Life after trilogy

Earlier this month I turned in the manuscript for THE FINAL SACRIFICE, the last book in the three volume Chronicles of Josan.  Finishing a book is always a great feeling, but in this case it’s even more special because for the first time in three years I’m now free.  There’s no contract or deadline looming over my head—I can write whatever I please.

I can choose to revisit my earlier series, write a spin-off volume set in the same world as Josan’s tale, or go off in an entirely new direction.  I’m reveling in the choices, and taking advantage of this opportunity to play with different projects, while I decide which one I want to pursue.

 As a writer, this is an exciting time.  But I know my readers will have mixed feelings, regardless of what I decide.  Fans of my DEVLIN books continue to ask me when I will return to his story, and while I’m pleased with how I ended the Chronicles of Josan, I know that there will be readers who want me to keep writing in that world, too.

I’m guilty of this as well.  As a friend, I was thrilled to learn that C.E. Murphy’s Negotiator trilogy had been acquired by Luna, and that the first book would be out later this year.  As a fan, I was disappointed that this meant I wouldn’t get to see volume 4 of the Walker papers until 2009. 

Readers like series, and once they’re hooked, they like to see them continue.  The end of the Harry Potter series is the most recent example of this phenomenon—hordes of readers have begged J.K. Rowling to consider writing Book 8.

Rumor has it that she’s decided to start an entirely different project, which is something that I can understand.  I love both of the trilogies I’ve written, but creatively it’s time to try something new.  It’s a balancing act, where the key is to find something that’s new and different enough to interest me as a writer, while still incorporating many of the story elements that fans of my work have come to enjoy. 

So what do you think?  As a reader, are you willing to follow a favorite author when she branches out, or would you prefer that she keep writing in the same world that first drew you in?  If there are certain things about her writing that you enjoy—for instance an author who creates elaborate worlds, or strongly character driven stories—does it matter to you if that author changes genre? 

And for the writers on this board, what are your thoughts?

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  1. 1. Sarah Prineas

    As a reader, I get very excited when an author I love starts on something new, though I’d also go back to an older series. Doesn’t matter if the genre changes because I know the author has something–some spark–that will always draw this moth back.

    On the other hand–take CJ Cherryh’s Fortress of… series–I say “thank dog she’s done with that and can do something else more interesting…”

    As an author, the series question is a new one for me. I’m contracted for three books–a trilogy–and my publisher has an option on a fourth book set in the same world. My agent tells me the publisher would be “thrilled” with more books in that world, and frankly, at the moment I’d be pretty thrilled to write them. The world’s not stale yet. I’d want to start an entirely new arc with new characters, though, with the current trilogy’s protagonists as peripheral characters. I have plans for at least another freestanding novel, but right now I’m having loads of fun writing in this world.

  2. 2. Therese Walsh

    Trisha, first off, congrats on finishing your novel and trilogy!

    I think it’s important to follow your gut. I do love reading about the continuing adventures of the people I’ve come to know in a series, but I’ve also read series stories that seemed deflated. I have to wonder if the author felt pressured to continue even though they’d lost most of their desire to write for that world and those characters. Write what excites you the most and your story will spark, and your readers will follow along too. At least that’s what I think. :)

  3. 3. Patricia Bray

    The key is that you’re still having fun and your readers are still enjoying the series. And staying in the same world but launching new story arcs is a great way to keep things fresh.

    As for me, I’m pondering another series idea :-)
    Ideally I’d love to be someone like Jim Butcher who is currently balancing his urban fantasy Harry Dresden series with his Codex Alera epic fantasies. But that would require me to be far more productive than I currently am.

  4. 4. lyda morehouse

    I’m going to be the devil’s advocate. As a writer, I love starting something new, but as a reader? I’ll admit it. I want more of the same. One of the things I loved about Janet Evonivich’s Stephaine Plum series was that when I was done with one I could find more instantly.

    I haven’t followed Evonivich into any of her new venues because I miss the Plum stuff too much. Sadly, I could probably name a half a dozen other authors that I’ve abandoned when they stopped wriitng my favorite stuff.

    It’s tough, because as a writer I totally GET it (and I want my readers to follow *me,* of course!). But, what can I say? My inner reader is a schumck!

  5. 5. Tobias Buckell

    I’m with Lyda, I love reading more of the same as well, but I don’t like cliffhanger ends. When I find authors like Pratchet, Bujold, or various mystery series I tend to get hooked.

  6. 6. Patricia Bray

    Agree with both Toby and Lyda on wanting more. For instance while I enjoy Bujold’s fantasies, I’m really looking forward to her returning to the Miles Vorkosigan series.

    Then, again, there are some authors whose series need to die a merciful death–not only have they turned me off that particular series, they’ve left a bad taste that makes me unwilling to try anything else they might attempt.

  7. 7. CE Murphy

    I have this huge thing about endings. I like stories to have an end, even if it’s an end after many many books and even if you can think, “Well, yes, this character does go on after I’m done writing about her, and I could theoretically tell more stories about her.” That’s a bit of where I am with the Walker Papers–I have 9 books planned for that series, and I have ideas on what could happen after I’ve finished those 9 books, but really, I’m done with that story after 9 books.

