The S Word

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My name is Louise Ure, and I don’t use the S word.

You know the word I mean.

It’s SERIES.

I don’t speak series.

Lee Child has Reacher. Denise Mina has Paddy Meehan. Our own Pari has Sasha Solomon. Hell, Bill Pronzini has a series character, even though he’s Nameless.

And I love reading series books. They’re like going to dinner at an old friend’s house: you know who’s going to be there, just not what they’re serving for dinner.

But my books are one-offs. (I know. I could call them stand alones, but that’s another S word, and I didn’t want to confuse the issue.) I put characters into as much trouble as possible, cause there’s no way they’re going to agree to come back for more.

Some of my favorite books are not part of a series. Laura Lippman’s Every Secret Thing. Sara Gran’s Dope. James Sallis’ Drive. Books that make you question how they will end, whether the good guy will win, whether there really was a good guy there at all.

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In my first novel, Forcing Amaryllis, I got jury consultant Calla Gentry face-to-face with the man who raped her sister and left her for dead. And I didn’t exactly help her get out of it.

In the next book, The Fault Tree, a blind, female auto mechanic is the only witness to a murder. Think Wait Until Dark, with a heroine who knows how to change the oil.

The third book (titled Liars Anonymous, for the moment) brings in a whole new cast of characters since none of the old ones were willing to show up at the reunion.

These books are an invitation to a dinner party where you don’t know either the guests or the menu. Hell, you don’t even know the address.

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Or maybe you do.

The only thing my books seem to have in common is Arizona. Arizona, in all its caliche-riddled, sweat inducing, gazpacho guzzling, skinned-rattlesnake glory. They’re my Arizona Trilogy.

I haven’t lived there for thirty years, but it’s the place I turned to when I started to write. The place I can smell and taste most clearly.

Can a place be a continuing character? I’d argue that Florida was as important a character in John D. McDonald’s work as Travis McGee was. And Tony Hillerman has assembled a motley crew of characters to populate his desert southwest.

But maybe you can use place in a different way.

I spent almost three decades in advertising; evaluating 30-second epiphanies for beer, cruise lines, Shake ‘n Bake and the Dancing California Raisins. And for much of that time, those jobs only took me to cities that started with the letter S. Cities like:

Seattle
Sydney
Singapore
Sitka
Saigon
San Francisco

The S train was derailed after twenty years by an eight-month stint working in Denver, but I forgive them for that. I had a great time.

Can you imagine a series where the only common denominator is that the location starts with S? It would be great fun to write, and the research possibilities are mouth-watering.

There are so many other S cities that I haven’t explored yet. Siena. Stockholm. St. Petersburg.

When you think about it, there really aren’t any bad S cities. Except maybe Seoul. And Soweto. And that little S-named suburb I had to commute to for three years, where the employer insisted that I arrive by seven a.m., and that I wear pantyhose.

I may have just found my Series with a capital S.

On the other hand, this may be the dinner invitation from Hell. The one where you don’t know the hosts or the menu. You can’t figure out the dress code. And Mapquest can’t find the address.

P.S. Not only is this my first Murderati post, but it will also be my last post before Christmas, as Paul takes command of Tuesdays again next week. So I leave you with a Christmas cartoon sent to me by a "deer" friend who knows how warped a crime writer’s sense of humor can be.

Rudolph_1

Merry Christmas everyone!

38 thoughts on “The S Word

  1. Guyot

    Better than a USC-colors-ripping-off, no-basketball-playing, football-cheating, NAU-wanna-be, community college like ASWho.

    Yes, dear readers of The Rati, you have stepped into the greatest rivalry since the Odoacer and Augustus.

    Though, how can a school that gave us doped-up, asshat, wife-beating Barry Bonds compete with an institution that handed the world the likes of JA Jance, Jerry Bruckheimer, Ron Shelton, Harrison Ford, and Richard Russo.

    Reply
  2. David Montgomery

    What the hell is Guyot talking about this time? I’ll tell ya, when the writing’s not going well, he just drinks too damn much…

    Great post, Louise. It’s a tough decision, whether or not to write a series. But it’s better to follow your muse than it is to force things.

