Hey, it’s Q&A Time again. From time to time, I like to answer the questions offered up from the huddling masses. Granted, I don’t get many questions from the huddling masses. I don’t know why. Maybe they huddling masses have lives of their own to deal with. But when they take time out of those busy lives to ask a question, I’m always happy to answer. Especially since I didn’t have a great idea for a post at the moment.
I did have some thoughts on the Veronica Mars movie getting some funding on Kickstarter. Simplest overview: It’s only a matter of time before Kickstarter becomes merely another arm of the mainstream marketing machine and loses its original purpose. There’s nothing new about that. In a few years, we’ll be back to the same problem of the smaller creators and businesses getting noticed among the big projects that will dominate this once independent friendly platform. I’d offer some opinions on how to fix that, but I don’t think there is a way to fix it. It’s inevitable. We can fight against it, but any victories are probably only forestalling the inevitable. Hopefully, the independents will at least get a few pieces of the pie before it’s over.
That’s life. We’re all struggling for our crumbs.
But enough about that. Let’s take a look in the old mailbag, shall we?
I know you haven’t wanted to write sequels, and I think that has been a great thing, because you have so many original books. But have you ever considered doing a series of books set in the same fictional universe, but with different characters? For example, Discworld or Xanth. You have been talking about building your audience lately, and I wonder if this might help by giving you brand name recognition while still writing original books with new characters. I guess this was more of a suggestion than a question, but I was thinking about it.
A terrific question, and one that I wish I could answer definitively.
If I had my druthers, I wouldn’t even consider it. While I don’t begrudge anyone writing series or single universe stories, every time I consider it, I’ll admit to mixed feelings.
The problem with a single universe (at least for me) is that it comes with certain expectations. It’s no different than when you’re writing a series in that respect because the books and stories can’t be too far from each other in tone and style. There is a certain intentional style with Discworld, Xanth, or any of the other single universe series that is required. No one wants to read a Discworld horror novel or a dystopian Xanth novel. That would be against the spirit of those particular series, and people would be confused, rightfully so, if suddenly Discworld novels were about the zombie apocalypse.
The Anita Blake novels got away with a radical tonal shift. They went from urban fantasy to paranormal erotica, but I don’t know how they managed to get away with that. I guess there’s an exception to every rule.
It just comes down to why I like writing fantasy in the first place. I love exploring new characters and new worlds. And I like changing up narrative style if I can. It’s true that I’m not truly experimental in that regard. I think I have an overall consistent style in my narrative, but there’s wiggle room that comes from starting fresh with a new novel.
Profanity is a pretty solid example. I like to slide up and down the vulgarity scale depending on the story I’m telling. Gil’s All Fright Diner has some serious profanity, some mild sex. Meanwhile, Too Many Curses has neither. Both were deliberate choices based on the needs of those stories. My next book, Helen and Troy’s Epic Road Quest (due out in July), has very little in the way of sex and language. So much so that I’m pretty sure that a lot of folks are going to assume it’s a novel aimed at a young adult audience, especially since two of its three protagonists are college students.
(Just to head that off right here, that’s not the intent. It just didn’t feel like it needed such things, and the young heroes beginning their adventures through life is part of the universal theme the story is supposed to tap into. Not that this will prevent many folks from still believing this, but there’s no point in arguing with people who have already made up their minds.)
While Epic Road Quest might be mistaken for a YA novel by those who like things jammed into easy categories, my current project, One of These Doomsdays (working title), is an intentional meta novel about isolation, fear, and awkward walls we build around ourselves. It has more swearing, more sex, far more alien invaders and ghost dinosaurs. Even putting aside the fact that it’s a story that isn’t compatible with any of my previous universes, it’s also an attempt to explore ideas I haven’t touched upon before.
Even as I write that, I realize how much I’m asking from the audience. It’s not that people are dumb. It’s that they don’t necessarily want to be surprised all the time. Part of the appeal of so many series is that they are reliable. Notice I didn’t say they were safe. They can still explore and create interesting stories. They can still do a lot of amazing stuff. But they do so in a framework that is comforting to the reader, so that, even if the reader ends up being surprised, at least they have something to hold onto.
I don’t do that. When you pick up one of my stories, you’re in unexplored territory from the get go. Well, not quite unexplored. You can expect certain elements, a certain narrative style. It’s unlikely you’re going to read extended scenes of torture or a story where everybody dies pointlessly. But still, with no established characters or universe, you’re just thrown into the deep end of the pool from the start.
Written like that, it makes me sound as if I’m a radical genius, but rest assured, I don’t think this is true. It’s less about talent and more about expectations. And in this day and age, we are more and more given what we expect. And then, if we like it, we expect to be given more of it. And that’s great. I would never disparage people enjoying themselves, and I’d never suggest that it’s wrong to give people stuff they like.
The problem is that if you only give people what they like, you end up walking in circles way too easily. We see that with the vast number of reboots and prequels we’re given. They might be good. They might be bad. But they are rarely, if ever, designed to be challenging. They’re exist to please the audience because audiences are hard to please, so why take any chances?
This is why I dislike writing about this topic, especially when it’s in relation to my own career choices. It always sounds like I’m down on other artists’ works, even while I see entirely where they’re coming from.
If I had a choice, I would probably NEVER write a sequel. Or at least I would wait a very long time before I did. I just love exploring and discovering too much. As our world becomes more pre-marketed and pre-approved, I find this harder and harder. More media hasn’t really given us more choices. It’s just given more of the same choices, which is still a good thing, but not what I was hoping for.
The problem I face from a realistic perspective is how to build an audience while exploring. If you read a smattering of my reviews on Amazon, you’ll see a great mix of opinions. If my fans (I feel confident enough to say that I at least have a few) have an obvious favorite book, I haven’t figured it out yet. And even as I write every new book, I have those moments where I ponder if it’s worth writing, if it will have anything interesting to say, or if my fans will just turn to the latest series rather than take that risk with me.
I’m sure I could write a series, and I’m sure it would be good. Most of my novels have a good shared universe setting option, and I have contemplated now and then writing a sequel set in the universe of Gil’s or Ogres. But then I think of a really cool idea that I like just a little better and start that.
But lest you think I am some sort of noble artist, I think about getting paid, and there are times when I wonder how my career would be different if I was on my tenth Tales of Rockwood novel. The problem with what ifs though is that you never know the answer. Maybe I’d be more popular. Maybe I’d be in exactly the same place. Maybe I’d be so sick of writing that I’d hate doing this. Maybe I’d love it.
So that’s why it’s a confusing, gray area for me.
All I know is that I take it one book at a time, and if the next book idea is a sequel or a continuation of an already established universe, I would happily pursue it. But for now, I just love the freedom and challenge of opening doors I’ve never opened before and seeing what’s on the other side. I’ll probably keep doing it for as long as I can (or at least until I get bored with it), but don’t hold me to it.
In the end, a novelologist has to eat, and those Skylander figures don’t pay for themselves.
Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,