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Sorry I don’t blog more often, but I am currently writing book #4 to my OUTLAW series and I have a tight deadline, so I’m really busy writing. The book is called THE LAST OUTLAW and will be my last book involving Jake and Randy Harkner and the Harkner clan, which makes me cry every time I think about it. I will probably write another story involving the Harkners, but it will be about Jake’s grandsons, which means Jake is no longer in their lives, at least not physically. It will take me a long time to be able to write it because I can’t bear the thought of Jake Harkner no longer living. It’s just too hard to consider right now because I have fallen head over heels for this man and I absolutely adore writing about him.
All of this brought me to think about the joys and perils of writing a series. The joy comes mainly from being able to stay with the characters and their family for three, maybe even six or seven books. And that means “living” with them for up to three, maybe even five years or longer, because each book takes a good six months to write, and when it’s finished it’s usually another six months (at least) before it gets published. When you are totally in love with these people, they live in your mind and heart constantly, and you hate leaving them, so you get to pick up their story with the next book and continue being a part of their lives. In the case of my Outlaw books, I have actually lived with this family for about 25 years, because the first book, OUTLAW HEARTS, was published way back in 1993 and it took me over a year to write it. I always wanted to write a sequel, and so it danced around in my mind and heart all those years until around 2014, when I finally found a publisher for a sequel. Once I finished #2, I knew my story wasn’t finished.
The second great thing about a series is that each book is somewhat easier to write than writing a brand new story, because you already know your characters and their background, and that is what you build on. You can just “pick up where you left off” and continue their story. Of course you need to come up with a new plot line and try not to be repetitive in your events, but all in all, because you are continuing a family story and already know your setting and what makes these people “tick,” each next book will pretty much pour out of you and you won’t have to do as much research regarding your setting and descriptions.
The third great thing about a series is you build your name, or brand, in the industry. If you do a good job with the first book, you will leave your readers wanting more. By the second book (if you are still doing a good job) readers will be hooked and will want even more. I get so many remarks about how happy my readers are that I wrote a third OUTLAW series book, and when they find out it’s not a trilogy – that there will be a fourth book – they are ecstatic. I already have some readers who want a fifth book, but I really think I should stop with four. In THE LAST OUTLAW Jake will find closure for himself regarding the one thing that has haunted him and brought him heartache through all four books –the fact that he killed his own father (who deserved it but that’s beside the point when it comes to how others see it). It is constantly thrown in his face and the reason he can’t see his own worth. He has never forgiven himself. Something happens in #4 that finally helps him live with what he did. It is such a beautiful story and a perfect way to end this series, which spans about 32 years from Book #1 through #4.
Now comes the perils of writing a series. For one thing, although you do build your name, there will always be those who won’t buy Book #4 if they can’t find #1 and #2 and so forth. You want to be sure you have a publisher who will continue making ALL the books available. The first books, of course, won’t be in stores, but they have to at least be available from the publisher or through Amazon. There are even some readers who won’t read #3 or #4 just because they think they “have” to read the first two to enjoy the next ones, and maybe they feel they can’t afford all 3 or 4 books, or that they don’t have the time to start from scratch, which brings us to the second peril.
The second peril is that you have to design each new book in a way that it is enjoyable all on its own as a single story, in case the reader ends up reading #3 or #4 first. You NEVER want to boringly tell back story through a narrative of “this is what has happened so far.” NEVER. Back story should come through as the characters continue their lives – through conversations and/or thoughts that hint at something that has happened in the past. This can also be done through secondary characters. In my second OUTLAW series book, a newspaper reporter comes into the lives of the Harkners, wanting to write a book about Jake. In doing so he becomes uniquely and closely involved with the Harkners, as does a lawyer in town who has become acquainted with Jake’s wife and has fallen in love with her. This man ends up helping Jake with legal problems and he, too, becomes a good friend.
In book #3 both the reporter and the lawyer live in Chicago and have stayed in touch – so when some headlines hit the Chicago papers about a major dramatic event in Denver involving Jake (he is in BIG legal trouble), the reporter visits the lawyer and they decide they’d better go to Denver because Jake might need help from both of them. My point here is that when these two sit down and talk about Jake, they discuss some of the things that happened in the second book, so through their conversation the readers pick up on a lot of those events, as well as seeing that both the reporter and the lawyer are still heavily invested in the Harkner family. This is an ACTIVE way of getting in some back story without a boring narrative.
One good thing about back story “hints” is that very often a reader will read that third or fourth book and want very much to find out more about how your hero and heroine met in the first place and what happened leading up to the book they just read. I often hint at the fact that when they first met, Randy shot Jake because she was terrified of him. That alone would make a reader want to read more about such a tragic yet a bit humorous event, because they are so much in love so it’s hard to believe Randy actually shot Jake in the beginning.
The worst peril about writing a series is your own heart, because you will fall desperately in love with the hero and his family. I love Jake, but I also love his son Lloyd, who is so soft-hearted and so devoted to his father – and I love Jake’s daughter, Evie, who is such a woman of faith – and I love his daughter’s husband, who is a physician and is so stalwart and quiet and puts up with so much being married to the daughter of an outlaw. And I love the grandchildren, especially “Little Jake,” who absolutely worships his grandfather and is a big-time independent little trouble-maker – a boy after a man’s heart. I will definitely write a book some day involving a grown-up “Little Jake” as the hero. He will, of course, be gorgeous!
The problem, though, with falling in love with these people is that it literally breaks your heart when you write the last page of that last book. It means leaving this family. OMG, I do NOT want to leave these people. Yes, I can re-join them, in a sense, if I write a story about Little Jake, but when I write it, it will mean that “Big” Jake is gone from this world, and I just can’t accept that yet. It will be a while before I can, and I know when I write about Little Jake I will cry when he talks about his grandfather. And I have to decide where Jake’s son Lloyd will fit into the picture. Should I write a book about him first – how he goes on without his father? The thought just shatters my heart.
So there are your joys and perils of writing a series. I personally tend to get too involved. My characters are so real to me that I laugh with them and I mourn with them. I never write from the outside looking in. I write as though I am sitting in Jake and Randy’s beautiful log home nestled into the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, and I “live” with these people. Most of the time I am Randy – and when writing the love scenes, that ain’t bad! There’s another “joy” for you!