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That Old Familiar Feeling

Years ago I was at a conference chatting with a writer whose career had recently taken off to the kind of NYT best-sellerdom I can only dream about. I'd been reading her since her early days, and we'd exchanged a few emails back then so I felt emboldened to express sympathy over a scathing review for her most recent book in one of the industry magazines. (Please note, this is not an anti-reviewer blog post. I firmly believe that if someone took the time to read a book and wants to share his or her opinion on it, he or she should. ) This book was the third or fourth in the series that had really taken off for her and what had struck me and annoyed us both was the reviewers complaints about it because it was in a series. The review sneered about the characters getting more book time because they were "beloved." My thought was that revisiting beloved characters is kind of the whole point to reading series.

There's a point to this rambling. and like I said, it's not about reviews. It's about series. Right now I'm writing another book that has Joey and Aaron from Collision Course in it as secondary characters and they are about two pages from hitting the stage. I think back to that conversation with and I get nervous. Not about reviews, but because of wanting to do right by the story, my characters, and the reader. I want to deliver the kind of connection with the characters that the readers who've been asking for more will enjoy, while not pissing off anyone who reads it no knowing them. Sequels or connected books should always stand alone. I've come into series out of order and the writers have been kind enough to let me in. I've also been there since the beginning and enjoyed sharing with the writer that in-joke, a trace of "Yeah, that's how we go on" that feels familiar and cozy and like hanging out with old friends.

There's a reason series are popular, from my childhood friends like Trixie Belden and The Black Stallion to any of the latest series books gracing the bestseller lists. There's a reason publishers, authors and agents love them. They come with a built-in readership and following. Sometimes as a writer, they feel like the easiest and the hardest thing to do. The world buildings done—but you're stuck with what you've done before. There are characters already made, but you'd better not bore new readers with them or make assumptions.

And if it could unnerve a NYT bestseller like my acquaintance in the first paragraph, the weight of that expectation hanging pretty darn heavy on me as Joey and Aaron are making their way onto the scene. I'll try not to make them seem "beloved by all."

The book is Dylan's story and if all goes well, you should be able to get it when things get warm here in the Northern Hemisphere.


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 29th, 2011 10:55 am (UTC)
Yay, Dylan! Yay, Joey and Aaron!

I also really love series -- whether it's the same main characters throughout or different sets of MCs with past a future MCs making appearances. My daughter is currently reading her way through two of MY childhood favorites: Anne of Green Gables and Maud Hart Lovelace's Betsy-Tacy books.

Of course, the problem is that every now and then a series will start to get unwieldy, and subplots kind of take over, and if the series doesn't die a natural death I start to mourn and stop buying.
Sep. 29th, 2011 12:47 pm (UTC)
This book was the third or fourth in the series that had really taken off for her and what had struck me and annoyed us both was the reviewers complaints about it because it was in a series. The review sneered about the characters getting more book time because they were "beloved."

It's interesting that you should mention that, because I was listening to an episode of the Dear Bitches, Smart Author podcast, and the hosts were talking about series, and what they liked and didn't like about the way series have a tendency sometimes to veer towards and away from particular characters. And the upshot is basically: everybody loves some characters in a series and other people very much do not.

Basically a reiteration of there being no way to please all the people all the time.

Anyway, I found it timely that you brought it up, too.
Sep. 29th, 2011 01:17 pm (UTC)
I think you did a particularly good job w/ Joey and Aaron in Kim and Shane's book. (Ditto Kellan and Nick in Eli and Quinn's book.) There just enough to allow people who love them to feel like they got to see them, but there for a REASON, there to help the plot, there b/c they were organic to the book. I don't like when previous characters...all have a dinner party, or something similar, just so you can learn who just had a baby or how the wedding went, stuff that isn't necessary to the plot of THIS book.

Good luck! Can't wait to read it. :)
Sep. 29th, 2011 04:04 pm (UTC)
Looking at a series that I have, at best, mixed feelings about, LKH's Anita Blake series, literally the ONLY thing that keeps me returning to that series is beloved characters (sadly/fortunately not the main characters) and if they weren't there, I feel like I could quit the series free and clear--and probably be much happier for it.

On the other hand, I've been able to pick up books in the middle of certain series (I've only read one of Suzanne Brockmann's Troubleshooter books; I accidentally started Cornwell's Scarpetta series in the middle and later went back and started from the beginning...) and I had no trouble getting into the book I was reading or immersing in the series because, while I could tell there were things I was missing for lack of familiarity but nothing so major that I couldn't fall into the story and the author clearly went through the effort of making it as inclusive as possible, which I appreciate. If an author doesn't bother to take that step, I'm less likely to want to pick up the rest of the series later on.
Sep. 29th, 2011 04:13 pm (UTC)
I think I read about Joey and Aaron first and then about the others in a helter skelter kind of way. I was actually surprised when Joey and Aaron reappeared, I didn't know it was a series at the time. All I knew was that I liked the way you wrote and that the sex was the hottest I had ever read. Still is in fact, the hottest I mean, even though I have read more than 500 M/M stories by now. *LOL*
I don't mind series but I like the ones you can read in no apparent order best. And if the author trusts the reader to remember things and don't repeat too much stuff, it's even better. I hate the "let's summarize" part that often appears.
Oct. 2nd, 2011 10:02 am (UTC)
I was intrigued by Joey and Aaron's appearance in No Souvenirs, because Shane saw them in a totally different way to how I'd been viewing them. I loved that you weren't afraid to have another character show them through the lens of dislike, and despite Shane's suspicion and irration with Joey, I still loved them both.

Series are all about revisiting beloved characters, I agree, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that! It's just one of those aspects of genre fiction that some literary critics don't seem to want to understand. Popular does not automatically equal inferior, and making your readers happy is not a sin.
Oct. 4th, 2011 10:30 pm (UTC)
I personally love it when characters from previous books make an appearance (or more). When I fall in love with a character, I love them forever and always want to know what they're up to!

I can't wait for another book in this series! I love it and Joey is one of my very favorite characters of all time. (So I am particularly excited for the new book!)

Also, I couldn't not comment when I saw you mention Trixie Belden. She is my very favorite character from my childhood :)

Sorry for gushing all over the place (not really).
Jan. 20th, 2012 06:06 am (UTC)
There have been quite a few series that I've started in the middle, and was able to read easily, but most of the time, if I pick up a book, and it turns out to be in the middle of the set, I'm pretty lost. (This happened when I got the Twilight books confused and read Eclipse first.)

Thankfully, this did not happen with Collison Course, which I wasn't even aware of the fact that it's an installment until I went to Ms. Mitchell's website. I'm quite excited for this new installment.
Jul. 6th, 2012 09:19 pm (UTC)
I'm sitting here kicking myself in the butt. I just saw that you were releasing a new book in this series. OMG! Where have I been? Sheesh.
Aaron and Joey are my all time favorite couple EVER! I keep my print copy accessible for anytime I get the urge to re-read such yummy goodness. I'm way excited
about this book and I love this series. I agree with you. The main reason for reading and buying certain authors, for me at least, is because I fell in love with the
characters. Any chance to see a further glimpse of their lives is always good.

( 9 comments — Leave a comment )