Writing a Harlequin series on one’s own presents its own challenges, but writing in conjunction with other authors? That’s its own special animal! Harlequin Heartwarming’s Blackwell authors have done this twice now, having written The Return of the Blackwell Brothers and the more recent series, The Blackwell Sisters, together. Each book was written by a different author, and while each is unique, it still fits within the overall continuity—consistency is key.
These Heartwarming authors have a few words of wisdom to make the process a bit easier for those wanting to give this a try. From naming characters to keeping track of those tiny details that need to be threaded throughout the series, here are some pieces of advice.
Melinda Curtis, author of Montana Welcome
Naming characters is hard enough in one book without considering the preferences of other authors and the dynamics of a family or community you’re all creating together. Names of main characters shouldn’t sound too similar or begin with the same letter/vowel combination, because our brains make mental leaps and we don’t want any reader confusion. For example, Lila and Lily wouldn’t be good choices as sisters unless you were writing them as inseparable and indistinguishable. One way I’ve found to manage names is to create a spreadsheet with three columns. The alphabet is the first column and takes up 26 lines. The second column is titled First Name. The third column is titled Last Name. Each character is entered twice—once in the First Name column on the row corresponding to the letter of their first name, and once under the Last Name column on the row corresponding to the letter of their last name. Try it and see if it works for you!
Amy Vastine, author of Montana Wishes
I don’t know about you, but I’m a visual person. When I write, I picture the story in my head like a movie. That’s why I love Pinterest. I make a Pinterest board for every book I’ve ever written. When I joined my writing friends in writing the Blackwell series, I encouraged the five of us to use Pinterest to share ideas and images that represented the Blackwell Ranch and the people who lived there since this was not just my world but OURS. It made it so much easier for this visual person to get an idea of what the other writers in the series imagined for the shared world of Blackwell Ranch and Falcon Creek, Montana.
STORY DETAILS & THREADS
Anna J Stewart, author of Montana Dreams
One of the elements we lock down early is the main threads we’ll be weaving throughout each book. Luckily for us, we found a fairly easy way to address this by using dedicated characters and, in the case of The Blackwell Sisters, Big E (he’s the girls’ biological grandfather and was also the main focus in Return of the Blackwell Brothers). Having Big E pop up in each book, with his own agenda, allowed us to tie the books together as well as progress the story of his long lost son, who Big E and Rudy (the girls’ stepfather) are searching for. We each decided how we were going to present those characters as well as the progress they’d made since the previous book so that we didn’t have any repetition. Anything else we deemed important while writing our own story went into an email or text message to the following author, on the off chance it was something that needed additional closure or mention. Communication with this part of the story arc creation is imperative and it really, really helps that all of us are friends and that we understand each other’s shorthand and discussion style.
TOWN & WORLD CREATIONS
Carol Ross, author of Montana Match
In small-town America, businesses are so much more than the goods or services they provide. The counter, the aisle, the booths are also the news desk, the gossip column, the confessional. Places to learn the newest and discuss the oldest. Where we meet friends, confront enemies, break up, make up, or even enjoy a friendly game of chess. In the Blackwell series, all of this happens in Falcon Creek, Montana—plus so much more! That’s why it’s important for these businesses to provide compelling, recognizable vantage points from which the reader can “watch” these events unfold. So, whether someone is shopping for chicken feed at Brewster Ranch Supply, shooting pool at the Silver Stake, getting a haircut at Jem Salon, sipping coffee at the Misty Whistle Coffee House, or delighting in the donut selection at Maple Bear Bakery, life is on display in Falcon Creek.
Cari Lynn Webb, author of Montana Wedding
One of my favorite pieces to the Blackwell series is the secondary cast of family members and friends. These characters are important for continuity, but even more these characters add dimension and a sense of community to each story. And if you’re lucky, there are several secondary characters that bring humor to scenes, become mentors, and force the hero and heroine to grow within their story. For the Blackwell series in particular, those secondary characters that appear again and again throughout the books become the neighbors and friends we would all like to live next door to, have dinner with and just hang out with. And revisiting these characters is always a gift for me—I like getting to check on past characters, even if only for a chapter. I love any scene where I get to spend time with our secondary cast.
Be sure to check out all five books in The Blackwell Sisters series, available now from Harlequin Heartwarming! And check out more great blog posts by these authors!