Friday, April 1, 2016

Details, Details, Details, by Susan Oleksiw

The first Anita Ray story appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, in 2003. The first book in the series, Under the Eye of Kali, appeared in 2010 from Five Star/Gale Cengage. The fourth, When Krishna Calls, will be published in August 2016.

Few readers are aware of the range of work that goes into creating a mystery series. As a young reader in elementary school I was entranced by good stories. It wasn't until I was almost a teenager that I realized I knew someone who had actually published a book. It could have been a one-hundred page pamphlet on changing flat tires and I would have thought he was a genius. I hadn't yet thought about breaking the task down into manageable parts.

A successful series involves a lot of details that may not seem to be closely linked to the casual reader. But writers know better. If I begin with a certain type of character to be the sleuth, that choice will influence the period. Am I locating the story in the present or the past? And what about location? Is the story set anywhere in the United States, or in another country? Does the town or city have to be described in detail as part of the story?

And then I begin to zero in on the details of description. The first few efforts to define Anita Ray, or a young woman living in India and solving crimes, didn't work, in my opinion. I refined and added or deleted details. Creating a character with both Indian and American parents gave her greater freedom of movement as well as allowing her the opportunity to comment on the traditional culture she lives in.

My next concern was titles. As the two examples above indicate, I wanted to use the name of a Hindu deity in each title, one that would suggest to the reader some of the concerns in the story line. In the first book, Kali, a wrathful deity in one form and a loving beautiful young girl in another, is invoked in both forms, but in the end takes on an unexpected role. In the second book, The Wrath of Shiva, the Hindu deity is invoked in a form that is a warning to a group of smugglers. And in the third book, For the Love of Parvati, the theme is obvious in the title. In the fourth book, When Krishna Calls, the forms of love underlie the actions of the characters.

When it came time to reprint the books in trade paperback. I wanted to continue the consistency across covers, as a way of tying the individual titles together. As a result, I asked a designer to create a basic format that I could use for each book, making each one distinct by the specific cover photo used. This has worked well, and I now have three Anita Ray titles available in trade paperback, with all three tied together by cover design and titles.

 All are available from Amazon as trade pb and also as ebooks.


Jacqueline Seewald said...


As you say, with a mystery series the devil is in the details. Readers follow closely. So we must be thorough and not make dramatic changes in our main characters unless the reasons are clear. Names must be consistent for example. Titles should also have consistency. When I began the Kim Reynolds mystery series with THE INFERNO COLLECTION, I had to make certain that each of the three subsequent novels were complete mysteries in themselves but that like real people the main characters' lives changed. It's a worthwhile challenge.

Susan Oleksiw said...

You make a good point about the characters' live changing, just as those of real people do. Thanks for adding that.

Kathleen Valentine said...

One of the problems I've had to deal with in writing a series is that characters tend to become less interesting as the circumstances of their lives change. They get married, they have children, and all of a sudden they are no longer the mysterious and intriguing characters they once were.

Thanks for your thoughts on this.

Susan Oleksiw said...

You've touched on a topic I've wondered about. At what point do we develop the characters in such a way that the reader loses interest because they are no longer the person that originally attracted them. I don't know the answer but I do think about it. I'm facing a little of that in the life of Anita Ray, and I'm slowing the aging process for her as much as I reasonably can. Other writers have solved the problem by not allowing the character to age, so she doesn't have to face life issues. Cara Black's character remains in 1989 (I think that's the year), and Sue Grafton is famous for keeping her character in the same decade at least. Thanks for expanding the discussion, Kathleen.

Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

Such interesting information.
thanks for sharing!
Good luck and God's blessings.

Carole Price said...

Little did I realize the challenge of writing a series. Fortunately, all three books in my Shakespeare in the Vineyard series take place one month apart. Although aging isn't a problem for my characters, their growth in terms of their desires and choices they make in any given situation demand attention. It's all in the details, consistency in the facts.