6 Popular Black Authors Co-Write Teen Romance ‘Whiteout’
Dhonielle Clayton isn’t just a best-selling young adult novelist. She is an organizer, a former teacher and a founder of the base editing movement We need various books. She’s also the kind of friend who can convince five of her well-known peers to collaborate on one novel and then come back for another.
Opinions differ on his personal style:
“A little bully,” jokes novelist Tiffany D. Jackson, whose books include “Monday’s Not Coming” and “Let Me Hear a Rhyme.”
“A little pushy,” says Ashley Woodfolk, author of “When You Were Everything” and “The Beauty That Remains,” among others.
Or, as Clayton likes to describe himself, “the ringmaster”, “the center of the circus”, practicing the art of “tender leadership”. “They say I bullied them. But I have leadership skills and I was persuasive,” she says.
Clayton thought of a group narrative after seeing the 2019 romantic comedy “Let It Snow” and wanted to create a story centered around the lives and loves of black teenagers. She brought in not only Woodfolk and Jackson, who accepted despite their background in thriller writing, but also fellow bestsellers Nicola Yoon (“Everything Everything”), Nic Stone (“Dear Martin”) and Angie Thomas, whose “The Hate U Give” is one of the most talked about young adult books in recent years.
In 2021, the six authors teamed up on “Blackout,” a romance about black teenagers during a blackout in New York City. The Obamas’ Higher Ground production company is adapting the book into a Netflix series. The friends have just published a second novel about another city in a moment of paralysis: “Whiteout” is set on a snowy day in Atlanta, where even a few inches of precipitation can stop traffic as effectively as a blizzard in the North.
Like “Blackout,” the new book follows a wide circle of young people at different points in their relationships. Clayton helped establish the narrative by sending the other writers a list of what she calls common romantic tropes she thought deserved dramatization – ex to lovers, enemies to lovers, forced closeness, best friends to lovers, and guy in distress (as opposed to damsel in distress).
“Each chapter is about helping a core couple fix their things,” Clayton explains.
Stories with multiple authors are nothing new – Clayton once co-wrote “The Rumor Game” with Sona Charaipotra. But the creators of “Blackout” and “Whiteout” curated the books to the point of scientific certainty. If Clayton is the best to kick off the action, Woodfolk is the resident expert on Google Docs, tracking the amount of sunlight for given sections of “Blackout” and placing characters in specific areas of Atlanta for “Whiteout.”
The book’s editor at Quill Tree Books, HarperCollins publisher, Rosemary Brosnan, maintained her own records. She created an Excel spreadsheet and called it “Whiteout – Continuity and Consistency”, through which she tracked “character details, setting, timestamps, character intersections” and other parts of the narrative. She needed another board to make sure she knew the location of each scene.
“I don’t know Atlanta, so I used Google Maps to figure out where the characters were, then asked the writers to sort out any questions about the setting,” she added.
Individual authors have rotated the chapters, but readers don’t know who wrote which, except for a series of clues at the end that range from the easily searchable (“the only Atlanta native among us” ) to the more mysterious (“the group’s self-proclaimed grumpy love”). Keeping identities hidden was part of the fun, the authors explain, (“Kids love puzzles,” says Clayton), and a way to get readers to concentrate on the book itself.
“One of the things we realized with ‘Blackout’ was that people were kind of obsessed with who was writing which story and thinking of it as an anthology rather than an actual book co-written by six people,” said Jackson. “So there was an executive decision not to say who wrote each story.”
“People are biased with themselves, let them realize it,” Woodfolk says. “So seeing someone’s name automatically colors the reading experience, the book experience.”
“Whiteout,” like “Blackout,” is a page-turning romance but also a loving message from the authors to their fans that their stories are worth telling and their flaws forgivable. Jackson recalls how rarely she saw people like her in the books she read as a child and how often black characters in romantic fiction were relegated to “sassy best friend.” Clayton believes the shared ambition of the contributors helped make what could have been a difficult project to manage assured and professional.
“We all understood the mission and that we needed to add our pieces to make the missions complete; everyone knew what they had to do,” says Clayton. “We are all at the service of children and adolescents. For us, this is focused work. So being at the heart of what we do means there’s no nonsense when it comes to this work.