The Dangers of Writing a Series


Anyone who has been reading Rosanne Bittner for the past 30 (+) years knows how much I like to write series-type stories … family sagas that take you through 30-45 years with the same hero and heroine and their family. My first series was SAVAGE DESTINY, seven books about the settling of Colorado and how white settlement affected the Southern Cheyenne. Through writing those books I fell in love with the hero, Zeke Monroe, and he has lived in my heart ever since.

I went on to write several trilogies – my Blue Hawk trilogy, my Wilderness trilogy, a Bride trilogy and my Mystic Indian trilogy. The last four years I have worked on my Outlaw series, the fourth book coming in September and a fifth book planned. And I have many single titles for which I wrote a sequel because I just couldn’t get away from the characters. I end up wanting to continue their story, and whenever the publisher says yes, that’s what I do.

However, there are some drawbacks for the writer when writing a series. For me, the NUMBER ONE PROBLEM is that I get so involved with the characters that it is very, very hard for me to go on to something entirely new. Often, the series continues because I simply cannot bring myself to think about new characters. I am too much in love with the ones I have “lived with” for months or even years.

Zeke Monroe was one of those characters. I was totally, hopelessly in love with the man, and it took me a long, long time to truly “care” about new characters once I knew I could go no farther with SAVAGE DESTINY. The characters become so very real to me that leaving them is like burying a loved one. I actually cry when I finish that “last book,” and I think about those characters for weeks and even months and years afterward.

I realize how dangerous this problem can be as a writer when (lately) I’ve told myself I MUST take a break from my “Outlaw” books. After years of loving and mourning Zeke Monroe, I went on to totally love Caleb Sax in my Blue Hawk books and again mourned leaving him – then Rising Eagle in my Mystic Indian trilogy. I managed to write new books after that, but almost always (and it will happen to you, too, as a writer) a special, special character comes to mind that consumes your thoughts, dreams, emotions, energy, and your heart. After 30 years I still am not over Zeke Monroe – but then along came Jake Harkner from my Outlaw books.

OMG, I am so madly in love with this man. He came to me in an idea a good 25 years ago while I was curling my hair. I quickly wrote the idea down with an eyebrow pencil on the back of a check book because that’s all I had at the moment. That first book, OUTLAW HEARTS, was published in 1993 by Bantam Books, and I NEVER FORGOT JAKE. I tried for years to sell a publisher on a sequel, but for some reason I didn’t get anywhere.

Then along came Sourcebooks, and an editor who’d read OUTLAW HEARTS and loved the idea of a sequel. I literally cried when I learned I could finally write that book, which I titled DO NOT FORSAKE ME, a title I’d had in mind all those years. I immediately started the book and the story just poured out of me almost faster than my fingers could keep up. No outline. I knew every single thing that would happen. Once I finished, Jake had me completely hooked and I went on to LOVE’S SWEET REVENGE and (coming in September) THE LAST OUTLAW. A short Christmas story about the Harkner family follows in October (A CHICK-A-DEE CHRISTMAS) in an anthology titled CHRISTMAS IN A COWBOY’S ARMS. 




Sourcebooks wants me to stop here and go on to other things. In fact, they even suggested a topic they’d like me to write about. I intend to write the story they suggested, and I am actually getting excited about the idea. But the thought of leaving Jake, even if just for a little while, breaks my heart. I promise readers that there WILL BE a fifth book. If not through my publisher, I will write it on my own through Amazon, and I won’t make readers wait too awfully long. However, Sourcebooks is, after all, my publisher, and they have helped me realize it’s time to try something different. I was tempted to start that fifth Outlaw book right away, whether my publisher wanted it or not; but now I realize I have to set it aside and get my thoughts on this new story, which will be fun to write. It’s about a high-born English woman who ends up kidnapped and stranded in the wilds of Wyoming and is rescued by a rough-and-tumble, rather uncouth bounty hunter. These two will both be strong-willed and opinionated and won’t get along at all, but of course they begin to see each other through the eyes of desire and the princess and the cowboy will realize they had better learn to overcome their differences because try as the might, the can’t ignore the feelings they begin to have for each other. I just know my readers will love the story.

