Guest: Denise Swanson

Edith here, enjoying the fresh produce of summer. I met author Denise Swanson in Ann Arbor a couple of years ago. She has a cozy series with its nineteenth book coming out next month! I asked her to share how she got to where she is. Take it away, Denise.

Riding the Whirlwind

For most writers, getting their first book traditionally published is a long and arduous journey. Yes. There’s always that one lucky duck who hits the trifecta on her first submission—right editor, right story, right open spot on marketing plan. But for the rest of us, it takes a long time and a lot of tears to find an agent and a publishing house.

I had two hundred and seventy rejection slips from agents before I finally won the race. And even then, it took the agent who signed me eighteen months to find a publisher. Back Wilmington 66then, nearly twenty years ago, cozy mysteries were nowhere near as popular and since I wanted to set mine in the Midwest rather than the south, with a curvy sleuth who had an unusual profession, few editors wanted to take the chance on a book that didn’t fit the mold.

In fact, my editor at NAL/Signet/Penguin cautioned me that because my ScumbleMurderCatnapper River series was a regional mystery that would only interest a limited audience mainly in the Midwest. With the first book in its fifteenth printing and the nineteen book, Murder of a Cranky Catnapper, due out September 6, I think she might have underestimated the small-town appeal.

However, there are drawbacks to a long running series. Stagnation is always a risk. As an author, I have to make a concerted effort to allow my characters to change and grow. This means that Skye, my sleuth, has lost cars, houses, and boyfriends. She’s had to alter her goals, expectations, and how Ohio-Rivershe deals with her mother. And most of all, she’s had to mature from a woman who was running away from a life she didn’t want to someone who runs towards the life she does want.

Now that my heroine is married, I’ve been asked if I plan on ending the Scumble River series. But since I don’t think a woman’s journey end when she finds the man of her dreams, the answer is no. I think having a husband and children will push Skye into even more exciting adventures. Bring on book number twenty!

Readers: What do you like about long running series?FB-Denise


New York Times Bestselling author Denise Swanson writes the Scumble River and Devereaux’s Dime Store mysteries, as well as the Change of Heart contemporary romances. She lives in rural Illinois with her husband and big black cat. For more information, please visit her at Or come hang with her at her Facebook group.

32 Thoughts

  1. What I like about long running series is watching the characters GROW. This isn’t the case with the ghost written series (Nancy Drew etc)sadly. But the single author series are like sitting down with an old friend to catch up.

  2. Thanks again for joining us, Denise. The number nineteen just bowls me over! Obviously you’ve kept the series fresh – and your own interest in the characters. Did your energy for the series ever flag?

  3. Welcome, Denise! You’ve hit the nail on the head: you have to allow your characters to grow and mature over time. The challenge is when you don’t know how many books you’re going to have in your series (and applause for your track record!), so it’s hard to pace that growth.

    I do love long series, assuming the author is still paying attention and not just phoning in the latest book. And I do feel cheated when a strong series is discontinued after only a few books (because of the publisher’s decisions, not any fault of the writer)–it’s like losing a friend.

    1. Yes, Sheila–I agree. Love long (good) series. Wish Sue Grafton had more alphabet to work with. So sad that Leigh Perry’s (no relation) Family Skeleton series ends due to publisher (dumb) decision.Loving Kathy Reichs’ Temperance Brennan novels. The Cat Who. . .series is unforgettable. I’m working on Book #5 in my Witch City Mystery series and plotting Book #6. Hoping it continues for a long time. Ordering Book #1 of the Scumble River series.

