About a year ago, my friend Paul Shortt released his first novel, Locked Within. I participated in his blog tour then, and this year I have the pleasure of doing the same for Locked Within's sequel, Silent Oath. Today I have Paul here to talk about his experience with writing a series.
The Challenges of Writing a Series
As I’ve said before on this tour, I’d much rather read a
series than a standalone novel. There’s so much scope for varied
storylines and character development, that I always find I connect
more with characters once I know there’s more to read ahead.
Of course, writing a series presents its own challenges.
The obvious challenge is working out a story for your sequel. It’s
got to be different from the first, but not so out of left field that
it no longer feels like it belongs in the series. But in getting
through this stage, you soon realise that figuring out a plot was the
easiest part of the whole process.
You see, it’s not enough to just come up with a halfway decent
plotline. You also want to work out how your characters grow and
develop. How their world has changed due to their actions in the
previous book. How the events of the new book will set up events for
Unless you’re writing a series of standalone novels that just
feature the same characters, like a mystery writer may do at times,
you’re better off considering the series itself as a single story.
That way, you can be sure that the series will retain a cohesive arc,
and the characters can all grow together naturally.
Of course, sometimes you don’t expect to continue a story past
one book. Or, like me, you end up re-writing the next book in such a
way that you completely overhaul your previous ideas. In these
instances, you need to go back to the previous book(s) and really
look at the theme and tone, to see what can carry over most
naturally. That’s the key, you see. Making sure each installment
flows naturally from the last.
The Locked Within Trilogy started out life as a planned 6-book
series. I’m not sure why I figured 6 books was the ideal length. I
wanted a long series, but I was afraid of the books running on and
losing steam. So I put an arbitrary cap on how long I would allow the
series to become. In the end, however, I change it to a much more
Which brings me to the next problem often faced when writing a
series. Exactly how much do you think you can say about these
characters? If you commit to 5 books, but really you can only come up
with 2 or 3 books’ worth of story and character development, you
will damage your work by trying to stretch it further. Many authors
would love to make it big writing the next super-popular series,
releasing a dozen books and looking forward to offers of movie or tv
However in an awful lot of cases, we see readers become jaded as a
series drags on, or get so emotionally invested that no ending the
writer comes up with will satisfy them. The old saying still applies.
Kill your darlings, even if that darling is an entire book. I did it,
and I am so grateful to my publisher for it, because I know that this
trilogy is far stronger than it would have been if I’d stuck to my
Thanks, Paul! I know a lot of people (myself included) who are
writing, or thinking of writing, a series. I'm sure we all appreciate
the great comments!
If you would like to pick up Silent Oath for yourself, you can do
About the book
Hope has returned to New York City. Nathan Shepherd leads a small
band of dedicated fighters against the Council of Chains and the
city's supernatural masters. But it's not enough. Because from the
shadows of Nathan's former lives comes an old enemy, one who knows
terrible secrets that Nathan has not yet remembered, secrets that
could undo everything he has fought for.
Nathan's only chance to uncover the memories of his previous
existence, and to conquer these new forces of evil, lies in Elena
DeSantis. A woman he has fought beside in past lifetimes. A woman he
Together, Nathan and Elena are the only future the city has.
A child at heart who turned to writing and roleplaying games when
there simply weren't enough action figures to play out the stories he
wanted, Paul Anthony Shortt has been writing all his life. Growing up
surrounded by music, film and theatre gave him a deep love of all
forms of storytelling, each teaching him something new he could use.
When not playing with the people in his head, he enjoys cooking and
regular meet-ups with his gaming group.
Paul lives in Ireland with his wife Jen and their dogs, Pepper and
Jasper. Their first child, Conor William Henry Shortt, was born on
July 11th, 2011. He passed away three days later, but brought love
and joy into their lives and those of their friends. The following
year, Jen gave birth to twins, Amy and Erica, and is now expecting
their fourth child.
Paul's first novel, Locked Within, was released on November
6th, 2012, by WiDo Publishing. Silent Oath is the second
book in this urban fantasy trilogy.
