Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Trading One World for Another

By J. Kathleen Cheney, @jkcheney

Part of the How They Do It Series

For many writers, publishing a series is a dream come true. We live in our worlds, consider our characters family, and are always looking for new stories to tell about this world and its people. But series do end, and sometimes it's time to move on to something new. J. Kathleen Cheney visits the lecture hall today to share some thoughts on moving on, and why it can be bittersweet.

J. Kathleen Cheney taught mathematics ranging from 7th grade to Calculus, but gave it all up for a chance to write stories. Her novella "Iron Shoes" was a 2010 Nebula Award Finalist. Her novel, The Golden City was a Finalist for the 2014 Locus Awards (Best First Novel). Dreaming Death will be the first in a new series, the Palace of Dreams Novels.

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Take it away JK...

If you're moderately successful as an author, you get past that first series…and start another. When I was at that point (I could quibble over the 'successful' part, but I have moved on to a new series.), my editor told me not to make the new one too similar to the old one.

You see authors do this all the time. They have a fantastic urban fantasy series, and then step to one side and write an epic fantasy series. Or they write about goblins and switch to princesses. (These are just examples, of course.)

The change can be great. It gives you a chance to flex writing muscles that you didn't use in your previous series. You also get to start with a clean slate with your characters. They don't have three or more books of backstory to keep track of. (That can be a major pain for a writer, by the way, so much so that some actually have fans maintain a wiki for them.) And you get to work on that idea you've had on the backburner for so long. It may be one you come to love even more (although you must, in public, insist that you love all your literary children equally.)

Change also has its drawbacks. When you're writing that first novel of the new series, you have no idea how your fans will receive it. You have to start fresh and describe a whole new world. Will readers compare it to the old series and find it lacking? Will they think it's a faded version of your previous work? Or will they balk because they want it to be exactly like your other series, and it's not?

I talked to a million-selling author about this while at World Fantasy Con, and she's had to deal with that last. People wanted her new series to be just like her old one. Some, when they discovered it wasn't, stopped reading.

That's always the risk of moving on. Some of your readers won't be happy. Even so, the vast majority of her readers stuck with her.

But it's not always easy for the writer to move on, either. For me, I'm leaving my Portugal setting. Yes, I have some novellas planned there (once I get time to finish them!) but I think I'm done with novels set in Portugal. All that research, sitting on my shelves, will be left untouched. I'll slowly forget the names of the minor characters, the backstories that I had in mind but never fit into the books, and what the front sitting room of the Ferreira house looked like. My limited command of Portuguese will become even more limited.

It has to be that way to make room in my brain for the new. I'll keep seeing research books on Portuguese history that I'd love to…oh, wait. I don't have time for that now. I'm writing a new series.

I catch a glimpse of an outfit online that would be great for Oriana in a story about…oh, yeah, I've finished writing about the sereia.

I see a FB post from one of my Portugal groups that shows an amazing…

It's hard to quit. We don't really ever give up our love for a setting, even if we're not actively involved there anymore. We're learning to love our new setting, though. We're devoting our time to that, just as if we'd left one job and started another. We learn the new workplace and slowly forget tiny things about the old one (like whether Jeff in Accounting was the one who threw up at the New Year's Party. Or was it Johan from Auditing?)

You have to accept that as a writer. If you want to be traditionally published, you go where the publisher suggests. It's a bit sad. Leaving always is, but it makes way for the new.

And even if they're a bit faded, we'll always have the memories.

About Dreaming Death

Shironne Anjir's status as a sensitive is both a gift and a curse. Her augmented senses allow her to discover and feel things others can’t, but her talents come with a price: a constant assault of emotions and sensations has left her blind. Determined to use her abilities as best she can, Shironne works tirelessly as an investigator for the Larossan army.

A member of the royal family's guard, Mikael Lee also possesses an overwhelming power—he dreams of the deaths of others, sometimes in vivid, shocking detail, and sometimes in cryptic fragments and half-remembered images.

