Thursday, January 7, 2021

Continuing a Series, or Not?

As a reader I have always enjoyed mystery series. That started with the Grand Dame of mystery Agatha Christie with her delightful characters Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. Then it was John D. McDonald and the Travis McGee series. A few years later I stumbled upon the 87th Precinct Series by Ed McBain, the alter-ego of Evan Hunter, and that's what stirred my interest in police procedural mysteries.

There are so many other series that I've enjoyed. Sue Grafton's alphabet series with Kinsey Millhone. Dennis Lehane's series with Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro, a much too short series for me. Louise Penney's series with Armand Gamache and a whole cast of intriguing characters. Timothy Hallinan's Poke Rafferty series set in Bangkok that recently ended, much to the dismay of this reader and many others.

For a reader, when a series ends, it's like we've lost a whole family. That's especially true if there've been a lot of books, or even just a few, but in those few we've gotten so fully engaged with the characters that they became as real to us as they were to the author; and it's always the characters who keep me coming back. While the mystery story is important, the subtle changes in the characters: the new facets of personality, the way they face a new challenge, what happens in their families, that's what I enjoy the most. 

While I've always liked reading series mysteries, I never thought about writing one until I wrote Open Season, the first book in the Seasons Mystery Series. When I started developing the main characters, Sarah and Angel, I came to the realization that they could possibly sustain a series. They're thrown together as unwilling partners in the first book, so there's room for challenges to that partnership in future books. Plus, I had a lot of fun coming up with story ideas for future books, unusual crimes they would investigate, interesting killers, and, of course, sub-plots that could carry from book to book.

Because I don't plot my books in any kind of detail, especially the subplots of a story, I really didn't know how the difficulty that Angel and Sarah were having in terms of trying to forge a partnership was going to be resolved. But, as I got closer and closer to the end of that book, I realized that problem probably wasn't going to come to any definitive conclusion in book one. Which was good, because it gave me a good starting point for that sub-plot in book two, Stalking Season.

During the writing of that book, some other sub-plots popped up. Not because I planned them (see

above) but because the characters took a turn down a new path, and I decided to go along to see where we were headed. It turned out that we got to some interesting places with character relationships and family issues, and I was sure there was enough there for the next book.

I was about half-way through Desperate Season when two things happened that derailed my plan. First my publisher stopped publishing mysteries, so I had to find a new home for the series. The next, and most devastating was the visit I got from Ramsay Hunt Syndrome in January 2016, that has left me with considerable daily pain. I've shared about it all before here at The Blood-Red Pencil, so I won't go into any of the icky details today, but writing did come to a screeching halt for way too long and it took several years for that book to be completed.

When I finally came to "the end" I was faced with a few questions. Do I try to find another publisher? An agent? Should I just self-publish?

I grappled with those questions for about a year with each read-through for polishing and self-editing, then after getting no positive responses from any of the agents I'd queried in the meantime, I decided to self-publish. I hired the terrific ALTO Editing for the final edits, got a great cover and formatting from professionals at Fiverr and listed the book at Amazon.

I thought that would be the last book in the series. I'd lost heart for a lot of reasons, so I did wrap up some of the subplots and end the book on what could be a satisfying conclusion for the readers who've enjoyed the characters and the stories so far. Then, I received a letter from an agent I'd queried some time ago about the series. She said it was hard to sell a book in the middle of a series, but if I had a stand-alone, she'd be interested in looking at it. Agents don't issue those invitations lightly, so I tried to shake my brain free from pain-coma and drug coma and see if I could come up with anything that might have legs.

In my story-ideas folder there's one about a PI in Dallas named Memphis. I think I conjured her one day when hallucinating. Don't ask. Anyway, I thought, hmmm, I could develop her into a story and maybe pull in some current affairs that seem to be sapping whatever energy I have left. Not politics. Oh my God, no politics in any of my books. But the pandemic, innocent black men and women getting killed by police, Black Lives Matter, protests, riots, systemic racism, and all the social upheaval that has all caused. I could create a scenario in Dallas where an unarmed young black man is jogging in the wrong part of town, wrong for a black man, and he's shot by a police officer. Somehow the PI, Memphis, could be caught up in the ensuing protests and riots.

As I'm noodling around with that idea, in the back of my mind Angel starts talking to me. "Wait a minute, Maryann. That's my story. Don't you give that story to somebody else. That's my story."

Okaayyy, then.

So, I'm slowly working on Brutal Season, the fourth book in the series, which is in early stages yet.  It does involve a police killing of a innocent unarmed black man. It does have Angel getting involved with the Black Lives Matter protests in the city, which puts her job at risk, as well as creating another great divide between her and Sarah. Whether that will be the last book in the series I have no idea at this point. It really depends on what the characters have to say at the end of the story. 

Several of my writer friends, Timothy Hallinan among others who write series, have said that you just know when it's time for it all to end because the characters stop talking to you. If Angel and Sarah do stop, I can always start listening to this PI named Memphis who knocks on my creative door now and then.

Award-winning author Maryann Miller has numerous credits as a columnist, novelist, screen writer, and playwright, and also has an extensive background in editing. You can find out more about Maryann, her books, and her editing services on her Website and her Amazon Author Page read her Blog, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter. Her online workshop on self-editing, part of a series of online writing workshops from Short And Helpful, can be found HERE.


  1. Wow! You hooked me. Now I have to visit Angel and Sarah to see what they're all about. Very engaging post, Maryann. :-)

  2. Thanks, Linda. I'm glad I intrigued you. :-) Open Season is only .99 for Kindle, so you can start the series at a bargain.

  3. I love reading series but have been reluctant to continue any of my novels into longer series because I have so many ideas to write in other genres. I admire those authors who create a wonderful series story arc that keeps me coming back as a reader.

    1. I hear you, Patricia. I have folders on my computer, as well as in file cabinets, overflowing with story ideas. When I thought perhaps the Seasons Series was coming to an end, I thought I'd have time to work on one of those others. Sarah and Angel remind me of my cats that all vie for attention. LOL But I am having a good time with this fourth book.

  4. Glad you are still listening. I am sure your fans are thrilled. As a reader, nothing pleases me more than to find out a new favorite author has a long series. I remember when I discovered Anne Perry, the Thomas Pitt series was already 20 books long, and is still going. She does a great job of keeping a series fresh. So does Deborah Crombie. That's the key, I think. As long as you have fresh ideas and you've created characters that can keep growing and changing, readers will continue to follow the series.

    1. Thanks for the encouraging words, Diana. I've read a lot of the Deborah Crombie books, but not Anne Perry. I need to check those out. I keep hearing good things about her series from a mystery-lovers online group to which I belong.

  5. When your characters start talking to you, LISTEN! I have my conversations at night in bed. That's how most of my books get started, then it moves into daylight. Hope this book attracts the attention you deserve, Maryann. (Sorry this disease keeps attacking you. Wish you could write it out of your life.)


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