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Posts tagged with: series

Saying Farewell to a series

Sue Grafton is running out of the alphabet. Darynda Jones is filling up the graveyard. Agatha Christie feared the bombs dropping on London during World War II and so wrote final novels for her sleuths, Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. She survived and left the books with her bank as she wrote other stories in those series, knowing she’d already prepared them a suitable farewell. Margaret Frazer’s series with Dame Frevisse and Joliffe came to an end with her early death.

Every series, no matter how well loved by readers, must come to an end. And so it is with the Victorian Bookshop Mystery series. The romantic arc I’d imagined when I started The Vanishing Thief 5 years ago has come to an end with The Detecting Duchess, out today.

No author ends a series lightly, especially one as popular as the Victorian Bookshop mysteries have been. But my brain or my muse or the voices inside my head have moved on. Georgia and the duke no longer converse with me when I’m trying to sleep. I’m at work on my third Deadly series story, Deadly Fashion, with number four, Deadly Deception, churning in my mind like a hurricane.

Plus I have the first in a new series, set in the dawn of the Edwardian era of big hats and newfangled motor cars, already written. Readers who liked the Archivist Society and the idea of a group of sleuths will enjoy the Gates. They’re a close knit group, all right, but not exactly of sleuths. And there will be the slow blooming romance between my main character, milliner Emily Gates, and a certain Scotland Yard detective. I hope those who’ve enjoyed the late Victorian era will take a step into the new century as Emily finds her first dead body.

So I’m saying goodbye to a part of my life for the past five years with fond memories of hard work, long hours, and gratifyingly good comments from readers. And I’m saying hello to more long hours and hard work spent in the first years of the Edwardian era and the turbulent pre-World War II years. I hope the readers follow me to new adventures with murder, mayhem, and intrepid lady sleuths.

The newest from Kate Parker, The Detecting Duchess, is out now at all major on line retailers in print and ebook. For what’s coming next, check www.KateParkerbooks.com or www.Facebook.com/Author.Kate.Parker/

Lessons Learned from Marie Force

ReadbooksI recently took a virtual workshop about writing multiple series from NYT and USA Today bestselling author Marie Force. Self-publishing trailblazer and author of not one but FOUR continuing series, Marie also owns the E-Book Formatting Fairies, hosts Reader Weekend events for her biggest fans, moderates one of the most useful self-publishing loops on Yahoo, and is a frequent conference speaker. In addition, the busiest woman in publishing generously shares her knowledge by teaching workshops. I suspect that, in her spare time, she’s either invented cloning, or discovered a way to circumvent the space/time continuum.  😉

All joking aside, it was an awesome class, and I highly recommend it for both published and unpublished series writers. Marie shared some great advice about anchor couples, mining connections between characters, world-building (particularly the factors she considers when creating vibrant fictional communities that stand the test of time), and of course, the biggie: how to write characters that readers care about. In the last class lesson, she advised creating a series bible early on—which made complete sense to me—but then she recommended doing something that, in hindsight, seems so completely obvious, but that never crossed my mind.

Re-read all the books in your series, at least once a year. According to Marie, re-reading your books on a regular basis reacquaints you with the details you committed to the page, and it also helps generate new story ideas.

Re-read my own books? Seriously? Study them, like I study the books on my keeper shelf? The very idea seemed…presumptuous. Intellectually, I know my books are decent, but for some reason the prospect of re-reading them with that level of scrutiny made me cringe as much as I do when my sisters haul out my seventh grade school photos.

Really?

Yes, really. Marie was serious. So I hemmed and I hawed, I bitched and moaned, but…I finally did it. I was gestating a new project, and…dang it, why take a class from one of the most successful series writers in our industry if I wasn’t willing to at least try something she recommended? Bottom line, I knew my series bible was woefully out of date, so even if re-reading my own books was excruciating, I knew I’d get something valuable out of the deal.

No pain, no gain.

