PW: Naked Came the Manatee, a serial novel featuring 13 mystery writers with Florida roots, came out in 1996. Any connection with your new collaboration, Naked Came the Phoenix, besides the obvious one of title?
MT: No, the "naked came" is really from that 1969 book, Naked Came the Stranger, which was supposedly written by a Connecticut housewife named Penelope Ashe but was in reality written by 24 Newsday journalists. What I had in mind was The Floating Admiral, which came out in the '30s from the Detection Club and included Dorothy Sayers, Agatha Christie, G.K. Chesterton and other mystery giants of that era.
PW: Whose idea was it?
MT: My agent called me one day and said he had just heard about a serial novel on golf. He asked if I'd ever considered writing a serial novel. I said no, but I could think of an idea for one. I wrote a proposal, which included the spa setting and the cast of characters.
PW: How did you go about assembling your crew of 13 contributors?
MT: I knew Val [McDermid] and Laurie [King], so I talked to them right away. And I had met a couple of others at mystery conventions, and so I looked them up in the Mystery Writers Directory or the Sisters in Crime directory. I had an initial list of about 30 people. It took about a year to get everybody to come on board. Everybody who said yes was really enthusiastic about the project.
PW: How did you determine the order and work out a schedule?
MT: I just made a list. Nevada [Barr] said she wanted to do the first chapter. And I was absolutely astonished when Laurie said she would only do it if she could do the final chapter. I thought I was going to have to beg someone to do the last chapter. I gave everybody a month to write her chapter. Then I just wrote September through September on a chart and asked everybody to mark the chart with their choices—1-2-3—and when I got them back it was a miracle. Only one person didn't get her first choice. And I kept the month nobody else wanted.
PW: Barr did a great setup job and King's conclusion is as clever as one would expect—did either get help because of her role?
MT: I was delighted when I got the first chapter back from Nevada and these cardboard characters that I had just made up off the top of my head had come to life! And Laurie—you realize she even figured out the significance of the itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny, yellow polka-dot bikini? Her chapter's longer than everyone else's, but it's just such a pleasure to read. And I think everyone will appreciate how she meticulously tied up every loose end. I have to say that Laurie did put her head together with Val when it was Val's turn, with the result that Val actually put some things in motion for Laurie to hang hooks on later.
PW: Did any of the chapters surprise you?
MT: You know, all of them did. I had read most of the authors, but not all of them. I was really surprised in some cases because I didn't expect them to be so funny. When I got the chapter from Nora Roberts [writing as J.D. Robb], I fell out of bed laughing. Every chapter had a little twist or a surprise in it that just tickled me to death.
PW: What about marketing the book?
MT: St. Martin's called me the other day to say that the response from all of the major market areas—the independents, the chains and the mystery bookstores—had been 50% over what they had expected. I think they said they had an initial printing of 44,000, which is wonderful. Almost all of us contributors have books that will be coming out this summer or fall, and we're all promoting it on our Web sites.