Shaunna Edwards, left, and Alyson Richman are the co-authors of...

Shaunna Edwards, left, and Alyson Richman are the co-authors of “The Thread Collectors.” Credit: Stephen Gordon

“I grew up with Newsday,” says Alyson Richman. “It was the first place that published me!”

Born, raised, and still living in Suffolk County, the veteran historical novelist explains: “I did a drawing for Kidsday when I was 9 years old; my dad still has it in his scrapbook of my creative career!”

That career takes a new direction in “The Thread Collectors” (Graydon House, $28.99), a Civil War novel about two Union soldiers — one Black and one Jewish —  and the two women who love them. Richman wrote the book with her longtime friend Shaunna J. Edwards, a former corporate lawyer making her fiction debut.

In a conversation over Zoom, the co-authors explored the pleasures and challenges of their collaboration.

What made you decide to write a novel together?

Edwards: One weekend in 2017, Alyson told me she had this idea about a Black man and a white man becoming friends on the Civil War battlefield and then the Black man made a map that would lead the widow to her fallen beloved. I said, “What if the Black man makes a map and gives it to his beloved, and she uses a needle and thread to make something more permanent?” It was about not just having the Black character be the means of reuniting white people but to also have his own back story. Also, a Black man who escaped from slavery is not going to be able to write, so how can this rudimentary map get preserved through a war to get back to the widow? [Non-spoiler alert: this plot point changed somewhat in the final novel.]

Richman: It was a typical conversation with Shaunna: creative energy and intellectual exchange. The idea was building in my head, but I felt something was missing until 2020, when I reached out to Shaunna after the brutal murder of George Floyd. I felt so broken for our country; I thought if Shaunna and I could create something of historical value and emotional authenticity, it might help bridge this divide and highlight that friendship could come even during history’s darkest moments. I didn’t know how Shaunna would react, but I never doubted that she would be an excellent writing partner. In the past she always made me think more deeply, opened up a story with a different angle.

How did you work together?

Richman: We decided right away that we were going to write this in one seamless narrative voice. We worked on a Google doc, and every Sunday night we would brainstorm what was going to happen plotwise with the book. I would take a first pass at creating an armature of what was happening from what we had discussed, and then when Shaunna had time she would go in and start embroidering on that document. Then I would go in and further embroider, and then we would leave notes for each other: “I’m not sure this is right, let’s discuss on Sunday.” So, we worked on a document that was ever-evolving!

Were there any difficult moments?

Edwards: Alyson and I made a commitment to be incredibly raw and honest with each other, and on our first writing day, when we were talking about the level of depth we would have to go into with the relationships, she said, “Oh, I was raised to be colorblind.” I knew she meant that she wanted to be anti-racist and a supportive ally, but I stopped her and said, “I won’t write this book with you if you can’t see my color and understand how important my identity is to how I move through the world and to this project.”

To her credit, she took that with absolute grace, and that is the way we moved through this project. There were things we had to debate, and we had to be able to debate them without working to be polite; I think we all need to have more of those conversations.

Richman: Having always written by myself, I’m used to learning through the research, that when I get to the last page I will be a more enriched person because I’ve learned something and am sharing it with my readers. This collaboration enabled me to learn so much about myself and about Shaunna, to become more enriched on a personal level.

Edwards: For me, our collaboration was life-changing. It was wonderful way to spend a really dark time, and in the novel we found light in the darkness.

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