Seven authors, seven characters, and one eventful middle-school dance. It all adds up to Best. Night. Ever.: A Story Told from Seven Points of View by Rachele Alpine, Ronni Arno, Alison Cherry, Stephanie Faris, Jen Malone, Gail Nall, and Dee Romito. This novel, due from Aladdin in hardcover on August 15, had a serendipitous start and a smooth, if complex, metamorphosis from concept to finished book.
The multi-author project and its premise were conceived by Malone, whose earlier novels include You’re Invited! and You’re Invited Too!, Aladdin/Mix titles that she co-wrote with Nall. “Most of us met through social media and have been friends since before we had agents or had books published,” said Malone of her fellow collaborators. “By coincidence, we all ended up at Aladdin. Since Gail and I had already dipped our toes into co-authoring and it worked well, we talked about writing something else together—perhaps an anthology that included writings by other authors we knew.”
Though most of the agents of the authors Malone had lined up were not too keen on the anthology idea, she was determined to collaborate with her writing friends, and persevered. “I’m very stubborn, and knew we had to find a way to write a book together,” she recalled. “I’d just watched Love Actually for the 57 millionth time, and I began thinking about a novel with intersecting stories and how we might make that work. And then the seven of us got together on Google Hangout and brainstormed a plot and what kinds of characters might end up together at a middle-school dance. Then each of us claimed one character from those ideas and went off on our own to write.”
Once the story arc and the characters’ storylines were mapped out, Malone and Nall pitched Best. Night. Ever. to Aladdin editor Amy Cloud in September 2015. “I thought it was a brilliant idea,” Cloud recalled. “We’ve never done a collaborative project like this for middle grade. I was so impressed by how very organized the authors were, and by their proposal and sample chapters. And since either I or Alyson Heller, my colleague at Aladdin, have edited earlier books by each of the authors, we knew they could pull it off.”
And they did, with Malone acting as the self-described “project manager” (she is actually given credit as editor on the novel’s title page). After each author devised a beginning, middle, and ending for her character’s storyline, Malone did a bit of tweaking and wrote the storylines out on 21 notecards—three cards for each character.
“I lined them all up on a table, grabbed a bag of M&Ms, and began moving the cards around, making sure the timeline worked and that no character was off-page for too long,” she explained. “Once that was done, each writer took ownership of her character, and wrote a chapter in that character’s voice. Any writer whose character appeared or had dialogue in a chapter could tweak that text. Everyone was involved in the critiquing, and it was a very open and easy collaborative process.”
Arno (whose latest solo novel, Molly in the Middle, will be released by Mix in October) “jumped on board right away” when Malone approached her about collaborating on Best. Night. Ever. “My initial thought was, ‘This is just crazy enough to work!’ ”
A first-time collaborator, Arno found that synchronizing the novel’s timeline was especially challenging: “Since the story takes place over a short period of time, it had to be very linear. The chapters happen minutes apart, so we had to pay very close attention to the timing. Jen did a lot of the coordinating to make sure that everything lined up exactly. It was a mammoth undertaking and she did a fantastic job.” Cloud took the helm to navigate the final timeline, line, and content editing.
Asked if she could envision a sequel to Best. Night. Ever., Arno didn’t hesitate. “Oh sure!” she replied. “I can think of all kinds of places these characters might go—I feel as though we only touched the surface. We have so much material and so many ideas from so many people—we might be able to do 17 more books! There are so many possibilities.”
Best. Night. Ever.: A Story Told from Seven Points of View by Rachele Alpine, Ronni Arno, Alison Cherry, Stephanie Faris, Jen Malone, Gail Nall, and Dee Romito. Aladdin, $16.99 Aug. ISBN 978-1-4814-8660-6