The Glass Ocean by the three Amigos, aka Team W, Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, and Karen White, is a captivating mystery that has as its backdrop the Lusitania and its sinking. As with all good teamwork they effectively created a story that blends their three styles into one.
Readers take a journey with the characters as the suspense ratchets up to that fateful day when the Germans sank the Lusitania in 1915, leaving people to wonder who will live and who will die. Telling the story are three women narrators, two a century in the past, and one in the present time. The first character introduced is Sarah Blake who in 2013 is a struggling author, looking to replicate another number one bestseller. After having all her ideas dry up she decides to open an old chest that belonged to her great-grandfather, who died after the RMS Lusitania was torpedoed. She begins to wonder if these artifacts influenced the sinking in any way. She uncovers a connection between her great-grandfather and a passenger, Robert Langford. who were both on the Lusitania. Deciding to go to England, Sarah meets up with John Langford, a descendant of Robert, who finally decides to work with her to uncover some mysteries and a possible betrayal aboard the ship.
Elise Cooper: I will continue in the spirit of the team effort and combine all the answers under one author. Why the Lusitania storyline?
Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, and Karen White: It was on our mind because of the 100th anniversary. We thought that it might be cool to write about it. It is an interesting issue since there are so many questions that continue to this day surrounding the sinking by German U-boats. During those times, it was the convention to leave cruise ships alone. Back in the day there was this concept of honor regarding rules of war. Let’s remember there was the Geneva Convention.
EC: Was the Lusitania a backdrop or a character to the story?
Three W’s: We wanted to write about the historical truth of what it was like to be a woman on board the ship. This was a life-changing event and very traumatic. The characters are intertwined with the ship and vice-versa. We think it was both a character and a backdrop.
EC: It seems similar to the Titanic, with the description of the lavishness aboard the ship?
Three W’s: They were both iconic ships. Both sank because of the belief that nothing would happen. The sinking of the Lusitania was a calculated act of war that targeted the ship. The Germans even published in the NY Times a warning that passengers would sail at their own risk. This ship sank during World War I, while we consider the sinking of the Titanic an act of God.
EC: There were three women characters, any similarities?
Three W’s: They were all strong women, and all survivors in their own way. They are not at great places in their life and tried to create something new out of something terrible. When something happens in life people can use it as an opportunity of despair or an opportunity for renewal. They were able to take stock regarding what was important to them, and were looking for a new direction in their life.
EC: How would you describe Sarah?
Three W’s: She was very nurtured by her mom. They were always there for each other, but it caused her to have problems forming relationships with people. Her mother leaned on her and she was her mother’s best friend.
EC: How would you describe Caroline?
Three W’s: She was raised by a tough mother to be strong. She could not convince her husband Gilbert that being sexually attracted to him does not make her less of a lady. Maybe she was ahead of her times. She is intelligent and is upset that her husband does not treat her as an equal, confiding in her.
EC: How would you describe Tess?
Three W’s: Artistic, sensitive, who has a sister as a mother figure.
EC: How would you describe John?
Three W’s: The sort of man who rescues strays. He has an enormous sense of responsibility who feels he must always be strong and protective.
EC: How would you describe Robert?
Three W’s: Hunky. Very British. Haunted by his brother’s death. He was devastated emotionally because he thought he should have been the one to die. But because he lived in the Victorian era, as a man, he could not express his emotions and feelings. At times, he was made to feel vastly inadequate. We really felt for him.
EC: How would you describe Gilbert?
Three W’s: A self-made man who is rich, powerful, and proud. He is a little ashamed where he comes from and cannot believe he married this beautiful aristocratic woman who he sees as all class. This creates part of their marital issues because he doesn’t quite believe she could love him.
EC: Caroline is a Southern belle?
Three W’s: We wanted to bring her culture into the story. It is important to realistically depict her from this geographical area. We put in the different tidbits about Savannah, the heat, humidity, how tardiness is accepted. In the South, consonants of the natives are dropped when they speak. Aristocratic yes, but she is also strong. We put in this book quote to show both sides, “Appear to be weak and docile when it suits, but never forget that a soft and gentle outer appearance simply masks a spine of steel.”
