Over the last several weeks, we’ve talked about reading and deconstructing series. We’ve looked at several examples, including Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache, Julia Quinn’s Bridgertons, and Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad. This week, I talked to Mindy Klasky about the trials and triumphs of writing multiple series of her own. Her books range from light paranormal romance to traditional fantasy to category romance. To check out Mindy’s books for yourself, be sure to visit her website!
NH: You’ve written multiple series, including the Glasswrights, Jane Madison (witch), As You Wish (genie), and Diamond Brides books. Did all of these ideas start as series? Were any intended as stand-alone books, and if so, why did they then become series?
MK: The Glasswrights Series began as a stand-alone fantasy novel, The Glasswrights’ Apprentice. I wrote it, shopped it around to an agent, then started working on another book in a completely different fantasy world (so I wouldn’t have two dead books if the first one failed to sell to a publisher.) When the editor called to make my agent an offer, she said they wanted a sequel, and he told them I had two. (That was a lie; we’d never discussed sequels!) Ultimately, I signed my first contract – for Apprentice, a sequel, and an unrelated book (the one I’d written while my agent was shopping around Apprentice.) After Apprentice had been on sale for three weeks, my editor made an offer for three more sequels, so the five-book series was set.
I pitched the first books in the Jane Madison and As You Wish Series as first-in-a-series. And I developed my self-published Diamond Brides Series with the full intention of writing nine books in the series.
NH: What was the most difficult thing about turning a stand-alone book idea into a series?
MK: I honestly had no idea where to take my heroine, after the adventures she endured in Apprentice. The conceit for that novel involved a fantasy world where each person is born into a caste-bound society. My heroine, a thirteen-year-old apprentice in the stained-glass-making guild, witnesses a murder and is accused of being the killer, so she must go underground and masquerade through each of the five castes as she hunts for the real assassin.
I felt that I’d explored my heroine’s surroundings pretty thoroughly in Book One. In Book Two, I brought her to a different, adjoining kingdom. That set the pattern for the other books in the series, where each book took place in a different land (and ultimately returned home to the original setting.) That pattern allowed me a lot of latitude in storytelling, but it also required a huge investment of time and energy in world-building, as I created five different societies in detail.
NH: Do you create a series bible for your works? Can you share how that looks, what information it includes? What format do you use, e.g., hard copy notebook, electronic spreadsheet, Evernote, etc.?
MK: I’ve never created a single document (or collection of documents) that I call a Bible. Instead, I keep a series of notes, tracking different aspects of my characters’ lives. For example, in the Glasswrights Series, there are a thousand gods. I did not define all one thousand of them; rather, I tracked the names and “subject matters” of each as I introduced him.
I’ve used Scrivener to write my last dozen or so books. Scrivener comes equipped with a “Research” section, where I can keep files of character names, appearances, special powers, etc. I can use those files to track magical elements (e.g., spells I’ve written, herbs I’ve specified, and crystals I’ve used.) I keep all volumes of a series in one Scrivener file, so the Research files are available for each book.
NH: What has been the most difficult thing you’ve encountered in writing one of your series, and how did you overcome it?
MK: My greatest challenge (so far!) has been writing series over a number of years, where social attitudes and reader expectations have changed. For example, when I first wrote Girl’s Guide to Witchcraft (the first volume of the Jane Madison Series), chicklit novels with gay best friends were all the rage. Those gay characters were defined in a very narrow way, with very stereotypical interests and actions. My traditional publisher encouraged me to stick with those expected character definitions for Neko (my witch’s familiar, who began life as a statue of a black cat and emerges as a gay man).
Over the years, the trope of “gay best friend” has faded, and gay characters are typically presented with far fewer stereotypes. But Jane’s familiar is still sashaying through the pages of the Jane Madison Series.
I’m quite excited about my solution for this problem. In August, when I release the fifth book in the series, I’ll also be releasing the Author’s Preferred Edition. I’ll be reworking some of those earlier scenes, allowing Neko to become a fully realized, three-dimensional character (who happens to be gay), rather than a stereotype from an earlier era in publishing.
NH: What has been the most fun/rewarding thing about writing series in general or one series in particular?
MK: I adored writing my Diamond Brides Series, about the imaginary Raleigh Rockets major league baseball team. Each of the nine books features a different position player on the team. I loved creating a range of heroes. As teammates, the men have some traits in common, and they share some goals. But each approaches his life in a very different way, allowing me to look at different types of relationships, different types of heroes and heroines, and different types of plots. I got all the benefits of a series (familiar characters, setting, etc.) with the advantages of stand-alone books (especially, a new couple in each book).
NH: Are you currently working on a new series or books continuing one of your existing ones? Is there any information about upcoming projects you’re willing to share?
MK: My next novel will be the fifth book in the Jane Madison Series (after having taken a break from her world for almost two years!). Jane has gone from an unsuspecting librarian who had no idea she was a witch to a powerful teacher of new witches. Of course, nothing is easy as she tries to keep the Powers That Be from shutting down her school!
After that, I’ll be getting to work on something completely new: the Harmony Springs Series. Those will all be contemporary romances set in a small Virginia town. While I’m pretty confident that I know the hero (a retired baseball player from the Raleigh Rockets who returns to his hometown) and the heroine (a “youngest child” in a family of four kids, who has never committed to anything for the length of time it takes for her nail polish to dry), I’m still working out details of the plot, the secondary characters, and the hometown. The first book will be a Christmas book, in stores in November.
NH: What advice do you have for writers contemplating trying their own hand at writing a series?
MK: Focus on the balance between the familiar and the unknown. Readers (and writers!) love series because they’re like coming home again – we get to see people we know and places that we love acting in ways we expect. There’s a lot of comfort there.
But the best series shake up that tried and true familiarity. New elements are introduced to keep readers from feeling like they already know what will happen. Characters learn and grow, changing over the volumes of the series.
It’s a balancing act. But that’s what makes it fun – for the people reading the books as much as for the people writing them!