    I wonder sometimes when reading a stale series if it was the author’s choice, or if the publisher pressured them to do it. Because their hearts really don’t seem to be in it.

    Or, I suppose they could just be lousy writers. 🙂

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  3. Guyot

    DJM,I’ve actually had more than one series author tell me that they would love to write a stand-alone, but their publishers won’t let them. Or they’d have to do it on their own, on “spec” to use a Hollywood term.

    I think some series get stale for that very reason.

    Which makes it even more impressive when I’m reading the 10th or 12th book in a series and it’s still great (think Connelly).

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  4. JT Ellison

    I think Paul brings up a good point — what is it about Bosch, or any other series, that keeps the readers attention?Beautiful, and thought provoking post, Louise. I’m jealous of your travels. And your one offs.

    Reply
  5. pari noskin taichert

    Oh, Louise,This is a good post. I’ve often wondered why people write stand-alones. You gave me a good clue.

    As to series . . . I write the current one because I like the size of the canvas. I can grow Sasha as a human being and that’s exciting to me.

    BUT if she stops growing, or I’m writing the same mystery again and again, I’ll let her go.

    No one wants a friend who doesn’t learn in life.

    Guyot — thank God I went to U of M.

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  6. Bill Cameron

    I’m on the series/standalone ambivalence train right now myself. My second novel features characters and places from my first novel, but both are one-offs. There’s a continuity of people and locale, but that does not to me a series make. My third novel, still more flickers of imagination than anything else, may feature characters and locales from the first two as well. But it’ll stand on it’s own as well.

    Of course maybe someone will decide to market them as a series. I dunno. When a secondary character from one novel becomes the main character in the next, with the third featuring a secondary character from the second novel, does that mean it’s a series? A kind of escalator series, perhaps, with each new novel elevating someone from the novel that came before?

    And my second novel’s main character could easily be a more traditional series character. Unless I kill him. No decisions on that yet.

    On the one hand, I don’t want to worry about it. But I know series sell. There’s the writing part of publishing and the selling part of publishing, and sometimes the two even seem to work together!

    I think Pari’s comment crystallizes it all so nicely: “No one wants a friend who doesn’t learn in life.”

    P.S. I went to Miami of Ohio. Who do I get to wrassle with?

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  7. Louise Ure

    Sorry to be popping in late. I went to a great Christmas party last night and was overserved. Mike and Paul, nice to see you here.

    And excellent defense of my alma mater, Paul.

    Reply
  8. Louise Ure

    David and Pari, it sounds like you agree about the importance of keeping a series fresh. And that freshness has to come from the author, not just a reader’s desire for more.

    Bill, I like your escalator example, and yes, I’d still call that a series. That’s a great way to keep a series fresh: new faces, new problems.

    JT, one of the writer’s who, for me, does the best job of keeping a series fresh is Barbara Seranella. To go back to my dinner party analogy, she keeps inviting new friends to join the old, and the menu keeps changing!

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  9. May

    Email me if you want to set a book in Singapore. That’s where I live.

    I don’t write series either, which is rather odd for a fantasy writer. How can anybody stand the same character for a second round?

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  10. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Yay Louise! Great topic. I write standalones, too, and I rarely read series’ past the first or second book – notable exceptions being Bond and Miss Marple but that was when I was way younger, too.

    I guess I have a Hollywood-induced aversion to sequels. I had a screenwriting teacher who said that your job as a writer is to put your main character to the ultimate test in the story you’re writing, and if you really do that, a sequel is always going to be disappointing. (On the other hand, as human beings, we’re tested again and again, so why shouldn’t we be able to come up with multiple ultimate tests for our characters?)

    I think Tess Gerritsen handles the series problem deftly (ex. MEPHISTO CLUB) by making a new character the real hero of the story and using her continuing characters as important, but more minor participants.

    Reply
  11. Elaine Flinn

    Welcome Louise!

    Terrific thoughts on the perils of series. So far, I’m not bored with mine – but I’m sure there’ll come a day when throwing my amateur sleuth into yet another homicide will lose credibility and further interest – for the reader and moi.

    I agree with you totally about the freshness of doing a ‘one-off’ 🙂 – new people to know – with new back stories and adventures to explore.