But then a killer brings a reign of terror to the city, snuffing out his victims with an arcane and deadly blood magic. Only Shironne can sense and interpret Mikael’s dim, dark dreams of the murders. And what they find together will lead them into a nightmare...

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  1. I'm not anywhere near this point myself. But I know what it feels like as a reader.

    I wanted Michael Hoeye's "Hermux Tantamoq" series to go on just a longer, but the author said on his website (Which he later retired) the fourth book was the last book. I was sad, but without spoiling the ending, it was a worthy close to the series.

    That said, in my defense, it didn't help that the last book didn't have some variant of "The thrilling conclusion" in the description, than I would've known this was the end and accepted that.

    I love the series so much I made fan trailers for all four books, in hope that more readers would know about it, they're still excellent reads, that doesn't change just because the adventures end in terms of more books in that world with those characters...

    Spin-Offs and Side stories aside, the main thrust of HP has ended, but there's a second wave of readers who weren't around when many (myself included) endued the long waits from book to book. They're only challenge (Since all 7 books are out) is not having the internet spoil it for them.

    At least with "Platypus Police Squad", another favorite series of mine, I know the fourth book will be the last, and while bummed about that I've prepared myself for the end-and the book's not out until May 2016!

    Again, being a devoted fan, I made a promo video to help spread the word, and get people award of the previous three books, too

    Plus, as you alluded to, being in the same world with the same characters, as much as you may still love them, you've said all you had to say about them.

    I do have to speak to one point you made at the end of this post-

    "You have to accept that as a writer. If you want to be traditionally published, you go where the publisher suggests."

    I don't think's it's any easier for indie authors to end their series, either. Just because they don't have a trad. publisher prodding them doesn't mean they don't face those same "Hold or fold" decisions, too.

    Sometimes it takes a long time to thrust into a new project. While some authors are more than happy to move on (whether ot not they have trad. publishers "Ordering them stoop") but some like me need a grieving period.

    To me, that's no different from grieving the lost of a loved one who died or has a terminal illness that takes away something from their life, IMHO. Once the initial grieving ends, than we can move on to something new.

    That said, since I write animal fantasy, the facts I learn about animals will be relevant and vital to most of my books, even if the characters and worlds are different, so I can't "distance myself from the facts and research" in the way you're talking about, JK.

    I think Rick Riordan does a similar thing. He still uses mythology in his stories, without it always being tied to his "Percy JAckson" series. So sometimes our research still serves us, even it manifests differently than in our last story (or series) and that's OKAY, too, right?

    Anyway, thanks for stopping by, and for being honest about your journey.

    Taurean W.

    1. FWIW, my husband and I were just discussing Rick Riordan last night, and how much we loved his early novels...which were Mysteries! (We actually don't read Percy Jackson at all).

      But no research really ever goes to waste. Even if you're not in that setting, you're always learning about human nature first and foremost, so it always seems to apply in some way to whatever else you're writing.

  2. This article is a great food for thoughts. "Making room for the new"...
    Now that I read it, it seems obvious, but to be honest I often go back to my old characters and settings as a comforting memory, and I have this feeling that the future will never be as good as the past. Which is nonsense. It's the same when you have to end a romantic relationship. You might feel like you just lost your one true love, when really, you have no idea what the future holds.
    I should pursue this goal and "make room for the new" as you suggested, instead of hanging onto good old recipe that have nothing new to bring anymore. Here it is, this is my new year's resolution now!
    Thanks for lighting that sparkle JK!

    1. Thanks!

      FWIW, I go back too. I usually spend Sundays writing something other than the official WIP, and I like to go back and reread/edit some of my older stuff at times. It's comforting, and reminds me that I write for fun, too. (And one never knows....it might end up published some day, too.)

  3. I thought you might be interested in knowing that I actually used my difficulty of letting things go, as an inspiration for my next project. I've been brainstorming all day and I'm super excited to start something fresh ^_^ Not sure it's going to be a thing, but I am determined to try!