Friday, June 11, 2010

Keeping Your Series Fresh

By Cathy Clamp

Part of the How They Do It Series   

JH: We have double the fun this week with two "How They Do It" posts (YAY!). Cat Adams is the pseudonym for writing team C.T. Adams and Cathy Clamp, and their urban fantasy Blood Song released this week. This pair has a long history of writing urban fantasy series, so Cathy is going to share some tips on how to keep a series fresh and how not to steal your own ideas when you start a new one.

Take it away, Cathy...


Launching a new series is both terrifying and exhilarating. When you already have fans of a particular world, you’re left wondering whether they’ll take to the new one or whether you’ll lose all the fans you’ve already gained. The publisher often worries too, and does its best to show quotes and praise for the prior books to attract the attention of both new and old readers.

But how does one go about creating a new reality without accidentally “stealing” bits from the old one? In three of our worlds, we have shapeshifters. But they’re drastically different ones. Same with our vampires. Their origins are different, how they manifest and where they gain their power from is unique and how they’ll react in a fight doesn’t match at all. Is that conscious on our part. Oh my yes! Take shapeshifters, for example. In our Tales of the Sazi reality, there are all species of shifters—from wolves, to big cats, and even to raptors, bears and snakes. Pretty much every predatory animal is represented. They possess magic, including illusion magic, are tied to the moon shifts and are hidden from us poor, reactionary humans.

But with our Thrall series, the werewolves are “lycanthropes.” It’s a genetic trait, like Down’s syndrome. Everybody knows about it and the lycanthropes are one of the last remaining prejudiced groups. The genetic anomaly uses adrenaline as a catalyst to induce the change, so a near miss on the freeway in traffic could cause a werewolf to shift. Since it’s a danger to the public, they can’t have driver’s licenses. They’re shunned and even though laws “protect” them, people still use methods to restrict their movements and their rights.

In our new Blood Singer series, the shapeshifters are secretive and the reader doesn’t get much information about them at first, because they’re just one creature in a larger world. BLOOD SONG, which releases this week, features Kevin Landingham, a werewolf friend of the protagonist, Celia Graves. Even though Celia went to college, and actually has a degree in preternatural biology, she really doesn’t know much about Kevin’s world. She knows what she was taught in school—that wolves change on the moon, that they go into the California desert (where she lives) to hunt. She knows they can be dangerous. Celia’s reality is sort of the original “don’t ask, don’t tell” society. Everybody knows shifters exist, but you don’t want to be discovered to BE one. That will land you in a treatment facility for the rest of your life. They have no magic to hide themselves like the Sazi, and have no laws to protect them like in the Thrall reality.

It’s important when establishing a new world to put in place both known factors that the characters KNOW to be true about a paranormal creature (or even one set in our own reality) and then have certain things that both characters and readers thought they knew get upended. This is a way to avoid backstory and too much info-dumping. If someone sees a dragon in a reality where they exist, the only thought that should cross their mind is, “Whoa! It has RED spots. I thought those were extinct!” The character wouldn’t think about the whole evolution of the dragon and their impact on torching fields and threatening the townfolk, just like people don’t wonder about a stop sign on a street corner . . . unless it’s a different shape or color.

What sort of chaos would ensue if an octagon sign with the word ‘STOP’ was painted green? If a character encountered that, you can focus on their confusion (which often works best as dialogue to another, equally confused, character) without stopping action to insert details that aren’t necessary for the reader.

Hope that helps a little as you begin to create your own new reality. And we welcome you to pick up BLOOD SONG, under our new pen name of CAT ADAMS from Tor Books this week. We think you’ll like our vision for all the creatures of our new urban fantasy world! And if you’d like to know more about our other books for comparison, feel free to visit our website. You can also contact me online at: Twitter , MySpace, Witchy Chicks blog, and, of course, at the AbsoluteWrite forum, where Janice and I first met!

Tough-as-nails bodyguard Celia Graves protects the rich and famous from ghosts, demons, and other supernatural entities. While guarding the prince of a tiny European country, Celia is caught in a vampire ambush that leaves her wounded and partially transformed. Now she has to figure out her new limits and powers, destroy her sire before he can control her, and put together the pieces of a larger plan in which she's just a pawn.


  1. Thanks for your advice. I've wondered about how to use similar fantasy elements but not repeat them in new books. You certainly have made your shapeshifters completely different in all your books. They're a great example of what to do.

    Good luck with your new book. I'm going to add it to my list to read.

  2. These are some really good tips for series building in general as well as not stealing your own ideas. Thanks!

  3. Glad it helped a little. Thanks for dropping by! :D


  4. Thanks for joining us Cathy! Good to have you.