Introduction by KJ Howe: Writing one dynamic book is a real accomplishment. Keeping a series fresh is a monumental task. It takes a creative mind and an endless amount of energy. Learn from iconic author Tess Gerritsen how to keep your series sparkling. Welcome to the Rogues, Tess!
Keeping A Series Fresh
In 1893, Sherlock Holmes fell to his death at Reichenbach Falls.
Conan Doyle’s short story “The Final Problem” was his attempt to finally break free of the hero he’d created. Conan Doyle was weary of writing about Sherlock Holmes and frustrated by a ravenous public that clamored for ever more Holmes stories. Couldn’t they see he was capable of writing more elevated literature? Fed up with being chained to his fictional creation, and longing to spread his wings as a writer, Conan Doyle sent Sherlock Holmes over the falls to his death.
But Holmes wouldn’t stay dead. Outraged readers wanted their hero back, and the public backlash forced Conan Doyle to resurrect the hero he’d just dispatched. It must have been both humbling and maddening for him to discover his creation had eclipsed him. Indeed, long after the author’s death, Sherlock Holmes still lives on in books, movies, and television.
While I’ve never done something as drastic as killing off my heroines, I understand Conan Doyle’s frustration about being chained to characters we create. After years of writing books featuring Det. Jane Rizzoli and Dr. Maura Isles, I was feeling boxed in by my characters, and by the market’s demand for more Rizzoli and Isles. The television series based on my books had introduced my heroines to readers around the world, and those readers didn’t want me to explore any other characters; no, they wanted Jane and Maura!
Conan Doyle, old buddy, I wish you were still around so we could commiserate together.
When writing a popular series feels like a hamster wheel you can’t escape, you’re on your way to burnout. As much as I’ve grown to love Jane and Maura, sometimes I need to take a break from the series. Over the years, I’ve done just that. I wrote a historical (Playing With Fire) about a classical violinist who discovers a beautiful — and dangerous — piece of music connected to the Holocaust. I wrote a ghost story (The Shape of Night) about a woman who flees to Maine, where she rents an old house that’s haunted by the ghost of a sea captain — a ghost who may have caused the deaths of women who came before her. Both these books were wildly different from the series, but they gave me the creative holiday I needed before diving back into the world of Jane and Maura.
Another way to keep a series fresh is with characters whose voices are so insistent and compelling they make you write the next installment. One character’s voice in particular inspired me to write my latest Rizzoli and Isles novel, Listen to Me: the voice of Jane’s mother, Angela Rizzoli. She’s been in the series from the start, but she’s never been given the attention she deserves. Like so many other women her age, she’s become invisible. In books as well as in real life, nubile young heroines claim center stage, while older women often feel unheard and unseen. That’s what’s happened to Angela. She devoted her life to being a wife and mother but now her kids are out of the house and her husband’s left her for another woman. Living alone, she spends far too much time watching the neighborhood from her suburban living room. She may not be a cop like her daughter, but Angela’s got a cop’s instincts, and she’s convinced something shady is going on in the house across the street. Why is the new couple so secretive? Why are their blinds always down? Why does the woman seem scared and the man seem so threatening? Yes, Angela’s certain there’s something dangerous about those people.
She just needs to convince Jane to investigate.
But Jane’s too busy hunting for a killer. A hospital nurse has been brutally slain in her own home, and as Jane and Maura chase down leads and the case expands and twists in unexpected directions, Jane doesn’t have time for her mother’s wacky conspiracy theories.
With no one listening to her, and danger mounting in her neighborhood, Angela has to take matters into her own hands … even if it kills her.
Characters who never stop evolving help keep a long-running series fresh and interesting. When your series includes a whole universe of characters, their intertwined lives provide a continuing source of conflicts and drama. In the course of thirteen novels, we’ve seen Jane fall in love, marry, and become a mother (a pregnancy that lasted three books!) We’ve watched Maura ride the roller-coaster of a tempestuous love affair. As in real life, their lives aren’t static.
Now it’s Angela’s turn to show us she’s more than just “Mom.” She reminds us that the mothers we thought we knew might have valuable insights to share with us — if only we choose to listen.