EAST GREENWICH — Conversation flows easily when Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig and Karen White get together. They confide, commiserate and joke with each other like the good friends they are.
Except these women share something else. Each is a New York Times bestselling author with numerous books written solo — and four they have written together.
Their latest collaboration is “The Lost Summers of Newport,” and on Aug. 24, they will introduce their book — and their friendship — at a special presentation at the Greenwich Odeum, sponsored by “The Rhode Show” and Reading with Robin.
The Newport setting is bound to intrigue the Rhode Islanders, and Robin Kall, who will co-host the event with Ashley Erling, a producer of “The Rhode Show” on WPRI-TV, envisions the event as the smallest state’s biggest book club. The authors will speak and answer questions about their unique style of working together.
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What is “The Lost Summers of Newport” about?
Already hailed as “An engrossing and sumptuous tale,” on “Good Morning America,” “The Lost Summers of Newport” explores the lives of three women from different eras: a modern story set in 2019, a mid-century tale from 1958, and a saga from 1899 in the waning days of the Gilded Age.
Their stories are told in rotation. Chapter One is about Andie, a single mother trying to make ends meet as a producer of “Makeover Mansion,” a reality show about restoring once-opulent houses, including the fictional Sprague mansion in Newport. Andie is the 21st-century character.
Chapter Two introduces Ellen, a young woman hired to give vocal lessons to a sheltered young heiress with a nouveau-riche stepbrother, John Sprague, who hopes she will marry into enough wealth to support his eponymous estate. Ellen is regarded as a servant in this Gilded Age mansion.
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Chapter Three, which takes place in 1958, centers on Lucia, nicknamed Lucky, a woman of wealth and high society who is unhappily married to a scion of the Sprague family.
All three have a connection to the Sprague mansion. All three also have secrets from the past that shape their present. And through virtuoso plotting by the novel’s three authors, those secrets and connections are revealed like clues in a mystery that will ultimately tie the protagonists together.
Story has windows into Newport history, and women’s history
But this is not purely a mystery. The authors delve into their characters’ thoughts, emotions and the challenges for women in their respective eras. There is also history in the storytelling, events like the Tiffany Ball held in Newport to raise money for historical preservation and attended by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
“We weave in real history,” Willig said during a recent Zoom interview that included her co-authors and Robin Kall.
So why Newport?
“I was browsing through news headlines to get my brain going,” Williams said, as she came across a mansion makeover program on British television.
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“It’s house porn, but it’s really family porn, with all the relationships going on that would make a great book, with generations of female matriarchs,” she said.
The concept took root in the authors’ collective thoughts — they frequently refer to their “unibrain” — and the mansions of Newport’s Gilded Age gave them their setting.
“The stories these buildings could tell us, the secrets they held,” Willig mused.
How three bestselling authors merged into ‘Team W’
It might seem that writing three separate but intertwined tales would require an organizational chart, but the process is “very organic,” White said. “The planning is generally pretty cohesive and consecutive.”
“It’s all character-driven,” Willig added. “We thrash out the characters, so we know these people and know how they behave.”
So does each author choose to write a single character’s story? They won’t say, exactly, although White noted, “The characters pick us.”
“We thought we each had distinctive voices until an editor felt edits to the wrong authors,” Willig recalled. “We had created a new group voice.”
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“None of us could imagine writing with anyone else the way we do,” White added, while the others nodded in agreement.
But their magical synergy stems from a mundane happening.
“At big book conferences, we were seated together. All our names begin with W,” White pointed out. They bonded over cocktails, and now they refer to themselves as Team W.
In the “The Lost Summers of Newport,” however, the pandemic separated the writing group, not only from each other but from the city and the fabled houses about which they were writing. They took virtual tours — they thank the Preservation Society of Newport County and its app — until the houses reopened for in-person tours.
“I talked with longtime Newport people, sailing and yachting friends, to make sure we got the right yacht club [for characters’ memberships],” Willig added.
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Online research provided additional information, including reports of the current Tiffany Ball and the Tiffany Diamond worn in 1957 for the occasion by Mrs. E. Sheldon Whitehouse. The novel and acknowledgments at the end of the book are filled with local references that Rhode Islanders will appreciate.
“The Lost Summers of Newport” was released in May, and even though the authors have moved on to new projects and family obligations, “We wanted to do one big event,” Willig said.
“We’re excited to get back together again,” Williams said.
About the authors, and Robin Kall
None of the three authors of “The Lost Summers of Newport” started her career as a writer. As Beatriz Williams puts it, “We buried our writing under respectable careers.”
Williams, a graduate of Stanford University with an MBA from Columbia University, worked as a communications and corporate strategy consultant in New York and London until her interest in history and self-described “obsession” with creating voice and characterization took over.
A New York Times, USA TODAY and internationally bestselling author, she was born in Seattle, Washington, and now lives near the Connecticut shore with her husband and four children.
Lauren Willig, an alumna of Yale University, has a graduate degree in history from Harvard, a juris doctorate from Harvard Law School, and practiced law for a year and a half at a large New York law firm.
However, she had told her first-grade teacher she would become a writer, and admitted to her Harvard law adviser that she studied Stuart England only so she could write “perfectly accurate historical fiction.”
She now has written more than 20 books of historical fiction, plus the four with Team W, and is a New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author.
She lives in New York City with her husband and two children.
Karen White completes the New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling triumvirate, with 31 books to her name.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in management from Tulane University, she pursued a career in business. She attributes writing her first book to “a weak moment.”
She grew up in London but now lives with her husband near Atlanta, Georgia, and has two adult children, including her daughter Megan White — “disguised as Meghan Black in the novel” — who has a degree in historic preservation and who consulted on the novel.
Robin Kall founded Reading with Robin in 2002 as a Saturday morning radio talk show. Marking its 20th anniversary this fall, the Reading with Robin brand has grown to include a podcast, a Rhode Island-based events series, and national speaking engagements.
If you go…
What: “The Lost Summers of Newport”: Biggest Book Club, Smallest State
When: aug. 24, 7-9 pm
Onde: The Greenwich Odeum, 59 Main St., East Greenwich
Tickets: $25, available through Eventbrite at bit.ly/3OU8u8t. For group sales, email email@example.com. The price includes the talk and a donation to the Izzy Foundation, which provides support and services at Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence, as well as nationwide, to children with cancer and their families. VIP tickets include a pre-show gathering with the authors, preferred seating at the event, and a donation to the Izzy Foundation.