So I sucked it up and started re-reading my first published book, TASTE ME, my 2009 Golden Heart finalist and the kickoff to the Underbelly Chronicles. And yes, there were a few winces along the way: Unnecessary dialogue tags. The occasional copy-editing error. The very rare head-hop that…worked, but that I’d never allow myself now that I’ve become a POV purist.

But…heh. Not bad, if I do say so myself. * buffs fingernails on shirt * 

And the details I’d forgotten! The potential plot seeds I’d planted, but hadn’t yet cultivated. The nameless, sometimes faceless characters that walked onto the page for a sentence or two, served their purpose, then walked away again.

Story ideas flew at me hard and fast. OMG, she was right.

I re-read all the other books in my Underbelly Chronicles series over the Christmas holidays, and plot seeds are still sprouting left and right. A character who received two sentences’ worth of real estate in TASTE ME—such a minor character he wasn’t even in my series bible—has elbowed his way back onto the page of Book 5, where he’s a major catalyst for conflict. And an unnamed character in my TOUCH ME novella? Oh my, do I have plans for her. The garden of my imagination is over-run, and I’m still tilling. Still weeding, still cultivating. But I really like how things are setting up.

Another thing I realized? It’s what I didn’t commit to the page in those earlier books that allows me to re-purpose these characters, to expand their utility beyond their original walk-on roles. By not providing more information than was absolutely required, I didn’t box myself in.

I came out of Marie’s class with not only an updated series bible, but with new ideas and a fresh, new energy for my work—a gift beyond price. So, that’s the biggest lesson I learned from Marie Force: that no matter how excruciating it might initially feel, re-read your work, at least occasionally. You never know the bounty your imagination might be ready to provide.

Have you ever re-read your own published or completed work? If so, why did you do it, and what did you learn? Did you find it exhilarating, excruciating, or both?

-tammy

SPOTLIGHT: Boudreaux’s Bookworms

bookwormLast year I was invited to participate in an online Facebook book club by my sassy Cajun friend Karla Boudreaux. As thrilling as it was to be invited (because I LOVE to talk about books) I had reservations as a published author. I didn’t want anyone in the group to feel as though she HAD to read my books or feel uncomfortable by the fact someone who has a vested interest in books would be entering the fray. But because these ladies weren’t going to be dissecting and ripping apart literary works but instead squeeing and oh-my-goshing at fun, fabulous books, I put out a disclaimer and waded in. And I’m so very glad I did – it’s been a fun year of discovering new books and celebrating the ones I love. And as an author, because I live in the industry daily, I constantly share Dear Author and SBTB links for the kindle sales. I’m pulling my weight as a member and love being part of these fun gals.

So last week, one of our members posted this:

Why do you read books?….I do because I like to get in the sack with vampires…oh and Jamie Frashier!!! Hahaha just saying 😉

Talking Romantic Suspense: Writing a Series

 

Several years ago, when I realized I wanted to make writing a career, “trilogy” was the buzz word. Series were sought-after by publishers because they could rapidly build an author’s name, as well as their backlist. It seemed a logical business move to structure the stories in my head into a series—especially since I’d always enjoyed reading series by other authors, falling in love with their characters and looking forward to “seeing” them again like old friends. But how do you create a series readers will become hooked on?

 

A TIE-IN

A series, by definition, contains items that are related. Therefore, a series of books has someone or something that ties it together.

A Person

For instance, J.D. Robb’s “In Death” books and Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series center around a character (in these cases, the heroine) who is the main character in each book. The romantic elements come from that character’s romantic life, and show the growth of the character over a broader time spectrum.

A Place or Thing

On the other hand, one can center a series around an idea, a family, an agency, or some other entity separate from the characters. In romance, this typically involves the wrapping up of a different couple’s love story in each book. Suzanne Brockmann has several romantic duos in each book of her Troubleshooters series, but one is always wrapped up at the end of each book, and they all center around her Troubleshooters agency.

