Hello, I’m Lou Hoffmann, today is the 21st and that means it’s my day blog on Anne Barwell’s Drops of Ink. This month I had no trouble at all coming up with a topic I wanted to write about, and that’s a good thing because I’m writing this on the 21st—truly on deadline!
The topic: Types of novel series.
The main question: How do the dots connect?
As I’m hoping at least some of you readers know, what I do is write YA fiction. Right now, I’m working on book three of my first published series, The Sun Child Chronicles. book one, Key of Behliseth, came out in 2014, and (after too long of a delay) the second book, Wraith Queen’s Veil is slated for October 6, this year.
Book three is called Ciarrah’s Light. Before I get started on the real subject, here’s a tiny factoid about that title. Ciarrah (pronounced Key-(a)-rah) is derived from an Irish name meaning dark or black. In the books, it’s the name of a tool and talisman, a knife made of obsidian. While the reader is introduced to the knife in book one, until the latter part of book two, after our hero Lucky has gained possession of it, it is only known as the Black Blade. After seeing some of the things it can do, it may not be clear whether that nickname refers only to its color, or perhaps to a dark, dangerous nature.
Back to the real topic—series types. Just as a quick summary, speaking not of genre or style but how the stories rare strung together. There are, I assure you, scholarly articles and books on this subject, and this is not that. I’m only going to point out how different series types work for the reader, using my own brass tacks nomenclature. Then I’m going to show you where The Sun Child Chronicles fits into the scheme, and show you how that works. What good is all this? Well, maybe to help make reading (or writing) choices. As a young reader, I had no idea why some books left me in complete darkness even though I read them end to end. Some, of course, I just wasn’t experienced enough to get. (I read Harold Robbins The Adventurers and Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress both at about age fourteen.) Setting those aside, though, I now know the reason some perfectly understandable stories remained a mystery to me is because they fit into category one.
Category One: The Must-Read-in-Order series: Honestly, this type is not a series at all but one long story broken into multiple books. The individual volumes don’t have any true ending, and the next book picks up just where the other left off, with no preface to catch the reader up, and no effort to get information about earlier events in the story to the reader as progress. If you want to understand the story, start with book one and don’t skip around. Such a series—more properly called a cycle or a trilogy, duology, quintology, etc., is conceived by the author (and sometimes written) as one long tale and divided into book-sized chunks. Lord of the Rings pops right into my mind as a very good example of this. If you want to know why Frodo and Sam are in Mordor and how they got there, you have to read the first two books. A very good more recent example is Patrick Rothfuss Kingkiller Chronicles
Category Two: The It-Doesn’t-Matter-Where-You Start type series is usually episodic, meaning every story is complete within itself, and though based on one or more characters that play a starring role in every book, and who may grow over time, it doesn’t much hamper your understanding or enjoyment if you start at book three, read book six next, and never read book one. Most detective series fall into this category. You can pick up Miss Marple or Inspector Poirot anywhere and really not miss a thing. I should mention that one other series species fits here too, the kind where the books string together with a different rope altogether. Instead of having one MC all the way through, the commonality is an idea, a location, an era… you get the idea. Cardeno C’s Home series falls into this, as do Andrew Grey’s Love Means (both pub’d by Dreamspinner Press) books. These can be wonderful on your reading list, because you revisit the theme and the author’s style, but I’m not sure they should be called series. I’d call them collections, however they are marketed under the “series” umbrella all the time.
Category Three: Read-In-Order-If-You-Can series are my personal favorite. Each book in such a series has a discrete ending, even though usually the reader is put on alert that future shenanigans are on the way, and is also made aware that the story they just finished is only part of the “big” story the author wants to tell them. In each subsequent book, the reader is given enough information to know the basic story of what went before, sometimes via a preface, but usually woven into the new story. To get the most out of the series, it’s best read start to finish, but a reader can comfortably pick up the tale in one of the middle books and still understand what’s happening.
I had a lot of trouble thinking of YA series in each of these categories, so I asked Anne Regan, editor at Harmony Ink Press. True to form, she came through! She gave me the following examples from the Harmony Ink catalog.
Series that need to be read in order:
James Erich’s Dreams of Fire & Gods
Amy Lane’s Bitter Moon Saga
“Episodic” series – same “universe” but stories stand alone:
John Goode’s Tales from Foster High
Jo Ramsey’s Deep Secrets and Hope
Series with same characters but standalone stories in an ongoing “universe”:
Jay Jordan Hawke’s Two-Spirit Chronicles
MC Lee’s The Center series
(Thank you, Anne Regan!)
I’ve given considerable attention to making The Sun Child Chronicles a category three series. So many times in my life as a reader, I’ve picked up book two and become completely enthralled with the series because the author made sure I knew what was happening. One way this happens in Wraith Queen’s Veil is by means of a recap taking place in the main character’s mind. The most straightforward example occurs right at the beginning:
Lucky had made up his mind.
Finally, he’d decided it was time to leave Earth behind and head home. To Ethra, another world, the one he’d started out in. Though he’d turned fifteen a week ago, the three years he’d been away had seemed like his entire life, because he hadn’t a shred of memory of his childhood. That is, until the wizard Thurlock and the warrior Han Shieth had found him and all hell broke loose.
After that, he did have a shred of memory—even a few shreds, here and there. He’d remembered Han was his uncle, and he’d remembered his mother’s face. And he’d remembered his names, Luccan Elieth Perdhro—all but the fourth and most important one. He couldn’t have remembered that one, because he’d only heard it once on the day he was born.
But then Lucky had stood in the Witch-Mortaine Isa’s tower and fought her gruesome magic side by side with his father—whom he hadn’t remembered—and as the man lay dying, he’d given Lucky that final name.
