die. Nancy plans to use DANGER’S EDGE as a lead into a new romantic suspense series featuring the Arachnid Agency.
J.D. Tyler asked to write the final story for our book, LETHAL TARGET, which focuses on tying up loose ends and delivering a powerful, explosive ending. J.D. is very good at doing that, so we were thrilled she’d want to take that critical section of the book. In LETHAL TARGET she uses two new characters who will meet up again in an FBI series she plans to independently publish in summer 2016. Her FBI Special Agent, Dalton McCoy is working deep undercover inside the terrorists’ organization. When he learns the exact plans of the group, there’s not enough time to prevent their attack. Now it’s all about stopping their ultimate goal. His only ally to take down the terrorists is reporter Jolie Montfort.
Whew! It was now a full-fledged project and we were off and running. Was it easy? Smooth sailing? Well…
1. Communication and logistics:
J.D. and I live within a few miles of each other in Texas, but Jeanne and Nancy live in different towns, in different states on the East Coast. So face-to-face discussion wasn’t an option. Once we had our four players, the next thing we did was set up a small, private Yahoo loop. This allowed us to talk about the books, the publishing plans, the cover design and ask questions as they came up. Some text messages and phone calls also took place when we needed more in depth communication as the book progressed.
** Good and open communication is important. **
Here’s a conversation that happened between J.D. and me.
Suzanne, over lunch with J.D.: How’s your story for the book coming?
J.D.: I’m having trouble visualizing the hotel. I’m going to need to go online to look at a map of the hotel’s layout.
Suzanne, giggling: Let me know how that works for you.
J.D., casting a narrow-eyed look at Suz: What do you mean?
Suzanne: Uhm, the hotel is fictional, there’s no site map and no website.
At that moment, it became very apparent to me that we were going to need some visual hotel plans to work off of. I promised to draw some for her based on the images that I’d been working on in my brain. Before I could do that, I contacted Jeanne and shared the story. Of course the ever-prepared Jeanne had already drawn up floor plans for the three pivotal floors of the hotel—the basement, the first floor entrance level and the 2nd floor ballroom level—for herself. She happily shared them with all four of us.
** When you’re working in a fictional building you might need to draw some floor plans. **
In order to make the books flow well, we needed to share them as they were written. After writing the opening scene of UNMASKED, I emailed it to the loop for the others to access it. This was important because I opened with a description of the gala event, including all the glass sculptures hanging in the ballroom. This triggered the idea for Jeanne’s book. The description of the ballroom and its layout could be used by the other three authors if they wanted. In that first chapter I also write the triggering event which moves up the terrorists’ timeline and insures that chaos ensues. Again, something to be included or referred to in the other three books.
With three of the books very mobile, UNMASKED, DANGER’S EDGE and LETHAL TARGET, it was important for Nancy, J.D. and I to coordinate our characters actions and movements throughout the hotel. We didn’t want them actually running into each other or joining up. (That sounded like too much tag-team writing to us and we wanted the stories still to be individualized.)
And in anthologies, usually each book has its own wrap-up, where the bad guys are completely taken down and the romance resolved. In CAPITOL DANGER, we couldn’t really do that in the first three books, since J.D.’s book was to be the explosive ending. So the challenge for Jeanne, Nancy and I was to solve our individual black moments—both in plot and romance—yet leave the ultimate ending of the whole event open-ended enough that we wouldn’t detract from J.D.’s story. It also required J.D. to read all three of our books to know what our characters were doing or had already done.
Imagine this conversation:
Nancy: Okay, my guys have just made a quick stop to the basement to retrieve vital equipment from my heroine’s employee locker. They’re heading to the roof through the back stairwell.
Suzanne: Okay, my people are heading to the basement to look for a way out. Are you meeting any hostiles on your trek?
Nancy: Yes, they’ve taken out a few.
Suzanne: You want to leave a dead body in the stairwell? Or should I leave one or two for your people to find?