You can connect with Paul on Facebook and Twitter: @PAShortt
Monday, October 14, 2013
Friday, September 27, 2013
If there's anyone out there who still doesn't know, I had a baby a couple months ago. So far he's pretty all-consuming, and since I like to keep family life private I haven't had much to blog about. But I thought maybe it was time to venture back into the blog, so here's a baby/writing compromise...
Three ways a first novel is like a first baby:
1. You can't sleep.
This is probably about the biggest cliché is the world: newborn = no sleep. But it's so true. I heard a statistic the other day that in the first year after having a baby, the average woman loses 41 days of sleep. I can believe it.
Writing a first book isn't nearly comparable, but there is still some sleep loss. Whether from lying awake because you're too excited about the plot twist that just jumped into your head, or from telling yourself "just one more scene" late into the night, sleeplessness happens.
2. You have no idea what you're doing.
People say all the time that "babies don't come with an instruction manual." Well actually, I have several sitting on a shelf, all by different well-meaning authors. But they all say completely different things. I guess each parent has to muddle through somehow.
Writing fiction is much the same. Advice doesn't grow on trees, but it does grow at an astounding rate online. And again, the advice is often conflicting. Fortunately, with a little experience and a lot of help from critique partners, your writing can improve. Maybe not in time for the first book, but you can always write more.
3. Everything is a mess.
To preserve my dignity I won't tell any specific stories, but I'm sure your imaginations (or your own experiences) will supply the relevant details. With a newborn, nothing stays clean for longer than two seconds.
A first novel is bound to be the same. Either the pacing is off, or you use too many adjectives (or not enough description), or your dialog sounds forced. The whole thing is a big, beautiful mess. But you're having too much fun to care.
And I guess babies are like that too. They may be messy. They might be awake when all you want to do is sleep. And you probably have no clue what you're doing. But that baby is yours and you love him no matter what.
One way books and babies are very different? You can go back and edit the novel. With parenting you only get one draft.
Monday, September 23, 2013
A while back I wrote a review for Jamie Gray's first published short story, Princess for Hire. Today I have the pleasure of doing a review for her first NOVEL. Ultraviolet Catastrophe comes out tomorrow! I'm so excited for Jamie, and I wish her and her book all the best.
Here is the review:
Lexie Kepler is smart... but not abnormally so. She's an average girl from an average divorced home who goes to an average public school. Even her ADHD is normal. She's nothing special.
Or that's what she thinks.
Turns out her ordinariness is completely contrived, all thanks to the drugs her parents have been pumping her with for years. The ADHD drugs? Not for ADHD. Instead they've been suppressing her intelligence. Without them, Lexie's IQ would be off the charts.
Dangerously so. Brains like hers make her a target for those who would use her for nefarious research purposes. And now all her parents' efforts to hide her are failing.
Lexie's only choice is to take refuge at Quantum High, a secret school for geniuses. Unfortunately for her, the lingering effects of the drugs make it hard to fit in. Add in a super hot crush, a new discovery that could either create a wormhole... or maybe cause an explosion worse than an atom bomb, and the death of a scientist under suspicious circumstances, and Lexie's ordinary life may not be quite so average ever again. Assuming she lives long enough to have any sort of life at all, that is.
"You know your life is never going to be the same when your mom pulls a gun at the shopping mall."
From the very first sentence, Ultraviolet Catastrophe by Jamie Grey is an action-rich adventure. It's a novel for geek girls everywhere, particularly those who like a little danger in their plots and a large dash of romance.
The charm of this book is in its unashamed affection for all things sci fi. Quantum High (along with the town it is set in) is an absolute delight. Ultraviolet Catastrophe is one of the few novels that makes me wish I could live in its setting, a place where robot librarians have a personality and hoverboards are an everyday affair. All the geeky details of Lexie's life made me smile, from the Albert Einstein action figure to the Dr. Who cookie jar to the nerdy t shirts worn by her crush, Asher Rosen.
I love the plot of the book as well. I was hooked by the idea of a wormhole machine that could, just maybe, be a weapon in disguise. Thrown in a murder mystery on the side, and this story is just the sort of fun adventure I'm looking for. The last few chapters are gripping, complete with suspenseful countdown.