    As for Bosch – I love him too. Guess it’s a female thing of wanting to comfort such a lonely guy.

    Reply
  12. Louise Ure

    Hi May! Nice to meet you. Say hi to the Goodwood Park Hotel for me. My apartment in Singapore was one of the little two-story bungalows at the back of the property.

    And I would have thought that a series would be a natural for a fantasy writer. (But I agree with you about the difficulty in going back to the same character time after time.)

    Reply
  13. louise Ure

    Simon, a hear a song playing somewhere.

    You make me laugh this morning, and that’s not an easy thing to do with a Maker’s Mark Manhattan head and pouring rain outside.

    Reply
  14. louise Ure

    Elaine, I’m not bored with your series either! You have great skill in widening your cast of characters and keeping Molly interesting.

    Hi Alex! I have the same aversion to sequels. Is there any movie sequel that was ever as good as the first (except The Godfather chronicles, of course)?

    Reply
  15. Naomi

    Louise–

    Great post. You come up with some great plot premises; I’m looking forward to the second standalone book.

    BTW, what’s with guyot’s antagonism towards the ASU Sun Devils? That’s just plain weird. They have one of the coolest football stadiums I’ve ever seen.

    Reply
  16. Louise Ure

    Hi Naomi! And that Sun Devil stadium? Yes, it looks fine on TV. But it’s 140 degrees down on the field when they play. That’s just not football weather.

    Yes, Alex, “overserved” is often a righteous designation for what happens.

    Reply
  17. Cornelia Read

    YAY LOUISE! Great post, and it’s wonderful to see you blogging!!!

    As for your contention that:

    “When you think about it, there really aren’t any bad S cities.”

    All I can say is that I’ll be repeating that sentence under my breath throughout my upcoming holiday excursion to Syracuse.

    Reply
  18. Tom, T.O.

    Well, Louise, didn’t you provoke a few thoughts? I DO like series, and I DO like one-offs (rhymes with…never mind). Barbara’s Munch and Naomi’s Mas, Patty’s Tucker–what’s not to like, and your analogy is perfect. I liked Harlan’s and Dennis’ series, and liked equally, maybe more, their one-offs. Then, of course, as mentioned, Mike C. and his back-and-forths; and all the old classics. I don’t write anything, but I’ll read anything you wonderful authors out there put out, trusting you wouldn’t allow it out if you didn’t like it yourselves. (Alexandra, my favorite Killerette, I loved #1 and looking forward to the next, whatever it is, and I agree about sequels. Add re-makes to that.)Bill, my niece is at Miami of O–please do not wrassle with her. I went to XU and OU; we didn’t wrassle. My father won 1rst place in a contest: a week in Syracuse. He always said he was glad he didn’t win second prize…. Yep, TWO weeks in Syracuse.Keep the juices flowing!*< ]:-D}}} Santa

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  19. Louise Ure

    Hi Rae! Nice to see you here!

    And Season’s Greetings, Santa Tom. Thanks for chiming in. (Holiday > bells > chime, get it?) What’s with this XU and OU stuff? I thought you went to Santa U?

    Reply
  20. Mike MacLean

    Paul, do you remember the pep rally scene in Fast Times at Ridgemont High? Think of me as the disinterested student in the bleachers. That would make you the cheerleader.

    There cannot be a rivalry if one of the sides does not care. How many Wildcats do I have to explain this too?

    Great post Louise.

    My two favorite Andrew Vachss novels are Shella, and The Getaway Man, neither of which are books in his Burke series.

    Reply
  21. Cara

    Can you imagine a series where the only common denominator is that the location starts with S?

    And what about a series with the letter P? Paris, Putney, Peoria…great post Louise!

    Reply
  22. Tom, T.O.

    The International University of Santa Claus, if you please. Oh! Okay: SU; so that makes it XU, OU, and SU, and I shall not continue other alphabetical configurations. I earned my BS (Bachelor of Santa Claus last year, and this year, my Master of Santa Clausology. Happy now?

    *<]:-D}}}

    Reply
  23. Lesa Holstine

    Louise, I’m waiting for the next book in the Arizona trilogy.

    I find that with the authors I enjoy who do settings well, the settings are almost another character.

    Reply

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