Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Come On In The Series Is Fine

When I was just a reader – before being also a writer – there were many things I didn’t understand. I think this is fairly normal. For instance I had no idea the publisher could change your title. I had no clue most writers had no say on the cover. (Yes, yes, for those of you out there, I REALLY had no say on the cover of Draw One In The Dark, hard cover. Sorry. It just happens to be true.) I didn’t even understand that most elementary of ideas – that which books get published and which don’t and in what order is not under the control of the writer.

What this means is that, say, in 2012, I could have four books published which all revolve around intelligent cats. (I won’t, I swear. I haven’t written them.) The reader – or worse, the literature professor, which is kind of like a reader with a license to snoop – would then conclude “in this phase of her life, Sarah was preoccupied with intelligent cats. Which would make perfect sense, of course. Except, if you poked into the sales history, you might find out that one was a reprint of something I wrote ten years ago, another was a write-for-hire book because the publisher had the cover and hired me to write the story (this never happened to me, but it happened to someone I know. No, don’t ask), the other was written three years ago, but the publication was delayed and yet the other was something I wrote twenty years ago and was just now accepted/published. Thereby meaning that while I’d written a lot about intelligent cats, none of it was “in this year.”

This is how one of my friends became convinced I had written “legions of gay vampires.” To date I’ve sold exactly two gay vampire stories. This out of a total of five vampire stories ever written by me. However, he happened to come across those two stories in the same year. And, heck, at one time, out of ten stories published, I had four vampire stories. Mind you, I had fifty non-vamp stories Unpublished, but as far as the public was concerned I sat up in my little attic and wrote about undead people with a hemoglobin habit.

So, what’s all this b*tching in the name of? Actually it’s not. It’s just that I just realized what is probably the greatest disconnect between reader and writer. One that is almost impossible to breach from the other side, even when I TRY, even when I know what’s on the other side.

Series.

Series are experienced dramatically differently by writers and readers. As a reader, I’ll find a book I like and run out and buy all in the series. Or if I have to buy them one by one I will often, afterwards, re-experience them all as a unit. Just recently I went through all of the Tiffany Aching series on audio over a month of walks.

But unless you’re dealing with a writer who has only one series – a breed becoming increasingly rare – the writer didn’t experience it or work it that way. I.e. I’m now working on the Darkship series, again, but this was after detours through Sword and Blood and two refinishing mysteries. Getting back to Athena, realizing that FOR HER two years haven’t passed is the work I have to do so that the reader has that sense of continuity.

So, do you ever think about that – that the books you read in a row might have YEARS of life experience between them? Is it ever obvious? (My pet theory is that it’s obvious when the character gets “broken” – i.e. loses consistency.) And how do you read series? (I’m weird because I tend to tire around book ten.) Would it ruin it for you to know that there have been other series, books, between the books you love? Or do you imagine your characters waiting patiently to go on with their lives?

(Crossposted at According To Hoyt)

21 comments:

MataPam said...

With a foot in either territory, I have to say, as both a reader and a writer that (1) Even the most popular series has to have resolution or it will lose readers. (2)The Characters and challenges need to stay fresh, and I think that's a worse threat than the writer losing the voice. (3)While slogging away at their usual series, my favorite authors' subconsciouses seem to cook up really cool new universes.

Really. Take Lois Bujold. Was I bitterly disappointed when she went off and wrote some odd fantasy instead of a new Miles book? Yep. Did I like the results? Damn skippy. And then a third universe. I really can't say which one _I_ would like to see the next book in. But going on results, I'll buy, and love, whatever she writes.

DSTs was intense. I can see needing a break from it. Between the shifters and the cozies, you got pretty good coverage of the emotional spectrum. But I'll bet the idea factory still comes up with new ideas.

I can see a best selling universe being hard to leave--finally all the money and fame you deserve! But even David Weber needs breaks from Honor Harrington.

Lucius said...

Well, I fully expect to see "Duke Nukem Forever" come out long before the next in "A Song of Ice and Fire".
Which is aggravating. (Not that I mind him getting paid for his work with HBO and the like, or taking the opportunity to travel now that he has it. But it's been over four years since he announced it was nearly done.)

On the other extreme, I was sure that Glen Cook was wrapping up his Garrett P. I. series with "Angry Lead Skies" the entire point of the book seemed to be saying a nostalgic goodbye to all the important characters the series had accumulated. But now he's got another one out. I'm not sure how I feel about that.

Did I have a point? If so, I must have lost it somewhere along the way.

MataPam said...

Lucius,

Grin. Very Good! Just like all these never ending series seem to have lost their points.

Anonymous said...

I prefer it when my series books (I say "my" when I mean as a reader!) to have some time in between them, maybe a year. I find it unbelievable when one character has four life-defying and terrifying episodes in one year. Now if they are a demon bounty hunter rounding up escapees from hell, okay, I can stretch it a bit, but for most of the rather ordinary characters, it seems just a bit much.

Linda

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

This is a really interesting question, Sarah.

