Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Guest Blogger Erica Orloff

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

One of the best things about blogging is reading other people's blogs. When I ran across Erica Orloff's blog, I hit a gold mine. She knows writing and she is a help to those of us who struggle to write. Her book Magickeepers: The Eternal Hourglass (written under the name Erica Kirov) left me waiting for the next two books. I want to know what happens!

Welcome to Erica Orloff.

The Series Question

Thanks to Joe for having me. I remember his dropping by my blog, and when I followed his link, I was fascinated by his book—which I have now read. The setting is one of those completely original places . . . the characters heroic and heart-breaking. Off-line, before gusting here, Joe and I talked about writing series . . . .

Every writer has a method. If you ask my family, they will say I have a method to my madness. After all, I have characters who wake me in the middle of the night to reveal plot points to me mid-dream. Sounds mad all right.

However, I have never been an outliner. I have a different “method.” Instead, I’ve thought of my stories as arcs. Each one has a “big picture.” A beginning, a middle, an end.

But recently, I started my first fantasy series. In the Magickeepers, the series as a whole has an arc—the characters at the start of book I, and where they will be at the final book. But then each book within the series has an arc—a trajectory of its own.

I know when writers dream of selling a series, it’s one of those things that are probably viewed as one of the best sales that can happen to an author. And believe me . . . I was delighted to sell a series. To know that, no matter what, I had at LEAST a three-book gig.

However, it has definitely been tricky. Each book has to stand alone—though in fantasy for middle-grade readers, I also need to include enough of the mythology in each book so new readers can catch up to what’s gone before. All that without just dumping back story . . . and without boring readers who have read the first one and have been anxiously awaiting the second. I think it’s a little different in a mystery series for adults where there’s an expectation that a sentence or two of back story for each main character will bring you up to speed.

It’s definitely a balancing act as I am up to my eyeballs in book II’s writing. And the only way I’ve even been able to approach it has been to have an overarching arc in my mind—an umbrella over the entire series.

Anyone else tackling a series? Dreamed of tackling one? Favorite series of any genre?


Jude Hardin said...

I like James Lee Burke's Dave Robicheaux, Laura Lippman's Tess Monaghan, Patterson's Alex Cross, Loren D. Estleman's Amos Walker, Andrew Vachss' Burke...

But I've never been one to read an author's series books in any particular order, so, for me, it's important that each book works as a standalone. That's the way I intend to approach Nicholas Colt, if book #1 finds a publisher. The first book is completely self-contained, but there's just a hint of potential future trouble looming just in case I'm fortunate enough to write a sequel.

Mark Terry said...

I love serieses(?), no doubt, but I've wondered some over the years just how easily it is--for me, at least--to get sort of burned out writing them. I didn't always feel that way, but increasingly for me it feels like discovering the new characters helps me as a writer.

It makes me understand Stephen King and Dick Francis and David Morrell better, people who have had little or few adventures into repeat characters.

Erica Orloff said...

Me, too (not reading in order).


LurkerMonkey said...

I definitely agree there's a difference between kid's series and adult series. Adult series are often built around recurring characters, but the books themselves do not represent one cohesive plot arc. Although the character might have changes in his or her life, it's not actually a plot.

With kid's series, the series represents a single story broken up into chunks (and adult fantasy, too, I suppose). In my perfect world, the end of the last book should be contained in the beginning of the first. And then, yeah, each one has to be a stand-alone story also. I'm working on a series like this and I've definitely worked out an outline ... but to some degree, I'm also finding that world-creation is almost as important. The world has to be fully realized to allow for changes in the plot as you go, in case something doesn't work. So in that sense, there's a lot of pre-work that goes into it. I once read that Rowling said it was more important to figure out what characters COULDN'T do with magic rather than what they COULD.

Joe Barone said...

I have to laugh. This morning I wrote Erica and asked her if she would send me her email replies to your comments so I could post them. I was so stupid it didn't occur to me she could just post. Live and learn.

Erica Orloff said...

For me, nearly all series rely on the secondary characters. I have to love them.

Erica Orloff said...

I am finding that out. I have a plot point (which I wrote you about) that I am now not sure of. But I think if the worldbuilding is complete enough, I can fudge it.

P.S. And in my story bible, I have all the "can't" do stuff versus the can. Like they cannot heal people of human ailments. SPELLS, yes. But they cannot heal diseases of any sort or real death.

Erica Orloff said...



Mark Terry said...

There's a guy here in Michigan, Jonathan Rand, who is a very successful author of books for kids called first, Michigan Chillers, and now expanding to American Chillers. (It's never been clear to me if he's self-published, but the publisher is local). In-state this guy's huge, I don't know how he's down outside Michigan.

