SALES or SUBSTANCE – When should a book series end?

Many authors either by design or by demand have their protagonist return in a following book. They have taken on the responsibility of a series. Yes, responsibility is correct here. Let explore this premise.

What does being an author of a series entail? The characters are the writer’s intellectual property and as such s/he can do with them as s/he pleases. However there is an implied agreement between the author and the readers who follow said series.  In a planned series there should be a comfortable cohesive flow from installment to installment. In the case of a one-shot that readers demanded a follow-up, the flow may not be as smooth.

Certain characteristics are common in both situations; not the least of which is character continuity. The main character when placed in varied environments is expected to retain the personality and definition introduced in the first book. After all, that is what made the demand for the creation of the series. Readers loved the hero!

This is such a logical idea that it seems absurd to require mentioning. Sadly this is not obvious to some of our more popular series authors. The most blatant case in point is the degrading quality of   Janet Evanovich’s ‘ Stephanie Plum series.

Evanovich introduced rookie bounty hunter Stephanie Plum to the world in 1994 with “One For The Money.” The idea was fresh and brought a light humor to the mystery/thriller genre. By 1998, she was on the best sellers list with her fourth book. In each of the books, the main characters (Stephanie,Morelli and Ranger) grew in their personalities and in their increasingly complicated triad relationship.

The general opinion of readers is that the series peaked with books #12 or #13. By 2008 with book #14 – “Fearless Fourteen” the series started to spiral downward and by 2011 with #17 – “Smoking Seventeen” it crashed and burned. 66% of the reviews showed a 3-star rating or less. The words in those reviews all had common threads. Readers were disappointed  that Stephanie hadn’t matured in her personal, social or professional life. The sexual tension had gone on long enough. Evanovich’s solution to the problem was so out of the character’s persona that it was actually insulting to both the history of the characters and the loyal followers.The last three books had contained evidence of pasted dialog from previous books and re-worked “comedy” segments. Instead of deepening the plot, emphasis was placed on what the secondary character (Lula) was eating.

It is possible that after 16 years, Evanovich is weary of her characters. If this is the case, love your creations enough to allow them to have closure.    Give the readers who have been loyal for over a decade and a half the satisfaction of closing that last chapter and feeling that those 16 years were times well spent.

Perhaps Janet is afraid of loosing half her readers if she allows Stephanie to choose between her two love interests.  If this is the case, she risks loosing them all. The series has missed all genre points. It is no longer a mystery, nor a thriller. and if Evanovich hoped to take the series into the Humor catagory, she missed dreadfully.

This is not the predictable end for a series. J.K.Rowling’s Harry Potter had a set timeline for beginning and ending. Lee Child’s Jack Reacher has aged in character. And Barry Eisler’s John Rain has stayed in character while evolving. The jury is still out on John Locke’s newest Donovan Creed endeavor. 

It  is sadly obvious that the Plum series continued well beyond its time for the sole purpose of money. Profit above substance degrades an author’s life’s work and leaves the readers wondering where they went wrong.


Barry Eisler’s “Inside Out” is Faction

When you were a kid, scary books weren’t that scary because deep down inside you knew there were no such things as monsters.  As adults we read thrillers and take them at face value…over the top heroes, over the top plots and no real situations that we, as average people would have to face.  Oh, we fantasize ourselves into the story line and revel at our ability to out-think the hero or out-smart the villain. We know these books are works of fiction; and by definition not real.

Good fiction should contain possible plot lines, not necessary probable ones. And a good author will try to make his story lines as believable as the plot allows. Dan Brown did an excellent job with his  “Da Vinci Code”.  He took some well known urban myths along with obscure historical references and wound them into a fictional story. People related to the plot because they were aware of some of the background and the book to on the aura of  “plausible fiction”. Some over-the-top readers saw too much into the work and actually started “researching the validity ” of the book. But that’s for another blog at another time.

What’s important to understand here is that sometimes fact can be, and is, disguised as fiction. The author has important information to get out and is restricted by liable, contract or in some cases national security. Still, he feels the need to disseminate this knowledge to the general public. The answer is fiction based on fact or fact hidden as fiction… FACTION.

Barry Eisler’s “Inside Out” is fiction.  Ben Treven, the returning lead character in Eisler’s earlier work “Fault Line” is a fictional black ops soldier in what appears to be another’ CIA-Who’s going to rule, or destroy the world as we know it?’ plot. But hold on a minute! “Didn’t I just read about this occurrence?” “Didn’t I hear something about that on CNN?” Aha! The plot thickens. The bibliography sites press releases, interviews, news items and non-fiction recommended books on the very subjects that are key to this work’s plot line.

