It's September, and my fifth book in the "Brides of Simpson Creek" series for Love Inspired Historicals, THE PREACHER'S BRIDE, will hit the shelves October 1 (in fact the LIH bookclub subscribers already have it). 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 each spinster might not 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 five 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.
Is it necessary to visit your locale? Probably not in this age of internet research, and I know not everyone is able to do a research trip, but it sure was helpful to me. I'd already picked the place, but now I could see the actual Simpson Creek, view the terrain and its trees, plants and shrubs, and decide where the ranches and so forth should be. Knowing what it really looks like can make for a disconnect when you see an artist's rendering of it on the bookcover, but it's more helpful than not.
I was well into the first book in the series, which became MAIL ORDER COWBOY, before I got to visit the actual site of my fictional Simpson Creek (near San Saba, Texas)—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. I also wish I'd kept better track of who had babies when, and when those babies were born, so it would be easier to age the children of these unions appropriately.
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.
Please visit my website at http://www.LaurieKingery.com, and you can contact me from a link there. I'm also on Facebook, Twitter (@LaurieKingery.com) and Pinterest. THE PREACHER'S BRIDE is available in October from Love Inspired Historicals wherever books are sold, at online sites such as amazon.com, cbd.com, bn.com, and harlequin.com. I've just finished the sixth in the series, HILL COUNTRY CATTLEMAN, and it will be out in May, 2013.
Her deepest secret—
When her little brother died, Faith Bennett lost her trust in God. She's keep this secret from the good people of Simpson Creek, yet she can't deceive Gil Chadwick. She'll be Gil's friend, but without a faith to match his, she can never be the handsome new preacher's bride.
Thought Gil cherishes Faith's friendship, he wants a wife. And in kind, upright Faith, he's convinced he's found her. The secret heartaches of his past fade as he watches her nurse his father. When danger finds her, he'll risk everything to save her. For where there's Faith, there's love…and the promise of a new beginning together.