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 Mind you, I had fifty non-vamp stories Unpublished, but as far as the public was concerned I sat up in my little attic and wrote about undead people with a hemoglobin habit.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 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)