This book is so riveting and scary because it is not just possible is is probable and very likely disguised truth. Add to the mix is Eisler’s personal history with the CIA and as a lawyer and suddenly the veil between what could’ never be’ and what ‘ is ‘ becomes very thin.

We all want John Wayne to run our country. We want the good guys to wear white hats and ride into the sunset with the girl. That is the fantasy most of us have about our government leaders.  We’re the good guys; ‘they’ are the bad guys. No middle ground.  But what if , in order to maintain just the status quo, required various shades of gray? What if an over zealous need to project your idea of what is right and good for the country required actions  that would seem reprehensible in  world’s eyes? Are we still wearing those white hats? Are the powers-that-be wearing those hats while requiring their minions to where black ski masks? Sound ridiculous?

Read “Inside Out” with an open mind. Don’t think conservative. Don’t think liberal. Just think.








Facebook (11)

Facebook (11). On this Fourth of July, let us remember Freedom is never Free.

Let’s Hear It for Lust

I trust Lust. Lust is simply a chemical reaction. Lust is basic science. And who wants to argue with science? Lust has a simple goal: to relieve sexual tension and make the body feel pretty damn good. Emotionally it is straight forward. “I like this” “This is fun” “I am satisfied.” With a partner who feels the same; sex becomes simply a means to a very enjoyable end…climax. You aren’t preoccupied with thoughts of “What will s/he think of me in the morning” or “I shouldn’t ask for this or do this”. Mutual satisfaction is the goal and it is usually reached. A strong lusty relationship can be ongoing or a one night extravaganza. But in either case it doesn’t require exclusivity or vague promises for the future.

Love on the other hand comes with a pile of baggage. Love is for the most part proprietary lust. “You can only lust for me and I promise to only lust for you”. How lame that? Desire can be controlled for a while. But when it does raise it’s ugly head what you now have is guilt. Even if you don’t act on it, you will feel as if you let your partner down by acknowledging the chemistry.  Love makes you promise things that are unnatural if not impossible. “Forever” is a long long time. Hell, next Thursday is to far off for a definite maybe!

Now, you can have a good loving relationship that is lustful. They seem to last the longest and show themselves to be most satisfying.  But watch how these relationships get rocky as soon as the physical attraction wanes.  How many men never thought of cheating on their wives until pregnancy made sex un-enjoyable? How many women found fantasy lovers in Romance novels more desirable than their husband in their own beds? The day to day grind makes sex take a back seat to getting a good nights sleep. Once Lust takes a back seat, what is left in a relationship is habit and dependency

So, we have all these prominent politicians with their newsworthy “Lust Busts”. I guess it is extremely difficult to be all things to all the people. They must be yearning for the laissezaller of  their youth. We want politicians to solve all our problems without getting us directly involved. Their parties want them to be outspoken but only to the Party’s point of view. If they are married they must also be an involved parent and perfect husband. It’s amazing any one of them wants to take the job. Who can blame them if Lust seems like a perfect escape from the real world? Of course the real world will crumble around them, we don’t want people like “that” running our government.

This behavior is perfectly acceptable to the common folk. We e-mail dirty jokes to our friends. We comment on a good looking onion (butt). We primp and preen so that we are attractive to the opposite sex. And to be honest, our day is really complete if, at some point, we are lightly propositioned…Hey, hey I’ve still got it! We all lust! Most of us don’t act on it. But truthfully…Don’t you regret it sometimes?

Eisler’s Essay Exceptional

With his e-publishing of his essay:”The Ass Is A Poor Receptacle For The Head – Why Democrats Suck At Communication, And How They Could Improve” (Shoe-in for title of the year), Barry Eisler jumps off the bridge into the black water of would a-could a-should a politics.

Using his vast marketing skills, he zeros in on the blatant lack thereof in the Democratic party to date. In a few short chapters Eisler makes gives advice that should have been presumed elementary in any campaign – political or otherwise. Makes you wonder what those $Million$ dollar press agencies really do. Simple things like : picking the right name for your plan [chap. 7] and imagery as a marketing tool [Chap.6]

Barry’s background with the CIA and as a lawyer may have given him extra insight into the fine art of interrogation. Where this become helpful in the political arena is at the debate table. Turning the opposition’s words inside out and back at them is an art[chap.3]. Not unlike the judo principal of using your opponents own force to defeat him.

This sound like a pretty heavy essay. The fact is, it is easy to read, quite funny in parts and sends the message: All is not lost if they could just get their heads out of their collective asses!