Thursday, September 08, 2016

Writing a Long Series

My ninth Alafair Tucker mystery (The Return of the Raven Mocker) is coming out in January of 2017. That's four months from now. And yet I’m already working on book ten. When I first began writing the Alafair Tucker Mystery series, I had a story arc in mind that was going to carry through ten books. This is a wonderful idea, but as anyone who has ever written a long series knows, after a couple of books all your plans for a story arc have been knocked into a cocked hat.

This photo has nothing to do with anything, but it's new and I like it

The reason this happened, at least to me, is that I seem to be writing about real people who have their own ideas about how things should be gone about, and once I put them into a situation, they react to it in ways I had never anticipated.

So much for a ten book arc. I think there will end up being twelve or thirteen books. I want to get all Alafair's kids out of the house and settled. Besides, I really want readers to be able to pick up any book in the series and have a satisfying experience without having to know anything about what went before. This poses the million dollar question for the author of a long series: How do you keep it fresh? How do you make every story stand alone, yet in its place as well? How do you keep from repeating yourself, or losing your spark?

I’ve had quite a journey with my protagonist over the last decade. Alafair is a farm wife with a very large family who lives in rural Oklahoma at the turn of the 20th century. She is a woman who knows her world and has made her place in it. Each of the books features a different one of Alafair’s newly-grown children, with whom Alafair either works to solve a crime, or works to save from him or herself. Since each child has his or her own distinct personality and interests, this gives me a great deal of latitude to explore all kinds of things that people were into in the early 20th Century.

For each book I must come up with a compelling reason for a farm wife and mother of ten to get involved in a murder investigation. I also have to figure out a convincing way for her to either solve the murder or at least contribute to the solution, which as you might guess, isn’t that easy. I have found over the course of nine books in the same series that I have begun to depart from the usual mystery novel format. The murders take place later and later in the story with each book I write. The later books are constructed more like thrillers than puzzles. In book seven, Hell With the Lid Blown Off, I told the reader who was going to die in the first sentence, but didn’t actually kill him for a hundred pages. In book eight, All Men Fear Me, we kind of knew who was doing at least some of the killing. But the question became why, and was there more than one killer. In book nine, Raven Mocker, I immediately start out with the information that we have the wrong guy.

I want to mix it up from book to book. I want to keep the readers on their toes. And I want to keep myself amused as well!


Rick Blechta said...

Lovely author photo!

Donis Casey said...

Thanks, Rick.