Veronica's #WritersDiary: May Mystery Topic: What Keeps a Cozy Series from Going D.O.A.?
"For me, finishing a book in a series is kind of like the day after Christmas. I can't help but start the count down and dreams of a new tale, pondering where my beloved characters will decide to take me on the next, cozy excursion."
---Veronica Cline Barton, author, My American Almost Royal Cousin Series
It was interesting looking for an author quote to headline the mystery topic post this week---I couldn't find one, LOL! It seems the famous authors had no words to opine on the topic of writing a series, so, I had to stretch my little gray cells and come up with one! It wasn't that hard of a task for me--as a reader and writer, I'm a huge fan. I love finding a series I can escape to in the reading zone, and it definitively drives me in the writing zone.
The topic of keeping a series 'fresh' (avoiding the D.O.A. zone) came up in a few of the panel sessions at the Southwest Sleuth conference I attended last month. It's somewhat like a literary gardening challenge, planning a series concept that can be seeded, sprouted, hopefully flourishing into full story bloom, book by book.
What compels an author to write a series? For those of us who take on this writing quest, it gives you an established storyline base from which to frame the new tale each time. If you're successful, your fans will want more. The fine line you walk with each book is keeping the new storyline compelling, brimming with excitement and intrigue, filling the quill pen with enthusiastic dialogue and chilling events. The challenge becomes how to work the fundamentals of the series phenomenon masterfully. Here are a few key series elements (for me at least) to keep your series from going D.O.A.:
“A good friend will help you move, but a true friend will help you move a body.”
― Steven J. Daniels
In a cozy mystery series, I find it essential for the main character to have ample friends and family to assist in those, ahem, stilted situations when one finds a body or is thrown into situations dealing with calamitous mayhem. Believe me, a main character may be the hook, but the supporting cast of characters certainly strengthens the storyline with their clue solving ideas, dramatic personalities, and occasional comic relief. The ability to mix a strong cocktail is always in high demand at Cherrywood Hall!
There's Always Something...
“There was a dark side to the human heart and never was it more alive and well than when people found something good to gossip about.”
― Alistair Cross
Afraid you'll run out of ideas for a series? Don't get discouraged. As in real life, there's always something to spark an idea for a new series adventure. Weddings; holidays (I love Christmas mysteries); change in life status (graduations, engagements, pregnancies (Double Trouble), becoming an American marchioness 💖👑); trips (a train ride, road rally, or cruise anyone?); local events (a village fete can be deadly fun #JustSayin); perhaps a simple question is posed (Why Didn't They Ask Evans?); and the good ole grapevine provide ample opportunities for a book to take flight. The biggest lesson I've learned as a writer is to pace the story--don't rush it, let it unfold with twists and turns to keep the reader hooked and happy!
Villains and Fiends
“Every murderer is probably somebody's old friend.”
― Agatha Christie
Expect the unexpected is a writing mantra I try to stay true to when I'm choosing who the bad guy or gal will be in a story. The villain doesn't always have to be an outsider. Some of the best stories I've written and read have villains being someone close, someone seemingly without motive, someone least likely as the fiend in the end. Stephen King has stated, 'Kill your darlings.'. I believe in the cozy mystery series world it's sometimes exciting to 'Make your darlings the killers!' .
"Every location has its sweet spot."
I personally love nothing better than a mystery in a castle, LOL, but there are plenty of other locations to set the scene for your series tales. Villages or rural settings are another favorite locale for cozy characters to get into mayhem mischief. You can set your series wherever your heart desires, however your characters can always go on excursions to keep things interesting in a series. Who doesn't like to go on a vacation to a foreign land, explore a haunted house, or take a day trip to the big city? Mur-dah most foul can occur anytime, anywhere...Dun-Dun-Dun.
So, when is enough, enough?
I think as long as your heart's pumpin' and your desire is there, you can write a cozy series for quite some time (M.C. Beaton's Agatha Raisin series has 25 books) if you develop and continue to nurture a compelling base. However, there are instances where the plug should have been pulled on a series IMHO, when authors transitioned the writing of their tales to staff or family members for health, retirement, or business/financial reasons.
As a book lover, when I choose a series to read, the author's style, flow, and nuances are a big reason for me to pick, and stick, with a series. Many times, the new writers just can't bring the same je ne sais quoi to the original author's works. If it changes too much or doesn't have that original spark, it's hard to stay enthused and engaged. For me, that's a sad way for a beloved series to end.
I hope you've enjoyed today's mystery topic! What do you look for when choosing a series to read? I'd love to hear your thoughts. I hope this fine month of May brings loads of reading enjoyment to those little gray cells! It's Wednesday, time for #DearDiary:
The editing and tweaking are in high gear for Blood on the Vines. Many, many thanks to my editor, Theresa Snyder! She is a delight to work with as we race to the finish line. It will be close to make the June 1st release date, but my cozy team is chomping at the bit to make it happen! (Sorry, I'm still having Kentucky Derby withdrawal from this past weekend, LOL). Let's hope this tale has the same finish as Rich Strike! 🍇💀🍷
Tropes and Themes; Let's Get Gothic!
Join Amy Reade, Cynthia Raliegh, Bibiana Krall and me this Sunday, May 15th at 4PM EDT on the #MurdersWeWrite room on the Clubhouse app when we delve into the topics of writing a gothic mystery! Thirty minutes of creative, mystery chat awaits--stop on by!
A view into the future this week from the writers of Twitter...
Author Bibiana Krall, Mint (Aether Book 2), 5⭐
In 2099, global farms house the amped-up technologies and networks to take you on virtual journeys you can't even imagine. For data caretaker and domain designer, Cerise, the singular, soulless environment is all she's known, supplemented with sterile interactions with her AI Jinn, secret readings of renegade books, and a furry friend who must remain hidden, named Invictus.
Deviations from the derivative norm are not tolerated. When you go into the virtual world of escapist fantasy, the minions are watching. There are fees to be paid for pleasures you desire. Are you willing to pay the price and indenture your mind and being for oblivion? There are escapes from the meta world, but will you outwit the technological surveyors who want to control your every move? Cerise has a life and death choice to make.
Author Krall pens a chilling view of future life as it may evolve---a virtual world where you will own nothing and be happy and look over your shoulder constantly. What reality will you choose? A thought provoking, gripping read, highly recommended!
Next up in the reading queue:
I hope you had a fabulous #MothersDay!
Flowers, prime rib and waffles (yes, I did it again, LOL), and be still my heart (not too still), a gift of the Downton Abbey Christmas Cookbook! This cookery book is filled with pics and favorite recipes to fill all your Downton Abbey cravings. I can't wait to raid Mrs. Patmore's recipes to prepare a feast fit for a queen! #Yummo
Welcome to my world. Enjoy the rest of the week and have a wonderful weekend!
Crowns and Kisses,
P.S. Speaking of Downton Abbey, the countdown is on for the U.S. premiere of the new film, Downton Abbey; A New Era on May 20th. The OH and I have our theatre seats reserved! Gemma and Rikkhe approve 💖👑
*Poster courtesy of @DowntonAbbey on Twitter