I have no idea when the concept of writing several books around the same set of characters first came into being, pretty much replacing the family saga or the juicy mega-novel à la James Michener. I’m fairly sure it must have been some ‘suit’ in the back room of one of the big New York publishers who thought of this as an ingenious way to garner more money from the unsuspecting reader. Or perhaps it was a reader who made the suggestion pointing out his limited attention span? I personally came across this innovation when I wanted to read the work of an award-winning author and discovered that his romantic opus on the west was to cover seven volumes; I bought the first one out of curiosity and stopped. Maybe series are good in that, if you can’t stand the writing, you don’t have to go on?
At the moment I’m judging a competition and, out of five books I’ve been given, four are in series. This is a very telling experience because, of those four, only one is the first book in its series. So here comes problem Number One with the others: does the book stand alone? IMHO, it should. A reader should be able to pick up a book she thinks may be interesting to read and get the full story, not have constant referrals back to characters and/or situations she doesn’t know. If she wants to go back because she’s enjoyed the book, that’s one thing, but to force her to go back because the book doesn’t make sense is quite another. The ‘who the hell is this person?’ situation just doesn’t sit well with me; neither does the ‘when did they attend THAT party?’
Then, of course, there’s the start of the second couple’s relationship when the series is built around several different people. I don’t mind the introduction of these characters–of course not. But to suddenly be switched into their POV and have them canoodling, before we’re switched back into the current story, takes me right out of the book with a resounding, WHAT? Not only that, it leaves certain situations unresolved; you get the HEA but as a bonus, you get other factors leaving you wondering.
I have read series that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed; Julie Garwood’s Claybornes’ Brides/Rosehill series comes to mind. And I was brought up on Little House on the Prairie, and Nancy Drew, the Bobbsy Twins, and so on. But each of their books could be read independently and still give enjoyment. Some authors may be fearful of the repetition needed to re-identify characters and situations and, perhaps, the fervent follower of a series will get annoyed with so much duplication. But my own gut feeling is that the individual reader who likes the sound of, say, book two, should be able to enjoy that book without feeling left out or forced into a possibly unwanted purchase.
Now, before all the series writers start calling for my blood, let me also say I envy series writers. Authors have a right to earn from their craft, and if writing a series brings you more readers, well done. And if you can keep up the momentum of writing about the same characters in several books without it feeling like the story is dragging on, go for it. All I’m saying here is that each book should be enjoyable in its own right and, sadly, that isn’t always the case. I’d love to be able to tell the full story of all the characters in my first book, Loveland, and even my latest, Dances of the Heart, could have a Book Two. But if I go that route, you can be certain I’ll make sure it can stand on its own.
Dances of the Heart
Blurb: Successful, workaholic author Carrie Bennett lives through her writing, but can’t succeed at writing a man into her life. Furthermore, her equally successful but cynical daughter, Paige, proves inconsolable after the death of her fiancé.
Hard-drinking rancher Ray Ryder can find humor in just about anything—except the loss of his oldest son. His younger son, Jake, recently returned from Iraq, now keeps a secret that could shatter his deceased brother’s good name.
On one sultry night in Texas, relationships blossom when the four meet, starting a series of events that move from the dancehalls of Hill Country to the beach parties of East Hampton, and from the penthouses of New York to the backstreets of a Mexican border town. But the hurts of the past are hard to leave behind, especially when old adversaries threaten the fragile ties that bind family to family…and lover to lover.
Excerpt: Ray pointed to his pickup, smirking slightly with the knowledge of what her reaction would probably be.
“You must be joking.”
He could hardly hear the mumbled comment, but it was exactly what he’d been expecting.
She glowered, a brow definitively arched in query. “What year is this thing?”
He attempted to wipe the amusement away from his face with a hand that rubbed his stubble in a satisfying scrape. “Sorry, I left the Cadillac at home this time.” A raised brow questioned if she took him seriously. “It’s an ’89, and still runs as smooth as the day I got it.”