Because I enjoy books that can stand alone and have a romantic conflict all wrapped up nice and neat by the end of the book, I chose the second route and created an agency named SSAM (The Society of the Study of the Aberrant Mind) that bound my books together. This way, I have the freedom to pick and choose heroes and heroines with different skillsets, different reasons to be tied to SSAM, and different personalities for each book. I didn’t want to be tied to the same characters for an extended time period, though many of my heroes and heroines are secondary characters in past and future books. I like that sense that each book is a family reunion of sorts, where readers can catch up with their favorite characters.

 

SERIES GROWTH

Just like with individual books, there should be change and maturation over the course of the series. If your series is focused on a primary character, each book should display some growth in that character, with a more extensive growth arc over the series of books. For the second type of tie-in… well, if characters can grow, then agencies, towns, and families can, too. In this case, the central tie-in element is, in fact, a character in many ways.

The growth arc I created for the Mindhunters series is closely tied to the founder of SSAM – Damian Manchester, who has a point-of-view as a secondary character in each book. His past pain, current struggles, and ultimate resolution are revealed gradually, with a piece of the puzzle in each book, until the end book, in which I hope to give him peace at last.

 

MARKETING

Each book should be able to stand on its own. Readers tend to get irritated when they realize they’ve purchased a book, but will have to go purchase other past or future books to get the rest of the story. The nice thing about a series, though, is that promoting one book often impacts the others.  More bang for your advertising buck.

 

CHALLENGES

  • Keeping it straight. As the series continues, it can be difficult for an author to keep all the facts, character traits, family relationships, and events in line with previous books. See Tamara Hogan’s earlier post about creating a series bible.
  • Keeping it fresh. The author should create new challenges in each book, but also tie them into previous and future books without being too repetitive.
  • Making each book stand alone. Start each book as if the reader hasn’t read the others, and doesn’t need to. This includes “sprinkling” in the series backstory as if it was character backstory. You don’t want the reader to think they’ve missed some key piece of the series, but you don’t want to spend page after tedious page giving the history of the series either.
  • Selling early books. I’ve been told that some readers wait until the entire series is available before buying any of them. This can, of course, affect your sales, but if it’s true, it should result in a nice jump in royalties when the final book is released.
  • Keeping the tension high. Maintaining that sense of the “ticking clock” and imminent danger is necessary for romantic suspense, but readers expect resolution, too. Keeping both over a series of books can be a unique challenge.
  • If you write the same-main-character type of series (a la Stephanie Plum, Eve Dallas, or Harry Potter), one challenge is showing character growth over the course of each book, and then over the course of the series.

ADVANTAGES

  • Publishers like series. In fact, with my digital-first publisher (Carina Press), series are sometimes more likely to be put into print form (in this case, by the parent company, Harlequin). I’ve seen this happen with my Mindhunters books.
  • Readers like series. At least, this reader does. I like to get invested in the characters I read about, and see multiple aspects of their lives. It’s almost as if they’re part of a family. And if they’re in several books, even if they’re not always the main characters, I get a multifaceted, 3-D picture of them.
  • Authors like series. Writing a series gives you a chance to really delve deep into plot and character development, and you don’t have to do character development from scratch if the character has already appeared in a previous book, but you have more space to flesh them out, too.
  • As mentioned above, promotion of one book is promotion of all of the books.

 

What is your favorite series (from any genre – romantic suspense or otherwise)? What common denominator linked the stories within that series? When you read, do you prefer books that are part of a series?

 

Anne Marie Becker has always been fascinated with people and how they “work”—inside and out—which led to degrees in Biology, Psychology, and Counseling.  Now, her roles as wife, mother, writer, and domestic goddess satisfy her curiosity.  She explores the dark side of criminal behavior and the saving powers of love and hope through her Mindhunters series. For more about Anne Marie and where to connect with her, please visit her at www.AnneMarieBecker.com.

