Friday, January 19, 2018

On Writing a Series


As a reader I often find myself reading a series and can't wait to find out where the character's journey will move to next. How will the author end the story, because stories really never "end"?

I didn't realize that "Feisty Family Values" was the beginning of a series when I first wrote it. But the characters wouldn't stop coming to me in dreams and even during waking hours scenes would pop into my head. I wonder, is this what Nora Roberts experiences when she writes a book? To me, she is the quintesential series writer. The characters come in threes, they are different enough that you want to follow their stories, and continuing to follow a story line - it grows on you. Look at J.D. Robb and the "Death" series - I haven't a clue how many there are, but I've read them all.

I've written two novels is the feisty family series, "Patchwork Family" was the second. While I planned and started a third, I wasn't sure where it was going and if I could find an interesting path for the characters to follow. It's been percolating for awhile now, and several reader buddies have asked me - "When will the next book be out?" Nice to hear there is a demand, but feeling the pressure to find a new and interesting twist to the story is challenging.

Where I thought the story would go (the younger characters are reaching adulthood now) doesn't appear to be the path feisty #3 wants to progress. Life isn't always "happily ever after" but I really prefer my stories to at least have a satisfying ending with possibilities and opportunities to look forward to. Incorporating them into a story is fun, but challenging, especially when a character may be ill and die. Families and life are messy, am I right? And life goes on, regardless of the turmoil. Story goes on as well. (good reminders)

I found myself having to re-read my first two feisty family novels because some of the "details" were muddy in my memory. Did Peg have gray eyes like her mother or brown like her father? Was the kitten a girl or a boy? Was coach bald or did he have a shock of white hair? And don't forget that Tom had a chipped front tooth! This is the stuff you don't want to trip you up when writing a series because the reader will remember and if you get it wrong you've thrown them out of the story.

The main characters in the series are alive and burned in your memory, but the secondary characters may not be there yet - especially if your memory isn't as sharp as it used to be. (Mine is not.)

When a reader picks up a book it may or may not be the first book in the series, so don't forget to give them some hints as to what has gone before. Just a few highlights will do. I notoriously pick up second books and can't wait to go back and read book one, so I know more. That makes the third book even more exciting becuase the characters have come so far! (hopefully)

Another one of my favorite series is "Outlander" by Diana Gabladon. The stories literally never ends. I think there are eight or nine books now and the last one is just as fascinating as the first. The key - compelling characters in intriguing situations and everylasting love.  History plays a huge part in her stories, too, and that makes it interesting and real.

Okay. So let's recap, when writing a series:
1. Don't forget to give readers a tiny bit of backstory when writing the next book - but not too much.
2. Don't forget the details of the first book, refresh yourself - keep a log or character sketch handy.
3. Keep the story compelling and the characters interesting and show progression with each novel.
4. When you end a series, make it satisfying with open issues resolved. Don't leave your readers wondering what happened to... (makes them mad) Unless, of course, your series goes on forever.

Have fun, fellow authors and enjoy the ride.

Facebook: Bonnie D Tharp Books
Amazon: Bonnie Tharp Author Page

Friday, January 12, 2018

About the Joy of Writing by Pat Stoltey

Our special guest blogger today is author Patricia Stoltey:

Indulging in the writing life is like riding a roller coaster. A writer is like a yo-yo, up one second and down the next. Joyful, then depressed, the writer still keeps going back for more.
What is this writing thing that causes so much pain?

It’s a crazy existence I alternately love and hate, focus on enthusiastically for weeks, then delete pages of text and clean the bathrooms.

My experience has been like this:
When in my 30s and working fulltime, with home demands of husband and children, I took time off from those home demands to attend a weekend writing workshop at a local college.  My short story had gotten me into the workshop, but the critiques were brutal. The joy I’d felt writing short stories and poetry turned into humiliation. I didn’t show my work to anyone again for years.
In my 40s, my brother and I collaborated on my first novel, an action-adventure tale based on his years in the transportation industry. I was writing in France and he was sending me anecdotes and ideas from the U.S. The joy of writing returned, wrapped in a dreamy and romantic environment. Who wouldn’t feel joy when writing in the south of France? When the book was finished, I assigned the task of queries to my brother while I started another novel. At Christmas, back in the U.S., my brother’s gaily wrapped gift to me was a large coffee can filled with the rejection letters to all his queries. My joy in writing crashed. I quit again. That second novel I started (before the crash) still sits on my bookcase shelf in case I ever decide I can look at it again without feeling that horrid disappointment.

