Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Change in a Romance Series--Good, Bad, or Thrilling?

What happens when the series you are writing or reading changes in unexpected ways? As a reader, do you stop reading that series or author because it no longer meets your expectations of what should have happened? Or perhaps you continue to follow the stories of the author a little longer to see if perhaps you are being nudged in a new direction that isn't as bad as you once thought, only different than what you thought you wanted?

Authors, do you stick to telling the stories the way the characters bring them to you, or do you try to force them to conform to the plot or style of the way things used to be? Do you wrap up the series abruptly and start a new one in the style you want to write in and hope to find a new audience?

I know these questions are worded to my particular bias, although I would welcome other responses to the initial question about change in a series of books you've enjoyed reading--up until the author surprises you in ways you didn't want to be surprised.

Yes, you know where I'm going to come out on this debate because I've written five books to date, none of which is the same as any other one in the series. Hell, I write about very different characters period, so how can any two stories be expected to be the same? That's the greatest beauty of being an independent (self-published) author. My stories don't have to conform to the dictates of a publishing house. For instance, I can have vastly different levels of heat in them. Nobody's Hero is probably my highest heat level overall--Adam was humping like a teenager most of the book. But that doesn't mean every other couple in the series will be that sexually active (and given the direction that couple's story has taken in this saga, maybe Adam knew something I didn't back then).

Sex and even BDSM won't take place in every chapter in a Kallypso Masters epic-length novel. In one of my books, the main couple doesn't have a sexual encounter (not intercourse even) until the last chapter. In the latest, Somebody's Angel, there are a number of sex and BDSM scenes (some of them kinkier than anything I've written before--Marc and Angelina are my more sexually adventure couple), but reviewers looking for erotic reads seem not to have even noticed there was sex in the book.

In the beginning when I wrote Nobody's Angel, I planned to make this a BDSM series with lots of sex--heck, I even tried for menage, but then I wrote Masters at Arms and realized that just isn't what this series was going to be about. It's about wounded characters seeking a familial connection that was missing in their lives, whether because of combat, abuse, or some emotional disconnect. I've since stopped referring to it strictly as a BDSM series, although each book does have some degree of BDSM in it. But each couple approaches BDSM in a vastly different way from the other couples. They're all very individualistic and realistic--human, if you will. (They're certainly real to me!)

I love my readers dearly. I will go out of my way to spend time with them virtually or in person, but I can't compromise my writing to please them. Even though my last book sold far fewer copies than the one before, which sold fewer than the one before that, I'm never going to be a hack. I can't spit out formulaic books in rapid succession because my writing process isn't linear and I don't plot. I have to wait for inspiration and for the characters to tell me their stories.

And the story Luke and Cassie are telling me for the next installment in my saga borders on a sweet romance at the point I am in the writing. I'm sure that will change, but what if it didn't? What if Cassie just isn't ready to have an intimate relationship with Luke yet? I suppose I could postpone the book until they were ready, but I absolutely love where they are going with this relationship and plan to see it through to the end--which, of course, isn't the end at all in a Kallypso Masters book. You all know they will be back in other books because all of my characters are family and they just have to have that connection. I can't write a one-couple romance and leave everyone else at arm's length, even if they'd let me.

I used to be the Queen of Tease, but I think I'm becoming the Queen of the Slow Burn since Nobody's Perfect and Somebody's Angel were written. I don't write the wildly dramatic openings and then drift off. Masters at Arms's opening should have made that very evident. (While listening to the first 15 minutes of audio, I thanked God Phil Gigante was narrating, otherwise, I'd put you to sleep with all of Adam's introspection and backstory in the opening pages of that book in the bus station.)

I'm working on having new covers designed for when I hit the convention circuit this summer and am rebranding myself to be more than a pigeon-holed author who writes only one type of story. The heat level will be more realistic on the covers--altho I have no intension of changing the previous stories. I write about Marines and when they have sex, they're going to use erotic terms, not romantic fluffery.

Perhaps so many other authors (especially traditional ones) write separate series in multiple genres, so they don't trounce on reader expectations. Well, readers of indie authors need to be aware that we don't play by the rules. We don't have a marketing department telling us they can't publish our awesome story because they don't know where to shelve it. Maybe some authors want to be "shelved," but I'd much rather be read--and by readers who appreciate indie voices.

