Sunday, January 24, 2010

Seventeen worlds later...

I'm never at a loss for a book to read.  I may not be in the mood for any of the things I have available to me, but I am never looking around wondering what to pick up next.  Why?  Because I read series.

This does not make me the least bit unique among romance readers.  But perhaps what might put me a couple of standard deviations [that's for you, Janiece] above the norm is the number of series I'm reading.  Seventeen at last count.  With a few more to start in my TBR.

That's seventeen sets of characters in seventeen different worlds to keep track of.  It's like following seventeen different TV dramas and being expected to pick up right where the show left off months later and also remember all the names and quirks of every single character.  No TBS marathons to get up-to-date on the past four seasons, just that unreliable thing called "memory."

But it's not just seventeen main characters, because each world comes with its own orbit of stories--each called a book.  Some as few as three stories (Craig, Cohen), some as many as thirty (Robb).

One type of series only have a single couple or main character to follow, and with that, a few supporting characters to add weight and depth complexity to their world.  The series tends to be built around following the individual(s) as they solve a MOTW or kill a MOTW and the joy of reading them is in watching the author reveal layers of the main character(s) as well as see how evil is going to be defeated this time.

In Death (Robb)
Kinsey Milhone (Grafton)
Double Feature Mystery (Cohen)
Sookie Stackhouse (Harris)
Betsy Taylor (Davidson)
Mercy Thompson (Briggs)
Stephanie Plum (Evanovich)

The other series I read are more romance focused.  Each book delivers a new couple with new problems to conquer.  The supporting characters are often set up for new books of their own.  The depth and complexity of the characters lays in knowing how this particular protagonist has acted with the previous couples in series, then goes a bit deeper as this hero and heroine get their own story.  A lot of the satisfaction in these type of series is in watching the deserving side-character get their own HEA while the external conflict (evil) is resolved.

Dark-Hunter (Kenyon)
Midnight Breed (Adrian)
Psy/Changling (Singh)
Wolf Tales (Douglas)
Nauti (Leigh)
Black Dagger Brotherhood (Ward)
Immortals After Dark (Cole)
Dark (Feehan)
Divorced, Desperate (Craig)
Then there's a hybrid third that I don't know if I should count since only one book has come out, but it's a seven-book planned series which, if it follows the blueprint laid down by the first book, will follow a main character through the romances of seven different couples.

Fallen Angel (Ward)

I don't know how I wound up following so many series.  Oh! Yes I do.  I wanted to see how successful authors do it.  And do you know how a lot of them make a career out of writing?  By finding a good hook, or world, or character on which to build a series.

Plus what a way to build a readership, hunh?  Even if one or two books in your 15 story arc are sub-standard, people are still going to keep reading (buying) because they've already invested so much time and energy into the series.  They have to know how it ends. 

When I started reading romance (back in the dark ages) I don't remember series being like this.  They had an end, for one.  For another, there were fewer paranormals.  It was a matter of building interest in each side-character individually, and less a matter of populating (or, more accurately, coupling off) the worlds the authors have built. That's not a judgement, just an observation.

Authors back in the olden days mostly built series around families, wealthy families.  There'd be three brothers and a sister, maybe two.  The mom and dad would be loving and benevolent, and the person introduced to the family would be misunderstood and spunky or misunderstood and painfully shy.  She'd be mistrusted and have a big heart, he'd be after her for her money, then insist on signing a pre-nup and keeping his job.  There'd be a big misunderstanding, maybe an almost rape, and then a bit of groveling, followed by a big happy. 

Cue: Epilogue... a baby, maybe two, and unicorns dancing in the fields while fairies flit in the sky.

Ahhh, the good ol' days. 

I suspect the good ol' days are still around in authors that I no longer read.  The genre advanced while they did not, and they are still cranking out their stories in styles I no longer appreciate.  But they have built a very big following on that old-fashioned feeling.

I, however, took a long break from reading fiction (5 years), and when I came back the times had changed and I had changed right along with them.  I was no longer satisfied with sweet.  The tropes I'd cut my teeth on now left me feeling like I had a bad case of "been there, done that."  So I moved on to voices and tropes that are new to me. 

Strangely though, in every book I read, I'm still seeking that old feeling that had me falling in love with the genre in the first place.  That hitch in my heart when the hero says or does just the right thing.  That unexpected tear in my eye when the understanding between H & H is just so deep and you were rooting for those two all along, and now you believe they're gonna make it. 

The reason I get stuck on series is an issue of quality.  I need to read all kinds of books, good and bad, but more than any workshop, I'm going to learn about writing through reading.  I need to know how the successful pros are doing it now, soak it in through my eyeballs via the best kind of osmosis, and then give it back to the world.

Currently Reading: Loyalty In Death
Currently Reading: Now & Then
Currently Reading: Undead and Unworthy

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