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The last few Reviews posts have discussed recent entries in long established (non-Romance) Series. There is a reason for this focus that has to do with story structure. It is a subtle point, and one you are not likely to learn by reading Romance genre - even series.
I have also brought Gini Koch's ALIEN series
Still, Romance fans love it (as do I). The problem with trying to learn structure from the ALIEN series is simply that it is way too well done. It's structure is buried under heaps of detail, texture, and everything-and-the-kitchen-sink plotting.
Historically, Romance genre novels did not EVER do "reprints" -- and thus were inhospitable to series writers.
To make it worthwhile to do a Series of novels, you must be able to keep reaching a wider and wider readership, while providing access to previously published novels.
Today, authors even of the SFWA Grand Master status, such as C. J. Cherryh, whose Foreigner series we discussed in Reviews 54
are providing their backlist titles as self-published or e-book only publisher items. Kindle has been helpful for doing this. Commercial, mainstream publishers simply can't do it because of the tax laws (which derailed many writers' careers) taxing warehouse inventory.
To drive a Series of novels to a satisfying and memorable conclusion, to the kind of payoff for reading so many books that makes the money-time-effort-attention worth while, a writer needs constant, continuous, reprint or availability of previous entries in the series.
The world has changed to where e-books can do this job.
During this shift, Romance genre, propelled by a handful of adventurous editors, managed to introduce Romance readers to that big-bang payoff that only a well crafted, long running (15 books or more), can deliver.
Because of ineptitude of series structure (it does take practice!), many series peter out instead of delivering that one, final, definitive bang that flings the Happily Ever After future right out before the reader's eyes.
It took Romance a while to grasp what Science Fiction had been doing for a couple of decades, and now I think we are seeing a transformation of the Romance field that will shift the views of the general public about the real-life possibility of the HEA.
Faye Kellerman (wife of the world famous Jonathan Kellerman, master of the Mystery Genre series), burst onto the publishing scene with a spectacularly different Mystery/Romance hybrid, Ritual Bath. That novel won awards in spite of being far outside the bounds of what Mystery editors were looking for from a new writer.
The Ritual Bath,
the first in this long (so far 26 novels in the Decker/Lazarus series), introduced the Detective (Decker) to a witness to a murder (Rina Lazarus, a widow with 2 boys), they fall in love and over the course of 26 (so far) novels, Decker returns to his Jewish/religious roots because Rina is very observant (and may as well be an Alien From Outer Space from Decker's point of view), and they get married, have a kid, adopt kids (sort of) raise kids, send them off to college and marriage, move from one neighborhood to another, then retire to a different state, while Decker's daughter by a previous marriage is now a police Detective, too, and a valuable contact in another city.
Here is a list of the 26 novels:
Meanwhile, Decker continues his career as a police Detective, retires to detect in a small town, and keeps on stumbling over stumper cases.
Rina, as always, sticks her nose in where it doesn't belong and solves a few of his cases, here and there (sometimes becoming a target of a murderer), drags him into her family's life, and generally is a stalwart, heroic woman.
Walking Shadows is #25 in this series, and #26 is Lost Boys, to be released in October 2020.
I have always given my highest (10 out of 5 Stars!!!) to the Decker/Lazarus series because it is one of the earliest examples of triple hybridization in publishing and broke ground for the mixed genre concept.
Isaac Asimov did lay the foundation with his Black Widow science fiction mysteries, and other writers have woven Paranormal elements into Detective novels, and fantasy worlds. It took decades to achieve the conditions favorable to the Decker/Lazarus concept -- Mystery structure, Romance, and Religion.
Since fans seemed to object, the Religion elements get submerged in the later books, dissipated under the Mystery, and Romance per se does not burgeon into a big part of their family life. It might have been more interesting to me if Rina had taken up the profession of the Match Maker, thus keeping Romance a hot element in each novel, while mixing it with Religion. Also I'd have loved to see more novels drawing them into the religious life of other religions -- Los Angeles, the setting for most of the novels, certainly has enough variegated Religions.
My point is not that Religion is the important topic, but rather that the carefully balanced blend of all 3 genres in the initial novel, Ritual Bath, became distorted.
This happened because of reader feedback and editorial pressure, I'm sure (though I have no first hand knowledge).
The series is structured by the Life Cycle of the typical second-marriage couple, and that Life Cycle is optimized for a hard-working Los Angeles Detective (Vice squad to Homicide) by the addition of the third leg of Romance's footstool, Religion.
