Monday, August 11, 2014

Writing a Series A Challenging Art

"Paris the the whore, perpetually young and yet still captivating."

Louis Shalako

If a book is a work of art, then a series is also a work of art.

It is challenging from the artistic point of view. Assuming you want to write more, that is--you could always break off and abandon it.

It is a work of greater length and complexity. This offers certain opportunities.

In The Maintenon Mystery Series, I have one novella, The Handbag’s Tale, and then the three novels, Redemption: an Inspector GillesMaintenon mystery, The Art of Murder and Blessed Are the Humble.

Since Maintenon is described as low fifties in Redemption, and since Handbag takes place in 1927, he’s a grown man and a complex character. He was in the police in 1914 when WW I broke out and would have had to ask permission to resign and join the French army. He was at Verdun and said so in Redemption (I think.)

His wife is sick in ‘Maintenon4,’ my working title. I have a great title, but I’ll finalize and announce that later.

In the three novels already written, the reader has never met Ann Maintenon. The themes in this book can be pretty dark, for I’ve got something like thirteen victims, all women and girls, and a man awaiting the guillotine when Maintenon is asked to take another look at the case.

In this story, Maintenon isn’t even an Inspector—he’s written the exam, but competition is fierce and not all qualified candidates are taken up in rank. There’s a yearly quota, much like the ‘list’ in Royal Army terms. 

They’re only going to make so many Inspectors in any given year. He’s Detective-Sergeant Maintenon, but he’s solved a couple of high-profile cases and the President himself is asking for him. There is the pressure of internal politics, and there is the pressure of time.

Sergeant Andre Levain, who plays a prominent role in the ‘later’ stories, (which I wrote first) is the new guy and he and Gilles have only worked together on a limited basis, all under the supervision of superior officers. As a writer, and as a work of art, this offers the chance to explore the earlier days of this relationship. We have the chance to explore Gilles’s relationship with his wife and his work, at a different age and level of proficiency. Good cops are made over a long time—they don’t spring, fully formed from the genie’s bottle. But I can slot new stories in almost any year, and one case might span a year and a half—theoretically, he’s off solving new cases, cases made into books, even as that one in particular is still ongoing. It is a fact that homicides have been solved after thirty or more years and cops never forget, essentially.

Then there is the whole challenge of historicity. In 1924, at the time when the story actually takes place, Paris is all wrought up in the summer Olympics. As of June 13 they have a new government, and a President who is perhaps a little more radical than modern voters might be comfortable with, no matter which side of the political spectrum they might be on.

It is a time of worker ferment, bureaucratic corruption, and great art, great music, great culture—and Paris is a great city in the peak of its form in spite of all faults.

Paris is the whore that is perpetually-young, and still captivating in spite of all the warts and blemishes that do peek through.

(That line might even make it into the book. – ed.)

In a series, your work of art acquires greater depth and precision. The more books in the series, the greater the clarity, where incidents in one book support the events in another. Anything is possible because there is no set length. Other characters come and go, but Maintenon remains.

It is inevitable that I must end up studying the world I write about. The really strange thing is that I chose it at random, mostly to avoid modern forensics and the CSI fixation on biochemistry and zooming down through the bores of scanning electron microscopes. I wanted a certain feel, I wanted something French.

I wanted, like Lovejoy, a period piece, no matter how new it actually was.

In terms of building that world, Paris and France from about 1920 until the 1930s, I check my facts, without going nuts on the politics of the day. I have to nail it down in time and place;  and then I try to weave as seamless a tale as I can. Inevitably, it will have its limitations, and there you go. That’s the way it is.

I can always write another one. A really interesting period to write about might be on the eve of WW II, in which we might be looking through the eyes of a very old, very tired, and very jaded man.

That depends on a number of factors, including the question of whether I live long enough.



No comments:

Post a Comment

Please feel free to comment on the blog posts, art or editing.