‘Shy Town Girls’ sets ‘Sex in the City’-style tales in Chicago
Tell me if you’ve heard this story before: Four good friends living in a big city try to navigate the treacherous world of dating while managing their careers and staying in vogue. No matter how crazy life gets, they always manage to celebrate good times and offer a warm shoulder when life gets tough. If you said “Sex and the City,” you’d be, well, right, but this is actually “Shy Town Girls,” a new series of books that follows four 20-somethings (yes, a bit younger than Carrie and her friends) trying to make it in Chicago. The quadrilogy is collaboratively written by four women with Chicago ties: Katie Leimkuehler, Jennifer Yih, Kate Clinesmith and Melissa G. Wilson.
The women admit that their series was loosely inspired by HBO’s famous female foursome, but point out one major difference.
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“We are all lovers of ‘Sex and the City,’” Wilson said. “There are a lot of people interested in the concept of a grown woman starting out in a big city, but I think one of the unique things about our series is the location. We found we have such a loyalty to Chicago. The city is considered to be the second city, but we have such an amazing melange of interesting things happening here. We were happy to showcase the city in our book.”
The series is being written through what the writers are calling a collaborative publishing process. All four authors helped develop the story line and characters and worked together to map out the various plots in each book. Although the individual books are written by one author, the group collectively edits the final text.
“It is collaborative until we finally say it is done,” Wilson remarked.
Wilson, author of 15 books and owner of Networlding, a publishing, marketing and social media consulting firm, thought up the idea for the series and brought in the other three authors, all of whom had contacted her to learn more about the publishing industry. “I felt it was better to show them than tell them,” Wilson said.
In August, the four women gathered in Wilson’s office across from the Civic Opera House at Madison Street and Wacker Drive and plotted out the story. First, they adopted characters: Leimkuehler took on Ivy, Yih chose Bobbie, Clinesmith picked Eloise and Wilson selected Meryl. Each writer molded her character, leaning on real life when necessary and appropriate.
For hours, the women brainstormed, throwing out ideas about subplots, back stories and romantic interests.
“That day we got into the nitty gritty of our characters,” Clinesmith said. “We talked about their grandparents, their upbringing, their relationships with their parents and siblings. We added a lot of dimension to each character.”
They also discussed what themes they wanted to tease out in each book. “We really wanted to touch on loyalty, friendship, love lives and that shyness factor we all have,” Yih said. “Everyone has their own way of being shy, whether it is doing the things you have to do even if it’s hard or if it’s actually” being uncomfortable in social situations.
Shyness is a major theme in the series. All four main characters are forced out of their comfort zone at some point in the first book.
By the end of that meeting, the group decided that each book would be told from the point of view of one of the main characters, who all live in the same apartment building, and that Yih would write the first book.
Despite having a good understanding of the story and the different characters, Yih often consulted the other authors during the writing process.
“It’s hard when you are writing a book from one character’s perspective and you have to speak on behalf of the other characters,” Yih said. “Once I started writing, I would call up Melissa or Kate and say, ‘How would Meryl or Ella (Eloise’s nickname) respond to this situation?’”
Reading how Yih rendered Ivy, Eloise and Meryl allowed the other authors to gain a deeper understanding of their own characters.
“I think reading her perspective of Eloise was maybe more helpful than me writing about Eloise,” Clinesmith said. “Seeing how my character was perceived by others added another dimension to her.”
Leimkuehler is writing the second book, due out in May, from Ivy’s point of view. The other two books, told from Ella and Meryl’s perspectives respectively, will be released later this year.