Edith here, increasingly hunkered down north of Boston, and hoping to give away a couple of books.
NEWS FLASH: Betty Tyler and Judi Purcell are our lucky winners!
As a beginning writer ten years ago, I longed to have a successful long-running mystery series one day. I imagined writing the tenth book, the eighteenth, the twenty-second, all because readers demanded it. What could be better?
I now seem to be slowly getting there, book by book. I’ve finished and polished my sixth Quaker Midwife Mystery, and this spring I’ll write my ninth Country Store Mystery. I’m not up in Victoria Thompson (22 in her Gaslight Mysteries), Katherine Hall Page (25 Faith Fairchild Mysteries), or Deborah Crombie (her 18th British police procedural just came out) territory – yet – but, knock on wood, it could happen. Wickeds Barb, Sherry, and Sheila are getting up in the higher numbers with their ongoing series, too.
So now I realize the challenges that come with writing about the same characters in the same setting. Are people in Indiana starting to mutter to themselves, “Don’t go near South Lick – their rate of homicides is horrific!” Are the 1889 residents of Amesbury, Massachusetts, backing away every time they see Rose Carroll, because they know how she is a magnet for murder?
One way to get around Cabot Cove Syndrome is to take the story elsewhere for one installment. In Nacho Average Murder (Country Store #7 and up for preorder!), Robbie Jordan heads back to Santa Barbara for her tenth high-school reunion.
My editor wanted to be sure book #8 would return to South Lick again, though. He says it’s the town that is the big draw. Taken Too Soon, the Rose Carroll book I just finishedpolishing, takes place in West Falmouth on Cape Cod, which was primarily populated with Quakers in the late 1800s. Rose will be back in Amesbury for book #7.
Another trick is to kill off strangers who come to the village instead of local residents. It doesn’t do much for the Tourism Bureau, but it prevents decimating a small town’s population.
We also need to keep the recurring characters fresh. That can happen through evolving relationships. Will Rose and David ever get to wed? Are Robbie and Abe going to continue unattached? Maybe a formerly prickly relationship starts to ease, or new obstacles are thrown in the path of an amateur sleuth.
Making sure the protagonist grows and changes in relation to herself, too, is crucial in a long-running series. She needs to regularly reassess her world and what she’s doing in it. In Jess Lourey‘s Murder by the Month series, her protagonist realizes she is getting really good at amateur sleuthing and decides to become a licensed private investigator.
Julia Spencer-Fleming has used different story-telling techniques in her Clare Fergusson Mysteries. She’s said it was to keep the writing interesting for her, and it certainly keeps it interesting for the reader. In one of the books, the story goes back and forth between the present and two different times in the past. In another, the entire book takes place in a twenty-four hour period with a ticking clock.
As I head into writing my 24th novel, I need to be sure I don’t get tired of my three series. It’s a challenge to not re-use a murder weapon, not to get lazy about telling the story. I want to continue to grow as an author, to keep learning and improving, as I add book after book. I never want a reader to throw down one of my books and say, “She’s phoning it in.”
I love my job. What could be more delightful than sitting alone in an office – with no commute – making things up for a living? But any job needs goals, and getting better at what I do is always one of mine.
Readers: Have you given up on a series? Why? Writers: What do you do to keep a series fresh? How do you challenge yourself in your craft? I’ll give away my two latest books to two commenters (one each): Judge Thee Not and Christmas Cocoa Murder.