TweetThe Accidental Series
Lisette has graciously invited me to visit her Writers’ Chateau once again, to talk about writing a series – in my case, writing a romantic comedy series.
Confession: I’m probably the worst person on earth to address this subject…because my first three books (Dating Mr Darcy) didn’t start out as a series. They were just three novels with a few overlapping characters, characters I found interesting and fun and wanted to write about. It all started like this:
What if, I mused, a British family owns a long-established department store, Dashwood and James. Due to unforeseen economic circumstances, the store falls on hard times. And what if an arrogant but astute businessman (think Simon Cowell or Gordon Ramsay) is brought in to help the store…and clashes immediately with the family’s spoilt daughter, Natalie?
And I was off and running.
When I wrote Prada and Prejudice and the next two books, I didn’t follow any ‘rules.’ I didn’t look at any publisher’s guidelines. I just wrote what I wanted to read, but couldn’t find on the shelves – romantic comedy with some menace and/or mystery thrown in. I wrote all three books while still working full time – don’t ask me how. I look back, and I really don’t know how I did it.
(These were my working folders for the first three books in the Dating Mr Darcy series. I found the Izak Zenou folders at Target. Score! Pretty, sassy, and perfect for storing all of my story notes, photos, and editorial letters.)
It was just something I felt I had to do. The kids were grown, and I had a strong ‘it’s now or never’ feeling (with apologies to Elvis). So I let my imagination take off, and I wrote every chance I could – in a tiny pocket notebook before mass (I know, bad), on legal pads at work (again, bad), and hunched over my laptop at home. I had the fever (with apologies to Peggy Lee and Christopher Walken).
I kept track of the characters and plot points in a spiral notebook, one for each book, and I saved any articles, interviews, or research notes related to the story in folders and a three-ring binder. I bought poster boards and made a collage of photographs of people who resembled my characters, and hung it near my desk for visual inspiration whenever my imagination flagged.
When I finished Prada and Prejudice, I began writing the second book. A few things that inspired me at the time included Mara Rooney’s portrayal of Lisbeth Salander in the film The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; a segment on Gordon Ramsay’s The F Word program about “freegans” – people who skip-dive for a living because it’s (a) free and (b) helps reduce food waste; The September Issue, a documentary which offered a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at Anna Wintour and Vogue magazine; episodes of Law and Order UK; payday loans; and the British media’s mobile phone hacking scandal.
When I started the second series, Marrying Mr Darcy, I needed ( you guessed it) more folders. These three kept me semi-organized while writing And the Bride Wore Prada, Love, Lies and Louboutins, and Manolos in Manhattan. And they were pretty to look at. Win-win.
Somehow, all these disparate things became Love and Liability, my second book.
Once again, I saved articles. I clipped photographs. I watched films and programs related to my research. Then…I wrote. I stopped to consult the previous book whenever I needed to search for the name of Lady Whatsit or recall the birth date of a secondary character’s sister or confirm where someone went to school/got married/grew up. It was random and disorganized and it drove me batty.
And it struck me then that perhaps I had gone about this the wrong way.
I had a lot of information and plenty of research material…but no system to keep track of it all, no method for detailing my characters’ bios and backgrounds. I carried on in this haphazard manner and finished book two.
Halfway through the third book, Mansfield Lark, an amazing thing happened. Well, two amazing things. I acquired a literary agent who sold all three books to Carina UK, who wanted to publish them as e-books. However, they wanted to tie the books together as a series. So we started in the obvious place – with the Jane Austen-y title, Prada and Prejudice.
Initially, I was a little leery about this marketing decision. The books are ‘Austen lite’ at best – they don’t so much pay homage to Jane as give the occasional (sometimes cheeky) nod in her direction – but they do deal with families, and relationships, and romantic foibles, all of which I hoped readers (and Miss Austen) would relate to, and embrace.
I caught some flack from a few die-hard Austenites early on, and probably deservedly so. But when you’re a new, unproven writer and you have little (i.e., no) say in a publisher’s marketing or book-titling decisions, you learn to smile, nod politely, and go with the editorial flow.
The second series, Marrying Mr Darcy, continued on with the next three books I’d written, but with a slightly different theme this time – the titles would each refer to a designer (Prada, Louboutin, and Manolo, to be exact). Again, I had my doubts. Would non-fashion people know who Christian Louboutin or Manolo Blahnik were? (They’re French and Italian shoe designers, respectively, for those of you who may not know.)
But when I saw the titles and the gorgeous cover art that accompanied the books, I was once again one-hundred percent convinced. And with the release of the first book in the new series, And the Bride Wore Prada, I had my first best seller. Love, Lies and Louboutins became my second…on preorder, before it was even published.
The marketing wonks were once again vindicated.
So you see, I really am a terrible person to ask about how to write a series. I came at it from the wrong way around altogether, which is not the usual way to go about these things. But then I seldom do things in the usual way
Normally, when writing a series, it’s customary for an author to plan out the story arc for each individual book, as well as the overarching story arc for the entire series. There should be a “Bible” to track the various characters and their particulars from one book (and one series) to the next. There should be storyboards and index cards, and complicated genealogies and diagrams of family trees, and a lot of colored markers.
Of course, I did none of that.
But going forward? I think – no, I’m sure – that I probably will.
Katie Oliver loves romantic comedies, characters who “meet cute,” Richard Curtis films, and Prosecco (not necessarily in that order). She currently resides in northern Virginia with her husband and three parakeets, in a rambling old house with uneven floors and a dining room that leaks when it rains.
Katie has been writing since she was eight, and has a box crammed with (mostly unfinished) novels to prove it. With her sons grown and gone, she decided to get serious and write more (and hopefully, better) stories. She even finishes most of them.
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Manolos in Manhattan Blurb:
In the city that never sleeps…
Strutting down Park Avenue in her new Manolos, Holly James looks like a woman who has it all. But beneath the Prada sunglasses, Holly has a mounting list of decidedly unfabulous problems. Right at the top? The fact that since her fiancé Jamie started spending all his time at his new restaurant (with his impossibly gorgeous sous-chef!), Holly has practically forgotten what he looks like…and started to feel a teensy bit paranoid.
…shopping is a twenty-four hour job!
So when her old flame Alex suggests they catch up, Holly jumps at the distraction. After all, what’s the harm in some window shopping? But when sinister thefts start taking place all over the city, the Big Apple begins to feel like a dangerous place…and Holly can’t help being relieved to have capable, commanding Alex so close by. Suddenly, Holly’s window shopping is veering worryingly close to an impulse buy! But would giving into temptation be an investment…or the biggest mistake of her life?