Two weeks ago I asked my Facebook “fans” to suggest topics they’d like me to blog about here. Then I sweetened the pot by doing a giveaway in conjunction. Three commenters were chosen at random and received autographed copies of my novels. See what you miss if you’re not hanging out with us on the page? We’re a wild and crazy bunch.
Now the winners have their books and I have twenty-nine good suggestions. While I probably don’t have enough to say about every subject submitted, some of them leaped right out at me. Today’s idea was proposed by Audrey Bonnell, who asked: “How do you know when a book you write is going to be a series? Do the people just keep shouting in your head wanting to get out? Or is there just too much about each one to make it into just one book?”
This suggestion comes at such a good time. Last night I finished the rough draft of Sunset Bridge, the third and final Happiness Key novel. Usually at the end of a rough draft I’m writing so fast and furiously I’m shocked when I finish, taken by surprise and instantly deflated. This time, not so much. Because Sunset Bridge was the final book of three, I had a slew of plot threads to tie up in that final chapter. What I’d expected to be a brief epilogue turned into a twenty page extravaganza. I truly began to think this was the book that would never end. At 9:30PM it finally did, although I’m already making lists of the things I must rewrite and change before I even begin my normal edits.
The Happiness Key series was unusual for reasons I’ll explain in a moment. I’ve done a lot of interconnected books, beginning back in (gulp) 1985, with a traditional romance titled Sweet Georgia Gal, which was recently made into a film for German TV. (You can read more about that here.) Sweet Georgia Gal introduced a young woman who was the oldest girl in a large family. That background was important for her character development, but after I finished the novel, I realized there were four other sisters hanging around Gainesville, GA, waiting for their own novels. Eventually each of them got one.
The “Sweet” series hooked me. If I was going to spend that much time developing characters and intricate plots, why not explore them a bit more and use what I knew in connected novels? So began a history of doing just that, as well as a history of NOT planning ahead. The exception was a series for Silhouette Intimate Moments that we called the Tales of the Pacific series. I’m delighted to add that it looks like every one of those Tales novels will also be made into a TV movie in Germany, and three have already aired. In fact, if your German is up to speed, you can view the third (actually the first of my series) right here: Zeit de Vergebung. It premiered on Sunday and will be available on the Internet for about a week.
When I began writing longer women’s fiction novels, I followed the same path. I blogged recently about the way one book became two: Iron Lace and Rising Tides, when the original manuscript was too long to publish. That was unusual. More often I wrote a novel, then, when readers asked for an update, I happily gave them one. I guess I’m easy.
The Shenandoah Album series grew the same way, one book, then another. As most of you know, we stopped after five, a publisher decision. I am still hoping to write that sixth and final novel. Stay tuned.
I told you that Happiness Key was different. As it turns out, not different in the way it grew. It, too, was intended to be a single title. Once it was finished, though, my publisher liked it so well, they asked for “more like this.” Considering I had four major characters whose lives still weren’t smooth sailing, I offered two more novels to create a trilogy, an offer that was happily snapped up. Fortunate Harbor, book two, came out this past July, and the aforementioned Sunset Bridge, will be published next summer.
So in what way is the Happiness Key series different? And why did Sunset Bridge become the book that would not end? Happiness Key is a friendship novel, and the relationship among the characters WAS the plot. So when the time came to move forward and do two more, I moved forward with all the same characters, all of whom had plots of their own that moved forward, too. The Donaghue sisters stories were similar (Whiskey Island and The Parting Glass) but Happiness Key had a twist. There was a “fifth” house in their beachfront community, and the characters who moved in and out of it were also important to each novel. This meant I had a “cast of thousands” to work with at a time when publishers are demanding shorter novels.
Yikes! So what have I learned? Well, it’s possible to stay sane and produce stories I’m proud of under these conditions. I know that anyone who enjoyed the first two Happiness Key novels will be happy with Sunset Bridge, as well. And I think anyone picking it up, without reading the others, will also be happy they did. Even with all those characters who need final conclusion to their personal stories, the book still moves quickly. And the “new” character, who comes to live in the fifth house, was great fun to introduce. I’m proud of this novel, and proud of the series. But what else did I learn?
Here comes the big revelation. As much fun as it is to take a single title idea and turn it into a series, this is probably not the easiest way to begin one. Clearly I love to write connected books, and sixty something later, I ought to remember that before I begin. The upshot? For the next series I plan to propose, there will be interconnected characters, but every one of them will NOT need his or her own story in each and every novel.
Want to know more about that? Well, stay tuned, so do I. I love this new idea so much. We’ll see if my publisher agrees. Fingers crossed.