People have really strong views about a lot of things. Their favorite drink. Favorite junk food (or why not to have a favorite junk food). To-may-to, ta-mah-to, let’s talk the whole thing out.
Okay, so there was a discussion on one of my writers’ email loops about stand alone books and series/connected books. That got me thinking and looking at my own reading preferences, both past and present.
At first, I was like, series are a new thing—oh wait. Nancy Drew. Okay, so series aren’t exactly a new thing.
But the...explosion of series books feels new.
As a reader, when I found an author I liked, I went looking for more books by that author. I didn’t care if the stories were only connected by who wrote them (stand alone) or connected by the characters IN them. I will admit that I have enjoyed loosely connected books. It’s always fun to catch up on what favorite characters have been doing since “the end.”
But my main criteria was not “is this story connected to a bunch of other stories.” My main criteria has always been “is this a story I loved reading?” And “how many more great stories has this author written?”
Through the library I have met many favorite authors: Georgette Heyer, Elizabeth Cadell, Mary Stewart, Alastair Maclean (why do they keep messing up his stories when they take them to film?), Helen MacInnes and yes, Nancy Drew (I know she is a character and not an author, I’m just too lazy to look up who is credited with writing her - though a book about that was recently released? I bought it, or got a sample, not sure which).
One of the problems I have with series or connected books is:
A) If the series is set in a small town, then the romance and/or death toll begins to stretch even my willingness to suspend disbelief. I call this the Murder She Wrote effect. With the related Romance She Wrote effect (unlike the murder effect we never quite seem to get any...)
B) If the series involves the same character, I just kind of get tired of them. I feel bad, but if they don’t grow or change enough, or ever get a happy romantic ending…sometimes “the end” needs to mean “the end.” Let those poor characters have some peace.
C) Even if the series isn’t set in a smaller town, the circle of people is the same, so after a while, you feel like you spend the first few chapters meeting all the previous people, all that catching up…it gets kind of exhausting. Like a constant family reunion. I will freely admit to skipping backstory after a while. There are only so many ways to present the same information over and over…
That’s not to say there aren’t stand alone novels that I haven’t wished would go on. Because there are. So that leaves me conflicted. Not long ago I got an email from someone who had just finished Out of Time, and wanted to know if there was another book with those characters. That the ending felt like there was more.
That reader was right. I had fully intended to write another book about Mel and Jack. And some life stuff and some writing stuff got in the way. But the email prompted me to think about that and about how we read and what prompts us to stay with an author.
As an example, I fell in love with Mary Stewart’s books after seeing The Moonspinners. I went hunting for her backlist and read everything I could find. When she took her turn into the Merlin stuff, I followed her for the first two books? I don’t remember why I didn’t read more. I just didn’t. But I tried them because I loved her writing. (And it got me thinking about writing that follow-up story again...)
When I took a right turn out of romantic suspense and into science fiction romance…well, I’m not sure how many of my readers took that turn with me. I will admit it surprised me very much, so I imagine it surprised them.
But I also know that—at their core—all of my books are very much MY books, written from who I am and how I play with words and plots.
So of course, I always hope that readers will be like me (a little?) and look past the genre to the one thing that unifies all my books: me. Their author.
Which brings me to my last question of March: how do you read? Do you follow an author where ever they wander? Or do you stick within your favorite genres and let them go? Hope they’ll come back to your genre some day? Or do you have “enough” books/authors that if one drops off, you don’t feel their loss?
Pauline Baird Jones
Perilously romantic fiction for armchair adventurers
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