The Serial Killer

I am very fond of series fiction. I always have been, going back to The Hardy Boys and their (much) lesser known peers, The Walton Boys (not the ones on the mountain). I probably will be for as long as I am able to read. I’m having a problem, however, with that wonderful and delectable corner of the genre or whatever you want to call it where the new book in the series builds upon what has happened before. More often than otherwise, a year or more passes between books in the series, I’ll go to pick a new one up, and I have no freaking idea what happened previously. I can remember the main characters, and usually a supporting character or two, but past that…it can be really hit or miss.

Some authors are aware of this and do an excellent job of doing a back-and-fill to bring new readers (and yes, older, forgetful ones) up to snuff without bringing the narrative to a grinding halt and having the characters engage in an awkward dialogue designed to summarize the mayhem that has occurred over the past x number of books. Others don’t. That’s fine. But let’s not put too fine a line on it. We have an aging population and not everyone who reads a series is necessarily going to remember, in the words of my favorite limerick, who was doing what and to do twelve months ago. Accordingly, when Detective M shows up in the squad room sans the ring finger on his right hand there are a few of us who might not recall how that happened.

If you write series fiction, why should you care? Someone probably has added the information to a Wikipedia entry somewhere that lays it all out. Maybe so. I would submit to you, though, that most readers don’t want to have to stop in the middle of the narrative and look things like that up. If I had ten bucks for every reader who has told me, “Yeah, I used to read them but it got so I couldn’t figure out what was going on” I’d have a house next door to Sandra Bullock in New Orleans’ Garden District. Well, maybe a room over a garage in rear of the house next door to Ms. Bullock’s; but I hope you take my point.

Here is what I would request of those wonderful authors who labor mightily in the grammar mine of series fiction, and yes, those who publish them, and to whom I have been grateful for over fifty years and will continue to be so: take a cue from your cousins in the television medium. Each time I turn on an episode of Justified or Hell on Wheels or 24 any of the other half dozen or so dramatic series I watch the first thing I hear and see is, “Previously on (you fill in the blank)…” and short clips of what has happened before, as are relevant to the current episode, are presented. Could we have a “what has gone before” introduction of anywhere from a few paragraphs to two pages to refresh our memories — if you don’t do so elsewhere in the narrative — in the latest installment of your series? And maybe, if appropriate, could we have a listing of characters as well once you have more than say, seven folks with histories bumping into each other on a regular basis over the course of several books? I would consider it a favor to me, and to your legions of readers, acquired and potential.

So tell me: is this a problem? Or I am just grumpy today? Or both?  Or neither?  Is what I advocate reasonable? Or is it too much trouble to go to for what is a minor problem? 

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The Serial Killer

I am very fond of series fiction. I always have been, going back to The Hardy Boys and their (much) lesser known peers, The Walton Boys (not the ones on the mountain). I probably will be for as long as I am able to read. I’m having a problem, however, with that wonderful and delectable corner of the genre or whatever you want to call it where the new book in the series builds upon what has happened before. More often than otherwise, a year or more passes between books in the series, I’ll go to pick a new one up, and I have no freaking idea what happened previously. I can remember the main characters, and usually a supporting character or two, but past that…it can be really hit or miss.

Some authors are aware of this and do an excellent job of doing a back-and-fill to bring new readers (and yes, older, forgetful ones) up to snuff without bringing the narrative to a grinding halt and having the characters engage in an awkward dialogue designed to summarize the mayhem that has occurred over the past x number of books. Others don’t. That’s fine. But let’s not put too fine a line on it. We have an aging population and not everyone who reads a series is necessarily going to remember, in the words of my favorite limerick, who was doing what and to do twelve months ago. Accordingly, when Detective M shows up in the squad room sans the ring finger on his right hand there are a few of us who might not recall how that happened.

If you write series fiction, why should you care? Someone probably has added the information to a Wikipedia entry somewhere that lays it all out. Maybe so. I would submit to you, though, that most readers don’t want to have to stop in the middle of the narrative and look things like that up. If I had ten bucks for every reader who has told me, “Yeah, I used to read them but it got so I couldn’t figure out what was going on” I’d have a house next door to Sandra Bullock in New Orleans’ Garden District. Well, maybe a room over a garage in rear of the house next door to Ms. Bullock’s; but I hope you take my point.

