Series, series, series: blessing or curse?

Thank god it’s Friday, eh? Not really. For the first time in weeks, I have a working day, focusing on nothing but me. That was before I discovered that I had a meeting at noon. Oh well… Still, almost a full morning. LOL

A panorama of my home town in Switzerland, Samedan.

A panorama of my home town in Switzerland, Samedan.

Having just returned from Switzerland and a week full of amazing food, great sights and love, I’m back in Sweden, in my rocking chair, writing. The trip gave me the opportunity to read three books, three very different stories, from two extremely talented writers. The first, the second installment of Olga Núñez Miret’s trilogy about Pink, Angelic Business 2. Shapes of Greg took me a long time to read. It’s a full length novel and with a child, there’s plenty of interruptions. The second, Checking him Out – For the Holidays is a short story based on Debbie McGowan’s bestselling novel Checking Him Out, one year later, it’s Christmas. And the third short story is the sort of short that might throw you, a sort of “Star Trek meets Star Wars” or “Alien v Godzilla”, you get the idea, with characters from two different worlds meeting. But let’s take them one by one:

  • Olga Núñez Miret: Angelic Business 2. Shapes of Greg
The beautiful cover of the second installment of Angelic Business.

The beautiful cover of the second installment of Angelic Business.

I won’t even comment the pun towards Fifty shades of Gray, intentional or not, but this book, the second part of the trilogy about teenage girl Pink, couldn’t be more different. No, Pink (or Petra) does not meet an older guy for sex, even though Greg is a pretty “old” guy. He is, after all, a fallen angel, a demon, straight from hell. After having read the first book last week, I was of course curious to see how the story of Pink would continue. This book is a bit shorter than the first. We already know the main protagonists and quickly get into the action. This is also the book’s greatest problem. As a stand alone, while fully possible to read, it would leave the reader at a loss, as so many things are assumed, not so much in terms of the events from book one (which is summarized here and there) but the character development. The summaries also take some of the space of the book, and the recaps can be a bit annoying if you’ve just read the first part. It’s the curse of all books in series. As an author you can’t assume that your readers have read the previous books, and as a novice, jumping into the middle of a series (for whatever reason) you need them not to give up in frustration. I’m not blaming Olga, she makes the best of an impossible mission.

I’m not going to summarize the story itself, it’s still great YA, even though Pink at times, seems just a tad too smart, too well educated, particularly when it comes to classic literature. But hey, just because I haven’t met such a girl (or boy for that matter) doesn’t mean it’s not possible, right? The biggest weakness with this book is its role in the series. It’s the middle, and just like other “bridges” it left me wanting for more. You missed the start and you don’t get the end. I’ll comment this dilemma separately, after the book reviews, at the end of the post. Let me just say that I’m dying to read the end…

  • Debbie McGowan: Checking Him Out – For the Holidays
The cover of the story, very fitting.

The cover of the story, very fitting.

I have written about my reluctancy to read Deb’s bestseller, and how much I ended up regretting it. When she sent me two short stories to read the other day, I welcomed them, as a distraction on my flights and train rides to and in Switzerland. As the title suggests, this is a free* continuation of “Checking Him Out”. Sol (I still don’t like him) and Adam celebrate Christmas with the entire clan and then some, but the story focuses on a character that was barely mentioned in the novel. I know Deb has a thing for Christmas, and she really goes all out here. I can only assume this is her dream Christmas that’s played out before our inner eyes, and I can’t say that I wouldn’t want to be there. The storytelling is familiar, from Sol’s perspective, and Deb’s writing brilliant as always. I don’t know many authors (if any) who can describe things as visually as she does, even as mundane things as a visit to an American diner. Brilliant. Needless to say she had me in tears a few times, which is a good thing in my book. And to make it even better, she managed to do so by simply hinting at things. She writes so well that I was in tears before “it” actually happened. A great read, but you’ll only really enjoy it if you’ve read the novel, as it assumes a lot about the novel. Sure, Deb gives you a quick recap from the events in the book, and leaves me as frustrated as I was in Olga’s book, simply because the memory of having read it is so fresh, but for a reader who just happens to download this story as a stand alone, the recaps are vital to understand the background. If you’ve read Checking Him Out, you will not want to miss out on this, trust me!
*I was mistaken that this story is available for free. My bad! 🙂 Hence this short update.

  • Debbie McGowan: Hiding Out (Hiding behind the Couch meets Checking Him Out)
Hiding_Out_cover

I had a different Matty before my inner eye, and Noah, but it’s a beautiful cover. Very romantic (hint!)

