While Mary Jo is lazily sailing the rivers of Portugal, we thought we’d fill her day with another dialogue from behind the scenes. If you ever wondered what the wenches talk about in private e-mails, here’s your chance—
From Pat Rice: I just read this article in the RWR about series where other authors claim that writing them makes life easier. Will someone tell me how? Yeah, sure, we have characters and a world already established, but that only makes my job harder as far as I can see. It limits what I can do with people and places when they’re already built in. And it leaves me with half a dozen balls in the air that keep growing instead of decreasing as the series continues, until by the last book, I’m locked in and cornered and hard objects are falling on my head. Screaaaammmm!
Pat, you can probably hear me screaming with you at times. I’ve got my Carsington family in Family Tree Maker, and I do spreadsheets for characters but I’m always having to calculate dates. And I’ve had to kill a spouse. Benedict the eldest started out with a wife, and was supposed to live happily ever after, but that couldn’t happen when he got stuck in my brain and needed his own story. Luckily, I didn’t make too many decisions at the start of the series, so I had some leeway with the earlier books. But now, with the youngest son, a great deal is settled–and I think this is part of what’s made this story so tricky to write.
But there are benefits to having some part of the structure already built: Like the parents, in my case–and the grandmother. It’s also lots of fun to look at characters from the different perspectives of different family members. I like playing with the family identities–the Smart One, the Crazy One, etc. I love exploring family dynamics, and this has been a joy in that way, absolutely.
Loretta, at least you were wise enough to begin with a family tree! I wrote my Sparhawk Family series one by one, as the mood and character struck me. I went backwards and forwards in time, through brothers and sisters, mothers and daughters. I was always getting confused. I wrote them out of sequence, all over the place, through (I think) nine short stories and full books until, at last, I left the publisher and could finally put the Sparhawks behind me.
But I really enjoyed it, too. Writing that many books over so many years in history is almost like writing one enormous family saga. Since most romances take place over a relatively short span of time — often only a few weeks or months — writing a series lets you update readers (and yourself) about how everyone’s doing. I especially liked being able to move the family fortunes along with the history. Since the Sparhawks were primarily a seafaring family in Newport, RI, I could move them from the "fat" colonial times through the 18th century, when the family fortunes are definitely prospering, through the lean days of the American revolution, when the family is scattered by the war, all the way through the final books around the War of 1812. Couldn’t do all that in a single historical romance, at least not for today’s market…
All right, you’ve twisted my arm into admitting there are certain advantages to series. I miss the long historical sagas where we can soak up the ups and downs of family history, and I’m a pure sucker for series like Poldark. I love the family dynamics, although I’m not at all certain readers remember from one year to the next how the different characters viewed one another. With the MAGIC series, my books came out a year apart, and the only real constant was Aidan. I never knew which characters would show up.
With the next series (the first book won’t be out until next summer), I’m trying to stick to a straight historical time line–the French Revolution. They may be in England or Portugal for all I know (and half the time, on an invisible island!), but the historical reference has to advance with the characters. So I’ll be skipping big chunks of years to get to the exciting bits. <G> But I can see the big build up to the last book hovering over me already. There’s this compulsion to outdo the book before, so by the end of the series, it’s hair-pulling time.
Oooh, that sounds like a great series, Pat (though I wonder about that invisible island — does Robespierre know about that?)
And yes, I think readers DO know who’s who and where. If letters are any judge, they probably keep closer tabs on characters that go from book to book than we do. I’m always surprised by a letter that wants to know "What ever happened to X, the youngest nephew? When will he have a story of his own?" when, in horrible reality, I’d kinda forgotten X even existed.
I know Jo’s not here, so I hope I get this right <g> — but I remember her saying how she’d purposefully chosen a different kind of series "arc" for the Malloren books. Most series start with the oldest sibling, and move through the family that way, but she decided there would be more tension/interest if the oldest were the last to fall in love. Worked, too. Who doesn’t remember Rothgar? 🙂
Personally, I favored the fancy dandy in the yellow coat in Jo’s series, but I needed a family history in my Magic series just to keep up with my own characters. No way I’m remembering names from elsewhere! Sorry, Jo!
So, what do readers think about books in a series? Do you want family trees? Do you want each book to stand alone so you can read them out of order? Do you hate them with a passion? It’s okay. There are days we hate them with passion, too! We won’t tell. But this is a hot topic right now, and editors (and authors) are listening, so speak your mind!