My special guest today is author Josh Lanyon. Josh writes for several publishers including Loose Id and MLR Press.
I read one of Josh’s books early this year, enjoyed it very much, and since I’m a huge mystery fan, I immediately went off to download the first in Josh’s Adrien English series. I loved this story so much that I purchased the rest of the series and read them one after the other. That’s the great thing about discovering a new author with an established series–being able to enjoy all the books without waiting!
I’m now eagerly awaiting the August release of Death of a Pirate King, the fourth story in the Adrien English series. And all this brings me neatly to the topic of the day–writing a series.
Hello. I’m Josh Lanyon. I write gay or M/M romance — usually within the context of a mystery or a crime story. I’m best known as the author of the Adrien English mystery series — although you may know me through Man, Oh Man: Writing M/M Fiction for Kinks and Ca$h. This is my first time at Shelley’s blog — and I’d like to thank her for inviting me.
When Shelley invited me to guest blog, she mentioned a number of terrific topics, and one of those topics was on developing a series. I wrote Fatal Shadows, the first Adrien English mystery over a decade ago. When I started the novel, I had no intention of writing a series. Adrien — a thirty-something bookseller with a weak heart — is not exactly the kind of protagonist who typically lends himself to series success. In fact, in that first mystery novel, I initially toyed with the idea of making Adrien the killer. I thought the cop antagonist might let Adrien off — or Adrien’s weak heart might finish him. But as I wrote the character, as the character developed — as characters typically do through the writing process — I realized that Adrien was too stable and had too strong a sense of humor to resort to murder. I just couldn’t believe he was guilty, and I knew if I couldn’t believe it, the reader wouldn’t.
By the end of the novel, I knew I liked Adrien English enough — and that there was sufficient depth to the character — to make him worth exploring through other stories. And this, I think, is one of the key things in deciding to write a series. A successful series has a character arc.
While each book should be complete in itself, the best series — certainly, the best contemporary series — also have an over-arching storyline. And that storyline is ideally connected to the growth of the main protagonist.
A successful series protagonist is a special kind of animal. In general, especially in genre fiction, readers want to like the main character. So the character has to be engaging enough to appeal to a wide range of readers. If you’re going to tie yourself down to writing a series, you have to have a pretty good shot at the character proving popular with a lot of readers — because while a flawed, and even unlikable, character can intrigue readers for the course of a novella or a stand-alone novel, following someone’s adventures book after book for years generally requires more of a reader investment.
And this is tricky for writers. We tend to love our main characters. We tend to think any character we create is going to prove good for the long haul. And that’s simply not the case. Readers take more strongly to some characters than others. Very frankly, I’ve never had any character appeal to readers the way Adrien does. Though all my characters spring from the same source, there’s something different about the way Adrien’s stars aligned. Readers love him. They rejoice at his triumphs, and they hold serious grudges against those who hurt him.
The best thing a writer can do is listen to feedback from readers — as well as a trusted editor — as to whether a character is strong enough to carry a series. I don’t advise writing three books about a character in a series you haven’t sold yet. But if you truly believe in that character…follow your heart.
A series protagonist has to be complex enough and interesting enough to carry the series — meaning several books. Which means the character can’t be too perfect, and certainly can’t have everything he wants, or there’s no growth. The character’s growth is his journey and the journey has to take place over several books.
The Adrien English books are mysteries, so in each story Adrien solves a crime, but the over-arching storyline is Adrien’s quest for true love — that weak heart of his is symbolic of his quest. In the series Adrien falls for a closeted LAPD homicide detective. Adrien makes some unwise choices and contributes to his own problems — and that’s where the journey comes in. But the journey is what interests readers and keeps them coming back for more. Before you set out on that long journey, choose your companion wisely.
I Spy Something Bloody is Josh’s next release. This book is a standalone and is out on June 24 in e-format from Loose Id and also in print from MLR Press. To find out more about Josh’s books and news of upcoming releases visit his website at www.joshlanyon.com