The other danger of writing series-type books is the affect on your sales. Too many times a reader who has never heard of me will pick up Book #4 to a series and think, “I don’t want to buy this if I can’t find #1, 2, and 3,” or – “I don’t want to spend the money on #1, 2 and 3. What if I don’t like the story?” Almost always the second book in a series will sell a little fewer copies than #1. Then #3 sells even fewer and #4 even less … because no one wants to get #4 if they can’t find the first 3. This problem is even worse if you don’t have an established name. Even when you do have a name most readers recognize, you can still fall into that trap of writing #4 and #5 and so on and finding out they didn’t do well.

Part of the problem is that you might win over a certain number of readers with Book #1, and those readers will go on to #2 and #3 and more because they already read the first book and want more. You end up with the same readers buying the continued series books, but it’s hard to find new readers who will go back and start with #1.

So … I am going to try hard to get my heart and mind on Logan Best and Elizabeth Bennett in THE BOUNTY HUNTER’S PRINCESS. The title might change, but I need a working title in order to write the book. It’s just a “me” thing. It’s going to be a great story filled with adventure and romance, and a heavy sprinkling of humor because of how these two will clash while at the same time fighting their feelings for each other. Once they give in to those feelings the sex will be “HOT!”

Overall, I will always, always love series writing and sequels … but sometimes as a writer you have to get away from all of that and learn to say good-bye to your favorite, favorite characters … not always forever … but just for a while. I will write that fifth Outlaw book, and I even have ideas for an eighth SAVAGE DESTINY book, after over 30 years of being away from them! The story would be about one of Zeke’s descendants and the family history would come into the story when something very unusual is discovered that teaches the hero about his famous ancestor, Zeke Monroe.

If you want to write a series or one or two sequels to your story, remember that you can’t stay with the characters forever, and that, if you are new, you could be hurting your ability to build your numbers. I think it’s best to never start your career with a series. It’s best to have an established name first. Then you have a better chance of selling a decent number of copies of the succeeding books.

Good luck with your writing, and as always, number one on my list for becoming a successful writer is to ALWAYS FOLLOW YOUR HEART. I think you will discover that there is always that inner instinct that speaks to you as a writer and says, “This is what you should write next.”

Retaining Your Inspiration

The Free Dictionary describes inspiration as “the excitement of the mind or emotions to a high level of feeling or activity.” Nothing could better describe the feeling a writer has when a new idea hits, or he or she comes across a specific subject or character they just know they should write about. I have always said to “write from the heart,” because it is in our hearts we harvest the inspiration for the stories we want to write. And the more “inspired” you are about your story, the better it will be. 

PTSD – Yes, Even Writers Get It


Image result for writer emotional

Fellow Mid-Michigan RWA member and good friend Lucy Kubash recently e-mailed me a copy of an article by author Jeanne Kisacky, who writes non-fiction and teaches college. The article was called “Writer Unboxed: Post-Project Depression and Recovery.” She posted it on her blog February 21, 2017.

Oh, Mighty Mountains!


High! Rise high, you mighty mountains!
Reach for the heavens, you bastions of the West!
Undefeatable are you! Magnificent! Stalwart!
Your granite rocks and shale walls live on!
Through war and pestilence, through famine and flood, 
Through crime and hate, through bloodshed and death, 
You live on!

Whispers of Summer

I have many more poems to share over the next several weeks, but since it is winter here in Michigan, I decided on this one for now. I wrote this while working for the manager of the D.C. Cook Nuclear Plant in Bridgman, Michigan. There was a time when big companies had their own small newspapers or newsletters. At that time they were called House Organs. Wherever I worked I always contributed to the company house organ because deep inside, years and years before I wrote books, I had that need and desire to write, so I started with poems, which is why I have so many of them. This one fits the season.


Whispers of Summer


I walk knee-deep in the snow and gaze at black, naked trees.
And, as the sharp winds they blow, I think of daisies and bees.

I close my eyes and I think of green leaves, grass, and sand,
Of fragrant roses of pink, and peaches freshly canned.

I brush the snow from a bike and see my child riding free,
Sweating and laughing and playing, with glee!

I dig to find dirt ‘neath the snow, But it’s frozen and hard and dead.
Then I think back and I glow with the thought of warm earth instead.

As the gray clouds break apart, I raise my face to the sun;
And with a slightly sad heart, I see days of swimming, cookouts and fun.

How sweet the bird when he sings! How lovely the scent of a flower.
How nice to smell the sweet spring, and to lie in the grass by the hour.

That first snow is exciting and fun, and for Christmas we want it around,
But then we remember the sun, and soft, green grass on the ground.

