Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Challenges of Writing a Series

Part One of my Interview with Christine Amsden


Dora Machado

Have you ever considered writing a series? I have. Oh, wait. I did! LOL. I just finished reading Secrets and Lies and Mind Games by Christine Amsden, books two and three of the Cassie Scot: Paranormal Detective series. I was impressed by Christine's ability to draw from the strengths of her first book to build a compelling series. In her interview today, Christine talks about the challenges of building a successful series.

Hi Christine and welcome to MB4.

Hi! Thanks for having me here.

Cassie Scot is the non-magically gifted daughter of a family of powerful sorcerers. In a magical world, she has to rely on her smarts to make a living, and most importantly, to survive. What is it about Cassie that makes her such a compelling character? How did you come up with her character? What parts of Cassie do you like most? What parts of her vex you?

I think Cassie works because she's genuine. I put a lot of myself in her, to be honest. Oh, she's not me, but she's definitely got my voice. I came up with her in a burst of inspiration one day – I knew my next story needed to be about an awesome character. Characters draw me into my favorite stories, after all. But what could I do to make a character unique? Cool magical powers have been done to death, and even if I could come up with a new one, that just didn't have the right oomph. Then it hit me – she's got NO magic. In a world of magic (which I then had to create – Cassie came first), my character doesn't have any.

I love Cassie because she's so relatable. I myself often feel like I'm out of my depth in a world of special abilities – I'm legally blind. The comparison struck me early on, but it's not why I wrote her. I wrote her because any one of us can be a hero in some small way and Cassie is the embodiment of that.

Cassie is also young and impetuous. She does not make all the right choices all the time. I suppose if anything vexes me about her, that's it, although I submit that she's 21 and we all make mistakes at 21. (Of course, now that I'm 36, I'm done making mistakes! :) )

When and how did you come to the conclusion that Cassie deserved more than a book, an entire series?

Pretty early, actually. As soon as the idea hit me I started brainstorming, and within a week I had several books’ worth of material. It wasn't just mysteries (although I came up with a few more possibilities than I ended up writing), but Cassie's character arc. It was that arc, I felt, which needed a series. Most of the first book takes place in less than a week – enough time to have an impact, given the traumatic events that take place, but not enough time to really grow into the woman she needs to be. She wasn't going to have a sudden awakening in a week and think, “Oh, well, I solved this paranormal mystery so now I'm okay then!” She has to earn her happily ever after.

How is writing a series more challenging than writing a book and vice versa?

With a series, you have more facts to keep track of, and depending upon the publication schedule, you may be stuck with decisions you made earlier in the series that you later regret. (I got around this with Cassie Scot because I had all four books at least drafted before the first one was published – I was able to go back and make sure it all worked. But I'm working on two spin-offs now that have me shackled to earlier decisions.)

But the series makes character development easier. It's hard to earn real character change over the course of a single adventure.

In your opinion, what are the elements that make a series successful?

Character. Character. Character.

My favorite series have characters who rise to new challenges, and learn or grow from each encounter. Series that go on “too long” (an entirely subjective metric) usually do so because something has stagnated – often the character. For example, I stopped reading Sookie Stackhouse early on because Sookie never really evolved, IMO. She faced new challenges in each book, but she remained essentially the same. On the other hand, Harry Dresden is on book, what? Fourteen? Fifteen? I don't mind, I'm ready for the next one!

Awesome. Thank you so much for talking to us today, Christine. MB4 readers: Much more about series writing and Christine's journey next week. Until then, enjoy your summer and have a wonderful week. D.

Christine Amsden has been writing science fiction and fantasy for as long as she can remember. She loves to write and it is her dream that others will be inspired by this love and by her stories. At the age of 16, Christine was diagnosed with Stargardt’s Disease, a condition that affects the retina and causes a loss of central vision. She is now legally blind, but has not let this slow her down or get in the way of her dreams. Christine currently lives in the Kansas City area with her husband, Austin, who has been her biggest fan and the key to her success. They have two beautiful children, Drake and Celeste.



Dora Machado is the award-winning author of the epic fantasy Stonewiser series and her newest novel, The Curse Giver, available from Twilight Times Books. She grew up in the Dominican Republic, where she developed a fascination for writing and a taste for Merengue. After a lifetime of straddling such compelling but different worlds, fantasy is a natural fit to her stories. When she is not writing fiction, Dora also writes features for Murder By Four, an award winning blog for readers and writers and Savvy Authors, where writers help writers. She lives in Florida with her indulgent husband and two very opinionated cats.


Terry W. Ervin II said...

You mentioned a story arc. Does this mean that a reader needs (or probably should) start with the first book in the series and work through, as opposed to being able to pick up the 2nd or 3rd book and start reading about Cassie and her mystery adventures?

Unknown said...

Great interview! I'm looking forward to reading the rest of Cassie's story!

Unknown said...

Having read works from both of these wonderful authors, I really enjoyed this. Thank you so much for sharing!

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Hi, Christine and Dora! I am currently listening to Mind Games, and loving getting back into Cassie's life. Thanks for a wonderful interview, both of you. And happy writing!