Adventures in Series Writing

I just turned in my third Underbelly Chronicles manuscript, TEMPT ME, which some Ruby readers might remember us referring to in Comments late last year as “the religious woman and the sex demon.” Reformed hacker Bailey Brown is one of two humans alive who knows that “first contact“ already happened, that humanity has secretly shared its home with extra-planetary species for millennia. Though this knowledge still serves up the rough existential moment here and there, her own spiritual foundation was rocked long ago, when, after her arrest, her preacher father disowned her, denouncing her as a sinner. Already carrying enough baggage to fill a cargo hold, Bailey doesn’t know what to do with her unwavering attraction to her boss’s brother, sculptor Rafe Sebastiani—a real-life, honest-to-goodness sex demon.

My editor is reading the manuscript right now, so I figured it might be a good time for me to do some writerly housekeeping—to think about and flesh out the series arc, to update my Master Character List, to refine my world-building materials, to reacquaint myself with the characters I’ve left on chessboard plot-wise.  With a shudder, I sucked it up and re-read TASTE ME and CHASE ME, with an eye toward documenting physical descriptions and such. Which “facts” had I committed to on the printed, published page?

Holy Continuity Errors, Batman! In TASTE ME, I stated that Rafe’s given name is Rafael, not Raphael as my Master Character List says. (Easy but essential fix.) Hmm, apparently Bailey was incarcerated for a short period of time, not merely sentenced to parole. (Oops.) Bondmate or bond mate? Minicomp or mini-comp? How many floors does Sebastiani Security have again? (Four, not five. Whoops.)  Crackhouse Coffee, or Crack House Coffee?

The things you forget if you don’t write them down! Like *GULP* your first hero’s eye color! Lukas, I’m so, so sorry.

I knew if I didn’t invest some time updating my series and world-building materials now, I’d make more mistakes later on, so I’ve temporarily set aside research on my fourth book to update the following:

Master Character List:  I come at my stories from character, so this list was the very first document I created when building the series’ world starting back in 2007. Every character mentioned in every book, no matter how minor, appears on this list. For each character, I track name, age, species, occupation, some key information about their back story, their GMC if they have them, and every specific physical trait I committed to on the page. I’ve expanded this document to include which cars they drive, where the characters live, and which Underbelly Chronicles books they’re seen or mentioned in.

Series Arc: The Underbelly Chronicles is plotted as a nine-book series, with each book following a hero and heroine as they solve a mystery or battle a villain, with each book building up to a final battle with the series’ Big Bad in Book Nine. The series arc hasn’t changed significantly from the original proposal, but now that I’m three books into the series, I have a deeper and richer view of how certain characters can drive certain books’ plots. A couple of supposedly minor characters are living MUCH larger on the page than I ever anticipated, yielding plot possibilities I hadn’t previously considered. I also have an opportunity to respond to reader feedback by introducing possible love interests for characters I hadn’t originally targeted for an HEA. I want to nail as much of this stuff down as I possibly can, NOW, so I can lay a stronger foundation for more complex future stories.

World-building – Origin Story: The series’ origin story is that about 4000 years ago, a spaceship cruising past Earth crashed in northern MN instead of reaching its intended destination. Hopelessly marooned, the passengers — incubi and succubi, vampires, sirens, werewolves, faeries, and Valkyrie — managed to survive a hellish first  winter and started repopulating, making a conscious decision to leverage humanity’s propensity for myth-making to help them hide in plain sight. The series is mostly set in present day Minneapolis, location of the privately held technology conglomerate Sebastiani Labs, whose secretive Board of Directors doubles as the extra-planetary species’ ruling council. The crash scene was the very first one I wrote, over five years ago, and given Book Four’s role in the series arc, I think I finally get to use it!! Wheee! But reading the crash scene now, through the lens of the identity of the series’ Big Bad? Whoa, I have so many more questions – and there are so many new possibilities!