This was the most difficult read of the three. Hiding Behind The Couch is Debbie’s “East Enders” (for UK readers) or “The Bold & Beautiful” (for the rest of us) – not a quality statement by the way-, a never-ending series that start somewhere and just never seems to end. It was through this series and character research that Deb and I originally met. There are literally a gazillion stories out, I’ve counted 16 at the end of the short I just read. Checking Him Out is a short series with ‘only’ five installments so far. Three characters from one series and three characters from the other series meet for a common story.

Let me say this about the story: I cried twice, and as above, it was before it actually happened. Deb’s amazing ability to visualize things had me in tears just knowing what would come. The dance scene, when I realized what it was all about, had tears rolling down my cheeks on the flight back from Switzerland yesterday, and had me look like a fool in the eyes of the purser (who gave me the stare…) Oddly, Deb has never forgiven me for having her drop a tear on a train to London when we first met face to face, reading Jonathan’s Hope, now she’s had me cry twice on a train and once on a plane. Says a lot about the two of us… Sappy old queens is what we are.

As for the read as a whole, the story is engaging and well written, and while I had met Noah and Matty, I had no idea who George and Josh were, and that was frustrating (WTF is wrong with Norwich (seems to be the English equivalent to Norway or North Frisia or Seldwyla)? Where do they live? I assumed Scotland based on their dialect, but can I be certain?) There are countless hints at what’s happened in their life, much of which is assumed. Some is recapitulated, and it was enough to get me through the book, but overall, it was like reading a story about Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock without having an effing clue who they are. You just get the impression that you should know them, that they are really old acquaintances, and I understand that, from Deb’s point of view (she probably knows those characters better than her own family), but if you meet these characters for the first time, you miss out.

It’s great writing, a very enjoyable read, but I have a hunch I would’ve enjoyed it even more had I read the other series first.

  • Thoughts after having read these books

I’m still not a fan of series. When I say this, it is in no way intended as criticism of the authors who write them. It’s more a reflection of me as a reader, and subsequently as a writer. I like closure, which doesn’t mean it has to be delivered “neatly wrapped in a package with a bow” as my editor Bonnie Hearn Hill put it to me once. Not at all, but to turn the final page and to know it goes on is frustrating. This is the biggest problem with e.g. trilogies like Angelic Business. While you could potentially read the first book as a stand alone, the second one doesn’t work. The ending so obviously points to the third book that you really want to read it. As a reviewer, I was sent these books free of charge, to facilitate my review. As a customer, I would’ve been upset. Every idiot in the industry will tell you (and me) that series are the horn of plenty for writers, and most writers will happily oblige, because they know it’s the best way to milk the most money out of the readership. Given how difficult it is to charge decently for books these days, can we blame authors to charge 3 x 0.99 dollars for a story they couldn’t have sold for 2.99 as a whole? Personally I would rather read Angelic Business as a standalone. Some of the explanations and recaps would fall away, making the overall amount of words less, but I wouldn’t have to wait weeks at a time for the next book. I also do understand the allure of writing series from a reader’s perspective. When I first started reading again after a 15 year hiatus (I had studied literature and was literally fed up with reading after three years of reading up to 30 books a week) it was Star Trek fiction. Easy reads, familiar characters, and it filled a void the cancelled beloved TV show had left in me. But even there, after a while, the sheer amount of books available, literally hundreds, never-ending, became overwhelming and I moved on to other shores.

With Debbie, she’s building a whole universe around her characters in her main series, and I understand how much she loves her characters, and how they constantly force her to write more. I understand from her that many of the books in the series are very stand-alone-ish, and can very well be read and enjoyed on their own. It literally is like a soap opera, life. I don’t think I could do that again, go in for a series like that, knowing there’s more, craving it, frustrated that I have to wait.

As an author, I don’t want to do it, even though I’ve been asked repeatedly to write more about several of my books.  And while I could’ve imagined writing more about e.g. Willem and Hery and their trip around the world at the end of the novel, I also know that I don’t want to write it. It’s just not who I am, even though I understand that I am anything but the norm, both when it comes to reading and writing. I can’t say never though. I’ve been proven wrong before, and I know that the economic aspects are pretty obvious. All I can ever say is “here’s this book, it’s totally different, but you might enjoy it”, which I know many readers don’t like to hear, as it’s a certain risk-taking. What if I don’t like it? With series, they simply get more of what they already love.

I know that many of my readers here also read (and write series), what is your take?

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Have a wonderful day, and remember some of your own memories from the place you grew up in…

Hans

PS: Don’t forget to follow the book tour (start here) for Willem of the Tafel, only three days to go (and great reviews coming in.) Great prizes to win, including a free ticket to GRL (!) and lots of fun information about my latest novel and me (if you dare)…

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