I saw a bunch of writer friends yesterday, which got me to thinking about the vital importance colleagues in a writer’s life. Writing is by nature a solitary profession. There’s something quite wonderful about spending hours alone with characters you’ve invented, in a world you’ve researched and created. But all that quiet gets lonely. Sometimes you want to talk to another person–a person who understands the challenges of working out a plot, the intricacies of bringing characters to life, the endless quest for an elusive bit of research, the hair-tearing frustration of a scene that just won’t work. You need colleagues–to talk about the business, to brainstorm plot ideas, to commiserate over setbacks and celebrate successes.

My first years as a published writer, I had the unique and wonderful experience of co-writing with my mother, Joan Grant. We started out writing Regency romances under the name Anthea Malcolm and then wrote one historical romance as Anna Grant. We spent hours doing research, pouring over plot outlines, comparing drafts; we laughed a lot (we also argued more than we ever did about mother-daughter stuff :-)) and we built on each other’s ideas. My mom died in 1995. I went on to write historical romances as Tracy Grant and then began writing historical fiction with my Charles & Mélanie Fraser books.

My mom and I had always relished the chance to network with other writers (we were part of a great critique group for years with a wonderful bunch of writers–Pamela Collins, Kate Moore, Joanne Pence, Monica Sevy, and Barbara Truax). In the years since I’ve been writing on my own, my friendships with fellow writers have become even more important to me. My friend and fellow author Penelope Williamson and I brainstorm plots over endless lattes, deconstruct tv shows and movies, go to the theater together and analyze what worked (or didn’t) and how that relates to the book we’re writing or books in general. Penny went to England with me when I was researching “Secrets of a Lady” and helped scout locations and trace the path of Charles and Mélanie’s search for Colin ( see Charles & Mélanie’s World and The Search for Colin in the Gallery). Lacking Charles and Mélanie’s tracking skills, not to mention their knowledge of London, we managed to get thoroughly lost round Covent Garden, but we eventually found our way if it took us a bit longer than the characters in the book.

Monica McCarty and I have spent happy hours disappearing into the stacks of Green Library at Stanford (Monica into seventeenth-century Scotland, I into Regency/Napoleonic Britain and Europe). We emerge to compare research notes over the xerox machine (and well, yes, then we’ve been known to have lunch and go shopping). Candice Hern has been increibly generous loaning me Regency-era costume prints from her amazing collections. I have a great time brainstorming everything from plots to titles (including “Secrets of a Lady”) to opening chapters and denouements with Monica, Candice, Jami Alden, Bella Andre, Barbara Freethy, Carol Grace/Culver, Kalen Hughes, and Anne Mallory. (Jami, Bella, Barbara, Candice, Carol, Kate, Monica, and a several other talented writers are also to found online at the Fog City Divas website, which has a fabulous blog.) It’s hard for me to imagine the process of writing a book without such a great support network. I know my work would be infinitely less rich (and I wouldn’t have nearly as much fun).

Be sure to check out the Tracy’s World section of the Gallery which I’ve updated with pictures of some of my talented friends to go with this post. I’ve also posted a new letter in the Fraser Correspondence. Perla asked for a letter by Charles, so this is a letter from Charles to his friend David in the early days of his marriage to Mélanie. If anyone else has ideas of particular characters you’d like to see letters from or events you’d like to see letters about, do leave a comment or send me an email. I can’t promise every suggestion will work with the backstory, but I’d love to hear ideas, and I’ll do my best to incorporate them.