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30 May 2016

Series writing - Continuity & Change


My new release London Gambit ends with a major game changer that pretty much guarantees that at least the next novella and novel in the series will take place out of Britain. This opens a lot of intriguing new options I’m excited to explore. But it also means that not all the ensemble cast will be present. Over the course of the series that cast has grown. I like large casts of characters, so from the first the series focused not just on married agents Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch but on their family and friends (not to mention enemies). And as the series has gone on, new characters who were part of one story have become key parts of the ensemble.


For instance, Harry and Cordelia Davenport. I added them four books back because i realized I needed a soldier character in Imperial Scandal, which focused on the battle of Waterloo. And with the tangled marriage and competing loyalties of my central characters, Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch, it seemed thematically appropriate for Harry to have an estranged wife. I knew Harry and Cordelia would become friends of the Rannochs and appear in subsequent books in the series, but I didn’t quite realize that they would become the Rannochs’ best friends and major ongoing characters who are an integral part of each investigation. Looking back, it’s hard to imagine the series, or Malcolm’s and Suzanne’s lives, without Harry and Cordelia.



I love ensemble series, in books and on television. I love getting to a whole group characters and returning to a familiar world. As an author, I love exploring their ongoing interactions. But there’s no denying that as the cast grows, it can tricky to work such a large cast into each story. So in a sense it's refreshing to have a new locale with new people for Malcolm and Suzanne to interact with, and not to have to constantly think "but this character would be there." Or "they would go to that character for help." Even when all the ensemble cast doesn't appear in a book, I feel I have to account for where they are. With the next book, they will simply be "in Britian."

And yet-- Already I find myself missing Malcolm and Suzanne's friends and family as much as they do. Already I'm working on ways to bring at least some of them into the next story.

How do you feel about ensemble series? Do you enjoy a large cast of continuing characters? Do you like it when a change of scene limits the cast, at least for a book or so, or do you miss your old friends?







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01 May 2016

London Gambit






My new book London Gambit, which is out this Thursday, May 5, is a book I had looked forwards to writing for a long time. But it is also a book I hesitated to write. Or rather, I had known for a long time that the major  plot twist it contains would occur at some point in the Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch series, but when I decided that plot twist belonged in this book, I wasn’t sure I wanted to go through with it. The book is set in June 1818, three years after the battle of Waterloo. The denouement of the book takes place on the third anniversary of the battle. Echoes of Waterloo and the Napoleonic wars run through the story. It’s a time when, despite victory, many still feared Bonapartist plots, when economic hardship fostered discontent in Britain, when the Bourbon restoration was far from secure in France, and Spain teetered on the brink of revolution.

London Gambit
begins with two seemingly unconnected mysteries. Former British spy and M.P. Malcolm Rannoch is summoned to a shipping warehouse where the run-away nephew of a friend has stumbled across a dead body. On the same night, Malcolm’s wife Suzanne is called away from a Mayfair party to assist a wounded man who has slipped out of Paris one step ahead of Royalist pursuit. In fever-wracked delirium, the man warns Suzanne of a plot to rescue Napoleon Bonaparte from exile on the island of St. Helena. A plot that could bring chaos to Suzanne’s life, for though now married to the grandson of a British duke, she was once an agent for Bonaparte herself. Before she can ask further questions, the man disappears into the London night.




photo: Raphael Coffey

These two mysteries intersect in unexpected ways and shake Malcolm and Suzanne’s world. The end of the book shifts the board the series is played on. Malcolm and Suzanne’s lives, and those of the other central series characters, will never be the same. As I said above, I had been writing towards this development in the series for sometime, but when I got to the point, I wasn’t sure I really wanted to go through with it. I love my characters, and I felt as though I was being mean to them. I was, perhaps, reluctant to leave the somewhat settled world of the series as I knew it. And yet, that very settled nature was precisely why this was the right time for this plot twist. I considered changing or softening it, but in the end I went through with it as envisioned. I’m glad I did - I’m very excited to explore the new possibilities it opens up for the series (I’m already in the midst of writing the next novella and planning the next novella). But reading over the galleys, I still felt a pang for my characters. Which, as a writer friend pointed out, is probably a sign that I made the right decision.

Writers, have you ever hesitated to write a particular plot twist? Readers, how do you feel about “game  changers” that shake up a series?

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