I'm writing a trilogy that's a prequel to a trilogy published 10 years ago, originally written 5 years ago and now being rewritten.

So much about me has changed and the books are growing and maturing with me.

LOL the bit about the literary professor. Yes, you can make all sorts of assumptions from what is published but it is only the tip of the iceberg of what is written and when it is published is completely arbitrary!

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Pam,

Er... the problem rather is that the next in the DST universe kept insisting that it had a "twin" book, tentatively entitled "A Few Good Men" (rolls eyes.)
Now I'm far enough into DSR (Darkship Renegades) to see WHY. And if you think DST was intense, DSR amps it up, and AFGM takes it through the roof.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Lucius,

well, I've discovered lately that as a reader I'm a demanding b... er... baby. See, when I had many series I was following, it as one thing. Now I have one or two. This means I get a new book in one series and go "what? Is that all? where's the next one?" My favorite authors simply aren't writing fast enough. A book a day would do it!

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Linda,

Weird. I'm just greedy. As a reader, at least. As a writer, I'm having trouble getting people to understand "Okay, one of DST means Dyce has to wait another few months. And don't even get me started on Musketeers>"

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Rowena,

I had a lot of trouble figuring out what I'd intended on doing with the sequels to DST because the original was written 13 years ago. So I did two dud outlines (one of which sold, but I think the editor knew it was a dud) and had to unearth all my papers, before it clicked. Because the clues WERE buried in the first book, and I didn't want to disappoint people or go off at a weird tangent, but heaven help me if I remembered what the clues were. (Amazing how they survived the rewrites, too.)

Synova said...

Well... I just re-read David Weber's Oath of Swords series of three books and there are years between each of them and (supposedly) several more to go, but the last was published in 2004.

As a writer and someone who has been exposed to the world of SF publishing I suppose I understand how profoundly unfair it is of me to think he ought to write the rest, no matter if they sell or not, and unfair of me to expect him to pick up the plot and world and characters as if they are fresh.

To be truthful, at this point, if he'd just publish an outline of what was supposed to happen, I'd be happy.

Lucius said...

Sarah, I agree completely. ;) That said, it's not something I have any control of. As Neil Gaiman famously noted, George R. R. Martin is not my b... er... baby. [shrug] I might as well suck it up and embrace the Serenity Prayer.

Linda, even worse is the single character who must repeatedly save the entire world.

Stephen Simmons said...

Synova, Weber was GOH at MarsCon here last year, and during one panel he grumbled pointedly at his wife about the number of projects he has ended up committed to. (Apparently she manages some of that for him ...) The question at that point was the "Hell's Gate" series (which he promised to get to sometime before he dies, but said he couldn't commit to a more precise timeframe), but "Oath" is in pretty much the same boat.

Stephen Simmons said...

Jim Butcher talked about this, more or less, at the world-buildong panel at MarsCon this year. He said that by the time he finishes a Dresden novel, he's more than happy to say, "Love you, Harry and Bob, but both of you get the heck out of my house for a while." He said having two series to switch back and forth between keeps it like having different groups of friends who come visit, and that way each group are welcome when they get there.

I, on the hand ... Peaches (the lead Character in my SF series, which is written in first person) frequently "looks over my shoulder" while I'm writing other things, chiming in her opinion of what the other Characters are doing -- or calling me an idiot for bending the plot in ways she thinks are too artificial ... she's becoming my own live-in first-reader ...

Synova said...

Stephen, I do have a certain amount of sympathy for the fellow. Still, I'd like to ask him sometime just who he was drinking with and just who issued the dare to write _Out of the Dark_. ;-)

Kate Paulk said...

I must be just plain weird - as a reader, I remember enough of the earlier books to pick up the next one without any hassles. As a writer, the characters don't actually STOP hanging out in my head, so it's not that difficult to pick up for later.

Which is just as well, since the short stories for the Lackey Valdemar anthologies get written about a year apart, and I don't go back to the series until the next one.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Synova,

yes, I have series like that. I JUST want to know how it ends. Really. Mail me the outline.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Stephen,

Some characters stay around. I have what I call the pen... peanut gallery, who are a bunch of my guy-heros who make comments on other characters, my life... The general tenor of the comments is "you should blow it up" so it can get weird.

Brendan said...

Great question and something I worry about a bit. There are authors I love who have gone back to worlds they created and basically destroyed what was good about the original tales(Ursula Le'Guin, Andre Norton) and authors who if they announced a new trilogy based somewhere after a twenty year break I would still be queuing up on the day of release(Julian May I want more Pliocene Exiles stories!)

Jim Butcher's Dresden Files I am happy to wait for since I know he has an overall multi-book spanning story going on and I want that story. If he wants to write other stuff in between, that is fine, as long as he doesn't do a Robert Jordan and leave us before Harry is done.

Lucius said...

I have to note the irony. A firm release date for the next in "A Song of Ice and Fire" was announced today.

Brendan said...

Unless the next SoIaF is coming out before May 3rd I think The Duke still wins:-)

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Brendan,

Ursula... WHAT were the publishers thinking, is what I want to know.