“Which was, what? Last year?”
Ray shook his head and proceeded to the passenger door. “You have the key, sweetheart,” he said, patiently standing and waiting.
“Listen!” Carrie put her hands out as if to stop any further conversation. “First off, I am not your sweetheart. And second, if by any chance you think you just may have gotten lucky tonight–”
“Whoa, whoa now.” Ray was truly mystified at the turn events were taking. “Not that I wouldn’t be honored and damn well pleased, but I sure as heck wasn’t thinkin’ along those lines…and truth be told, you know, I’m hardly up to it.” He considered this for a second, a fog clearing for a moment’s view of the road. “And I don’t mean I need Viagra either.” He noted her staring at the key as if it might turn into something else. “No, it doesn’t open automatically,” he informed her at last.
She shoved the key into the handle and got the door open, climbed up into the cab and reached across to unlock the door for him. Her gaze ran over the dashboard, uncertainty scrunching her face like a bitter fruit.
Ray folded himself into the passenger seat and slouched back, tipping his hat over his eyes. “Just let me know when you give up. I’ll be right here, darl…” Yeah, better not. He could almost feel her indignation, listening as she squirmed around and adjusted the seat.
“It’ll be a cold day in hell, mister, before I give up!” The key turned and the truck sputtered to life, then died again.
“You ever drive manual before?” he mumbled from under his Stetson, and sensed Carrie eyeing him. “That’s what I thought,” he answered to her lack of response. “Put your foot on the clutch, move her into first, release the brake, and get goin’, slowly releasing the clutch.”
“Who the hell drives stick shift anymore?” she muttered as she followed his terse instructions. The truck lurched forward as she spun it off the grass toward the road.
“Right,” Ray directed, feeling suddenly nauseous with the pitch of the car. Bile rising, he opened the door and spat before yanking it shut again. “Can you get the damn thing into second? Foot on the clutch, move the shift and let’s go if we’re going.”
“Fine! You don’t have to yell at me.”
Ray sat up, shoved his hat back from his eyes and glared at her, reining in his frustration and anger. “I was not yelling at you, but you know dang well we’d be far safer with me drivin’. As it is, I’m gonna need a new transmission.”
The truck staggered again. “I know no such thing.” She bent forward to swipe at the windscreen to clear it. “We haven’t got seatbelts on,” she murmured.
“We’re not going fast enough to need them.”
Carrie ignored his last remark and appeared to concentrate on keeping the truck moving. It sputtered again, and Ray let out a sigh of resignation just as flashing blue lights appeared in the side mirror. She pulled over, and the motor unceremoniously died.
“Damn!” she cursed, reaching down for her bag at Ray’s feet. “Let me get my license.”
You Can Buy Dances of the Heart at:
Bio: Andrea Downing likes to say that when she decided to do a Masters Degree, she made the mistake of turning left out of New York, where she was born, instead of right to the west, and ended up in the UK. She eventually married there, raising a beautiful daughter and staying for longer than she cares to admit. Teaching, editing a poetry magazine, writing travel articles, and a short stint in Nigeria filled those years until in 2008 she returned to NYC. She now divides her time between the city and the shore, and often trades the canyons of New York for the wide open spaces of Wyoming. Family vacations are often out west and, to date, she and her daughter have been to some 20 ranches throughout the west. Loveland, her first book, was a finalist for Best American Historical at the 2013 RONE Awards. Lawless Love, a short story, part of The Wild Rose Press ‘Lawmen and Outlaws’ series, was a finalist for Best Historical Novella at the RONE Awards and placed in the 2014 International Digital Awards Historical Short contest. Dearest Darling, a novella, is part of The Wild Rose Press Love Letters series, and came out Oct. 8th, 2014, and Dances of the Heart, her first contemporary novel, came out in February, 2015.
You can find Andrea at: