15 December 2018

A Series Conversation

by John M. Floyd

Today's column is about reading and writing. On the reading side, I've lately found myself reading more novels than short stories, for some reason, and more standalone novels than series installments. Some novel series, though, are close to my heart, and when I discover new ones that I enjoy, I usually buy every book in the series and consume them like a chain-smoker, lighting another from the butt of the one I just finished and forging ahead until I'm done. Sort of like watching those maddeningly addictive Netflix and Amazon Prime series. (I just started on the latest season of Westworld.)

The reading list

Not that it matters, but here are twenty of my absolute favorite novel series:

1. character: John Corey -- author: Nelson DeMille
Plum Island, The Lion's Game, Night Fall, Wild Fire, The Lion, The Panther, etc.

2. Jack Reacher -- Lee Child
Killing Ground, Die Trying, Trip Wire, The Visitor, Echo Burning, Without Fail, Persuader, The Enemy, One Shot, etc.

3. Hap Collins and Leonard Pine -- Joe R. Lansdale
Savage Season, Mucho Mojo, The Two-Bear Mambo, Bad Chili, Rumble Tumble, Captains Outrageous, Vanilla Ride, etc.

4. Gus McCrea and Woodrow Call -- Larry McMurtry
Dead Man's Walk, Comanche Moon, Lonesome Dove, Streets of Laredo

5. Hannibal Lecter -- Thomas Harris
Red Dragon, The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, Hannibal Rising

6. Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch -- Robert B. Parker (and successor Robert Knott)
Appaloosa, Resolution, Brimstone, Blue-Eyed Devil, Ironhorse, Bull River, The Bridge, Blackjack, etc.

7. Roland Deschain (the Dark Tower series) -- Stephen King
The Gunslinger, The Drawing of the Three, The Waste Lands, Wizards and Glass, etc.

8. Penn Cage -- Greg Iles
The Quiet Game, Turning Angel, The Devil's Punchbowl, Natchez Burning, The Bone Tree, etc.

9. Arkady Renko -- Martin Cruz Smith
Gorky Park, Polar Star, Red Square, Havana Bay, Wolves Eat Dogs, Stalin's Ghost, etc.

10. Anna Pigeon -- Nevada Barr
Track of the Cat, A Superior Death, Ill Wind, Firestorm, Endangered Species, Blind Descent, etc.

11. Spenser -- Robert B. Parker (and successor Ace Atkins)
The Godwulf Manuscript, God Save the Child, Mortal Stakes, Promised Land, The Judas Goat, etc.

12. Stephanie Plum -- Janet Evanovich
One for the Money, Two for the Dough, Three to Get Deadly, Four to Score, High Five, Hot Six, etc.

13. Myron Bolitar -- Harlan Coben
Deal Breaker, Drop Shot, Fade Away, Back Spin, One False Move, The Final Detail, etc.

14. Jason Bourne -- Robert Ludlum
The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum

15. Jesse Stone -- Robert B. Parker (and successors Michael Brandman and Reed Farrell Coleman)
Night Passage, Trouble in Paradise, Death in Paradise, Stone Cold, Sea Change, High Profile, etc.

16. Lucas Davenport -- John Sandford
Rules of Prey, Shadow Prey, Eyes of Prey, Silent Prey, Winter Prey, Night Prey, Mind Prey, etc.

17. Dave Robicheaux -- James Lee Burke
The Neon Rain, Heaven's Prisoners, Black Cherry Blues, A Morning for Flamingos, A Stained White Radiance, etc.

18. Alex Cross -- James Patterson
Along Came a Spider, Kiss the Girls, Jack and Jill, Cat and Mouse, Pop Goes the Weasel, Roses Are Red, etc.

19. Katniss Everdeen -- Susanne Collins
The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay

20. Travis McGee -- John D. MacDonald
The Deep Blue Good-by, Nightmare in Pink, A Purple Place for Dying, The Quick Red Fox, A Deadly Shade of Gold, etc.

NOTE: I didn't like all the film adaptations of these series--some were great and some were disasters--but that's another matter, and a post for another day.

