At talks I gave in Seoul and Bogotá on a standalone novel called Revenge on the Fly, the same question arose: “What do I think of series?” It was clear that the answer was supposed to be that they were a lesser form of literature that you shouldn’t encourage or even allow your young people to read.
Which reminded me that when I was a young reader, I was shocked when one of my closest friends was forbidden to read Nancy Drew. She was also not allowed to be friends with me but that’s another story.
Aw c’mon, why can’t kids latch on to a set of characters, a premise and/or a certain writer for awhile? It’s so comforting. Like visiting the same cottage every summer. Like binge watching a show on Netflicks.
Back as an early reader I graduated from Nancy Drew to Little House on the Prairies, devouring every book as fast as I could get them off the shelves.
Many years later, I wrote six books in a Stage School series for an English publisher, Orchard Publishing, under the pseudonym Gena Dare. Sharon Siamon and Linda Hendry wrote the other six sharing the same pseudonym.
Even though the characters were of Sharon Siamon’s creation, I became addicted to what was happening in their lives. Sharon and I would argue over whether say dancerJenna could experience anorexia, or whether Actor Claire would every fall for Comic Dan. They were so real to us. Working together was so much fun; I miss her.
The experience was also excellent in learning how to research and write quickly without so much second guessing. Second guessing leads to writing block and with a book to write every three months there was no time.
Revisiting characters was also a lot of fun so I created my own new characters for Wild Life series “Et Vilt Liv” under my name for a Norwegian publisher. Only the first one, Last Chance for Paris, made it to the Canadian Publishing scene.
In Canada I wrote one-offs that grew into series because I couldn’t let the characters go.
These past couple of years I worked on The Great Mistake Mysteries. One of my close writing friends said of them “I wish I had a set of characters I could just call up like that.”
When you think about it, books for children are shorter, Harry Potter excepting. So if your child wants to have that epic reading experience you enjoy from a full length novel, without the pressure of acquiring that super-thick, extra-heavy book, series satisfies the bill.
If you’re not careful being a parent can become all about worrying. Are they walking or talking on schedule. Are they reading up to grade level? Will they never move on from Captain Underpants or Dogman? Will they ever read–Insert latest GG winner here–?
As a reader, I recently cracked open a Louise Penny series mystery. Oh my, instantly I curled up and relaxed into a visit with my favourite detective Inspector Gamache. There was no working hard to get to the place where I understood the book’s world or how the characters related. I could immerse myself from the opening pages.
Sometimes for your book club or your university literature class you want more of a challenge. Perhaps our educators also need to present young readers with challenges to move out of their reading comfort zone whether that be graphic novels, series or standalone mono-genre novels.
So what do I think of series? Even when I write the occasional stand alone books and get to tour beautiful countries with them, I feel series are excellent, both to read and to write. From a writer’s perspective, a marketing problem exists in how reviewing bodies treat them as identical triplets or sextuplets instead of individuals. A distribution issue in Canada, certainly, is how the bookstores only stock the last title in the series. There’s an assumption that series are grand money makers–they’re not. They’re just fulfilling to write.
Lately I’ve been signing in stores and enjoyed the strange position of defending the Wimpy Kid books (not my own series sadly)–apparently the main character inspires laziness in kids or at least one customer’s kid.
Let kids wallow in the kind of story they like for as long as they want. They’ll learn to walk, talk, spell, grow up, get a job and be a responsible person all in their own good time.
PS The Great Mistake Mysteries has just been purchased by a Russian publisher. With any luck, some day I can speak in a Russian library and answer how I feel standalone novels measure up to series in terms of growing readers.