World-building – Species: Each species in the series has a certain set of biologically-based strengths and weaknesses, and with each romantic pairing, I try to mine those strengths and weaknesses for conflict, particularly romantic conflict. In TASTE ME, I paired up Lukas, a control freak incubus who must absorb emotional energy for sustenance, with Scarlett, a siren rock star who interprets and amplifies the emotional content of music with her voice . In CHASE ME, I paired up my hyper-physical Valkyrie archaeologist Lorin with genetically damaged werewolf geologist Gabe. In TEMPT ME, I pair up Bailey, a human tech savant with a guilt complex a mile wide, with Lukas’s brother, Rafe, an incubus sculptor with a reputation for hedonism even among his kind. (Can you say “issues?”) In Book Four, I have a different kind of hero/heroine challenge—two vampires. Physically, the hero and heroine have the same strengths and weaknesses. So I’ll have to delve into some messy emotional ground here for sources of conflict.

Settings:  Writing down setting details just hasn’t been on my radar. So far, most of the Underbelly Chronicles takes place in the Twin Cities Metro area, with the Sebastiani family cabin, Lorin’s archaeological dig, and the Arkapaedis’s original crash site located in northern Minnesota.  But as the number of books and characters grows, and the same buildings and locations get referenced in multiple books, fine details like how many floors Sebastiani Security has, and what the Sebastiani Labs boardroom looks like, were getting lost in the shuffle. I’ve started a Settings spreadsheet, and I’ve also mapped all the series’ locations and residences. This map hangs on the wall of my home office.

Themes: Having re-read all three of my books in a short period of time made me aware of some running themes in my work: Friends are the family you choose. Living outside the traditional strictures of society. Data can be fallible, as can health.  To me, theme is at the heart of the writers’ admonition “Write what you know” and I’ve definitely used these themes to inform my world-building. I’m sure more themes will become apparent to me as time goes by, but now that I’m aware of theme, I’ll write ‘em down.

So much to keep organized! I’m starting to get a better feel for why it takes me a whole year to write a book! But…OMG, Ruby readers, what if I hadn’t listened to that pesky inner voice, noticed that hair standing at the back of my neck – those signals that said, “Re-read your books. NOW!” What if I’d stayed heads-down in Book Four research instead, and hadn’t discovered those continuity errors in time to fix them?

So…lesson learned…occasionally taking a few hours away from the WIP to update my series materials and keep myself organized is an investment in my work, not a distraction from my work. It is important. Worthwhile. Essential.

When you’re working on a project, how do you keep your materials organized? Scrivener users, any insight into whether the package helps organize things at a series level? 

Award-winning author Tamara Hogan loathes cold and snow, but nonetheless lives near Minneapolis with her partner Mark and two naughty cats. When she’s not telecommuting to Silicon Valley, she enjoys writing edgy urban fantasy romance with a sci-fi twist. A feral reader with an unapologetic television addiction, Tammy is forever on the lookout for the perfect black boots.

CHASE ME Buy Links: (Amz | BN | Sourcebooks | Powell’s | BAM | Sony |  Kobo | iBooks)

 Website:         www.tamarahogan.com

Facebook:       https://www.facebook.com/pages/Tamara-Hogan/232541540189788

Twitter:           https://twitter.com/#!/TamaraHogan1

Goodreads:     http://www.goodreads.com/user/show/4866483-tamara-hogan

 

 

How NOT to Write a Series

When my Ruby Sisters asked me to blog about writing a book series, I stupidly agreed.  Then I realized that I didn’t set out to write a series.  I just blundered into it.

It started when I decided to write a novel set in the small South Carolina town where I spent my childhood summers.  No, it was not Last Chance.  It was a place named Denmark.  The book I wrote was titled Stealing Home.  Unfortunately it didn’t go over well with editors and I collected dozens of rejections.  A wise person would have stopped right then.

Not me.  I decided to write a Rom Com retelling of Cinderella featuring a heroine named Caroline Rhodes who comes from Denmark, SC.  I didn’t want to do the whole step-sister thing, so I gave my heroine three funny brothers: Stone, Clay and Tulane Rhodes. Sadly the book, For Love or Money was not well liked by New York editors either.

