Wednesday, January 28, 2015

New beginnings

Barbara here. What an interesting, meandering examination of gender, identity, and character creation we have been having over here at Type M in the past couple of weeks. Several of us have also talked about changing hats and writing a new style, or creating a new series, and how that has enriched and invigorated their writing.

Writers face three challenges in continuing to write a long-running series. Firstly that they start to repeat themselves and fail to grow as writers, which most of us dread. Series allow us to stay with old friends we know so well that it takes little effort to get into their heads. It allows us to stay in comforting surroundings, using the neighbourhoods and background colour that has become as familiar as our own back yards. These two advantages are also the greatest pitfalls. Comfortable and familiar does not encourage risk, growth, or leaps of imagination.

The second challenge is that the series dictates the kind of story that can be told. My Inspector Green novels are police procedurals, and no matter what curves I throw at Green nor what detours my stories take, a police procedural has the particular flow of a police investigation. Moreover, all the stories have to take place in Ottawa (well, I cheat a little) because that is where Green has jurisdiction.

The third challenge derives from reader expectations. Both Rick and Vicki had alluded to this notion that a reader buys a book expecting a particular kind of story, and may rebel if they don't get it. The Green stories are gritty and realistic, but with a heavier emphasis on psychology than on blood and gore. If the next book turned out cozy (or serial-killer horror), I would likely get a slew of complaining emails. Writers, and their publishers, deviate from the winning "formula" at their peril.

But writers get all kinds of story ideas involving different heroes and places, and those stories can't be shoehorned into a police investigation in Ottawa. Writers of long-standing series sometimes solve this feeling of straitjacket by writing occasional standalones. Or by writing a second series, which is sufficiently different in tone, form, and setting that they can explore new vistas and experiment with new styles.

This is why the start of 2015 marks a new beginning for me as well, as I embark on a new three-book contract for a completely different series. There are ten books in the Green series, and it seemed like a solid place to take a break and explore something new. Green will be back, and I suspect I will be delighted to reconnect with him when I am ready. But for now, I am deep in the world of a very different character.

First off, my main character is a woman. I always thought it amusing that authors were often mistaken for their main character, or that the lines between author and character blurred, because Green was quite clearly distinct from me. Although as any author knows, not as distinct as one might think.

My new character is also not me. Amanda Doucette is a lot younger than me, the age of my daughters in fact, and is still searching for her place and her path, which allows her to have adventures and experiences which I get to share vicariously. Always fun for a writer. But she shares many of my passions and my values, and is in some ways who I might have been had I been young in today's world. I became a psychologist to help people; she became an international aid worker. She is resourceful and smart, determined and action-oriented, yet she struggles with what she has seen. She is a powerful and interesting person for me as a writer to spend time with, and I hope readers will think so too.

The setting of my new series is a wholly different concept as well. Each book will take place in a different setting across Canada, the first one in Newfoundland and the second in Quebec's Laurentian Mountains. I hope to explore wonderful locales across the country, taking myself on adventures and never growing tired of one place. Some of these adventures I will take in person, as on last fall's Newfoundland trip, but some of it will be within my own living room, as these photos attest.


Pam said...

I love Inspector Green Barbara but look forward to your new series. Sounds exciting.

LD Masterson said...

I look forward to discovering the new series.

Barbara Fradkin said...

Thanks for the encouragement! I'm in the midst of the dreaded first draft of Fire in the Stars, where every writer wonders whether it will ever be a book!