    So as a reader, even though I really, really adore reading series, and wonderful long ones like JA Jance’s Beaumont books, or Anne Perry’s Charlotte & Thomas Pitt novels (which I read, in the end, not for the mysteries, but because I love those characters, and the world they’re in, and I want to continue reading about their relationships and re-encountering beloved characters/friends) make me terribly happy, I actually *want* there to be a point where Beaumont retires, or Charlotte and Thomas are allowed to fade into the sunset; they’ve done their duty to me as a reader, and to my mind, to their author as well. They deserve the fade to black as much as I do. I’ve been a faithful reader: I want to see them get their happily ever after, and I can leave them in peace then, knowing that whenever I want, I can return to their world, but that they’ve achieved the wrap-up that most of us don’t get in real life.

    And that tends to be how I feel about writing series myself: there’s an end point, and I have new worlds to explore. I think endings make stories more powerful, and when books (or comics or film or tv or any kind of story) go on beyond what should have been their stopping point, I really feel it’s a disservice to the readers, the characters, the books, all of it. I will love Wendy and Richard Pini’s ELFQUEST comic book for all the days of my life, and frankly would do almost anything to write in their universe, but at the same time, I feel strongly that they finished the core story long, long before they stopped publishing. There are moments I love in the publications after the core story ended (rather like there are moments I love in 6th and 7th season Buffy, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t have ended with 5th season), but the price for those moments is too high.

    So as much as yeah, of course, if I love a character I want to see *more* of him–Gerald Tarrant in CS Friedman’s Coldfire Trilogy, for example–at the same time, what I *have* of that character really does give me everything I need, and there’s way too much chance that new additions will screw it up.

    It is therefore probably good that if I find a writer I like, I’m more than willing to read anything I can get my hands on by that writer. New stories are fine with me, and of course sometimes I don’t like them as well, but a writer has to do something pretty heinous for me to give up on her entirely. I’d much much rather get the new fresh stuff if a writer’s done with a world than regurgitated material or worse, something that adversely affects my fondness for the earlier works.

    My, that was long. :)

  8. 8. ramurphy

    I definitely will read books, pretty much regardless of genre, written by an author whose work I’ve enjoyed. I’ve wandered more than once into realms unfamiliar to me because of a writer. And most of the time I’m not disappointed. Sometimes I don’t like the characters as well, or I think the plot’s a bit too fantastic for my rather humdrum tastes, but generally if a writer grips me enough to remember his/her name, then yeah. I’ll look for more books by that person.

  9. 9. SMD

    I think it all depends. I’m willing to follow an author just about anywhere except literary fiction or historical fiction that doesn’t have a fantastic element. I didn’t follow Orson Scott Card into his series of books on historical fic women. But if an author were to branch off from a fantasy world of their creation to a science fiction setting, I would likely follow if I truly enjoyed that author. I’m less concerned with what type of speculative fiction he or she is writing as much as the story being told well by someone I admire.

    As for me, I’m not a published writer, but I do write and intend to get published one day, so I’ll just say I’m a writer, since I do the one thing writers are supposed to do–write.
    I seem to have no issue jumping between fantasy and scifi, and to various avenues in each of those genres too. I won’t branch out beyond that though–maybe horror, but it will be one the cusp of scifi if I were to do such a thing. I personally don’t like to write stories about real life. It bores me. I live real life, I don’t want to read or write about it.

  10. 10. Michelle Sagara

    I think I’m C. E. Murphy, in that I feel that stories have an ending.

    As a reader, I generally follow an author who’s work I adored for at least one jump. Sometimes the direction they’ve chosen isn’t one that appeals to me. Unless I actively and strongly disliked the second work, I’ll follow them. If, however, I dislike the new direction strongly enough, I’ll probably continue to read works set in the universe that first drew me in, but will be more hesitant to experiment.

    When I didn’t have children, a job, or deadlines of my own, I was a lot less picky. But it’s often a struggle to get a solid chunk of reading time – and I want more from that time than I once did when I could read a novel a day.

    As for as a writer…

    I currently have 2 worlds in progress, and they’re very structurally different. The first, the DAW books I write as Michelle West, aren’t really self-contained, and they’re certainly not short. I started those in 1994, and have continued to write them, and for me? They’re not finished yet. They don’t have an ending. I had envisioned a number of ending arcs, emotionally, for a large cast of characters– but I am only approaching the end of one of many character arcs in the newest set of books; the end of the six book series, The Sun Sword brought one of the key characters to the midpoint of the arc I’d envisioned for her before I ever mentioned her on the page.

    Because I’m not finished, I don’t have that sense of restless frustration. Because I know where it’s going (if not always how it’s going to get there), what’s happening in the present of the book resonates with the ending I see in the distance, and it moves me. It probably bores a lot of people, though.

    The novels I write for Luna books, as Michelle Sagara, I envisioned as more episodic (in the Buffy sense). And as I reach the end of each one of those books, I’m finished. I’m done with the story; I’ve said what I had to say. There’s more to say – there is an overarching season-arc, to borrow the Buffy analogy again – but I want to start saying the new stuff now. I want to explore other corners of the world, other races, other crimes. The world is both broader and less detailed, and that was intentional – because if it wasn’t, I thought I would lose steam, lose the sense of the immediate and the new that comes with exploring new terrain.

    And when I reach the end of the longer arc, I want to be done. I will have run out of things to say at that point. And while I know people will prefer one book over the other, I don’t want them to feel that I’m phoning in my lines; I don’t want them to feel that I should have stopped, and just kept spinning in place.

Author Information

Patricia Bray

Patricia Bray is the author of a dozen novels, somehow finding time to combine an active writing career with a full-time job as a Senior Systems Analyst. She wishes to note that any resemblance between the villains of her novels and former coworkers is entirely coincidental. Her latest novel is THE SEA CHANGE, which was released in August 2007 by Bantam Spectra. Visit site.

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