  4. What I like most about long running series is familiarity with the characters. I like seeing what they’ve been up to in life since the last time I read about them. I also like that I don’t have to memorize the names of a lot of new characters. ( :

  5. Hi Denise, What I like most about long running series is being able to return to characters and a town that I’m familiar with, I like the character growth and I do enjoy the writer’s growth as a writer as the series continue. I do imagine that it is challenging for an author to keep a series fresh and relevant. Long live long running series! 🙂

    1. It is interesting to see the growth of the writer. In fact, I’m always a little afraid when a new reader starts with my first book because I KNOW my writing has improved so much since that book,

      1. On the other hand, I LOVE reading a series in order and seeing not only the development of the character but of the writer as well. Gives one hope that entropy will not be conquering in the short term.

    2. From a reader’s perspective, I don’t think a series writer has to stress about a new reader going back to the first in the series. As a reader I’ve done that and it’s not a deal breaker to read the remaining books. 🙂 The fact is, if I go back to get the earlier books means I really enjoy the series – characters, mystery, etc.

  6. Thanks, Denise!
    I get pretty engaged with the characters in books I like and I want to know more about them as their lives and adventures progress. A sweet review I got on my own first of what I hope will be a series – The Immaculate – was from a reader who said she “missed the characters and their lives” after finishing the book.
    Also, for what it’s worth, I agree that regional books garner interest way beyond their original locations – because rich regional settings are just so interesting!

    1. I agree! I love how Tony Hillerman and Craig Johnson convey a strong sense of the Southwest, which I’ve seen only once. And their series have had wide appeal.

  7. Hello Denise and welcome to the blog. I am a fan of your series, and have been reading the Scumble River series since the beginning. Great advice about avoiding stagnation, and allowing characters to evolve while taking readers on the ride. Looking forward to reading Skye’s next adventures.

  8. Welcome to the Wickeds, Denise! I’m curious about how many years have passed in Skye’s life from the first book until now. It’s always way less than in real years and I think readers tend to forget that sometimes. What a great series and I’m glad you fought through all of the rejections!

  9. I also have to add that I love this line: But since I don’t think a woman’s journey end when she finds the man of her dreams, the answer is no.

  10. Welcome to the Wicked Cozies, Denise! I had the same experience with my series. Every publisher that rejected it said the Maine Clambake Mystery series was “too regional” and would have limited appeal. And now that it is published, while it does sell well in Maine, it is read everywhere. I think people love learning about new place via fiction, be they real settings or imaginary.

    1. I agree Barbara. One reviewer called my Salem books ” destination, paranormal,cat cozies! Thanks for the heads up about the skeleton books. Keeping my fingers crossed for Leigh.

  11. As someone who’s on the third book in a series, keeping both the mystery and relationships fresh is something I think about all the time, so your post is inspiring, Denise. And I love your series. I want to find real-life ways to keep my protag’s romance interesting while it chugs toward lifetime commitment. Performers in soap operas fear becoming a “coffee cup.” That’s when their character’s life is going so well that they’re relegated to sitting around with a cup of coffee listening to the characters who have more interesting storylines. I don’t want my Maggie to become a coffee cup, but I don’t want her in a relationship – or eventual marriage – that’s so perfect, it’s boring!

    P.S. What town is that in the picture? I love Route 66, and this town looks charming.

  12. Congrats on such a long running series!

    I absolutely agree. There are a couple series I read just out of obligation, but the author needs to shake things up soon. However, there are other long running series where the author keeps the characters growing, and it really is like returning to visit old friends. Those are the series I love to keep reading.

  13. Congratulations, Denise, on your long running series. I can only imagine how hard it is to sustain a series and keep it fresh. I recently went online and read the reviews of one of my favorite author’s recent releases. A number of reviewers complained that the author seemed to be running out of energy and ideas and was repeating plot ideas. After so many years of writing, especially while facing lots of life’s challenges, it would be hard for a writer not to run out of energy. That’s when beta readers and editors need to help.

  14. I can’t believe nineteen books and the stories keep getting better. So glad Wally stuck around.

  15. Thanks so much, Denise for visiting the Wickeds! I love to hear about “regional” books and non-conforming sleuths that find a wide-reaching audience. You are an inspiration for us all!

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