In my early 60s, I took a novel writing class to see if I could write a mystery. The great instructor and the enthusiastic students got me excited again. I completed the mystery and pitched it to an agent at a writers’ conference. The agent was snarky and suffering from allergies and sent me away, red-faced and close to tears.
I licked my wounds, wrote a couple of short stories because I couldn’t seem to stay away from my computer, and then received one of those “it’s really good and we almost wanted it” rejections. A tiny bit encouraged, I turned the short story into the first draft of a novel. Then I took that first mystery back to a critique workshop at a conference…and found a publisher.

The joy of writing was back, at least for a while. Since then, there have been the ups with book releases and downs associated with poor sales, my publisher dropping its mystery line, delays in publication, and other ego-destroying events.

Often writing seems like a stupid way to spend my time.
But then I received the hardcover copies of my fourth published novel. It’s the one based on that “it’s really good and we almost wanted it” short story. The joy of writing is back, this time wrapped in a cozy afghan and purple hand warmers to ward off the Colorado cold.
How long will the joy last this time?
That’s a very good question.

Pat (Patricia) Stoltey is the author of four novels published by Five Star/Cengage: two amateur sleuth, one thriller that was a finalist for a Colorado Book Award in 2015, and the historical mystery Wishing Caswell Dead (December 20, 2017).

Pat lives in
Northern Colorado with her husband Bill, Scottish Terrier Sassy (aka Doggity), and brown tabby Katie (aka Kitty Cat).

You can learn more about Pat at her website/blog, on Facebook, and Twitter. She was recently interviewed for a Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers podcast that you can find at the RMFW website.

Podcast at RMFW website:

Your questions and comments most welcome!

Friday, January 5, 2018

Working during the Storm, by Susan Oleksiw

As I sit down to write this post on Thursday afternoon I’m stymied for something to write about, for a topic that will be fascinating or useful or at least original. But with the snow falling fast and mostly sideways, the plows targeting our driveway for their extra load, the sidewalks impassible despite two passes with a snow blower, I just want to curl up with a good book in my lap, pretend I’m reading, and stare at the flames in the gas-fired franklin stove.

My brain seems to be as frozen as the ice underneath the accumulating snow. Every few minutes the wind hits the house and a loose screen rattles behind a storm window. I don’t feel even a shiver during the strongest gust. The birds have hunkered down but a single brown leaf hangs on to a branch, defying the laws of physics and refusing to be pulled away. I haven’t seen a squirrel all day—smart creatures. I hear a thud, a clunk, and look out the window to see a plow backing into a snow bank in front of our house, preparing to get up speed to attack the snowdrifts in the driveway across the street.

A lone car growls along the poorly plowed street. I hear the sputtering and burring of a snow blower starting up, but when I look up and down the street I don’t see a neighbor out clearing a section of sidewalk or path up to a house. Despite the accumulation on street and yard, I see less than an inch on the top of my car where I would expect to see a crown that would take me a half hour to clear completely. But there is at least two feet of snow settled on the hood. My neighbor’s azalea maintains its shape despite the growing snow cover but my azalea and rhody are nearly crushed by the accumulation.

I may feel I have nothing to say today, but I’m absorbing the sights and sounds of a heavy winter storm, feeling warm and cozy before I feel a sudden hit of cold air on my back that sweeps through the crevices of hundred-year-old windows without adequate weather stripping. This is a great day to be a writer, a day for sitting and absorbing the sounds and feeling of the storm, taking in details that will serve me at a later time.

To find Susan’s work, with and without snowstorms, go here:

And visit me here:

And on Twitter, Susan Oleksiw @susanoleksiw