As much as I love my readers and hate the thought of any of them refusing to read further in this series, I can't compromise my writing to please readers. I write for myself and to tell the stories my characters demand. Some of the complaints I've heard about Somebody's Angel make it clear that a number of readers aren't going to have their expectations met with Nobody's Dream either. I hopeI will be able to attract an audience of readers that is open-minded (in more than just BDSM and sex) and willing to see where this saga will go as it progresses. I know I have tens of thousands of fans who will be there with me for every book I release and that they will welcome the detours and surprises--and I just want you to know I love you for letting me explore my talent as a writer and to try new things rather than become stale by giving you what you THINK you want. You are the audience I have sought from the very beginning.

One of the things I love about the way I've chosen to share these stories is that you don't lose the other characters just because they reached their happy ending. They come back--some of them come back with a vengeance, like Marc and Angelina, and need an entire new book. Lately it's become clear to me that Adam is harboring all kinds of things from his past that I didn't even know about until that scene in Somebody's Angel made it clear to me that I need to dig deeper. So I'm planning to follow Nobody's Dream with Somebody's Hero so that I can explore the depths of that man's soul. (Of course, I knew at the ending of Nobody's Hero that he hadn't really dealt with the issues of his childhood. I knew he'd have to deal with that and expected to do it in a subplot. But I've learned that when there are issues as deep as Adam's--and the man was in the Marine Corps for 25 years and in many areas of Marine responsibility, so you can bet there are things he's experienced that have only been hinted at in the past books. As his life evolves, triggers we never even imagined before are going to explode and he's going to have a hard time keeping it together for himself and Karla, much less his extended family. But he's not the only one who will have to face the past in that book. Marc, Damian, probably even Luke and Savannah all have similar issues that need to be looked at more closely. So, like Somebody's Angel, I see Somebody's Hero being a bit of a roundup of the usual characters--but taking them to places you will find anything but unusual. Readers only wanting to explore new couples in every book are going to be left in the dust, I'm afraid, because that's not where this saga is going.

I also want to point out that I am writing the "Rescue Me" series (although many readers refer to it as the "Masters at Arms" series). The series is first and foremost about wounded people in need of emotional, physical, or psychological rescue--and sometimes all three. I refuse to put bandaids on their issues and pronounce them cured before their happily ever after. I prefer to write from a realistic approach to past traumas and I speak from experience when I tell you that the romances you've read where that happens are fairy tales--and not like the realistic fairy tale I told in Nobody's Perfect, either.

Some of my characters will choose to find answers and healing in BDSM, but I'm not longer even calling it a BDSM series, because I don't see that as the major focus of this saga. I have chosen to tell the stories that fit my characters. Luke, for instance, is dabbling in rope work and throwing butterfly kisses with a single-tail whip--but Cassie is far from being where she would let him anywhere near her with rope or a whip. I refuse to force her go there just to meet reader expectations for a hot BDSM scene. Of course, Luke can be patient and powerfully persuasive at the same time, so he may break down those defenses and they might very well have a light BDSM relationship. The thing is, at only 48,005 words into the manuscript, I have not effing clue where their relationship will go. I get surprised just the same as you do--and just ask my editors how I agonized over Somebody's Angel and where it took readers. Not what any of us expected, I assure you! But they told me to listen to my characters and that they would lead me where the story needs to go. I did just that, even knowing some readers wouldn't be happy about it.

I write about a "family" of imperfect, human characters. Never a dull moment, I assure you! If you'd like to read something a little different now and then, I invite you to take a chance on my books and see what you think. Just keep your expectations out of the equation and see where the Rescue Me saga takes us both!

If you are new to my books, you can download Masters at Arms, the introduction, for FREE or splurge and get the combo with the introduction and first book for only 99 cents. Buy links are on this page of my blog.

The reading order for the rest of the saga to date is:

1. Masters at Arms & Nobody's Angel (these are permanently combined for only 99 cents)
2. Nobody's Hero
3. Nobody's Perfect
4. Somebody's Angel

And with luck and inspiration, Nobody's Dream will be the next book in the saga and (with even more hope) released later this year. (I told you I don't rush the books!)