EC: There are a lot of Star War references regarding John. Why?
Three W’s: Just look at the last line in this book. As we were writing the story the publicity for the next Star War movie was coming out. We thought that the subject matter is so harrowing with the ship sinking and so many dying that we needed some comic relief. This was our way of humanizing John and showing how as a child there is that one thing that absorbs his imagination.
EC: There is also a discussion of the Alzheimer’s Disease?
Three W’s: It is the gate that made Sarah realize she needed to do something to help support her mother’s care. Many of us are at an age where children are taking care of their parents. Since this story is about figuring out the past we wanted to show readers that family memories could be lost because of this disease. It is losing the person we knew, which is very hard and cruel.
EC: Why the Strauss Waltz?
Three W’s: We thought of art, but realized we could not have Tess forge a piece of art because it would take longer than the voyage. Once we chose music, we decided to make Caroline a great piano player. This is something her husband cannot share with her and causes a barrier between them. But it also brings a bond and closeness between her and Robert. He has memories of his mother playing the piano, which stopped the day his brother drowned.
EC: What about the book club scene?
Three W’s: The opening scene in the book is based on the best-selling author, Alyson Richman’s experience. All of us want people to say no to book piracy. When we told her about writing in that scene she reminded us that it was her story. We off loaded our author gripes into the story.
EC: Why 2013?
Three W’s: We had to give Sarah time to write the book before the 100th anniversary of the sinking, which occurred in 2015. This way she could promote it then.
EC: What was the process?
Three W’s: Our lips are sealed about who wrote what. Basically, one brain and three heads. We deliberately put in some red herrings to throw people off. We feel all the characters belong to all of us. The development and thought process came as we outlined together. We always asked the others for help if we got stuck. There was never any argument. If we disagreed we found ways to compromise.
EC: Can you give a shout out about your next book?
Karen White: In October 2019 there will be the sixth book in the Tradd Street Series that will continue to have historical homes, a South Carolina setting, and more adventures with Melanie Middleton and Jack.
Beatriz Williams: My next solo book, out next summer, will take place in the Bahamas during World War II. Remember the Governor was Edward after he abdicated. It will have Stefan Silverman from Along the Infinite Sea make a little appearance. The main focus is on his half-brother who has a German mother and an English father.
Lauren Willig: In May of 2019 I will have a novel out that is set in Barbados during the early 19th Century. It will be about a relationship between a slave owner and his neighbor’s slave. I hope to explore what slavery did to this normal relationship where they had children and loved each other, as she became his defacto wife.
The Glass Ocean
Her finances are in dire straits and bestselling author Sarah Blake is struggling to find a big idea for her next book. Desperate, she breaks the one promise she made to her Alzheimer’s-stricken mother and opens an old chest that belonged to her great-grandfather, who died when the RMS Lusitania was sunk by a German U-Boat in 1915. What she discovers there could change history. Sarah embarks on an ambitious journey to England to enlist the help of John Langford, a recently disgraced Member of Parliament whose family archives might contain the only key to the long-ago catastrophe. . . .
Southern belle Caroline Telfair Hochstetter’s marriage is in crisis. Her formerly attentive industrialist husband, Gilbert, has become remote, pre-occupied with business . . . and something else that she can’t quite put a finger on. She’s hoping a trip to London in Lusitania’s lavish first-class accommodations will help them reconnect—but she can’t ignore the spark she feels for her old friend, Robert Langford, who turns out to be on the same voyage. Feeling restless and longing for a different existence, Caroline is determined to stop being a bystander, and take charge of her own life. . . .
Tessa Fairweather is traveling second-class on the Lusitania, returning home to Devon. Or at least, that’s her story. Tessa has never left the United States and her English accent is a hasty fake. She’s really Tennessee Schaff, the daughter of a roving con man, and she can steal and forge just about anything. But she’s had enough. Her partner has promised that if they can pull off this one last heist aboard the Lusitania, they’ll finally leave the game behind. Tess desperately wants to believe that, but Tess has the uneasy feeling there’s something about this job that isn’t as it seems. . . .
As the Lusitania steams toward its fate, three women work against time to unravel a plot that will change the course of their own lives . . . and history itself.