NEW YORK (AP) — Dhonielle Clayton isn’t just a bestselling author of young adult fiction. She is an organizer, a former teacher, and founder of the grassroots publishing movement We Need Diverse Books. She’s also the kind of friend who can convince five of her well-known colleagues to collaborate on a single novel, and then come back for another.

Opinions differ on his personal style:

“A petty tyrant,” quips writer 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 call himself, “the ringmaster”, “the center of the circus”, a practitioner of the art of “tender leadership”. “They say I forced them to do it. But I have leadership skills and I was persuasive,” she says.

This combination of photos shows, from left, Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk and Nicola Yoon, co-authors of the novel “Whiteout.” (Tiffany D. Jackson via AP)

Clayton thought about group storytelling after watching the 2019 romantic comedy “Let It Snow” and wanted to create a story centered around the lives and loves of black teenagers. It involved not only Woodfolk and Jackson, who agreed despite having a background in writing thrillers, but fellow bestsellers Nicola Yoon (“Everything Everything”), Nic Stone (“Dear Martin”) and Angie Thomas, whose “The Hate U Give” is among the most talked about young adult books in recent years.

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In 2021, the six authors collaborated on “Blackout,” a love story about black teenagers during a power outage in New York City. The Obamas’ High 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 an inch of rain can stop traffic as effectively as a blizzard. of snow in the north.

Like “Blackout,” the new book follows a wide circle of young people at various 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 were worth dramatizing: exes for lovers, enemies for lovers, forced closeness, best friends for lovers, and dude in distress (as opposed to of damsel in distress).

“Each chapter is about helping a grassroots couple sort their things,” Clayton says.

Stories with multiple authors are nothing new: Clayton previously co-wrote “The Rumor Game” with Sona Charaipotra. But the creators of “Blackout” and “Whiteout” have staged the books down to scientific certainty. If Clayton is best at initiating the action, Woodfolk is the resident expert on Google Docs, tracking the amount of sunlight for certain sections of “Blackout” and placing characters in precise areas of Atlanta for “Whiteout.”

The book’s publisher at the HarperCollins Quill Tree Books imprint, Rosemary Brosnan, kept her own records. She created an Excel spreadsheet and called it “Whiteout,” through which she plotted “character details, setting, timestamps, character intersections” and other parts of the narrative. She needed another graph to make sure she knew the location of each scene.

“I’m not familiar with Atlanta, so I used Google Maps to map out where the characters were, then had the writers sort out any questions about the setting,” he added.

Individual authors have rotated chapters, but readers aren’t told who wrote which, except for a number of clues at the end ranging from the easily searchable (“the only Atlanta native among us”) to the more mysterious (” the group’s self-proclaimed sweetheart.) Keeping the identities under wraps was part of the fun, the authors explain, (“Kids love puzzles,” Clayton says), and a way to get readers to focus on the book itself.

This cover image published by Quill Tree Books shows “Whiteout,” a novel by Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon. (Quill Tree Books via AP)

“One of the things we realized about ‘Blackout’ is that people were kind of obsessed with who was writing what story and they looked at it as an anthology rather than an actual book co-written by six people,” he says Jackson. “So there was an executive decision not to say who wrote each story.”

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“People are biased against themselves if they realize it,” Woodfolk says. “So seeing someone’s name automatically colors the reading experience, the book experience.”

“Whiteout,” like “Blackout,” is a page-turning love story but also a loving message from the authors to their fans that their stories are worth telling and that their shortcomings are forgivable. Jackson recalls how she rarely saw people like her in the books she read as a child and how often black characters in romance novels were relegated to “cheeky best friend.” Clayton believes the shared ambition of the contributors helped make what could have been a cumbersome project safe and professional.

“We all understood the mission and that we had to add our pieces to complete the missions; everyone knew what they had to do,” says Clayton. “We are all in the service of children and young people. This is purposeful work for us. .

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