Now that it's November, my fourth book in the "Brides of Simpson Creek" series for Love Inspired Historicals, The Rancher's Courtship, has hit the shelves. It's made me stop and reflect about how I started the series, and what I've learned along the way, series and a few things I wish I'd known.
Series are vastly popular with genre readers, especially in romance. Even if you aren't writing a series, some readers may assume you are, and will ask if certain secondary characters will be featured in the next book. This may lead to writing a series when you hadn't even planned to. My series, the Brides of Simpson Creek, however, came along at a time when I was tired of having to "build a new world" each time I started a new manuscript, complete with a locale, secondary characters, and businesses, such as a particular saloon, or mercantile. (Yup, I write western romance.) I developed what seemed like a unique concept, the mail-order groom instead of bride. (If you wrote this concept first, ten years ago or so, please don't burst my bubble).
I designed a town, Simpson Creek, Texas, set it in the hill country near San Saba, and gave it a reason to need mail-order grooms—the lack of eligible bachelors following the War Between the States (also known as the Civil War if you're a Yankee). I gave the plot a plucky young miss discontent to remain an old maid, had her set up a group of like-minded ladies and place a newspaper ad—the 1860's version of online dating!
I started writing before computers so I still do a lot of planning on paper—no elaborate spreadsheets for me. On a piece of paper I wrote out the physical characteristics of each main character in one column, important facts in another, the names of secondary characters in another. The names of the first group of ladies in "The Spinsters Club" got their own column, and as the series developed, I had to keep track of what spinsters had found their matches—for not each spinster would get her own book. Each contracted book got its own page, and I still refer back to previous books, because I started writing the series in 2009 and it's all too easy to forget details after writing four of the stories. No fact is too small to write down—a throwaway character in the first book might have a pivotal role five books later.
I was well into the first book, which became MAIL ORDER COWBOY, before I got to visit the actual site of my fictional Simpson Creek—and discovered there really had been a community called Simpson Creek on the site. Spooky, huh? While there, I found a historic tree, the Marriage Oak, to use in my third story, THE SHERIFF'S SWEETHEART.
The ladies of my Spinsters' Club have married, had babies, (and in one case, went crazy and lost her life because of loving the wrong man), and the one thing I wish I'd started from the beginning was a comprehensive timeline so I could remember what book happened in what months of what year. It's been useful to visit http://www.timeanddate/com to see when the full moons were, and what date coincided with what day of the week—not because I think most readers care, but because in the heat of writing I may accidentally mention two full moons in one month. I keep a running narrative—also on paper—of several sentences telling what happens in each chapter, including the dates it took place.
Your mileage may vary if you write a series, but these are the hints that work for me. You may work with elaborate spreadsheets, but I'm a seat-of-the-pants writer and just need a little structure to help me keep from completely flying off into the mist and getting lost.
I hope you'll take the time to have a look at my trailer for THE RANCHER'S COURTSHIP on my website at http://www.LaurieKingery.com because it's the coolest thing, I think, that I've ever done for promotion. My videographer, Barbara Hunt of Paperback Flyers, is a genius. She's found images and music that totally fit my story and melded them all into a pleasing minute and thirty seconds that makes you really want to read the book. At least I hope it does! If you're interested in having a trailer made, her prices are very reasonable.
THE RANCHER'S COURTSHIP is available in November wherever books are sold, at online sites such as amazon.com,cbd.com, bn.com, and harlequin.com. Please visit my website at http://www.LaurieKingery.com
Thanks, Elaine, for giving me the opportunity to talk about my books!
By Laurie Kingery