OPINION: Writing a series is lazy writing to cash in on gullible people!

Recently, a discussion on GoodReads was started by a reader who loved stand-alone books, but every book he was offered seemed to be part of a series. The thread quickly turned ‘anti-series’ with complaints about sequels being less good than the first novel, stories become repetitive, single volume books being enlarged to fill several volumes to make more money from gullible readers, writers becoming too lazy to invent new characters, and so on.

As I write a suspense fiction series, I want to address these issues in this blog article.

When I wrote Reprobate, I had some excellent ideas for additional plot lines that would explore other sides of the freelance assassin protagonist, so I decided to develop the Amsterdam Assassin Series as a series of stand-alone novels and short stories that have the same characters but enjoying one book does not rely on having read the other books/stories. No cliffhangers beyond readers want to know what will happen next in the lives of the protagonists.

As to the concerns addressed in the GoodReads thread:

“Can’t you put just everything in one book?”

No. The books are all over 100K and all have a different theme. The first book, Reprobate, deals with the protagonist breaking her own rules and the consequences. The second book, Peccadillo, has criminals trying a hostile takeover of her legitimate business, unaware that they’re dealing with an assassin. In the third book, Rogue, Katla comes to the attention of global intelligence communities when she kills the wrong target. I’m currently working on the fourth novel, Ghosting, which will show yet another side of the character.

“The first book is mostly good, but the rest is repetitive crap.”

Most reviewers agree that the second book is superior to the first book. I just published the third novel. Feedback from the beta-readers convince me that Rogue is both different from Peccadillo and Reprobate, but just as interesting and entertaining. Just because some people force themselves to turn a stand-alone book into a series doesn’t mean every series writer succumbs to this laziness.

“You write a series to cash in.”

If I wanted to cash in, I’d write short novels in a hot genre, not suspense fiction about a freelance assassin in Amsterdam. And as I sell somewhere around 30-60 books per month, I’m not ‘cashing in’. If I listened to ‘market experts’ I would abandon the series due to the meagre sales. However, I do have fans who want to know what happens to the protagonists and are eager for future books (check my reviews), so I just ignore the sales and keep on writing what I love to write.

“Series are just fluff/sugar coated candy/throwaway books.”

My series is pretty dark, which is quite normal for a suspense fiction series with a freelance assassin protagonist. I’ve been praised for the brief instances of wit that lighten the mood and ground the story in reality. In keeping with the need for verisimilitude, the events in the books have real moral/ethical/physical consequences and I received feedback from fans on how scenes made them reconsider the reader’s own attitudes.

“You’re just too lazy to invent new characters.”

Writing a series is actually more difficult than writing stand-alone novels, mostly because you need to satisfy both the new readers and the readers who read the other books, which requires a fine balance of putting in just enough back story to please both. Meanwhile, I dedicated myself to writing about characters who might never ‘hit it big’ with fans. Writing stand-alones with new characters doesn’t require any referencing to published stories.

Also, the series does feature new characters. Granted, they may be antagonists, but if the antagonists don’t measure up, the protagonist will fall kind of flat. I go by the principle that any character I create should be able to hold their own as protagonist of their own stories, so they have to be fully developed, not just sounding boards for the main characters.

Still I understand how readers don’t want to read series and prefer stand-alone books. In that case, Reprobate would work as a great stand-alone novel because it has all the characters, but all the plot lines are resolved in the end and you don’t need to read the other books.

Except if you want to know what the future holds in store for Katla and Bram…


Honored and validated by a special REVIEW…

Reprobate – A Katla Novel was reviewed by Hannah Thompson, on her blog ‘Blind Spot’.

Hannah’s blog is about blindness and its representation. It asks how the blind and the partially blind relate to the sighted and the partially sighted. It mostly focuses on representations of blindness from the nineteenth century to the present day, in English and French culture and society. It also maps the place of a partially-blind academic in a resolutely sighted world.

Hannah Thompson is a senior lecturer in French at Royal Holloway’s School of Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures – her next book Taboo: Corporeal Secrets in Nineteenth-Century France will be published by Legenda in June 2013. Follow her on Twitter @BlindSpotHannah.

Hannah has been blogging since February 2012, but her blog is already listed in the Top 100 Special Education Resources on the Web and listed in the Top 10 UK Disability Blogs.

Hannah’s review of Reprobate is reproduced below:

Blindness in Fiction 4: Reprobate: A Katla Novel

It is notoriously difficult for non-blind writers to depict blind characters in fiction. Although anyone can close their eyes and imagine blindness for a few minutes, living in a world where sight has lost its meaning is incredibly hard to imagine. For this reason, blind characters in fiction are relatively rare. Where they do exist, they are either secondary and therefore always described from someone else’s point of view (as in Adrian Mole) or evil and not described sympathetically at all (as in Ratburger). Like Star Gazing which I blogged about last April, Reprobate is a novel of shared viewpoints, in which a blind character, Bram, plays a crucial role.

