25 November 2013

A is Forever


A is Forever

by Jan Grape



When first began writing your first novel did you plan on a series or a stand alone?  I absolutely hoped I could do a series with my Private Investigators, Jenny Gordon and C. J. Gunn. This was in 1980 and Marcia Muller and Sue Grafton had both published female private eye books and I wanted to be part of that cadre. I totally hoped for a 3 book contract. I completed my first in the series in 1981. It was titled April Anger. If Grafton could do the alphabet, and John D. MacDonald the colors then perhaps I could do the months.

And in keeping with the genre, Robert Parker had a white PI and tough black friend who always helped with the case. I definitely wanted to explore the relationship between the white woman, Jenny Gordon and the black woman, C.J. Gunn, my wonderful black girlfriend, the late Choicie Greene named the character in the book, C.J. Gunn. The initials stood for Cinnamon Jemima Gunn. I wanted to show this relationship could be as close as sisters which Choicie and I were.

I completed the novel, sent out query letters to editors I had met at mystery conferences. I got some good feed-back and then an editor wanted to publish it. The editor was ready to present to the editorial board and then the editor left that house and went to another house, taking my property along to the new house. But that house wasn't interested.

The next editor was very interested but just as they were presenting found out that another editor had just purchased a female private eye book and they couldn't purchase a second one. Of course, other houses purchased and published more than one MALE PI novel I thought, but sent the mss out once again.

The final time, once again an editor wanted to publish then the company went out of business. In the meantime, I had started the second in the series, May Madness and I began writing short stories that featured these two female private eye characters.

It was a couple years later that an editor wanted to see the first novel as she really liked the characters in the short stories. But once again it was rejected, The editor said she really liked the characters. However, she thought they had grown-up and past the mss in the short stories and didn't think this mss worked anymore. So I put that mss away in the closet.

I don't think many authors think of doing a series book, they just like the first really well and if it gets published they hope the editor wants a second or a third.

After Austin City Blue, came out the publisher did want the second.  Dark Blue Death came out.  In the meantime, I wrote, What Doesn't Kill You a non-series stand alone. I still have not finished the third in the Zoe Barrow series. There were personal upheavals and publishing upheavals and one thing led to another.

I still think I should do the third and I've had ideas a couple of stand-alones. But have only done short stories and co-edited anthologies.

I would like to hear from my fellow writers about series or no series.

7 comments:

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Jan, I had every intention of writing a series when I started DEATH WILL GET YOU SOBER. I had a list of matching titles that indicated the theme of each novel, and once I got a contract, five years after I started to send the ms out, I lived in fear that they would change my title, thus destroying my hook for the whole series. What did change was the comfortable world of mystery writing in which, once you'd published the first and second books, you could be fairly certain your publishers would let you continue a series of indefinite length. But that was long ago in a galaxy far, far away....

Fran Rizer said...

Jan and Elizabeth, both of you make me feel very lucky to have gotten the first book published so quickly with the firs three-book deal.A new editor changed the title on the third book, but the next two went back to the mutilated nursery rhyme title idea. The sixth one is in the line but is based on a song instead of nursery rhyme.
Series versus stand-alone? So far the only things published under my real name is the Callie Parrish series, but I'm seriously considering using my name on the coming stand-alone horror.
Personally, it's great to have an established audience for a series, but as a reader, it seems that most series reach a point where it's very obvious to the readers that the writer is TIRED. They lose their pop. A notable exception is Kinsey Milhone, but it happens too often. I just hope that I don't cross that line with Callie.

Dixon Hill said...

Jan, I think some books don't work well as series-starters, but others just beg for it.

I remember a woman who spoke in one of my college classes, one time. She'd written a novel that was intended to begin a series. A really big publishing house was willing to buy it for a whopping advance -- if she'd tie things up at the end, eliminating the chances for a series. She turned them down, and went with a much smaller house for a much smaller advance. Her book hit #12 on the NY Times list, as I recall. Several other books in the series followed, but I don't know how well they did.

David Edgerley Gates said...

Jan, it might be a comfort zone, too, and probably more for the publisher than the writer. I've done stories that were meant as one-offs, and then I went back and used the character/s again. I don't really know, going in, whether I'll repeat or not. I think in Grafton's case, she obviously meant to set Kinsey up for a series, and I'm guessing she used this as part of her initial pitch.

Robert Lopresti said...

Great tile, by the way. When Donald E. Westlake wrote THE HUNTER, about a very bad criminal, he dutifully ended it with the protagonist being caught, as was standard at the time. The publisher suggested turning it into a series, so Parker got away and Westlake (as Richard Stark) wrote a whole lot of books about him.

Jan Grape said...

Thanks all for your comments and letting us know how you felt. Marcia Muller & Sara Paretsky & S.J. Rozan all have kept series going and fresh.
And not to be sexist, Bill Pronzini, Lee Child, and Michael Connelly also. All 6 of these writers do series characters but also write a stand-alone in between. I feel this has helped keep their series characters fresh and growing. Marcia says she gets bored easily so has to do something different. Ms Rozan said when she began her series she made the decision to write one book in Lydia Chen's viewpoint and the next in Bill Smith's viewpoint so as to keep the series fresh. So whatever works for each person is the best way to go.

Jan Grape said...

Thanks all for your comments and letting us know how you felt. Marcia Muller & Sara Paretsky & S.J. Rozan all have kept series going and fresh.
And not to be sexist, Bill Pronzini, Lee Child, and Michael Connelly also. All 6 of these writers do series characters but also write a stand-alone in between. I feel this has helped keep their series characters fresh and growing. Marcia says she gets bored easily so has to do something different. Ms Rozan said when she began her series she made the decision to write one book in Lydia Chen's viewpoint and the next in Bill Smith's viewpoint so as to keep the series fresh. So whatever works for each person is the best way to go.