“Mannatha,” he’d said. “It’s who you are. Luccan Elieth Perdhro, Mannatha, Suth Chiell.” Lucky’s cardinal name, a gift, but Lucky hadn’t known what it meant.
Thurlock had come to fight Isa with him, and Lucky had let himself breathe easy, expecting the amazing old man to take care of everything, but even powerful wizards apparently get tired, and in the end, he’d called on Lucky to do his part. With the Key of Behliseth and the wizard, Lucky had managed to pull a rabbit out of his hat just in time.
And by rabbit, I mean this weird… bubble in which we’re now flying through… something.
In their transport, round and seemingly made of golden light, Thurlock and he rode along in reasonable comfort. When he’d wanted to stop so he could think, the grumpy old wizard had said the thing was Lucky’s magic, and only Lucky could stop it.
And I did!
But because the plot of The Sun Child Chronicles is pretty complex, things happened in the book that readers might know about, but Lucky didn’t. This provided me with an opportunity to catch new readers up on past story events, but also a challenge. I had to tell the story in a new way that would keep familiar readers interested too! I put Lucky’s uncle, the warrior Han Shieth on a stage, recounting the story to grew up stodgy wizard curmudgeons in order to do that. Here’s a little of that:
Han paused his telling and looked out at his audience, all rapt at this point. He smiled. “If you ever want to know what it’s like to feel very, very small, ride behind Thurlock when he’s got his wizard on.” Once again he’d drawn laughter, mostly good-natured, from a somewhat hostile crowd. For the first time, Lucky realized that his uncle, besides being smart and stalwart, also had a great deal of charm. Some of the women in the audience—young and old—blushed and fiddled nervously with their hair. Lucky looked around surreptitiously and realized a number of the men seemed to have a similar reaction. Han caught Lucky’s eye and winked, as if he’d read his mind—which he probably had.
But on that day outside Isa’s tower, charm had not been called for. Only rock-hard determination could have gotten Han through. Thurlock had once again lifted his golden staff. Sherah reared up then and burst into full, flying stride.
Sherah didn’t hesitate to do what Thurlock asked, leaping on faith alone before the sisters’ bridge had even formed. She came down on the radiant stones that had just that instant been called into existence, her hooves raising sparks of gold from the surface.
Sahlamahn’s glimmering sapphire wings raised a dark wind as she trumpeted. Her breath chilled the whole area, enough so that Han could see the moisture in his breath cloud, then freeze into glitter before it disappeared. Seconds after Sherah planted her hooves in the middle of the span, the drake gave a mighty beat of her wings, pinned them to her sides, and rocketed straight toward them.
“I could barely breathe,” Han told the forum in Nedhra. “But Thurlock never flinched. He shouted to me when it was time to raise my shield against the dragon—”
A sudden bark of laughter from the assembly interrupted Han’s words, and though the guilty woman made every effort to pretend it was a spasm of coughing, every eye in the room turned toward her.
“Sahra-behl,” Han said, smiling. “Nice to see you here. I don’t blame you for finding the humor in that statement. The idea that my puny little shield could defend anyone against Sahlamahn—that’s a joke! Fortunately, that isn’t what Thurlock had in mind, and as it was a maneuver we’d long since perfected, I knew his plans.” He smiled and glanced around the hall. “I’m afraid I’m starting to bore many of you even more than usual, else that statement would have garnered more laughter. So I’m going to take you there.” His voice changed in timbre, and Lucky felt a strange tickle flow over his scalp, and then he wasn’t listening anymore. He was there, and he felt the presence of the entire assembly of scholars and wizards there with him. He saw what Han saw, felt what Han felt—they all did.
“Shield!” Thurlock shouted, his voice strong enough to be heard over the howling wind the drake had raised. Han knew the maneuver. He raised his dragonhide buckler toward the monster. Thurlock pointed his staff at her and spoke a brief incantation. A ball of light and power shot from the wizard’s staff and passed through Han’s warrior shield. Heat, thunder, and golden flames flashed forth and struck the beast. Her great, beautiful wings blazed, and the entire plain was filled with the smell of burning hide.
It’s my hope that you’re intrigued by Lucky’s worlds, and will keep an eye out for the release.
Here’s a blurb, in case you want to know a little more:
When Lucky arrives in Ethra, the world of his birth and destiny, he expects a joyful reunion, but the first thing he notices when he reaches the Sisterhold—his home—is something false behind his mother’s smile. In a matter of weeks, the Sisterhold becomes agitated with worries and war plans. People he trusts—like the wizard Thurlock—frequently can’t be found. His mother seems angry, especially with Lucky. Even Han Shieth, the warrior uncle he has come to rely on and love above all others, maintains a sullen silence toward him.
When Lucky’s resentment builds to the breaking point, his bad decisions put him and his friends, L’Aria and Zhevi, in unthinkable danger. Han arrives to help, but he can’t claim invulnerability to the hazards and evils that threaten at every turn. Events launch Lucky, alone, on a quest for he-knows-not what, but every step brings him closer to his identity and full strength. Self-knowledge, trust, and strength lead to smarter choices, but even his best efforts might not render his world truly safe, now or for the future.
In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you—please do tell me if you think of YA series thata fall into categories one and two. Remember all comments on my first three Drops of Ink Posts, starting in May and ending with this one will get you entered into my drawing for an e-book copy of Key of Behliseth. The winner will be announced in my August post and I’ll start the contest all over again.
Thanks so much for reading! And speaking of reading, let me leave you with this awesome quote:
“Books fall open, you fall in”
― David T.W. McCord