Anyway, with the Michigan Chillers, at least, the last chapter invariably has the main character from the current book meeting somebody and saying something like, "You won't believe what I went through in Petoskey..." (with titles like Poltergeists in Petoskey and Dinosaurs in Detroit, etc). And the new kids say, "Yeah? But you won't believe what happened when I was in Detroit..."

It worked. Kids of a certain age line up for the next book. I've always thought it was interesting how, philosophically speaking, the series moved backwards.

spyscribbler said...

I agree with Lurker in that adult and children's series are different, and what he said about the end and the beginning. :-)

I think Edie nailed it in her post at Magical Musings today: character is the glue.

My first series was a positive disaster. I could hardly write when I accidentally started it, LOL. My second series was better, and continues to sell well, but if I could go back, there are a few things I'd change. My third one is my favorite and probably the best stories I've ever written, and I'm looking forward to starting a new one. I love series. I have a hard time picturing myself writing a stand-alone.

Erica Orloff said...

That actually sounds really cool.

Erica Orloff said...

I would like to eventually continue the Billie Quinn series--and for me to sell it to a different publisher, I would likely have to make Lewis the main character (tough to sell a third book from another publisher) and approach it differently. And for me, it was ALL about the characters.


Melanie Avila said...

Erica, I hadn't thought about the additional challenges to a MG series. The technique Mark mentions makes sense, and I guess if you build the series that way, readers will come to expect it. It reminds me of the show Quantum Leap, where the last two minutes of every episode dropped him in a new place and he'd say "Oh no," or something to that effect.

Erica Orloff said...

Jon really summarizes the MG challenge. When I started the series, I knew how it was going to end--whether it was three books or five or a hundred books--I know where it ends. But some things I had planned to happen are not going to. For example, I was going to kill off a major character. Now I can't. I simply can't . . . love him too much. So I'm handling it differently, and I actually like it better . . . shades of King Arthur.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Being a science fiction nut, I read a lot of series. Some authors create worlds and play in them forever, going backwards and forwards through time, filling in the 'real' story on legends mentioned in another book. Then the have individual series within that Universe. Some, like David Weber, have a very successful set of books, like the Honor Harrington series, and then write in that same place about different characters and it doesn't work for me. I love Honor and will read about her until the day I die (if he'd just write some more), but these others in the same place without Honor? They don't give me the anchor I came to associate with that place. He has come out with another that the MC is one of his stronger secondary characters from that series and I'm thinking it'll be different because I know that character and like her.

I'm considering a series. Right now, my thoughts are leaning to having the second book be from a different character's POV. Not sure that'll work, but I might still try it and see how it goes.

Started Magickeepers last night (with the awesome prologue!) and zipped through 5 or 6 chapters before turning off the light. I'm hooked, of course.

Erica Orloff said...

I don't read sci-fi--but I totally hear you. I don't generally like switching POV or characters in a series. I don't "get" that as a series technique personally, since I am usually so invested in the character I like.

And glad you are enjoying the book. :-)

Solvang Sherrie said...

How wonderful that you fell in love with a major character and now you don't want to kill him off! My son (he's 9) gets so mad when authors kill off people he likes. He's still mourning Sirius Black! We're looking forward to reading Magickeepers.

Erica Orloff said...

Hi Sherrie:
Gosh, I LOVED Sirius. And I adore Gary Oldman . . . so I doubly mourn him!!!!

J.T Wilbanks said...

Even as a young author, I can see that clearly, I'm a series person inside and out. I have about fifteen ideas on file and I can't see any of them being stand alones.

For the Nameless series I have four books planned, all taking place over the course of about a year in Piper's life, after that I'm pretty positive that I'm going to change to the POV of her best friend Esmay, seeing as how Piper's most interesting story comes to a close.

I have to read a series in order, it messes around with my brain if I don't.

As of now I'm in the middle of the third book in the FableHaven series, and loving it to death. Rich in imagination and filled with wittyness(Is that a word?). I can see that MagicKeepers is going to be something like that...


Joe Barone said...

Thanks to all of you. You people blew my numbers out of the water. I've had more hits than ever before.

I hope people will keep posting and Erica will keep answering. But I wanted to do what my mother always told me I should do. Be grateful and say thanks. --Joe.

Helen said...

You finally did something your Mother told you to do!!!! LOL I can just hear her saying that!! Have a great day - love you!!

Erica Orloff said...

Piper sounds like an interezsting person. I say person and not character because she sounds very real.


Joe Barone said...

Helen, Always great to hear from you. One of the great things about the blog is that we keep in touch a little.