Rina Lazarus and Peter Decker are Soul Mates. That just glows out of the first novel in the series, they meet and parks fly. It is intense, and artistically juxtaposed to murder.
They take several years to arrange life into marriage-and-a-kid.
That is how real life usually structures.
Compressing a life-cycle pivot point series into ONE novel spanning just a few weeks or months (or less) from First Sight to Wedding Bells reduces the real-life-cycle of actually lived events to a Comic Book.
It is a child's view of reality, of adulthood.
And that could be why so many people just can't accept the idea that there can exist such a thing as a couple "living happily ever after."
It's a childish view of adulthood, to them, and offering any single Romance genre novel as an example of how it is real just repels them more strongly.
Living life takes time.
Children just don't experience time the way adults do.
To a child, every endeavor is a one-step-process. "Let's go to the park," says the child, and expects to drag Mom out the door. But Mom first has to clean up breakfast, take dinner out of the freezer, answer the phone, go to the bathroom, change the kid's clothes, set the clothes washer going, pack toys and food for the kid, THEN go out the door, get into the car - oh, and on the way to the park, stop for gas, drop off the dry cleaning, and then head for the park, look for a parking spot, -- and by the time they are traipsing across the park, the kid has to go to the bathroom. Go to the park is a multi-step procedure, and none of the regular parts of life can be neglected when you add Park to the list.
From the child's perspective, all that excess stuff is irrelevant.
Perspective may be the reason some people just can't grasp the reality of the HEA. To progress from where that reader is to where the HEA is real is a multi-step procedure that includes many routine life-tasks plus a few special preparations, and requires some delayed gratification, some self-discipline, some heavy lifting, and long-tedious journeys between.
To the child who wants to go to the Park, getting there isn't real until he's swooping down the slides, deviling other kids on the playground, feeding the ducks, and fighting for a spot on the swings.
The child who has been to the Park before has building expectations, knowing there really is a Park, but it just isn't here right now.
The adult reading a Romance doesn't know there is an HEA, and has no idea what the connection is between this time-consuming, tedious, Romance, and the HEA. Just as the child doesn't see the point of taking dinner out of the freezer before leaving, then stopping on errands along the way, the adult reading a Romance may not see the point of Romance.
Today's culture encourages people to confuse Romance with sex -- and that's another discussion.
There was a time when no publisher would publish a Romance novel that had even one sex scene. Think about that.
In real life, Relationships are built over years, even decades. What a person means to you is the summation of thousands of interactions, of challenges met together, of favors done, of achievements admired, of movies watched together, and even children raised together.
Today, we are more keenly aware of what other people mean to us because of the sharp, sudden, unexpected loss of loved ones, co-workers, friends, distant relatives, neighbors, due to the Covid-19 virus, or due to lack of available treatment for a condition because of the focus on Covid-19.
People grow roots into each others' guts. Loss of such a closely rooted person is like a tree falling over in a storm, leaving root system jutting into the air. It's a ripping hurt.
A single novel, even a big, thick one spanning years of time, can't depict the growth of such a root system between people.
It takes a Series, maybe like the Decker/Lazarus series, spanning decades, to grow the Character's roots into the guts of the reader. To understand what the Characters mean to each other, the reader has to live their life parallel to that character. It might take a week or two to read a long novel - and that just isn't long enough to feel, to believe, the evolutionary change of maturity the Characters have to go through between First Sight and HEA.
Ritual Bath was first published in 1986. I think it was 1992 that I first discovered a paperback of it at a book store. It's 2020, and I can barely wait for the next installment!
Decker and Lazarus, Peter and Rina, are living the HEA - the real-life-kind of HEA, full of growth, change, challenge, and the application of the lessons learned at First Sight to the deeply entwined roots into each others' Souls.
If you want to argue the HEA with your readers, plan a long series, and be certain it has a firm structure built from the autobiographical bones of real people's real lives. Then flesh out those bones with variations that bespeak the underlying themes you are dealing with.
Each individual novel in the Series has to open, and explicate, some sub-theme that is derived from that main envelope theme.
Note how C. J. Cherryh, in her Foreigner Series, treats the material of a single novel - an Event, a Problem, and the Solution - all focused around a theme - as a trilogy. There is an overall theme to the series, and a sub-theme illustrated in each trilogy.
The series is structured around the life, and life-cycle, of Bren Cameron -- who is a father-figure to the young Atevi prince.
Bren stumbles from crisis to crisis -- yet he is living the HEA many readers say doesn't exist.
Think about that. What is your vision of an HEA?