And yes, I left out Rowling, Connelly, Chandler, Hammett, Christie, Doyle, Clancy, le Carre, McBain, Forsyth, Larsson, Wouk, Paretsky, Wambaugh, Westlake, Leonard, Tolkien, Follett, and many, many others whose series novels I've truly enjoyed. But I had to stop somewhere.

The writing list

Meanwhile, on the writing side of things--and on a much smaller scale, in both wordcount and dollarbillcount--I have tried to use what I've learned about series and series characters to write five different series of my own short stories. Here they are, in no particular order:

1. Angela Potts and Charles "Chunky" Jones

This series is about a bossy retired schoolteacher and a guy she taught in the fifth grade, a lazy and not-too-bright kid who grew up to be the lazy and not-too-bright sheriff of their small southern town. She enjoys helping him with cases, correcting his grammar in front of his deputies, and stealing goodies from the candy jar in his office. Most of these stories have been published in Woman's World magazine.

2. Fran and Lucy Valentine (the "Law and Daughter" series)

In this series of stories, former teacher Frances Valentine feels it's her duty to help her happily unmarried daughter Lucy, who's a sheriff, (1) solve crimes and (2) find a husband. One of these appeared in Woman's World several years ago, but most have been published in Flash Bang Mysteries, Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, Mysterical-E, and Futures Mysterious Anthology Magazine.

3. Private investigator Will Parker

This Old West series stars a former gunfighter/Pinkerton agent who now works for a PI firm run by his brother in San Francisco. The first story in this series, "Redemption," appeared in a 2013 collection of my mystery stories called Deception; the second story, "Gun Work," was chosen for the anthology Coast to Coast: Private Eyes From Sea to Shining Sea (Down and Out Books) and was later selected for inclusion in Best American Mystery Stories 2018. (By the way, this might not qualify as a series, since it so far consists of one story and its sequel. But I do plan to write more of them.)

4. Katie and Anna Rogers

This series features accountant Katie Rogers and her younger sister Anna. Since Anna's a police chief, they of course team up to solve crimes in their small town. (Do you see a trend, here?) Woman's World published the first installment of these a few weeks ago and the second and third stories have been accepted and will appear within the next month or so. Several more are in the queue and awaiting a decision.

5. Sheriff Ray Douglas

This is a series about Raymond Kirk Douglas, the practical and easy-going sheriff of Pine County, Mississippi, and his super-smart girlfriend Jennifer Parker. The first two of these stories, "Trail's End" and "Scavenger Hunt," were published in AHMM in 2017 and 2018. The third and fourth installments, "Going the Distance" and "Quarterback Sneak," have been accepted by AHMM and are upcoming, and the fifth and sixth installments are finished and sitting in AH's to-be-read queue.


Advantages of writing a series (at least to me):

- Series installments are sometimes easier to sell. When writers, readers, and editors are familiar with a certain set of characters, those stories are a known quantity, and less of a financial risk for the publication.

- Series stories can be less work for the writer. When and if characters and their setting become well known, less time has to be spent on things like backstory and description. A writer can get the reader quickly into the plot.

Disadvantages of writing a series:

- If the publication that's running one of your series decides to reject the latest installment that you've submitted, that story will need major renovation (and possible demolition and rebuilding) before it can be sent to a different market.

- Publications that have successfully featured one of your series might be reluctant to have you write a non-series story for them.


For those of you who are authors of novels and/or shorts, do you prefer writing standalones or writing series? Which have been more profitable for you? Which is more fun? Have you ever had pressure from an editor, publisher, or agent to stick to one or the other? Of series stories and standalones, which do you most enjoy reading? What are some of your favorite book or story series?

And that's it. Keep writing--and have a great Christmas!


  1. I like writing standalone novels, but writing a series is more enjoyable. When I return to a series to do another book, it's like coming home and I realize how much I miss those characters and their world. I have different serieses set in 1900, 1930s, 1950s, 1980 to today and 1990 to today. It's complicated. At the moment I'm writing a standalone historical novel and I miss my series characters. A great advantage we contemporary writers have with computers is – when my mind wanders back to my 1950s characters, I just open a new file an start tying my thoughts and feelings and put it in the notes for the next book.