When the reader first encounters Bram, it is easy to mistakenly think that he is nothing but a fascinating plot device. We initially encounter him just after assassin Katla has finished a job. When he interrupts her as she is cleaning up the crime scene, her first instinct is to kill him, as she normally would an ‘additional’ who might later be able to place her at the scene. But when Katla realises Bram is blind she decides to spare him. Her reasoning is that he poses no threat to her because he will never be able to make a positive identification of her.

Katla, like most sighted people, imagines at first that a world without sight is a world of darkness and confusion. But Bram is not the kind of passive, low-functioning blind person who is frequently found in fictional representations. Unlike the blind man in Amelie, for example, he is always well aware of his environment. He picks up clues from the sounds, smells and atmospheric conditions he senses and is never described as having a lesser experience of life because of his blindness. This is wonderfully demonstrated in the scenes, such as the episode in the diner at the beginning of the ‘Luncheonette’ chapter, which are told through his perspective. In these scenes, the author focuses only on what Bram can hear, touch and sense. But the reader nonetheless gains a complete understanding of the scene. In fact until you look closely at the language of the scene, you probably won’t even notice the absence of visual clues. Bram’s presence in the novel, and the part he takes in its narration, brilliantly shows that sight is not essential to a full and happy existence. Bram is clever, funny, sexy and sporty. In fact very soon the story becomes so gripping that the fact of his blindness would easily be forgotten if it weren’t for the detail with which the narrator describes the practicalities of his life.

If you want to know what it is like to be a blind person living in a sighted world, then you should read this book, especially if you enjoy complex and multi-layered thrillers with unexpected twists and a truly triumphant ending.

Reprobate has been favourably reviewed before, on Amazon and several websites/blogs, but never by a blind reviewer and critic of media representations of blind characters in fiction, so I’m grateful to Hannah for taking the time to read Reprobate and write such a thoughtful review.

Please visit her blog, if you are interested in blindness and its representations.


WRITING: Getting Unexpected Reviews…

I got some great five star reviews of Reprobate and a couple of five star review of Peccadillo.

This is an interesting angle I didn’t realize when I wrote Reprobate: Some people are more interested in other characters than the protagonist, assassin Katla. If you read the reviews, you must’ve read this passage in the ‘Great New Series’ review by DevoGirl:

“But for me, the best part was the romance between Bram and Katla. Bram is a terrific character, one of the more realistic portrayals of a blind person that I have read in a while. He’s well-adjusted and capable, but not superhuman. He plays the saxophone, practices shiatsu on the local yakuza, and studies aikido. He’s just the right combination of strong and vulnerable, and it’s oh so sexy. With so many books appearing lately with blind characters that are totally unrealistic, I really appreciate that the author went to the trouble to do the research and get it right.”

The fact that the blind character Bram is considered ‘hot and sexy’ by this reader, led me to my WordPress Stats, where I can see if people visit me from certain websites or forums. And I found this thread on paradevo, a website for devotees of disabled persons, where books are discussed and reviewed when they have disabled characters. And the website has its own review section, on books and movies, where an extended review is given, with more attention to what makes Reprobate attractive to devotees of disabled persons.

Although I’m aware of the fact that there are people who are specifically attracted to disabled persons, Reprobate hadn’t been written with the idea that people would read the series because it also features disabled characters. And the fact that people who are familiar with disabled persons judge my portrayal of the blind characters realistic is immensely gratifying. Being a stickler for verisimilitude seems to be paying off, if readers are searching me out in their quest for believable characters.

DevoGirl contacted me with questions for an author interview with emphasis on how and why I wrote about disabled characters, which can be found here. While the interview touches on several sensitive issues, I think it might be illuminating for those who read my books, whether they read the Amsterdam Assassin Series for the suspense, the kick-ass heroine, or the blind, but capable, characters.

Enjoy the series, and please, let me know what you think!


WRITING: Doing Research…

Well, writing crime fiction is no picknick, especially if you try to stick as close as possible to reality and your protagonist is a free-lance assassin, but it got easier after I killed my first target and I’m still improving.

Apart from that I visited experts on the maintenance of saxophones, caring for macaws and repairing diesel engines; went to a shooting club to fire different handguns to get a feel for them; befriended hackers to explain to me how they scaled firewalls and extracted information from hospitals, police files and hotel registries; learned how to open locks with simple lockpicks; visited an institute for the blind, learned braille and walked around with my eyes taped shut for an entire day; smoked lots of doobie with Rastafarians; read countless books on obscure topics that might have a bearing on whatever I’m inclined to write about; befriended musicians so I could sit in on sessions; learned how to pick pockets; accompanied the police when they went to haul in a ‘water corpse’; rode motorcycles and Vespa motorscooters; and some other things I vowed to keep secret…