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The Joy of Anticipation: Writing and Reading a Series

lisemcclendon_1455579578_8When you pick up a book in a series you’ve read before, there is a moment of joy, the anticipation of renewed pleasure, like the days leading up to your birthday when you were a kid. Here come the goodies! There will be cake and ice cream and presents! With a mystery novel the eagerness for the next book in the series can be powerful. Why can’t she write faster? What’s he doing off writing a stand-alone? I need my visit from my old friends and I need it NOW.

My first books were series mysteries where the main character solves the problem of who murdered the victim, and a few other issues as well. I love serial fiction, and adore finding a writer that I can follow from book to book. Someone steady who won’t let me down but is clever and funny, who takes me to somewhere I’ve never been with someone so real they seem like a best friend. Someone who is predictable but not boring. Reading as comfort food is a thing, and I’ve eaten it up in mounds.

As a writer it’s different. Ask any writer who is 20 or more books into a series and you will probably hear more about ‘product’ than amazing moments of excitement or imagination. Bless those writers who can fire it up book after book – you rock!

Myself, I got a little antsy after six series books. I wanted to stretch. Series fiction in all its glory has much to offer – easier world-building for a big one — but I wanted to write about multiple characters, to dig into a fuller, deeper story. Longer maybe, definitely more complex. So I wrote what I thought would be the first book in a series of linked stand-alones, hoping to have the best of both worlds. Familiar characters but new situations, new points of view, new problems to open up the stories. Five sisters who would each have their own book, their own spotlight moment.

As it happened the first book, BLACKBIRD FLY, ended up going rogue, leaving the cozy 51yjpujPrbLbookshelves of New York publishing to reappear as my first original title with my own Thalia Press. (We call this indie publishing now, right?) I figured it would just be a stand-alone, and that wasn’t bad. I went on to write a couple more stand-alones and let BLACKBIRD FLY go off on a solo journey.

And then I went on a walking tour in France with five women, through the heart of wine country in Burgundy. It was fabulous (as you can imagine) and I decided I would use a similar event to anchor another story with the five Bennett Sisters from BLACKBIRD FLY, called THE GIRL IN THE EMPTY DRESS. I had always intended the sisters’ stories to continue and now I found a way to do that. I changed the walking tour to the Dordogne, where the main character, Merle, has a stone house, and I was off and… well, writing.

Flash forward to 2015. I spent nearly two years writing and editing a delightfully whacky mystery with four other writers (Katy Munger, my partner at Thalia Press, plus Kate Flora, Gary Phillips, and Taffy Cannon.) Our labor of love was an unwieldy beast and laugh-out-loud sex, food, and murder caper called BEAT SLAY LOVE: ONE CHEF’S HUNGER FOR DELICIOUS REVENGE. I love our latest review: “Funny in a sick way.” But the time had come to do my own thing again and I returned to the continuing story of the Bennett Sisters.

I set up the new book with a novella, GIVE HIM THE OOH-LA-LA, getting the oldest sister, Annie, engaged at the ripe old age of 55. A confirmed bohemian, her engagement shocks her sisters, and having all involved travel to Scotland for a destination wedding at a creepy hunting lodge set all sorts of possibilities into motion.

What you looking at - Highland cow-2Wedding novels are a staple of romance fiction, but alas, I am not a romance writer. I enjoy an occasional romance novel but write one? I doubt if I could. So how could I make this novel about a wedding something else, something deeper, less frothy and more meaningful — something more me? Well, somebody dies, I can tell you that. More than one somebody. But there is humor, all sorts of events that Scotland is famous for, plus allusions to the PRIDE AND PREJUDICE namesake sisters and actions in Jane Austen’s novel (my all-time favorite novel—surprise!) Have you ever wondered how you could weave a few choice Austen quotes into everyday life? I have an idea or two on that.

I adore Scotland, but its weather has sometimes failed to charm me, like the time I took my whole family to Edinburgh at the beginning of August and it never hit 60 degrees. Then I went again, in May, when the bluebells were blooming in carpets in the Highlands, when the skies were blue and the temperatures balmy. It was amazing, like summer in a week. It probably only lasted a week but I knew I had to set my new book in May.

things-we-said-webAre the skies always blue in THE THINGS WE SAID TODAY? No, that would be boring. The Scottish skies give us danger and drama. I hope the Bennett Sisters newest tale brings you drama, exotic locales, charm, insight into life, plus a few laughs. Oh, and a few men in kilts. Happy reading.

THE THINGS WE SAID TODAY is available now. The first Bennett Sisters novel is free right now. Details here.

Lise McClendon