Monthly Archives: July 2011

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.

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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.