Here is what I would request of those wonderful authors who labor mightily in the grammar mine of series fiction, and yes, those who publish them, and to whom I have been grateful for over fifty years and will continue to be so: take a cue from your cousins in the television medium. Each time I turn on an episode of Justified or Hell on Wheels or 24 any of the other half dozen or so dramatic series I watch the first thing I hear and see is, “Previously on (you fill in the blank)…” and short clips of what has happened before, as are relevant to the current episode, are presented. Could we have a “what has gone before” introduction of anywhere from a few paragraphs to two pages to refresh our memories — if you don’t do so elsewhere in the narrative — in the latest installment of your series? And maybe, if appropriate, could we have a listing of characters as well once you have more than say, seven folks with histories bumping into each other on a regular basis over the course of several books? I would consider it a favor to me, and to your legions of readers, acquired and potential.

So tell me: is this a problem? Or I am just grumpy today? Or both?  Or neither?  Is what I advocate reasonable? Or is it too much trouble to go to for what is a minor problem? 

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Parched For Readers

A few years ago I met a gentleman in New Orleans who had never heard of Stephen King. He was thirty-three years old at the time, a musician for whom a classical education even at the elementary level had never been a priority but who nevertheless was still knowledgeable of pop culture. Still, he was unfamiliar with King and Carrie, The Stand, The Shining, and the other King books which had been adapted for film. He didn’t have a book in his house; neither, as it happened, did his mother, or the five of his eight siblings whose homes I visited.
Stephen King, I think I can safely say, is a household name, so people such as my acquaintance who have never heard of him are probably the exception rather than the rule. That no-book thing, however…that bothers me. I know people who watch Castle, which begins its sixth season next month, who haven’t read a mystery novel in decades, if ever. Dexter? Longmire? I still find people who have no idea that these popular dramas are based on novels. Justified slyly winked at Raylan Givens’ literary origins a couple of years ago but I doubt it increased sales of Raylan, which was published on season premiere night.
James Bell’s question from last week regarding the future of publishing was an interesting one which evoked a number of interesting responses. Almost all of them, however, implicitly made an assumption that I don’t think we can make anymore, in this era of entertainment everywhere: we’re each and all of us assuming that there will still be readers. Do you walk into homes without books in evidence? When you’re out somewhere and see people reading, how many do you not see reading? How many times in the past month have you been talking to someone about the last book you’ve read and heard them say, “Gee, I haven’t read a book in years. I just don’t have the time”?
I’m not attempting to be an alarmist here, or a Chicken Little. What I think I’m seeing, however, is a situation where the problem isn’t that we’re drowning in books; it’s that we’re parched for readers, and we’re fighting a battle of attrition. There are plenty of books out there worth reading. For every book I read there is at least one, often more, that I don’t get to and that winds up on my “someday” list. That’s not the problem, as I see it. The difficulty is that for everyone one of me, and you, there are, it seems, five or six who just don’t care. They’d rather watch reality television or something like that.

Am I wrong here? Or am I pointing out the 800 pound gorilla in the room that we’re all trying to studiously ignore?
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TV Shows I’m Addicted To

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

I have my DVR set up with countless shows I record. My husband also knows my interest in the strange and peculiar NOVA Science shows or historical documentaries. As a writer, anything can stir your imagination and you never know what small tidbit can fuel a book or series. I once did a whole proposal after seeing a science show on venomous snakes.

Here are a couple of my fav TV shows adapted from books:

Hannibal – OMG! I am giddy for Thursday nights now because of this show. This is an adaptation of Red Dragon by Thomas Harris, but it is a prequel where FBI BAU profiler, Agent Will Graham, is brought in to consult with his old boss, Jack Crawford, and hunt serial killers. We meet the infamous Hannibal Lecter in the wild, before he gets caught. Will is good at his job, depicted as closer to Asperger’s & sociopaths, and can visualize himself as the killer. This puts him in need of therapy, as you can imagine, but his boss picks Hannibal Lecter as his psychiatrist. This is graphic stuff, but the tongue in cheek dark humor is over the top and the psychological trauma worsens in Will, as we see him falling apart and under the care of Lecter. It’s mesmerizing to watch. Hugh Dancy is yummy as Will Graham and Mads Mikkelson as Hannibal redefines the role, big shoes to fill after Anthony Hopkins.

