Thursday, September 4, 2008

Qualified Yes

Series can encompass a variety of different things. As a kid growing up, I loved the teenage mystery series—Trixie Belden, Donna Parker, the Hardy Boys, Encyclopedia Brown, heck, even the horribly dated Bobbsey Twins. Nancy Drew was the one exception. Never could stand her. These books followed the same characters through a variety of adventures, hopefully learning a little something with each episode. I graduated to Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple and the Mrs. Pollifax books when I was a little older, and those are much the same, except with adult characters and situations. Then I discovered fantasy and science fiction. The Narnia books, Lord of the Rings, Robert Aspirin’s Myth Adventures, and so many more. Still the same concept though—same main characters, different stories.

But in romance, series usually don’t work that way. For a romance to be a romance, you have to take two (or sometimes more) characters from not being together, to their happily-ever-after. That’s pretty final. Although I have read a few great books where the romance continues to grow and evolve in a second book, (Jayne Ann Krentz has a couple good examples of this) that’s about the limit if each story is really a romance. So a series takes a different turn. Usually it’s a common world, town, family, or group (a Navy Seals team, perhaps) that have overlapping stories. Each book of the series features a different character finding that HEA. So each book as a unique hero and a unique heroine. One of the great features of this kind of series is that you get to peek at the HEA of earlier couples. It can be kind of like catching up with old friends.

From a reader’s standpoint, I love series. I love seeing that couple A is still together a few years later, maybe with children, or still helping to save the world. I still have the first romance series I ever collected, Roberta Gellis’ fabulous Roselynde Chronicles. She broke a rule in this series, too. The first two books had the same heroine. Yep. Her first HEA wasn’t so ever-after. Husband number one was much older and died while the heroine was still in her 30’s, leaving her to remarry a man much closer to her own age. I’m not sure you could get away with that in today’s market, but as Ms. Gellis was one of the founders of the historical romance genre as we know it, she did. I had the chance to meet her at last year’s RT convention, and practically genuflected at her feet.

Series have problems though. They can go on way too long. Then they run the risk of being repetitive or jumping the shark. There are a couple of very big names that I used to run right out and buy on release day. Now I get them from the library if I bother at all. I totally respect author Linda Howard who said she wasn’t writing any more books in her MacKenzie (sp?) family series, because she didn’t want to have to kill off the parents. Sometimes, you just have to let go. And who knows? If she hadn’t, we might not have had all the NEW wonderfulness she’s written since.

As an author, I am learning about the pitfalls of series. Writing the last of my Crazy H trilogy was hard. There was a lot I’d written in that couldn’t be changed, so I had to write around a lot of things I might have changed if they hadn’t been set in stone by previous books. I had to really work to make this heroine different from the other two—can’t have them all blending together. Even names are a bigger challenge. But sales-wise, there’s a definite plus. When Always a Cowboy came out, sales did spike again for books one and two in the series. And when you’ve written a character who’s just too cool to say goodbye to, it’s nice to be able to give them their own HEA.

So yes, I’d have to say I’m in favor of the series concept, both as an author and as a reader. But if I ever drag one out to the point of absurdity, will somebody please let me know?

4 comments:

  1. I'd love to meet Linda Howard. That woman is an amazing writer with the hottest heroes. When I first discovered her, I yanked up every last book I could find, in and out of print. Sigh. To write like that....

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  2. Yep, that is the down fall of a series. All those things already set in stone by previous books. Hard...

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  3. I'll admit, I cried when I graduated the first batch of girls from my series! Now I'm trying to keep the next batch fresh. Maybe that's why I'm having trouble with #8...

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