** Don’t try to write all four books at the same time. Synchronize them so they can build off what’s already been written. Be willing to edit in or out details to flow with the other stories. **
As the stories were being written, we went ahead and started the production phase. First up was cover design. All four of us have used Lyndsey Lewellen of Llewellen Designs to do covers for our Indie-pubbed books. So, going with her was a no brainer. Lyndsey also happens to be my daughter, so being able to do some informal chats about the initial design helped bring the project forward. Once she had an initial design, we showed it to the group. Then “cover design by committee” began. Luckily, the changes weren’t huge. We were in agreement that we wanted a man with a tux and a gun on the cover. We tweaked the fonts and a few details. One of the hardest aspects to the cover was getting an image of the Capitol that Lyndsey could purchase for our use. (In case you didn’t know it, no matter what pose or image the author’s mind might have, if the designer can’t purchase the image for use, you’re going to have issues and probably have to rethink your cover.)
We went with my usual editor, Tanya Saari and formatter, Mitchel Rhodes of LIBRIS. They’re the team, along with Lyndsey, that know how to handle the production end of my books and do an excellent job. We added up the costs for all three parts of production and divided that by four so we split the expenses evenly.
** Go with the team you trust and be willing to compromise to get the cover you all love. **
5. Indie publishing:
One of the things we all agreed upon was that this project wouldn’t be one we’d offer to a publishing company. It was so unique we were certain it wouldn’t pass the marketing department’s guidelines. As authors who loved action/adventure and romantic suspense stories, we knew readers would enjoy it. So independent was the way to go. One author would need to spearhead the uploading of the books to the various sites and the divvying up of the proceeds. Jeanne kindly offered to do that, (after I nearly had a nervous breakdown over thinking about tax forms!!!). At this time it’s the only book we’ve put out like this so the income is equally divided by four after the percentage of the publishing sites and a small fee for accounting costs are deducted.
** Choose one person to handle the finances, but have an accountant help do the math. **
For us, the project was unique and fun. Learning the process for this endeavor kept us on our toes. In the end, we have this great book, made up of four fantastic tales, all meant to be read as one long book. Try it! I think you’ll like it.
Do you like anthologies? What do you like about them? Do you ever wish more were like Capitol Danger, as in tied together and making one big story?
EXPOSED (Release Date: June 15, 2016)
U.S. Marshal Frank Castello is on medical leave and feeling restless. While at his friends’ wedding he finds himself attracted to Sydney Peele. Problem was, the cute, sassy blonde is the photographer for the wedding. Frank hates photographers. They’re a hazard to his profession, especially when he’s on witness protection duty.
Sydney Peele is intrigued by the grumpy Marshal at her friend’s wedding, even when the big, sexy man begrudgingly offers to take her home afterwards. Her pleasure is short lived when her home and life is literally going up in flames. Her brother had been staying at her home and there is no sign of him anywhere.
When Sydney goes into a state of frozen shock, finely honed instinct has Castello rushing her from the scene to safety at his home. A visit to the fire scene the next day confirms his suspicions when the firemen on the sight confirm it a case of arson.
As Frank and Sydney search for answers about who might’ve started the blaze, questions arise about her brother, also a photographer. Was he responsible for the fire? Or has he exposed his sister to something far more sinister?
USA Today bestselling author, Suzanne Ferrell discovered romance novels in her aunt’s hidden stash one summer as a teenager. From that moment on she knew two things: she loved romance stories and someday she’d be writing her own. Her love for romances has only grown over the years. It took her a number of years and a secondary career as a nurse to finally start writing her own stories.
The author of 13 novels and an Amazon best-seller for both her series, the Edgars Family Novels and the Westen series, Suzanne’s books have been finalists in the National Reader’s Choice Awards–SEIZED (2013) and VANISHED (2014). Suzanne was also a double finalist in the Romance Writers of America’s 2006 Golden Heart with her manuscripts, KIDNAPPED (Long Contemporary Category) and HUNTED (Romantic Suspense). She has also won The Beacon Unpublished and the CTRWA’s contests in the erotica categories with her book, The Surrender Of Lacy Morgan.
Currently working on more books for her Edgars Family series (KIDNAPPED, HUNTED, SEIZED, VANISHED and Capitol Danger) and the Westen Series (Close To Home, Close To The Edge, Close To The Fire, and Close To Christmas), Suzanne hopes to bring readers more passionate and suspenseful books to fill your reading moments.
Suzanne’s sexy stories, whether they are her on the edge of your seat romantic suspense or the heartwarming small town stories, will keep you thinking about her characters long after their Happy Ever After is achieved.
You can Find Suz at:
CRAFT OF WRITING