Monday, July 18, 2011

Vicki Delany: D is for Delany

The Alphabet Meme is rolling along, and glad that we don't have any purists in the group. We'll go back to C and here's another D. D is for Delany. Today I welcome Canadian mystery author Vicki Delany. Standalones vs. Series? Always a dilemma.

Vicki Delany's newest book is Among the Departed, the fifth in the Constable Molly Smith series from Poisoned Pen Press. If you’d like to read the first two chapters, go to: Follow Vicki on Facebook, and on Twitter @vickidelany.

Standalones vs. Series

As all mystery readers know, there are two basic types of crime novels: Standalones and series.

Standalones, in which characters appear once, never to be seen again, verses series, in which the same character or characters feature in book after book.

As a reader as well as a writer, I am torn as to which I prefer.

A standalone novel gives the protagonist that one opportunity to achieve great things; to have that grand adventure; to meet the everlasting love of their life; to conquer evil, once and for all. In a standalone, the characters face their demons and defeat them.

Or not.

My first books were standalone novels of suspense. In Scare the Light Away the main character confronts, for one last time, the debris of her traumatic childhood. In Burden of Memory, the protagonist faces down the ghost of a past that is not hers, but is still threatening what she holds dear.

Then I switched to writing a series. And found that series novels present a different problem. The central character, or characters, confronts their demons, but they do not defeat them. Their weaknesses, all their problems, will be back in the next book. In each story the series character stands against, and usually defeats, someone else’s problem or society’s enemy, but she or he moves only one small step towards the resolution of their own issues, if at all.

It can be a challenge to keep the main character interesting and growing and changing but to do it so slowly that the reader’s interest in the character can be maintained over several books and several years.

In the Constable Molly Smith novels (In the Shadow of the Glacier, Negative Image), set in a small town in the mountains of British Columbia, Molly is haunted by the death of her fiancĂ©, Graham. It was a meaningless, preventable, tragic death and, even in her grief, Molly knows that returning to the small town in which she grew up and becoming a cop won’t help her to make sense of Graham’s death. But she does anyway, and as the series unfolds, Molly is able to confront the gulf that Graham’s death has left in her life and, eventually, move on. By the time we get to the fifth book in the series, Among the Departed, Molly has put Graham’s death behind her, and said her good-byes. Now that she has a new man in her life, new problems arise. Here’s a sample:

As she headed for the passenger door, Adam pulled her into the shop doorway. The babbles on display sparkled in the lights of the windows, a row of gorgeous engagement rings front and center.

“See anything you like?”

She looked up at him, a joke forming on her lips. The words collapsed back into her throat. His dark eyes were serious, his handsome face intent.

She’d wondered why he parked on the main street when plenty of parking was available nearer the concert.

“Molly,” he said, his voice very deep.

She turned her head quickly. “They’re all beautiful. Dreadfully expensive I bet. Let’s go. I’m beat.”

She dashed for the truck, and whatever he had meant to say remained unsaid.

The series format allows me to slowly and gradually explore people’s complicated relationships while at the same time the police are working to find a killer.

Yet it is also important that books in a series don’t flow into each other so much that readers beginning a series in the middle will be lost as to what’s going on. It can be a balancing act, to create a plot that’s self-contained within each individual book, but still allows the characters to grow and to change over time.

Now that the fifth Molly Smith book is out in the world, I’m taking a break from Trafalgar and writing a new standalone for Poisoned Pen Press. New book, new characters, new setting, new challenges.

This one is tentatively titled Walls of Glass (also under consideration, More than Sorrow. Any opinions?) Like my earlier book, Burden of Memory, Walls of Glass is a modern gothic. The traditional British gothic is making a comeback. (Who knew? Not me when I started.) This style of book seems to be suited strictly to standalones. Consider: The character visits at a place with which they are unfamiliar. They come across a long-buried secret that has the potential to still harm people of today. The protagonist must uncover the secret by the end of the book and the consequences of that secret must be traumatic and important.

Hard to do that in a series, I’d say. It might be a bit contrived to keep coming up with yet another skeleton in yet previously unknown another family castle.

Series or standalone? Ultimately it is up to you and me, the readers, to decide.

I suspect we’ll vote for both.


Anonymous said...

Publishers will tell you that series sell better. A standalone is a tough sell each time - even with well known authors. It's as if a reader has to won over time and time again. Which doesn't mean it isn't worth doing of course.

Vicki Delany said...

I've heard that publishers like series for just those reasons. But I've been reading writers like Kate Morton, S.J. Bolton lately. They write standalones and I read one after the other without needing to be resold. I've been wondering if standalones are becoming more popular lately - eg. Morton and Bolton