So, did I give up?  Of course not.  Caroline had brothers, right?  So I wrote another Rom Com about NASCAR driver Tulane and a pink race car.  This book was not even remotely set in Denmark, and it garnered some really nasty rejections.

Surely by now I really should have given up.  But no.  There were more brothers.  So I trotted out Clay and penned Welcome to Last Chance.  This book was entirely set in my small town, and I changed the name of the place in order to give me more flexibility in creating a somewhat humorous world.  And of course I went back and “borrowed” a bunch of characters from between the pages of previous attempts.

I knew the minute I finished this book that it was the best thing I had ever written.  But I couldn’t get any agents or publishers to look at it.  No one was buying contemporary romance.  So I finally put that book on the shelf (without any rejections) and gave up on Last Chance.  I moved on to seriously writing fantasy.

Flash forward five years (and ten years after writing the first book set in Denmark).  In 2009, I decided to enter all three of my now-dusty “southern” romances in the Golden Heart.  To my astonishment, For Love or Money finaled, making me a Ruby Sister and giving me a chance to pitch my often rejected stories one last time.

The wonderful agent, Elaine English, took me on.  She read all three books and sat me down at the RWA meeting that year and said, “Welcome to Last Chance is exactly the kind of small town story that editors are looking for these days, but the other two have to be completely rewritten so that the action takes place in the town.  The books need a common setting, because the setting is almost like a continuing character.  And you need a series arc too.”

I stared at her like she’d dropped in from Mars.  “Series Arc?  What the heck is that?  The heroes are siblings.  Isn’t that enough?”

She shook her head.  “No.  You need a narrative that ties the individual books together.”

“Uh huh.”  I nodded and smiled like I knew what the heck she was talking about.

I went back to the drawing board and spent a couple of months trying to wrap my brain about this whole series arc thing.  Finally I came up with a plot line that moves from book to book.  It involves a seven-year-old girl, Haley, with an imaginary (and somewhat sorrowful) angel.  This little girl’s story goal is to get the angel back to Heaven.  I had to rewrite parts of Welcome to Last Chance to insert this story, and then a magical thing happened.  Haley’s story became a driving point for the stories in the remaining books.  As I wrote their synopses, the existence of the series arc made the story arcs in each book just a little bit easier to figure out.  Haley’s problem gets steadily worse in each book, and reaches a crisis in the last book where it is resolved.  The resolution of the series arc is so tightly intertwined with the romance plot in the fourth book that they are almost indistinguishable.

I pitched my agent.  She loved it.  She went out and sold it.

So, if you’ve been paying attention here are the takeaways:

  1.  Start by writing the book of your heart regardless of whether or not it might make a good series. And don’t ever give up.
  2. Create a setting that is as real as you can possibly make it.  And make sure all your stories are set there.  Think about your setting as if it were a continuing character in your series.
  3. You will need more than just a cast of connected characters for a series to work.  You need a series arc with its own turning points, crisis, and resolution.  Just think about Harry Potter and how the series arc is all about Harry’s relationship with Voldemort and you’ll get the idea.
  4. Each book’s story arc has to stand on its own.  But the series arc can affect the action that goes on in the story.  Study Harry Potter, you can learn a lot about the action between series arc and story arc.  Rowling has a plot for each book, but the plot usually reaches a crisis that involves Voldemort in some way.
  5. And once you discover that you’re writing a series, you will undoubtedly need to keep copious notes about dates and times and events.  I have a bible that I use for Last Chance that has birth dates and death dates of characters, events of major importance, and other small details about character background.  I also have a master list of town characters and which books they appear in.

So, I hope I’ve saved you from making all the mistakes I made as I discovered that I was writing a series.  If you have questions or suggestions, please comment away.

The Latest Comments

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  • Lydia Stevens: I wrote mine two ways, one I’ve had stuck in my head for my pitch on Saturday at a conference...
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