Catriona says: "At my first Malice Domestic, for which I had offerred to moderate a panel (not actually knowing what that meant particularly), the pixies sprinkled me with some of luckiest dust of my life so far. The moderatees were: sassy Sandra Balzo, even sassier Clare O'Donohue, our very own Donna Andrews and my guest today and one of my favourite people ever, Jess Lourey. The panel was a hoot and instead of being a newbie, suddenly I had a gang of friends.
I couldn't be more delighted to welcome Jess to Femmes Fatales and help her celebrate the latest in her Lefty-noimnated humourous mystery series - out just last week - JANUARY THAW. Jess is giving away a copy and if you win you're in for a treat.
Boy-oh-boy, I love these books. The heroine, Mira James is a small-town librarian in Battle Lake Minnesota who stumbles over a fresh corpse (it seems) every time she steps out of her lakeside double-wide. “It’s not easy to make readers laugh when they’re on the edge of their seats," said Booklist, in a starred review, "but Lourey pulls it off.” She certainly does. As well as Mira, there's Mrs Berns, her octogenarian side-kick; (Ms) Kennie Rogers, the entrepreneurial mayor; a love triangle (I think); and of course Chief Wenonga (you wouldn't believe me if I told you . . .)
And now, as they say on the audiobooks, Jess Lourey."
Being a writer has always been my dream, and I’m lucky to be writing February Fever, the 10th in my Murder-by-Month mysteries. I was that five-year-old kid who gave poems as gifts (“grandpas are full of love, grandpas are full of tickles, but grandpas are especially full of pickles”). I started a neighborhood newspaper when I was 12 (which would be more impressive if the nearest neighbor hadn’t lived 1.9 miles away, forcing me to be the sole reporter, editor, and reader of said paper). In high school, I entered every short story contest, preened for my creative writing teacher, read books like other kids, well, played with other kids. I mean it when I tell you that I’ve always dreamed of being a writer.
People, I know how lucky I am.
I need you to believe that before I start whining, because here it comes: I’m finding it challenging to keep the love alive. Specifically, how do other people write book after book in a series without losing their passion and originality? How many dead bodies can one woman stumble across in a Minnesota town, population 783 and dropping? Is it possible to orchestrate one. more. original way for Mira James to just barely almost sleep with Johnny Leeson? Is there any way to create another crazy costume for Kennie Rogers that is one frog’s hair shy of being over the top?
Yes. Yes to all of that. Do you know why? Because I love writing, and because I have a contract, and because I don’t want to disappoint. But it won’t be easy. And that’s the focus of this blog post: keeping the love alive in an extended mystery series. Below, I’ve offered up the results of my extensive research on the subject. You’ll find it a blend of pop psychology and guidance from the greats who have gone before.
YOU ARE NOT ENEMIES
(I pulled these headlines from marriage websites, but I think they apply.) First, it’s important to not see the book you need to write as your enemy. Remember why you got into writing in the first place, and celebrate.
When asked about keeping her series fresh, Sue Grafton, the queen of the serial (and one of my favorite writers), says, “What was I thinking? I ask myself that to this day.” But ultimately, she sees Kinsey Millhone as her partner, and they work together to get the project done, even when the last thing they want to do is sit down together. (Full, amazing interview with Ms. Grafton is here: http://www.writersdigest.com/writing-articles/by-writing-goal/improve-my-writing/sue-grafton-advice-for-writers.)
WE ARE ALL KIDS AT HEART
This one is about being playful. It’s easier for me because I write a humorous mystery series, but I think it’s important for writers of extended series to remember how to play like a child, i.e. write like it’s their first book. It’s just me and my computer, and I get to make mistakes, giggle at my own jokes, and generally dance like no one’s looking, even though I know they will be down the road.
INTRODUCE COSTUMES AND TOYS
I’ll admit this one was a stretch, but I’m interpreting it as, “step out of your comfort zone.” In other words, even though your series will have repeating characters, don’t keep putting them in the same situations. New York Times best-selling author William Kent Krueger kills off major characters with cold regularity, and readers love it (me included—his writing is brilliant). You see it in TV, too. According to Jeff Simon’s article in The Buffalo News, “Shonda Rhimes…has figured out in ‘Scandal’ that one way to keep a terrific TV series going with suitable attention is to threaten to blow it up every week.” This doesn’t mean I have to literally put a bomb on the train. Rather, I have to be willing to sacrifice beloved relationships and tropes to keep the passion in the story, ie, step out of my comfort zone. (and potentially wear a fuzzy bear costume while doing it, but that’s between me and my computer)
If my book and I were married, this tip would be all about revitalizing that physical connection. Since I have a fear of commitment, I’m instead taking it to mean that I have to carry the book around in my head all the time. I get my best ideas when I least expect them, so I need to push aside my worries and make a nice bed for them to slide into.
When asked about keeping her series fresh, Janet Evanovich writes, “I think that you have to continue to live and get new experiences that relate to the people you are writing about. I spend a lot of time in bars and shopping centers, and I go to NASCAR races, and I hang out with my crazy relatives, and I prowl South Beach. I think that stuff kind of gets moving around in your head and helps to give you new ideas.” So carry your book with you when you go, mentally speaking!
CHANGE THE SCENERY
Ah, a trip. That’d be awesome. Since it’s not in the budget at the moment, however, I’ll instead consider writing in a new space, maybe the local library or coffee shop. New space, new ideas, new book. Sigh. That will never happen. I like my comfy chair at home, and the smell of dirty hair is crucial to my creative process. Here’s what I can do, however: write another book, one outside of the series, between writing series books. Literally, I can change my mental scenery, so when I come back to my series book, I am fresh!
It feels good to have a plan, yes? Wish me luck.
And thank you to the brilliant and stunning Femme Fatales for having me, and to you, for reading through to the end.
(Catriona again) "So, readers and writers, what keeps a beloved series fresh? Drop a comment to be entered into Jess's giveaway of a signed copy of JANUARY THAW. You can also check out May-December at www.jesslourey.com."