This show is beautifully shot and the acting is amazing, but the reinvention of the Red Dragon book, in such a creative way, has me coming back every week. I went back to read the book and got even more out of the show. 

Justified – This show’s season has ended, but it gets better each year. Writer Elmore Leonard is the guy behind this show and the writing is superb. The characterizations and the dialogue are worth every minute of your time to watch this show. One of my favorite things to do is tweet my fav lines as the show is one. Many of my writer friends do this. Marshal Raylan Givens and criminal childhood friend Boyd Crowder are two characters to watch. The season that just ended was my favorite (and that’s saying something). Pure Rayland and Boyd.

Cable Shows I Have Recently Become Addicted to:

The Borgias – Jeremy Irons is damned sexy as a Pope. And his son, Cesare Borgia, has me spellbound…especially when he’s naked. Family scandal and treachery in enticing scenes.

Game of Thrones –I hadn’t watched this show until I recently caught up in a marathon of recordings, but I got totally hooked. Some of the recent storylines left me so sad though and it reminded me how emotional our stories have to be to grip readers.

What are some of your favorite guilty pleasure TV shows…and why do you like them? Do you get something from them that helps your writing? Are you addicted to any of the shows I watch?

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I Am JUSTIFIED

Timothy-Olyphant-Justified-S4

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane


It’s been crazy since the holidays between my writing deadlines, promotion for my latest release Indigo Awakening, and all the relatives coming in and out of town. But this week I’ve been saved. Elmore Leonard’s Justified is back for Season 4 and the first episode – Hole in the Wall – did not disappoint. It was “happy dance” fun.

Yes, Raylan and his bad ass Hat-itude inspires me to dig deep for insanely evocative dialogue and characters that make me cringe and laugh at the same time. I see this series as pure writer inspiration. (I love Elmore Leonard.) There were shockers in this first show. Don’t worry. No spoilers, but for anyone who saw it, I’m already filling my Constable Bob “Go To” bag with all the necessaries to kick some fictional butt in 2013.

What would you put in YOUR “go to” writer’s bag this year? Any resolutions? Here are FIVE writer things I learned from being JUSTIFIED.

1.) Never discount the importance of a good secondary character. Constable Bob is a prime example of how a well-written secondary character can steal your scenes and maybe become a spin-off.

2.) Writing one book can lead to another if you plant the seeds. Add a super hot bail bonds woman, a hotel mini-bar, and a marshal with pliable ethics and you can have a future book plot. Leave threads or seeds to another plot in your current work-in-progress. It never hurts to have ideas and it may leave readers wanting more.

3.) Dark humor is gold. When a loaded hooker comes face to face with something “grizzly” in her place of “business” or a simple phrase like “take care of him” can be construed in more than one way, a well-placed bullet can be JUSTIFIED funny.

4.) Give your anti-heroes loads of baggage and a cast of characters around them that will push their ethics to their darkest depths. Test them. Right from the start, Raylan is tempted into “helping” bring a fugitive to justice, especially if he can benefit from a little bounty money on the side and sees no harm in taking a modest gratuity. What comes next escalates his woes into pure Raylan MO when he has to cover his butt from getting caught. (Hint: If you talk too much, you get a special seat in his car.)

5.) To get a great pace going, jump into the plot without too much back story. The sheer mystery will draw readers in until your reveal. Have patience and don’t “telegraph” where you’re headed. Readers love a twist they never saw coming.

For the premiere, I followed twitter hashtag #JUSTIFIED while I watched the show to see what followers found interesting or memorable. Die hard fans are hilarious and they often quote whole lines to let everyone know what got to them. Twitterville heated up with Justified fans and I had even more fun. Many writers joined in the fun.

So tell me what you’d put in your writer’s TO GO bag for 2013—to be ready for anything like Constable Bob. Or please share what JUSTIFIED has taught you, whether you’re a reader or writer. (I’m pretty sure I’ll never ask Raylan’s daddy Arlo about what he likes to read. Just sayin’.)

Here’s a sneak preview of next week’s episode. If you have trouble viewing it, here is the Youtube link: http://youtu.be/mtMFLlk5lKk

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