Friday, July 4, 2014

Which kind of writer are you? by Susan Oleksiw

In honor of Independence Day I offer a question that most of us discover the answer to after writing for several years. Some writers begin with a series and stick with it. In each installment the protagonist, professional or amateur, investigates a crime and finds the culprit. Variety is found in the recurring minor characters who populate the established setting and those who appear as part of the particular mystery. In contrast is the writer who writes a few books in one series, writes a stand-alone, switches genres, and generally wanders from form to form, series to series, exploring and discovering.

Each approach to writing has its pluses and minuses. The writer who begins and sticks with one series character brings the reader into an established and known world, with old friends reappearing in new situations and more quirks in the main support figures. These books have enormous appeal for the way they take us into lives of people who come to seem like friends. Deborah Crombie has written fourteen Duncan Kincaid mysteries (with a fifteenth in the works),  and readers eagerly await her next story and the chance to revisit "old friends" Duncan and Gemma.

In contrast Laurie King has written three series and four stand-alone novels. Most mystery readers are familiar with the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series that catapulted King to fame. The Kate Martinelli series brings readers back to California and the police procedural. The Stuyvesant and Grey books take the reader to Paris in the latest installment.

Aside from the sheer number of books these writers manage to produce, both are exploring crime and its aftermath in similar ways, going deeper into the lives of those affected as well as those investigating.

Which type of writer are you? Do you have one series and intend to stick with it over as many as twenty or thirty titles? Or do you like to explore different places and topics through different series characters as well as different genres?

Since I raised the question, I should answer it also. I began the Mellingham series with Murder in Mellingham (1993), and the sixth, Last Call for Justice, appeared in 2012. I introduced Anita Ray, an Indian American photographer living in South India at her aunt's tourist hotel, in a short story in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine in 2003. The first full-length Anita Ray mystery, Under the Eye of Kali, appeared in 2010. The third in the Anita Ray series, For the Love of Parvati, appeared in May 2014. 

I admit that I like switching back and forth and seeing similar problems from different perspectives, cultural as well as personal. I enjoy exploring the New England world, life along the coast and its special problems. But I also lived in India and have a great passion for exploring as much as I can of that world. In addition, I've written a number of short stories about a village in a rural area of New England. One story is available, Love Takes a Detour, with others to follow.

Now it's your turn. Which kind of mystery writer are you? Do you focus on one series, or do you try different things, different series characters and different genres?

To find Susan's novels, go to

To learn more about Susan and her work, go to


Terry Shames said...

I love my series, but other ideas keep butting in, and I was thrilled when my agent suggested that I write a thriller (pun intended). The ideas started buzzing immediately. I'll keep turning out Samuel Craddock books, because he lives in my head, but I'd get bored if that's all I did.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

On this July 4th holiday, I want to wish everyone a happy holiday celebration.

Now for the question at hand. Susan, I prize writing in a variety of genres and styles. I've written approximately one hundred short stories that vary from mystery, sci-fi, fantasy, romance, horror and literary. Most of them have been published in magazines and anthologies. I've also written nonfiction, plays and poetry. I've also written picture books for children, children's stories, YA stories and novels. I love writing adult mystery novels the best. I've written the Kim Reynolds mystery series, the latest of which is THE BAD WIFE, 4th in the series. My stand-alones include DEATH LEGACY, THE THIRD EYE, TEA LEAVES AND TAROT CARDS, and THE CHEVALIER. I write contemporary as well as historical. I know the danger with this is not building a loyal readership. But for me the writing itself comes first. Hopefully, readers will like what I write and look for my work.

Susan Oleksiw said...

Terry, I think you hit on something that is important. You almost don't have a choice when it comes to branching out. If that's something you feel you have to do, you do it. Thanks for commenting.

Jacquie, you are remarkably prolific, but I agree you have to write the stories that come to you. The advice to focus on one series in order to build a readership makes sense, but it can be very frustrating. I couldn't do it, and in fact barely considered it. I write what comes to me. Thank you for commenting.

Jan Christensen said...

Susan, when I first started writing, I concentrated on short stories. Each one had different characters, a different setting, and very different plots. I really love to write short stories, and I thought it was a good way to learn to write. Quicker to learn that way than with a novel or two. But I also wanted to write novels. I find them a lot more difficult, but I decided to write a stand-alone first (Sara's Search, published by a small press in 2004). Then I started a series. I ended up with a couple of darker suspense-type novels (Revelations and Blackout), with several of the same characters, but not the same main character. Then I decided I wanted to be like Sue Grafton, so wrote two female PI novels (Perfect Victim is the first, now self-published; Perfect Ruin should be out in the fall). When I couldn't get them published, I started a new series about a professional organizer (Organized to Death and Buried Under Clutter)and finally decided to start self-publishing them all while still writing short stories which I submit to publications (65 published so far). I've also written a couple of stand-alone novels, but am not sure I will ever publish them. I guess, bottom line, I like variety, and I think it's easier for me to work on several series than on just one. And throw in as many short stories as I have time for.

Susan Oleksiw said...

Jan, I'm impressed with the ease with which you move from one genre to another. You and Jacquie seem to have endless flexibility. I too love short stories, but haven't done anywhere near what you have with them. Yes, I like variety too.

When i started writing this post I couldn't think of many writers who followed Crombie's path. Most of us now seem to want to try different things. I think it makes for a rich creative life.

Thanks for posting.

Peter DiChellis said...

Interesting post and discussion. BTW, a few years ago, SinC sponsored a large national survey comparing mystery readers to those in other genres. One finding: liking a series and character were more important to mystery readers. The survey didn't ask why, though I think your post nailed the reasons for the appeal.

A free pdf of the study is still floating around the internet. Google: sisters in crime mystery buyer study pdf (see page 17 for the series/character results)

Ben Solomon said...

Interesting question for a newer author. For now I write strictly short stories, with a twist. I have a short story series available by subscription on the web. I also write pieces based on the paying market, so yes, I am jumping around with a small range of genres.

Carolyn J. Rose said...

I've written several two-book series and felt they were finished, but now I'm writing the third in the Hemlock Lake series and then will start a fourth in the No Substitute series. My plan is to stick with that series for the next few years, but characters from other books have a way of taking it upon themselves to invent plot ideas and insist that I execute them, so . . .

emergency alert system said...

Amazing, you're so talented ! I love it, love it so much that the greedy gnome in me wants more !

Bob Mangeot said...

Great post. I enjoyed the glimpse into experienced novelists balancing creativity, output, etc.

For me, variety only strengthens writing or reading. As a short story guy for now, if not writing to market spec, I'll let the idea find its best course and worry about genre at the end.

As a reader, the non-series books of a particular author are usually my favorites. Like you mention, extended series can grow thick with arcs and recurring characters, which can be enriching or challenging. When an author steps outside for a standalone, the creative freedom seems to crackle on the page.

Thanks for asking!

Marja said...

Terrific post, Susan! I write two series and I've written one stand alone. The characters in the two series are quite different. Short stories? Can't do one. I talk too much and can't stop at short. I'm impressed by those who can. Thanks for bringing up this subject.
Marja McGraw

Mary F. Schoenecker Writes said...

Susan,This post and your books & short stories are to be admired.It prompts me to tell you about my writing. I left my published series trilogy at Book 3, Maine Shore Chronicles and wrote a stand-alone family saga/women's fiction using a much loved character from the series as protagonist. I hope it will be published.