  2. O'Neil, I couldn't help thinking of you when I started talking about series--in both novels and shorts. And I agree that writing about those characters that you know well is a lot of fun, and is actually easier.

    As for series and standalones, what's great is that we writers have the freedom to do either, and both.

    Keep up the good work!!

  3. Margaret Frazer's Dame Frevisse, Donna Leon's Inspector Brunetti, Camilerri's Inspector Montalbano, are some series that I love to read. Thanks for the post.

  4. Thanks, Eve!--Good suggestions.

    I almost hate to get started on some of these series, because I then think I have to read every installment--but it's always worth the time. (Sort of like the streaming series.)

  5. John, I read an essay on Edward D. Hoch's stories which said even two stories counts as a series. I have a few series going, mystery and non-mystery. Two that have been officially published; one is a couple of mysteries solved by a 20-something convict in prison! (Those were in "Over My Dead Body.") The other is a series of science-fictional tall-tales told in a bar. I'll agree that series are fun to write, and I have one going online which is episodic and I'm not sure where it's going. (But that's part of the fun!) John, I'll recommend Steven Saylor's novels and short-stories about ancient Roman detective Gordianus the Finder. The novels start with "Roman Blood." Happy Reading!

  6. Thanks, Jeff, for the thoughts. Glad to hear you're writing some series, and I'm glad you mentioned the Steven Saylor books--I'd heard of them and had been meaning to check them out . . . and just haven't done it. Thanks for the push.

    Take care, and keep writing!

  7. I love Nevada Barr's Anna Pigeon and agree that the Hunger Games books were brilliant. Knowing how you manage to pack more meaning into very few words than almost anyone, I wasn't surprised to see all three Robert Parker series on your list. None of our other faves match. Mine include, among others, Donna Leon's Guido Brunetti, Margaret Maron's Judge Deborah Knott, Reginald Hill's Dalziel and Pascoe, Laurie R. King's Mary Russell, PIs V.I. Warshawski and Sharon McCone, Deborah Crombie's British cops Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James, and I still have a soft spot for Lord Peter Wimsey.

    I do love my own series characters: recovering alcoholic Bruce Kohler and his sidekicks, Barbara the world-class codependent and Jimmy the world-class geek (too many kids have caught up to him to call him a computer genius any more), also Bruce's girlfriend NYPD detective Cindy, who has a new story of her own currently seeking publication; and Rachel Mendoza, nice Jewish girl with a good job in Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent's harem. That series, the Mendoza Family Saga, is branching out as short stories in different time periods including the present occur to me, though so far there's always some reference back to Rachel and her time. The two novels, which weren't crime fiction (unless you count rape, murder, mass abduction, genocide, and war with a lot of collateral damage to civilian populations), serve as backstory. Then there's my double-barreled cross-genre urban fantasy/mystery series, stories about country star/shapeshifter Emerald Love and stories about her mother Bessie as a girl in the 1950s.

    It didn't occur to me to revise a series story for a different submission until you mentioned it, though I have revised stories that failed to get into themed anthologies for submission elsewhere. Always something new to think about! :)

  8. My list of favorites wouldn't match yours except for perhaps one or two, but I'm glad because it means I have more books to read because of a referral. I have three series going, in both novels and short stories. I love returning to the series characters after a time away--it's like returning for a family visit, and it makes the writing that much more pleasurable.

  9. Liz, I've read EVERY ONE of Nevada's Pigeon books, and I love 'em. And I wish I'd thought to mention Laurie R, King's Mary Russell--I was hooked after The Beekeeper's Apprentice. In fact, after the opening paragraph of that novel. Thanks for the mention of all those series.

    Susan, I don't know that you'd like all of my faves, but those came to mind first--and I've read just about every novel in those first twenty series I mentioned. I'm particularly fond of John Corey, Hap and Leonard, Jack Reacher, some of Parker's characters, etc.

    I'm beginning to believe, after this brief discussion, that almost all writers of stories and novels dabble in series now and then. I know of almost no one who hasn't at least tried a series. And yes, Susan, I agree that after writing a standalone or two, it's fun to return to those familiar characters.


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