It’s now, when we’re tired of the snow, that whispers of summer will call.
They nudge us, and taunt us, to show us that summer’s the best time of all.

© Rosanne Bittner 2016

Days Gone By


For some reason I have always been fascinated with the past, or rather, what might have been or could have been … what has been lost through progress … the mystery and memories of those who once lived. The following poem reminded me of how nostalgic I am about the subject, which is probably why I prefer to write historical rather than contemporary stories. This is another poem I wrote a good 45 years ago, and it shows me that even then I was imagining what life was like in days gone by. I think it’s sad that too many people have been forever forgotten.


DAYS GONE BY

I saw an old, old house today.
The wood was worn and weathered gray.
In the gaping windows there was no glass.
It seemed a monument to the past.

I wandered to the barn out back
With its sunken roof, tar-paper black.
The weeds grew to my waist, and bees
Buzzed by to rest on sweet-flowered weeds.

I dared not go into that barn,
But I saw signs of a one-time farm.
An old, rusted plow sat just inside,
With harnesses for horses that long-since died.

All was peaceful and quiet there.
No worry, no hurry, not a care.
Not a thing was heard for miles around.
The birds and the breeze made the only sound.

I wondered who had once lived here,
Perhaps with family they held dear.
I tried to vision things way back then,
Who toiled on this old farm, and when?

Progress never will replace
That special look on an old farmer’s face.
It cannot bring back, with its fast, new pace
A people and heritage so silently erased.

© Rosanne Bittner 2016

War's Children

I wrote the following poem in 1981, 35 years ago, and in reading it I realized nothing has changed in all those years or even in the last 500 or 1,000 years. Man always seems to find a way to make war, and the primary victims of war are children … children! Those in power seem not to care about them. When our own government made war on our Native Americans, too many children were simply shot down as though they were nothing more important than rabbits. Recently we’ve seen the horrific suffering of children in Syria … unforgivable abuse and annihilation. It blows my mind what some men can do to children without concern. As you can see from this thirty-five year old poem, nothing has changed. The sad part is, it probably never will.


War’s Children


I saw a little boy one day …
His clothes were torn and dirty gray.
His feet were bare and looked so cold.
An old, broken toy his hands did hold.
His many tears had made long streaks
Of salty pathways down his cheeks.
A look of fear shown on his face,
Where laughter should be … there was no trace.
His little body looked hungry and sore.
On neglected wounds, ragged gauze he wore.
He was lost and alone, nowhere to go,
His little face had lost its glow.

He had no family, no next of kin.
They’d all been killed, except for him.
He sat alone, so very confused.
No one had claimed him, hospitals refused.
I wonder if he’s still alone,
That little boy just barely grown.
Somewhere tonight a child will roam,
No food, no clothes, no love, no home.
How many others are there like him?
Small ones who suffer from our sin!
War has its price for everyone …
But not so costly as for the young!

Our Magnificent West!

Following is my next submission of poetry I wrote in my twenties. I don’t remember exactly when I became so fascinated or fell so in love with America’s magnificent mountain ranges and its Western landscape. I truly believe I lived another life, either as an Indian or a pioneer woman. That’s just part of my weird side, and I think you need to be a little weird to be an avid writer who is as much in love with his or her subject as I am.

Poems Can Be An Emotional Release

As stated in my last blog, I wrote a lot of poems between the age of nine and to around my mid-twenties. I find it interesting that nearly every new writer I have spoken with has told me they started out writing poems. I think that’s pretty common. You get the writing bug, but you don’t think you can write a whole book, so you go to the next best thing – writing poems. 

The Beginning

Long before I ever dreamed of writing a real book, I wrote poems. In fact, I wrote my first poem in the second grade. Over the years I wrote many poems, and our local newspaper published many of them until they stopped that feature. I never did anything else with these poems, and they've sat in a folder for years, some of them close to 50 years. When I read through them, I am surprised by how some of them reflect feelings that are still pertinent for today’s times.

What is most interesting is that my first poem was romantic. And I was just a little girl of about 8. I wrote my first little story (a school assignment) in fourth grade, when I was 10 years old, and it, too was romantic! It was called (don’t laugh) “Mr. and Mrs. Quack.” It was about a pair of ducks (male and female) who were flying south together. The male duck was shot down by a hunter. Mrs. Quack was so sad. I don’t even remember if Mr. Quack lived. I think he did and they got back together. I have that story somewhere. If I find it, I will post it just for fun!