Monday, June 8, 2009

The Chains that Bind

Chains that bind. No, I don't mean guy-speak for what magically happens to them with the words I do. Nope. I may be tempted to discuss how someone managed to trick me into the kitchen and then wire up one of those radio fences around it. I live in the kitchen. I only get out of it when the electricity goes off. But, that's for another day. Let's get down to business now.

Chains, franchises, series. They're everywhere. They're the marketer's attempt to capitalize on familiarity in a world filled with change and too many options.

Is it any surprise how prevalent the series has become in publishing, too? Oh, they've been around. How many library bookcases of yesteryear have collapsed under the weight of the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and Agatha Christie? Mostly mysteries, right? You could also find a few series over in the science fiction and fantasy aisle. But romance, general and literary fiction seemed far less inundated with the concept. Maybe readers expected character changes in these genres that aren't as amenable to the old-style series. But in the last thirty years, more and more writers and publishers have found ways around that -- series can be built around occupations/professions, unique world-building, or spin-off characters just as well as the tried and true Energizer Bunny hero who keeps on going and going and going.

But do writers like writing series or do they feel chained to them? I remember reading how Terry Brooks, a fantasy author, had a horrible time ending a series. He was ready to move on -- his fans weren't. Oh, I need that problem.

I raised my hand at a Writing Q&A held in Athens, GA and asked that questions of some terrific (and delightful in person) writers: Debbie Giusti, Jennifer St. Giles, Deidre Knight, Shannon K. Butcher and Maria Geraci. To a one, they agreed that series are a liberating way to write. I was a tad surprised. I thought for sure someone would say she didn't mind doing a series but really was drooling to do something different now. Nope. Writers revel in producing series as much as readers salivate over them. We're all creatures of wonderful habit.

For the paranormal writers at the Q&A, the ideas and characters they want to explore in their created worlds needed more room than one book. Debbie Guisti enjoys using her expertise in a series centered on medical suspense. Maria Geraci uses a secondary characters and a related theme to bridge books. See, there's just so many ways to form a continuum in your work.

So, which series do you enjoy? What makes them work? And, how do you feel about writing a series?

Sign me up!

FYI -- that's Houdini, not something, um, kinky.


Marilyn Baron said...

Great post.

I enjoyed the Outlander series.

Marilyn Baron

Sandy Elzie said...

I haven't been too much into reading series...Nancy Drew as a child, but since then probably only Nora Roberts' (MacGregor family, etc)

I recently proposed a 4-book series to my editor and she really liked the idea, so I'm writing about the Harrington's of Westford Point. Therefore, I can cast a vote that writing more than one book on a family has, so far, has been great.

Someday soon I hope to be able to tell you what it feels like to SELL a multiple book contract. (g)

Great post and I totally understand that "chained in the kitchen" thing...was bound there for many, many years. I'm free now.


Dianna Love said...

I do enjoy a series and enjoy writing a series. I think the draw is simply continually visiting a world the reader misses after finishing a book. I think some authors get tired of writing a series that has been going on for many years possibly because they never thought about how long it would continue back when they started writing it and - like Terry Brooks - some series are started without a plan for the end.

It's the same appeal for why television viewers watch weekly programs to find out what is happening with their favorite characters.

I do think romance gave the series idea a fresh spin by adding series that are connected by secondary characters who step forward to have their own book in addition to series with the same protagonist in every book. I've not seen that in other genres.

Interesting topic, Anna.

Debbie Kaufman said...

Morning Anna.
A good series always hooks me! For the record, I love Debbi Giusti's medicals. Right now my favorite series are: Dianna Love and Sherrilyn Kenyon's BAD Agency books, Stephanie Bond's Body Movers, and Lori Handeland's Phoenix series.

My WIP is set up so that it could be a series, but I think I'll try to sell one before I worry too much about that!

Anna Steffl said...

Thanks, early-bird Marilyn, for sharing your coffee with me!

Sandy, if anyone can do a series, it's you. You're a fountain of terrific ideas.

Diana, thanks for the insight. You are so right that romance has been the genre to develop the series' potential. That might surprise anyone who hasn't been to a GRW meeting. Romance authors are so on top of craft, promotion, and outreach to readers -- and you're right there leading the way.

Debbie, I really enjoy Debbi Guisti, too. She's a great person AND a great writer. I'm with you on just trying to sell my first book before I worry **too** much about turning it into a series -- but one always hopes people fall as deeply in love with your characters/world as you do.

CiCi Barnes said...

I love series. Since time is a rare commodity, it takes me a while to read a book, maybe 2-3 chapters a night before I head to snooze land. If I spend that much time with a book, I really get into the characters and am not ready to give them up at the end.

Nora Roberts and Linda Lael Miller are great series writers. They involve a lot of family, so the next book fits in with the one before without getting boring.

As a writer, I'm into series also. There are so many parallel worlds out there, one book wouldn't get the job done. I hope editors will think so too.

Great question to put out there, Anna.


Anonymous said...

I really enjoy reading series (and with my current 4 Seasons in Mistletoe series for Harlequin American, I discovered that I like writing them too) but maybe it's because with mine and with quite a few that I read, there was a finite ending. 4 seasons, 4 books (all out in a twelve month period) so it's not like I had to wonder whether I was going to have fresh Mistletoe ideas ten years from now. Two historical authors I just love are Elizabeth Hoyt and Eloisa James (whose latest "This Duchess of Mine" kept me up all night). Both of them will do a series of four or five books, revisiting characters and a setting readers love and are dying to know more about, but then they'll start fresh with a NEW series of four or five books and the fun begins anew.

