Way back in 2014, I wrote an article here on Indies Unlimited about how I would (almost) NEVER write a sequel or a series. I ranted quite a bit about inspiration vs. conscious, mechanical design of a plot, and I named names. As you might imagine, I got both positive and negative comments on that post, as I fully expected.
So here I sit, five years later, and I’m writing Book #22 of my paranormal mystery series!
What changed? Nothing. Everything. I have no idea.
What happened is that I was asked to appear on a ghost reality TV show as a “local expert,” since the haunting was in my area. The show concerns a female medium who walks the property and a male ex-cop who researches said property independently of the medium. As the show unfolds, the man uncovers information about the physical side of the equation (who, what, when), and the medium documents what she feels and senses in the ghostly realms. At the end of the show, they meet up for the first time (on this case) to reveal to the property owners what the secret is behind the ghost and how to expel it.
It was a lot of fun to work on the show, and quite a thrill when it aired on TV. But then, I got to thinking… if I were going to do a story like that, how would I do it?
I think most writers can attest to the slippery slope of this kind of thinking. Once we start with the what ifs and we start character-building and imagining plot lines, we’re done. We’re committed. At least that was true for me.
It didn’t take me long at all to piece out my characters. I flipped the genders so the medium was the man and the ex-cop researcher was the woman. In order to deepen his spiritual connection with the supernatural, I made him Native American — Navajo, to be exact. I made her practical, down-to-earth, and fact-based: as far from the esoteric as she could get. In a few broad strokes, Sam Firecloud and Lacey Fitzpatrick were born.
When I was writing the first book, Ghost Walk, I realized this could be a series. There was certainly no lack of ideas for hauntings. At the time, I did not have a plan for the next book(s), but I trusted it would come — or I wouldn’t write any more. I made a promise to myself that if I ever reached the point where it was a struggle to come up with a good plot, if I began rehashing the same story over and over, I would quit. And I confess, there have been several times in between books when I’ve seriously considered quitting.
The good news is, the ideas keep coming.
Remember those rants from that earlier post? As embarrassing as it is to admit that I’ve now done the very thing I vowed not to do, I have at least taken my own list of complaints and I use it to remind myself of what not to do. While each book resolves its own story line and stands alone (no cliff-hangers), the characters have continued to evolve over the long arc of the series. The great thing about this is that the characters are not static; they grow and change, and therefore come at cases from a slightly different vantage point than they might have in earlier books. In addition, new characters have joined the family, and they add some texture and some layers to the stories, as well. And finally, the emphasis of the stories changes; sometimes the story is the ghost, but other times the story is the people still living. Sometimes the story is purely business; sometimes it’s painfully personal. Sometimes there is danger; sometimes the tension is less lethal, humorous even. I’m very pleased to say that the stories are all different, all entertaining, and all surprising in one way or another.
Other lessons that I’ve learned in this journey include keeping the covers of the books similar in style and theme, and using the same fonts so it’s easy to recognize all the books in the series. After four or five books, I decided to go back and rewrite the series description. Originally, I had written The Lacey Fitzpatrick and Sam Firecloud Mystery Series Book 1, 2, 3. I changed that to put the book number first, so now it reads Book 1 of the Lacey Fitzpatrick… This way readers can quickly and easily see what number a book is and where it fits into the series. Another tip I followed was making the first book 99 cents, hoping to entice readers to wade in, like what they find, and then continue on. I’m happy to say that seems to be working. And finally, building up my mailing list. I’ve found that a lot of people enjoy reading series books, enjoy getting to know the characters, and following their adventures, so I’ve been using Voracious Readers Only to increase opt-ins on my mailing list. Now, whenever I release a new book, I blast it out to my mailing list and I’m rewarded with immediate sales on the new book.
Am I sold on writing a series? Yes, I am. It’s a lot of fun and I think I’m enjoying the progression of stories as much as my readers are.
And I still promise that if this ever gets to be a grind, I’ll quit.