Time, time, time…

by Barb. Last post from Key West.

Time, time, time, see what’s become of me
While I looked around for my possibilities
I was so hard to please

A Hazy Shade of Winter, Paul Simon, 1968

Readers, I have built myself a time conundrum. (Not nearly so fun as a time machine.)

The first five books in the Maine Clambake Mysteries take place in perfect order, with only a matter of months between books.

Then Kensington asked me to contribute to the Christmas anthology, Eggnog Murder, along with stories by Leslie Meier and Lee Hollis. Since Eggnog Murder would be published before Iced Under and I had cleverly skipped over Christmas in my timeline, I was a time management genius! I nearly broke my arm patting myself on the back. Now the line-up looked like this:

My resort town of Busman’s Harbor is very different in the tourist season and the off season. I had originally intended to write three books set in the (lengthy, because it’s Maine) off season, but with the addition of the novella, and the extended trip to Boston in Iced Under, my editor and I agreed it was time to get back to sunshine, lobsters, and Morrow Island. Book 6, Stowed Away is set in June as the clambake is reopening for the season.

But then–trouble. Kensington asked me to contribute to another holiday novella, Yule Log Murder. Christmas takes place in December, right? There was no way around that. So we fast-forwarded to December. I turned in Stowed Away and “Logged On,” the novella for Yule Log Murder, on the same day. As it turns out, I am sadly not a time management genius. I had only the vaguest notion of what happened to Julia Snowden, her family, and friends between June and December, but I did hint at one thing in “Logged On.” As it happens, Yule Log Murder was actually published before Stowed Away, but only a matter of a couple of months before. Now the time-line looked like this.

Okay, now where to go? Clearly a lot had happened between June and Christmas during Julia’s second year in Busman’s Harbor. I went back to fill some of that in. Steamed Open takes place in August. But the Time Lords weren’t done with me. Kensington asked me to write a novella for the Halloween collection, Haunted House Murder. Halloween, as we all know, must occur on October 31. To complicate things even further, the next novel in the series had to take place on Morrow Island for a whole bunch of reasons, before the clambake shut down for the season and before winter closed in. So Book 8, Sealed Off takes place in the week before Columbus Day. “Hallowed Out,” the Halloween novella, actually begins before Sealed Off and then largely takes place after. “Look at her, ladies and gentlemen, writing without a net!” So now we’re looking at:

(One thing is clear. You are most likely to get murdered in Busman’s Harbor in June, August, October or December, so pick a different month for your visit.)

So now what, time-genius? I ask myself. Some of what is hinted at in “Logged On” gets explained in Steamed Open and Sealed Off, but there are still gaps in the story. Part of me is content to leave it that way and skip ahead to the new year. I love it when authors do that. I think I’ve mentioned here that I read every single one of Ruth Rendell’s Wexford short stories, looking for the one where Wexford’s sidekick DI Mike Burden’s first wife dies. I was convinced such a story must exist, but I was wrong. Burden is a happily married man in one novel and a widower in the next.

But instinct tells me the next Maine Clambake Mystery gets squeezed in between Halloween and Christmas. Don’t ask me where it takes place or what happens. When he accepted my manuscript for Sealed Off, my editor at Kensington wrote, “Looking forward to reading the outline for the next one once it’s ready!” Him and me both, is all I can say.

Maine Clambake Readers, what do you think about my dilemma? Any feelings about what you want to read next? Everybody, how do you like to see time managed in a book series? Strong feelings? Good and bad examples?

33 Thoughts

  1. Oy, Barb. My first Christmas novella also slotted into my Country Store Mysteries timeline perfectly, but if I’m asked to do another – I might be joining you on the Poor Time Management bench! I know you’ll figure it out, though.

    1. I have to write this next book, so I’ll have to figure it out, but I feel like I’m living in a conch shell. Appropriate while I’m living here among the Conchs, I guess.

  2. I’m in the same boat. Recently I had to stop and calculate how long Maura had been in Ireland, so I could get the seasons straight. Turned out to be 15 months, and the books are in sequence. Except for that Christmas short, which may or may not be in the right place (but it’s the first time Maura experiences Christmas there–and nobody dies). I think readers will understand,

    But there’s the added problem of keeping the characters’ ages right, especially when I’m writing about something that might have happened forty years earlier (and some people have to be old enough to remember the event).

  3. Barb, all I can say is “oy!” I know you’ll figure it out.

    As a reader, though, I’m okay with gaps. Like your “married one book, widowed the next” example. I mean characters have lives between books (right?). Things happen. As long as the writing is smooth, I expect gaps of a couple months or more between books.

    I wrote a New Year’s Eve short story for my newsletter subscribers, but I didn’t update HEAVEN HAS NO RAGE, which takes place in February to account for one little detail. Thank goodness for good editors!

      1. It’s so very small only people who have read ROOT, the short story, and who will read HEAVEN would catch it. But catch it my editor did.

  4. The only thing I can say is congratulations! What a delicious problem to have! You’ve written enough books in the same series, with the added compliment of being invited to contribute to the novellas, that this problem has cropped up! You are one of my heroes!

  5. You are handling well, and it is a nice problem to have. But yeesh, you’re right. So many details to keep track of. I have trouble enough going from one book to the next.

    1. Someone wrote me a note to say that if Fogged Inn ended on a Thursday, then I had the day of the week for Christmas wrong in “Nogged Off.” I honestly hadn’t counted forward from Fogged Inn. I’d counted backwards from Christmas Eve,, the day I knew “Nogged Off” ended.

  6. Oy, is right – talk about complicated! But I have no doubt you’ll pull it off beautifully. I love that you give us short stories as well as the novels.

  7. I view the novellas as outside the normal timeline. So do whatever you want. I’ll read no matter where you go next.

    And I’m visiting mid-July. Just saying.

      1. Sorry, I didn’t mean I was actually visiting Maine. I just meant if I were, I’d go in mid-July to avoid being caught up in a murder.

        Right now, my vacation time is exactly zero, and my family wants to take some family vacations, so a trip to Maine is sadly out of the question. Someday.

  8. I hate to admit this, but I’m having the same problems on a smaller scale WITHIN the same book. Oy, indeed!

    Actually, I kind of like the idea of a book skipping a period of time, but having the characters make allusions to a big event that took place in the missing time period, and then revealing what it is over a series of novels. I love the idea of teasing the readers with tidbits of information and then doing the big reveal three books later. Actually, this is why God invented the flashback.

    And the others are so right, Barb, it’s not such a terrible problem to have.

  9. Barb, what a great problem to have. I try to read books in sequence, but not always successful. I figure it out. And novellas and short stories are outside the continuum as far as I’ll concerned. Just keep writing your wonderful books set in any season!

    1. Ginny–I’m the same way. I’ll start a new series anywhere, but then if I really like that book, I’ll go back and try to read in order.

  10. I prefer stories in order but I’m OK with skips and things explained in later books. I’m used to comic books and soap operas where something gets dropped and you wait years for another writer to pick it up and explain it. At least you control the series. Just say “I planned it that way”.

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