There are some long-running written series (and for that matter TV shows) that I've eventually stopped reading/watching because I felt like nothing new was really being added or that the characters weren't growing and evolving in believable ways. My favorite long-running series, however, is JD Robb's "In Death" and as long as she doesn't kill of roarke, Eve or Peabody I'll keep reading those for just as long as she wants to write them!

Linsey Lanier said...


I love mystery series. I started out with J. D. Robb and now I also read Robert B Parker and Sue Grafton. Suzanne Brockmann's series are great, too.

I love the concept of a series and the many ways it can be done. I'm writing one now, a 5-book series about a formerly abused wife who is looking for her daughter and becomes a private investigator along the way. I like not having to reinvent the main characters for each book, but I also wanted to work on something else, so my current wip is a stand-alone, not part of the series. I do want to get back to book III, though.

I've enter both book I and II in the Maggies, so wish me luck! :)

Good luck to Sandy on that multi-book deal. You go girl!

Great post.


Ana Aragón said...


Love, love, love to read series, and most especially Regency series. Eloisa James, Jane Feather, oh, oh, Mary Balogh...the list goes on and on. Since many of them take off on another character, it's great to see characters from previous books continue on with their lives. Feels like I'm reading an epilogue without actually reading one.

When I start a new book and the secondary characters want to take over, I tamp down that urge and tell them, "Just wait! You'll get your own book soon!"

I know, I'm wierd.


Anna Steffl said...

Hi Cici! I think you're right that time limitations are another factor that drive people to read series. I hadn't thought of that, but when you only have so much time, you tend to invest it in books you know you'll like. Good point.

Anna Steffl said...

Tanya, I have a love/hate relationship with series, so your comments rang true to me. I have dropped several long-running series because the characters/writing just weren't compelling anymore.

I do prefer the finite series concept.

And, I must admit, the books closest to my heart are singletons.

Anna Steffl said...

Good luck on your Maggie entries, Lindsay! Your five book series sounds terrific. Keep writing.

Ana, you're not wierd. You're a writer. The rest of the world is wierd. The wierdest people are those who refuse to read fiction :- )

J Perry Stone said...

Anna, sing it. I have the same issues with series. It's interesting what you said about Terry Brooks. I adored the Shanara series. Was that the series he was referring to?

As for what I think on the subject, Tanya said everything I wanted to say (and better than I could have done). There HAS to be some sort of discernible arc for me to stay engaged.

It makes me wonder if that's some sort of sign. If the book itself loses it's momentum, has the author lost their wind in the writing of it?

Oh Marilyn, I loved the Outlander series! Her writing is phenomenal.

VERY interesting topic, Anna, and a good thing you clarified the picture. ;)

Darcy Crowder said...

Hi Anna - great topic.

I'd have to say my favorite type of series are those where secondary characters are each getting their shot, mostly in historicals. The ones with large families, 4 or 5 brothers or sisters, and we get to see each one fall in love. I've read some great ones years ago where the author revisited the second and even the third generation - now that was fun!


Anna Steffl said...

Hey JP, yes Terry Brooks couldn't get out from under Shannara. A huge number of his fans wouldn't follow him to the next series. I'm sure that would be a bummer as a writer. It's like they don't trust you to cook anything other pancakes. Dang picky eaters.

Hi Darcy. I think the series that branch off to secondary characters are a neat thing that historical romance writers really know how to do well. The new character arcs keep things fresh. I've had a few friends complain that these related character novels feel recycled, but that probably has to do with the individual author. Anything can be done fantastically or shoddily.

Tami Brothers said...

Hey Anna,

Great topic. I LOVE series books. Right now I'm reading Gillians Summers Faire Folk Trilogy. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE that one and am thrilled to find out they are contracted for a second series with these same characters.

I also LOVE Dianna Love and Sherrilyn Kenyon's BAD Agency books. And Sherrilyn's Dark Hunters. Yummy!

I could go on and on, but my favorite part about the series books is getting the chance to revisit my favorite characters.


Anna Steffl said...

Howdy Tami. Those are all great series. I have the Gillian Summers books and just need to get to them -- if my daughter will let me. How come GRW is so chock full of excellent writers? I don't think it is the hotel food.

Susan May said...

I always like family series. I can't remeber the name of the author that did or does the McKenna family. (Not sure about the spelling.) She used the family in westerns and comtemporaries, I believe.
Nice post. Made me think I'm going to look those books up.

Sally Kilpatrick said...


Great thoughts on series. I like to have an element of continuity in my work, usually place. I don't know if I've read entirely too much Faulkner or not, but I set two of my first three books in the same place.

Some of my favorite series are Nora's Chesapeake Bay series--except for that fourth add-on sometime later, the Thursday Next books, and, of course, Harry Potter. I have really latched on the Body Movers and to Tanya's Mistletoe books, too, although I'm so far behind in my TBR pile I'm going to have to add some of the other books mentioned.

I agree with those of you who like a finite ending. It's like the difference between American soaps and Spanish-language soaps. The story is more compelling if someone has an idea of where it's going.

Carol Burnside said...

I love JD Robb's "In Death" series. I think it's lasted so long (getting close to 30 books now, I think) because she's really stingy with details of the main character's pasts and their character arc's are slow, but steady. Every book adds something to the character, a change you've been hoping for, a slight move toward an eventual change, or a new level of closeness. I love it!

I also like the kind of series where a secondary character gets their own book. Lot's of fun seeing their characterization fleshed out in more detail. :)