posted on June 20, 2014 by Joan Johnston

The Challenges of Writing Books in a Series

Author Joan JohnstonBy Joan Johnston

You might think that writing books in a series is easier than writing a book that stands on its own, but each type of novel has its challenges.  Thirty-eight of my fifty-six novels are connected in some way, part of several different series, including Bitter Creek, Hawk’s Way, Captive Hearts, and Sisters of the Lone Star.  I also have a couple of “two-fers”—two connected books.

TEXAS BRIDE_hires (2)I just finished writing three connected historical Mail-Order Brides books, TEXAS BRIDE, WYOMING BRIDE, and MONTANA BRIDE, which are part of my long-running Bitter Creek series, and I’m currently working on a brand-new contemporary Bitter Creek spin-off called “King’s Brats,” which includes SINFUL (in stores December 30), SHAMEFUL, and SURRENDER.  So you can see this is a format I love.

Wyoming Bride highest res coverWith a continuing series I don’t have to come up with a brand-new set of characters for every book.  On the other hand, I have to figure out how to weave every book together with the others using  both an underlying theme for the series and an individual plot for each book.  I need to give you, the reader, conflict, climax, and resolution in each book, while leaving the lives of other characters in chaos until they get their own book.

The hardest part?  Three books in I can’t remember what I wrote in the previous novels!  I don’t keep a “bible” containing all the information about each character, so I’m constantly asking:   What color were his eyes?  What color was her hair?  How old was he?  When was it he broke his leg?  What did I name him/her?  MONTANA BRIDE_hiresOmigod.  How old are they now?  My Hawk’s Way series runs through both children and grandchildren.  I had a couple of kids I thought were six-year-olds playing around the hero’s ankles, only to realize (thank goodness before the book got published!) that they were actually sixteen.  So the hardest part is managing consistency between books and ensuring that details connect in a way that makes sense.  Apologies in advance for all the mistakes I have made (and will make) that you catch!  Because you do catch them and let me know where I’ve gone wrong.

In my upcoming “King’s Brats series, Taylor, Gray, and Victoria Grayhawk are mentioned in a sentence here or there in the first eight or nine Bitter Creek novels.  I always suspected those characters were two boys and a girl (I may have put that in a book somewhere in a single sentence), but I never wrote any details about them.  I’ve learned, from past mistakes, to leave details about characters undefined in early books, so I don’t write myself into a corner.  For SINFUL I needed these characters all to be female, so I could match them up with brand-new characters, “those Wild Flynn Boys.”   I also SINFUL cover Bitter Creekwanted their ages to be close, so Taylor and Victoria ended up being the elder sisters and fraternal twins, while Gray ended up being renamed Eve.  I worked out a complicated reason for why Gray ends up being named Eve, so readers would understand the change, but my editor, who didn’t realize the problem I’d created for myself, cut it out as extraneous.  I will expect a few letters from discerning readers and apologize profusely and explain as best I can.

After 56 books, how do I manage to keep it all straight and not make distracting mistakes? “It’s a mystery,” as they say in The Princess Bride.   That mystery is what keeps me, and hopefully you, intrigued and waiting for the next book!

Take care and happy reading!
Joan Johnston

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Joan Johnston

Joan Johnston

One of the most popular romance writers in America today, former attorney and college professor Joan Johnston has over 10 million books in print world-wide — including the New York Times bestsellers SISTERS FOUND, THE COWBOY, THE TEXAN, THE LONER, THE NEXT MRS. BLACKTHORNE and NO LONGER A STRANGER..
THE PRICE represented a milestone in Johnston’s career as her first hardcover original.

Joan Johnston has an eclectic background. Now the bestselling, award-winning author of forty-five novels, she was formerly an attorney with Hunton & Williams in Richmond, Virginia and Squire, Sanders & Dempsey in Miami, Florida. Joan also worked as a newspaper editor and drama critic in San Antonio, Texas, as a director of theatre in Southwest Texas, and as a college professor, most recently at the University of Miami, Florida. Joan has a B.A. in theatre arts from Jacksonville University in Jacksonville, Florida, an M.A. in theatre from the University of Illinois in Urbana and received her J.D. with honors from the University of Texas at Austin School of Law.

Joan loves to travel and visited England and Scotland to do research for her Captive Hearts series (Captive, After the Kiss, The Bodyguard and The Bridegroom). She also made journeys to Tahiti, Australia and Bali–for a South Seas, WWII novel that she hopes to write. Joan’s books have appeared on the New York Times, USA TODAY and Publishers Weekly Bestseller Lists.

For her Bitter Creek series, Joan toured the legendary King Ranch in South Texas and took a course on tracking (humans and animals!) from a Deputy Marshal deep in the Big Bend country of West Texas. She also traveled to Australia to tour the big cattle stations there and see what life is like Down Under.

Joan is a member of the Authors Guild, Novelists, Inc., Romance Writers of America and Florida Romance Writers. She divides her time between homes in Colorado and South Florida.

Johnston recently became a grandmother for the second time. Her daughter, a teacher, lives in the Tampa area. Her son, a budding novelist, lives in Orlando.

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