Showing posts with label series. Show all posts
Showing posts with label series. Show all posts

Sep 26, 2016

How Much Is Enough?

Thanks, George Michael! My version of that question doesn't apply to "Star People" but rather to series books. How many books can a series contain before it gets stale?

I guess it depends on the writer, and to some extent on readers. Some series characters I have stuck with for a long time, like Lee Child's Jack Reacher, Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone, Sara Paretsky's V.I. Warshawski, Dean Koontz' Odd Thomas, and Michael Connelly 's Harry Bosch. Some books are more memorable than others, but in the end it's the main character that brings me back when the next book is released. I will admit in at least one case above I recently reached my limit. I'm tired of the character and have no curiosity about what the next adventure is.

Some series characters grow and change, and some don't. Harry Bosch moves through time, falling in love, gaining a daughter, rejecting change, and recently retiring from the police force. Grafton takes a different approach, consciously leaving Kinsey in the last millennium (a good choice given that she's got 24 adventures out there and two more to go).

In the case of other authors' work, I often tire of the main character after only a book or two. Other readers wait eagerly for installment #23, so it could be me. It also could be that I learn everything there is to know about the character(s) early on. To keep things interesting, some authors start doing things to their protagonists that I find unpleasant to read. Others change the character in ways that repel me. While I know that being a detective/vigilante/sleuth might make a person more and more violent, I don't want to spend time with them any more when they step over certain lines, especially if they don't suffer emotionally because of it.

What this does for me as an author is make me reluctant to write a lot of books about one character or set of characters. I suppose I would if they had more to offer the reader, but as soon as I feel we know everything about them, usually three to five books, it's time to move on. Someone recently wrote to ask for another Dead Detective novel. While I had a great time presenting my whimsical view of the Afterlife, I think that topic has been covered. If I think of something, maybe.

What works for Lee Child just doesn't work for me.

Book #4: The Last One?

Jun 22, 2016

An Author's Bucket List

Panel at Printers' Row 6-16
 In the preface to Iberia, James Michener explained that he'd conceived the idea for the book decades before, made a bunch of notes about it, and then put it on a shelf because he had too many other things going. I think many authors have the same experience: too many ideas, not enough time. I always tell people I'll die with ideas for more books in my head.

It takes time to make an idea into a book, which is why, though we all might have "a book inside us," we don't all write it down. It's a daunting task, and even if/when you do write it down, it needs editing and reworking, over and over. Even books that seem light, like cozies, require multiple drafts. (I know there are authors who claim to write it down only once. A: I don't believe them and B: if it IS true, I'm guessing they work it over many, many times in their heads before they make that one draft. The rest of us can't keep all that stuff inside--we'd explode.)

Some ideas are good but difficult to plot. I have a couple of books that I started and had to leave because I eother don't know where I want it to go or how I'm going to get there. A book I released last winter, DOUBLE TOIL & TROUBLE, was years in the making because it was a romance (not what I'm known for nowadays)  and a sequel to MACBETH'S NIECE. I wanted to finish the macFinlaech story, but each girl's story unfolds in turns, and I hadn't been able to make them come back together in a balanced way until inspiration hit--years after I began it.

I also have ideas that are cool but I just don't have the time right now to write them. With three series going, there wasn't time to write the mystery about the woman recovering from a coma or the sequel to SHAKESPEARE'S BLOOD I'd started back when an agent first took the book on. She said, "Get to work on the sequel NOW!" I did, but I never finished it, and that agent never sold the first book, so the second one's been lying around 3/4 finished. Maybe this fall...

There are other ideas, some vague, some partially done. It might be true that they don't deserve to be completed if they haven't fired my imagination enough to do it, but on the other hand, I'm by necessity a compartmentalist: I work on the book I'm working on until I'm happy with it (or until a publisher is!) That means the uncompleted books on my bucket list are probably deserving, they simply have to wait their turn. Now that I've finished the Dead Detective and Loser series, and now that my publisher for the Simon & Elizabeth series has announced they won't be publishing any more mysteries, it might be time for some of the books on the bucket list to get their turn at bat.

Oct 12, 2015

Plain Talk for Writers: Series

3 Current Series: Upper left, Loser Mysteries. Upper right, Simon & Elizabeth Historical Mysteries. Lower left: Dead Detective Mysteries. Somebody Doesn't Like Sarah Leigh is a stand-along mystery.
Publishers love series. They invest in an author's work, and series mean they can reap the rewards of that investment more than once.

Readers love series. It's nice to know that characters we love are going to come back and visit us again, telling us about their latest scrapes.

Writers love series--to a point. It's comfortable to slip into the minds of characters we've already created. We know how they think, what they'll do. (Even if we don't, we can look back at the books that came before and refresh our memories.)

The problem with series-writing is keeping it fresh. Writers don't want their characters to "jump the shark," but it's obvious to me from reading some series that authors find it difficult to tell when they've reached that point. If you've ever stopped reading a series because things got too weird, too over-the-top emotional, or too unbelievable, you've seen it happen.

On the other hand, a series shouldn't be the same story over and over. We like familiar characters in new situations, and that makes it tough for a writer. Readers want the same thing, only different.

Publishers push their writers to keep a series going, often despite the writer's feelings. We know that Conan Doyle wanted to kill off Sherlock Holmes, as did Martha Grimes with her Inspector Jury. Steve Hamilton admits that though he likes Alex McKnight, he wants to write other things. I admire these writers for wanting to stretch themselves and not depend on a single successful character to make their whole career. Still, you'll notice that in each case, someone in the publishing industry has decreed differently: the public wants more of the same, and Sue Grafton will be required/encouraged to finish the alphabet, no matter how tired she might be or Kinsey Milhone. (Hey, it's all downhill from X, right?)

I've ended one series (Loser Mysteries) and am at working ending two more (Dead Detectives right now and Simon & Elizabeth next year), because I don't want to get tired of my characters. I did cheat a little and leave possibilities for continuing them at a later date, but right now, they're telling me they've traveled the arc that kept me and my readers interested. After three books, Loser's in a good place in her life. Seamus is about to come to terms with his demons in Book #4. Simon & Elizabeth are getting old as the fifth book circles in my head. I can't see forcing them to have more adventures--not when there are new characters talking from the back of my brain, whispering that they're waiting for their turn.

Sep 7, 2015

"What Are You Working On?"

Every once in a while, I update readers here, because so often I get questions about "What's next?"

Here's a rundown:

The Loser series is finished, at least for now. The first two are out as audio books. The third is in the pipeline, but the narrator is at university and just had a baby, so she's asking for patience.

The Simon & Elizabeth series will have one more installment (#5), but it's going to be a while. I'm slow and so is the publisher of this series. (To their credit, they like to get it right.)


The Dead Detective series will have its final story sometime in early 2016. The manuscript is not complete, but the story's down.


The Sleuth Sisters series book #4 will probably be next. It's in my head but not written down anywhere yet.


My new/old standalone mystery about the death of a friendship in northern Michigan is out. (It used to be just an e-book but I rescued it, got a new cover made, and arranged for print copies.)
(FYI: There are copies of the two books above locally at Tom's Market, per reader requests).

And yes, (sadly) I have a new idea circling my brain. I hope it will be as fun to write as it seems, but there's the problem: EVERYone has a book in his/her head. It's the writing-it-down thing that stops so many.

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