And Jamie Grey does these things very well. Any time Lexie or someone she cares about is in danger, I'm riveted to the story. Not only that, but Jamie deftly escorts the reader through the tricky bits of physics without any bit of confusion. Anyone could tell just by reading the book how much she loves science, and her enthusiasm is catching.
The book does have a few flaws. For me Lexie's relationship with Asher was too much a focus of the book and detracted from the rest of the plot. Lexie spends most of the book distracted by Asher's good looks, but determined to avoid a relationship, which comes across as playing a long game of hard-to-get. This dynamic may be too familiar for some readers.
Likewise, Lexie's sullenness toward her parents and general flare for drama were a little too expected. She certainly had good reason to be angry, but at times her attitude felt overdone.
Nevertheless, the book is an engaging romp through the fields of quantum physics. I highly recommend it. It's a strong debut, and I look forward to many more novels to come from Jamie Grey.
Friday, May 31, 2013
Surprise! I have not actually disappeared from the face of the planet. And, having been gone so long, I do have rather a lot of news.
So sometimes really great and unexpected things happen. Sometimes, because you've been wanting them a while, finally getting them is a bit of a shock, and you're afraid that any mention of them happening might jinx them.
So you wait, and you see how things will go. Time passes. You reach the point where you should probably say something, but by then not saying anything is habit. But you don't want to post anything nonchalant, because inside all you can think is "Big news! Big news! Big news!" And then life gets really really crazy and all thought of blogging goes right out the window.
Well, here's me finally making my big announcement:
Over seven months pregnant, in fact. I'm so very excited, and I've been meaning to share this news for a while now. But then I couldn't figure out quite how I wanted to say it, and by the time I decided I'd just say it, the other big thing was happening.
And so, for announcement number two:
My husband and I have moved into a lovely new house!
This was rather a necessary step in order to accommodate the impending child. It also meant a lot of work, first with packing, and then with moving, and then with unpacking and painting and getting new appliances and repairing the broken fridge, and now, most recently, taking care of a pest problem.
So, if you have happened to wonder where I've been the last several months, well, to recap:
- new house!
It's a good life.
Friday, February 22, 2013
Do you believe that people can truly change for the better?
For many people the idea of redemption is integral to religion or personal philosophy. In the context of novels, however, I'm becoming convinced that a book's flavor depends a lot on whether the author has an underlying belief in redemption.
Based on their books I would guess that some authors don't subscribe to that philosophy. I would say they are probably more of the mind that people do change, frequently, but not necessarily for good or ill. They simply become a different version of themselves through age and circumstance. And I understand the thought behind that idea. All of us face choices every day; sometimes we make good decisions and sometimes not. Nobody is always good or always bad.
But other authors, whether they realize it or not, very clearly do believe in redemption. Any story about "the power of love" or about a hero whose internal convictions overcome negative circumstance is, in my view, a story of positive change. Obviously any tale of a villain seeing the error of his ways and making a change is a redemption story. (And now all I can think of is Despicable Me.)
Personally I'm a sucker for redemption stories. I love to watch someone who is flawed become less flawed through the conflicts that arise in a story. I love to see that internal struggle as an anti-hero recognizes his shortcomings and determines to change.
This is one of the reasons I'm loving the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor. It is, in essence, about two people who desperately seek redemption, but whose circumstances constantly make that goal harder and harder to reach. It's a long, painful road to redemption, and they don't always make the right choices. Their ultimate success is not guaranteed (and with the series still in progress, it's impossible to know for certain what will happen). And yet they are trying, and there is hope.
It's difficult to say what exactly the books are about without giving away too much of the story. I can say this much: they're about a blue-haired girl living in Prague who is an art student on the surface, but who has a secret life collecting teeth on the side for the monsters who raised her. Intrigued? Just wait. There's so much more to the story.
It's a totally fascinating series, with a gripping plot and characters who feel very tangible. It's creative and stunning and beautiful. Best of all, it explores this in-depth struggle for redemption in ways which I've seen few other YA books do.
So what about you? Do you like redemption stories? What are your favorites?