Friday, June 3, 2016

Keeping a Series Fresh (Part 2), by Susan Oleksiw

Recently I talked about one approach to keeping a series fresh ( All of us who write series want to keep the characters and settings interesting and the stories rewarding. But after five or ten books in the same series, we may begin to worry.

First, in three Mellingham mysteries I focused on Chief of Police Joe Silva as a family man. By putting Joe into a more personal setting, I gave the reader a new perspective on my sleuth. But there are other ways to keep a series fresh.

Second, any series relies on a number of secondary characters who could easily take over the main role of protagonist. In the Mellingham series I generally have Chief Silva working with Sergeant Dupoulis but there are others in the police department. Most recently, in Come About forMurder, I introduced Mindy Dodge, a young secretary in the department, twenty-six years old, petite, and taking criminal justice courses. Joe hired her and tells Gwen, "She's the future." Either Sergeant Dupoulis or Mindy Dodge could take the lead in a Mellingham mystery, to give the series a new perspective.

Third, the town of Mellingham is a typical, small New England coastal town, but it is not Joe Silva's hometown and it's not all he knows. Putting Joe into another setting with a murder would give him a larger landscape in which to work, as well as different colleagues. In Last Call forJustice, Joe is out of his territory but cannot stop himself from pushing witnesses for information about a death. In the Anita Ray series, Anita visits relatives throughout the state of Kerala, and in two novel-length cases is involved with murder away from home. In The Wrath of Shiva, a maidservant is murdered at a relative's home, and in For the Love of Parvati, a corpse washed down river during a monsoon seems to be connected with a missing servant and a stalker of the home where Anita is visiting.

Fourth, we live at a time of tremendous change, and many of these changes are worth exploring in crime fiction. I have considered the idea of exploring the main issues of our time--rising numbers of homeless families and single adults, the opioid crisis and ongoing issues with drug use, the fragmented society divided by ever-smaller social divisions of Baby Boomer, Generation X, and Millennial, and other social divisions. Drug use is the topic explored in A Murderous Innocence. This approach holds special challenges for the writer of novels because of the speed with which the social landscape changes (compared to the length of time required for the publication process).

Fifth, every town or city has corners or pockets that are less mainstream or central, with their own habits and quirks. When the mystery is set in Mellingham, I try to explore one particular aspect of the town. In the most recent book, Come About for Murder, the world of sailing is the setting for murder but also a world the reader explores along with Joe. In Friends and Enemies, the reader learns about the closed world of the paper industry. Other pockets of community are knitting or sewing circles, a group of small business men and women, private clubs with their own set of rituals, and church groups.


Jacqueline Seewald said...

Your take on keeping a book series fresh is thoughtful and I believe will help many of us who do want to keep a series going without rehashing same old each time. There are some well-known authors do won't tamper with their formula since it's been successful. But I personally like fresh characters and ideas, mixing the old and the new.

Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

Great information Susan!
Thanks for sharing.
Good luck and God's blessings.

Susan Oleksiw said...

I also like the mix of old and new, Jacquie. Even the most successful series can begin to feel stale after a while. Thanks for adding to the discussion.

Pam, as always, thanks for stopping by.

Marian Stanley said...

Each of these suggestions is useful, Susan. I'm printing out to keep as a reminder for future.
Too, with so much changing around us every day at an ever faster pace, we're offered endless variations on a theme!

Susan Oleksiw said...

I'm glad they seem useful, Marian. I'm looking forward to the second in your series.