Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Forks and roundabouts; navigating multiple series

At the beginning of this new year, fresh and cold and full of possibilities, I find myself standing at a fork in the road. What choice to make? Which way to go? I have just submitted the third manuscript in my new Amanda Doucette series to my publisher, and although I have a few months of edits and such ahead, I have completed my three-book contract for this series. I do have one contractual obligation left to fulfill – the fourth book in my Rapid Reads Cedric O'Toole series, the deadline for which is in June – but beyond that, I have no major writing commitments on the horizon.

I began my published writing career in 1994 with a short story in a local anthology, and published quite a few short stories before publishing my first mystery novel, Do or Die, in 2000. In the subsequent fourteen years, I published ten novels in the Inspector Green series, which works out to more than a book every one and a half years. During that time I also wrote short stories and three Rapid Reads novellas. It was a busy pace.

During its ten-book run, the Inspector Green series garnered four Arthur Ellis Best Novel nominations, including two wins, and developed a loyal fan base. As with all long-running series, readers enjoyed spending time with the exasperating, hard-driving detective and his collection of regulars both on the police force and in his family. They followed his ups and downs and watched him grow as a character and a man, as did I.

Ten books seemed like a nice round number for me to give the series a rest and spread my wings with new characters, new settings, and new story styles. I'd spent fifteen years of my life with Inspector Green and as a writer, I didn't want the series or my writing to grow stale. So I proposed a new series to my publisher and was given a three-book contract to develop the Amanda Doucette series. New character – a woman for the first time – new cast of supporting characters, a different setting for each book, and a story style with far less inherent structure (police procedurals, no matter how you vary them, are essentially murder investigations).

At first I found it surprisingly difficult to switch gears. I couldn't hear Amanda's voice or get a handle on her reactions. After you've lived with a cast of characters for fifteen years, their voices come easily and you slip into their skins almost the moment you pick up your pen. Not so with Amanda. It's taken me three books to get to know her and to feel her from the inside as I write her scenes. I also found the looser story structure, with no clear forward momentum and a need to motivate Amanda's every move (why on earth would she do that instead of just calling 911?), much more of a challenge than I had expected. I am not a fan of thrillers, but found myself creating stories with thriller-like elements just to motivate Amanda's continued involvement. I still love traditional "unpeeling the onion" whodunits, but why on earth would Amanda unpeel the onion in the first place?

The Amanda Doucette series has received positive reaction from readers and reviewers, and I believe it has picked up some readers that Green did not. But some readers who love Inspector Green were upset by the change and wanted him back. Even now, although most are enjoying Amanda'a antics, they still hope I write another Green book. It's a dilemma that all writers of multiple series face. Each series has its fans, and often readers prefer one over the other. And now that I've written all three books in the Doucette contract, a new book in either series would probably be at least two years out. Six years after the last Inspector Green novel or two year after the last Doucette, Prisoners of Hope.

I love both my series, and would happily write either. Ideally I would like to alternate series, but there are practical questions to be asked. Can a series survive six years' absence? Does the Amanda Doucette series have a firm enough fan base that readers who love it will wait at least three years for the next installment? Do I know her well enough to put her on the shelf for a year or two and have her still come when called?

My instinct says that, after three books, Amanda may not be well enough established in readers' hearts and thoughts, especially if there is a three-year gap before the next. Four books may be enough, but that leaves an even longer gap before the next Green. I can't write more than one book a year and still retain my sanity. In fact, one book a year feels like a straitjacket sometimes, as other fun things like travel and grandchildren beckon.

So these are my thoughts as I stand on the threshold of the new year, facing a fork in the road. I'd be interested to hear what other writers have experienced, and what readers like. All this dithering may be moot, of course, if for some reason the publisher wants neither series, but that's a whole other fork in the road! Perhaps more like a roundabout.


Bernita said...

As usual, you've given everything such a lot of thought. But I've missed Inspector Green so much! Love the character and his family and especially the fact that it takes place in Ottawa, a familiar setting. It is so rare to be able to read a book set in one's own city. Even the British authors I tend to read have settings in cities I've visited often, so again a sense of some familiarity still exists. So I submit two 'votes' for a new Inspector Green, one from me and one from Gail in California as well. Thanks for putting this out there Barb!

Anonymous said...

I'm just finishing Trickster's Lullabye and am finding I really enjoy it - and quite a bit more than I did Fire in the Stars. While I'd like to eventually see another Inspector Green, maybe you could use the decade or so hiatus to make some changes or advances in his life (sort of like Maureen Jennings did with Murdoch) - a new love interest? A move from Barrhaven to some other Ottawa-area neighbourhood? Alternatively, maybe a standalone?

Rick Blechta said...

Barbara, how about combining your two protagonists in one novel? I can see it really working.

Marianne Wheelaghan said...

Goodness, Barbara, along with the other stellar writers om this blog, you are prolific. My excuse for only three publications is that I came late to writing ... although I do have a bunch of plays (from my playwrite days) and a couple of unpublished novels in the cupboard!

As for navigating, I feel your pain, Barbara. I write in two different genres and it can be immobilising. Good luck with the big decision – I think Rick has made a very good suggestion.

Bernita said...

Love Rick's suggestion as well!

Bernita said...

PS...I am the first 'unknown' comment as well, before I chose an identity!
Gail in California might have been a clue for you as well!

Charlotte Hinger said...

At least you are contemplating decisions in the same genre. I just signed a contract for a historical novel and in 2016 published an academic books. I'm decidedly in an identity crisis.