Signet editor (and revered bastion of the Regency genre) Hilary Ross must be credited with the initial brainstorm that created The Grand Hotel, a "shared world" anthology set in the Regency period. We were discussing new projects on the phone one day when she mentioned that she had long been interested in doing just such a project, all the stories to be set in the same "grand style" hotel, with overlapping characters, and events, in a limited time frame.
Now "shared world" anthologies are not a new thing--the science fiction genre is rife with them, and contemporary and western romance claim a few, but to Hilary's knowledge it had never been done in the Regency genre.
I was hooked. We started brainstorming right away. We would need a "bible"--a notebook of information that set the boundaries of the "shared world," plus a list of shared characters and events. I promised Hilary I would get to work on the background research while she talked to several other authors to see if they would be interested in contributing to the anthology.
My search involved, first, researching the world of hotels during the Regency period.
Scouring my home research library, along with a book toting trip to the Dallas public library, I discovered there was not a lot of information to go on. Just enough to leave me faintly alarmed. The era of the grand hotels in both Europe and America followed the birth of the railway. Before that time, in England, there were a great many inns, and posting houses (where the post coaches stopped) but few truly "grand" hotels.
There were, in London, two or three notable exceptions, and we discussed actually using a real hotel as the setting, finally deciding, for several very sensible reasons, on a fictional hotel that had just been built.
Next, I set to work deciding on the time frame, "shared events," a location for the hotel, and its look.
The time frame was, I thought, particularly important. I wanted a moment in Regency London that was rich with potential for our growing group of interested authors. A time when "things were happening," so that we would have a number of elements to choose from in focusing our stories in different directions. I settled on the moment of Napoleon's first fall. London was alive with celebrations at that time, the Prince feted Wellington at Carlton House, fireworks and entertainments were planned for the major parks, the victorious were returning to great acclaim, and a large Russian entourage was in London drawing crowds, etc. I made copies of information concerning these events for the bible, as well as some description of Carlton House, the parks, etc.
In addition, I wanted some potential "shared events" to be going on in the hotel. (I.E.: a thieving maid, a hot tempered French cook, and a fire that threatened to consume the hotel)--so, I did some research on servants, livery, cooks, firemen--included whatever I found in the "bible," and came up with a list of employees--simple descriptions which I encouraged the other writers to add to.
For the look of the hotel: I studied period architectural detail, and period furniture. Everything would have been brand new, in a new hotel. I've stayed in old London hotels on a number of trips, and decided that a real building that I had personal experience with would probably be best for making sure the period details and layout were most accurate.
So, I borrowed from my memories of a perfectly dreadful hotel my husband and I had the misfortune to spend a night in (it was under very poor management)--BUT, it had been quite during the period in question. It still boasted an interesting architectural detail in the lobby, a raised Greko-Roman frieze (painted horrible colors) that must have once been quite splendid.
I kept coming across lovely prints in my architectural detail search of just such friezes on walls and ceilings being all the rage during the Regency. The Greko-Roman look was also popular in furniture, china, even lamp bases and fireplace surrounds, so, I Xeroxed examples for the other authors, decided on a print that looked rather how I imagined the hotel might look, picked a spot on the map very close to where the real hotel I had stayed in was located, and did a map for the "bible."
The bible (50 plus pages) was sent off to: Anne Barbour, Carla Kelly, Allison Lane, and Barbara Metzger, who had kindly agreed to work on the project.
Carla Kelly was asked if she would mind doing a downstairs romance to add a bit more variety to the collection. She graciously agreed. Allison Lane (closet arsonist) e-mailed me begging to be the one who got to burn down the hotel, please, pretty please. She had a hot idea just burning to be told. I hate to stand in the way of creative enthusiasm, of course I said yes.
The next step was each of the authors needed to come up with a thumbnail synopsis of their story idea, and primary characters, so that we could (hopefully) avoid any two story lines, or characters that were too similar. Variety is the spice of an anthology. And with five talented, creative minds we got just that.
A title for the collection was discussed. And cover art was discussed, and put into the hands of an artist.
Thank goodness for e-mail and the US post office. Both made such a long distance project do-able.
We hunkered down to the business of writing, and coping with life--two of us were moving, one job hunting, one dealing with an unexpected family crisis--and yet promising details on the stories started coming in. One writer wanted most of her story to take place outside the realm of the hotel, another writer was gleefully using every detail from the "bible" she could work into her tale. The hotel was coming alive, the secondary characters were stepping in and out of all of the stories. The French chef and the desk clerk worked overtime. We changed the hair color of one character, several new servants made an appearance, and the fire had a life of its own. We exchanged details and kept working.
Everyone made deadline, and the line editors at Signet started the editing process for grammar, spelling, etc., while I sifted through the stories looking for inconsistencies, the right order to knit them together, and for potential overlaps to more closely bind them into the "shared world." Two writers had rather fortunately come up with very similar secondary characters, so we overlapped the two to become one. There was a lot of activity involving the desk clerk that had to go in a certain order for clarity and some hotel lobby and fire scene details lent themselves to nice overlap.
The title for the collection was discussed again, and changed.
Notes went out to all of the authors and minor rewrites were done. It seemed a good idea in the next read-through for all of the involved authors to get a look at the entire collection. I was sure we were missing minor inconsistencies and potential for more story weaving, so the authors graciously gave time they could have been writing on upcoming books to read over the collection again. More minor changes were suggested and errors corrected. We were each given another opportunity to look at our own stories for typos, word choice, repetition--all kinds of little gaffs pop up visually when a book is typeset. (Of course with all that checking and double-checking, we still missed a minor thing or two. No book is perfect.)
But, our excitement was rising. The art department had given the book a lovely cover, and it was fun to see how the world had formed, how different styles and approaches made for very different stories and yet they all knit together. We all wanted the collection to be the best it could be. Our original plan had included a "grand hotel" weekend giveaway to help promote sales of the book. The giveaway was nixed. The book had to stand on its own.
As for the result? Of course every reader must judge for themselves, but in my completely objective opinion, Carla Kelly created a wonderful downstairs romance in "The Background Man." Her characters are always so beautifully rendered and she made the "newness" of the Grand Hotel really come to life. Anne Barbour, who has been stretching her creative wings a little more with each book, gave her readers a wonderful keep-you-wondering ending to "The Castaway." Barbara Metzger charms us whenever she puts words to paper, with her deft humor. We all loved her Hafkesprinke heiress, and I really wished I had been the one to come up with her clever list of Rules for the hotel in "The Management Requests." And Allison Lane finished off the book with enthusistic antics with the French chef, and a blaze of glory for the hotel. (No, she did not burn it to the ground. We may want to check into the hotel again someday.)
As for me, I was intrigued by the idea of working with four esteemed colleagues on something that would test our creative metal. I was also intrigued by the idea of what it would be like in Regency London, in the midst of a city-wide celebration, for two souls meeting because the war had touched them most intimately. They believe they have very little reason to celebrate, but in "Love Will Find The Way" a young man just home from the conflict, present a saddlebag full of effects and letters to a fallen comrade's widow in an arranged meeting at the Grand Hotel only to discover he has lost his heart to her as well.
In the end, despite all the hard work, perhaps because of it, I thoroughly enjoyed my "shared world" stay at the Grand Hotel. I hope you do too.
writing as Elisabeth Fairchild
NEW website address: http://www.gimarc.com/fairchild.html