As a reader, if you asked whether I favor books in series or standalone books I’d say I have no preference. However, as a writer I much prefer working on books in series. The following is a glimpse into what I’ve learned about myself in this regard.*
The Pleasures of Writing a Series
Working on a novel is a long process, consuming my days and nights for months of work and worry. I live with the characters, coax them, argue with them. They wake me in the night with suggestions for plot twists, secrets about their pasts, reminders of threads I’ve dropped. On long walks I eavesdrop on arguments among them. And then, one day, the book is ready to send off to my editor. Such a rush of relief—I’ve done it again! I’ve completed another novel.
And then… I don’t know what to do with myself. I could tackle all the things that fell through the cracks while I rushed toward the deadline, but busywork isn’t satisfying. I’m lonely. I miss the characters.
The only cure is to dive into the next book, which is easy when writing a series. I go for a walk or go out to work in the garden while imagining what might be going on in Owen’s, Maggie’s, or Kate’s life, continuing a thread that began in an earlier book, something not quite tied up. It might be a blooming relationship, a potential conflict, a long-awaited opportunity, the unexpected return of a character from an earlier episode. This might not necessarily be the central plotline, but it primes the pump, puts my characters in play.
I lost this continuity when I stepped away from writing mysteries to work on two standalones (The King’s Mistress and A Triple Knot, by “Emma Campion”). Once completed, I had no easy entrance into the next story. With these, once each book was finished, that was that. There was no “and then” to play with.
Only by stepping away did I appreciate how much I enjoy writing crime series. In a standalone, everything is wrapped up in one book. In a series, my characters are on stage across a variety of adventures and through time. In the Kate Clifford series, I’ve burdened my main character with her late husband’s debts, his bastard children, an unfriendly clause in his will, a violent past, and a difficult mother. Kate’s issues are presented in book 1, The Service of the Dead, but, as in life, not all are resolved by the end of the first episode. Kate will cope with the hand I’ve dealt her over time, while investigating the crime that propels each book.
Having the leisure of following all the recurring characters over time is a perk of writing a series. Their characters deepen as they face new challenges. In The Service of the Dead, Kate’s uncle Richard Clifford, dean of York Minster, is someone whom she trusts, someone who is there for her when she needs a safe place for her ward, Phillip. But in A Twisted Vengeance he steps back, looking to his own interests as the conflict between the royal cousins, King Richard and Henry Bolingbroke, the heir to the duchy of Lancaster, comes to a head. Because I’ve already established the warm niece/uncle relationship in book 1, this estrangement is all the more disturbing and disappointing—and signals just how dangerous the politics have become.
Or take Kate’s mother, Eleanor Clifford, who arrives at the end of Service, giving Kate an outlet for her pent up anger. In book 2, A Twisted Vengeance, Kate realizes that her mother holds a secret that is endangering her own and Kate’s households. The challenge for Kate is to put her resentment aside and find a way to break down the barriers between them.
The children in Kate’s household are certain to change the most through the series, as they move from childhood to adolescence and beyond. I look forward to exploring how Kate’s headstrong ward, Marie, will adjust to the new member of the household, Petra. And it will be fun to show Marie’s brother, Phillip, finding his way as an apprentice stonemason in the minster yard.
And what of Kate’s heart? She has two intriguing men in her life, Berend (her cook, a former assassin), and Sir Elric, a knight in the service of Ralph Neville, the Earl of Westmoreland. With the country split apart by the warring royal cousins, the two men might very well find themselves on opposite sides. What of Kate? Whose side will she favor?
*I am aware that many of you who read this blog don’t follow along on blog tours, so in the next few weeks I’ll share the posts I wrote for my recent tour. This is the first, which appeared at http://booksofallkinds.weebly.com/: