Keeping It Fresh; The Joys of Writing a Long Series by Donis Casey

I am happy to say that my eighth Alafair Tucker Mystery, All Men Fear Me, has just been released in paper, audio, and e-formats. This is a good thing, since the minute I finish a manuscript, am brain dead for several weeks thereafter. The last few weeks of writing before a manuscript is due in to the publisher is intense and hair-raising.You finish.You send it off. It’s out of your hands.You are like a cork that has been anchored under the water for weeks and months, and now the string is cut and you pop to the surface.You’re floating.The sun is shining, the air is fresh.You are drifting. You are disoriented. You’re blinking at the light. You don’t know what to do next. This has happened to me every time I finish a novel. I despair of ever being able to write another word.

And yet—by the time a new book is released, I’m already well into the next. When I first began writing the Alafair Tucker Mystery series, I had a story arc in mind that was going to carry through ten books. This is a wonderful idea, but as anyone who has ever written a long series knows, after a couple of books all your plans for a story arc have been knocked into a cocked hat.
The reason this happened, at least to me, is that I seem to be writing about real people who have their own ideas about how things should be gone about, and once I put them into a situation, they react to it in ways I had never anticipated.
So much for a ten book arc. Besides, I really want readers to be able to pick up any book in the series and have a satisfying experience without having to know anything about what went before. This poses the million dollar question for the author of a long series: How do you keep it fresh? How do you make every story stand alone, yet in its place as well? How do you keep from repeating yourself, or losing your spark?
I’ve had quite a journey with my protagonist over the last decade. Alafair is a farm wife with a very large family who lives in rural Oklahoma at the turn of the 20th century. She is a woman who knows her world and has made her place in it. Each of the books features a different one of Alafair’s newly-grown children, with whom Alafair either works to solve a crime, or works to save from him or herself.  Since each child has his or her own distinct personality and interests, this gives me a great deal of latitude to explore all kinds of things that people were into in the early 20th Century.
 For each book I must come up with a compelling reason for a farm wife and mother of ten to get involved in a murder investigation. I also have to figure out a convincing way for her to either solve the murder or at least contribute to the solution, which as you might guess, isn’t that easy. I have found over the course of eight books in the same series that I have begun to depart from the usual mystery novel format. The murders take place later and later in the story with each book I write. The later books are constructed more like thrillers than puzzles. In book seven, Hell With the Lid Blown Off, I told the reader who was going to die in the first sentence, but didn’t actually kill him for a hundred pages. In All Men Fear Me…well, I’ll let you see for yourself.
All Men Fear Me takes the Tucker family to the beginning of World War I. Of course, war is hell. The book is not about the life of a soldier, though, or what is going on in Europe. All Men Fear Me is about the American home front. The war had a huge impact on daily life for ordinary people, even in the far reaches of eastern Oklahoma. Americans were as divided at the beginning of World War I as they were during the Viet Nam war. But the U.S. Government was not nearly as tolerant of dissension in 1917 as it was in 1967. Alafair just wants to mind her own business, live a quiet life, and see her children safe and happy. But when you have two sons eager to do their patriotic duty, a German-born son-in-law, and a brother who is a Socialist, union organizer, and anti-war activist, peace and harmony is not to be. Especially after the arrival in town of an ominous stranger who sews discord wherever he goes.
And the title? The title comes from a World War I bond drive poster that says:
I am Public Opinion
All Men Fear me
Donis Casey is a native Oklahoman and the author of eight Alafair Tucker Mysteries, (Poisoned Pen Press): The Old Buzzard Had It Coming, Hornswoggled, The Drop Edge of Yonder, The Sky Took Him, Crying Blood, The Wrong Hill to Die On, Hell With the Lid Blown Off, and the newly All_Men_Fear_Me_Cover1011released All Men Fear Me. Two of her novels have won the Arizona Book Award and six have been finalists for the Oklahoma Book Award for Fiction. The Old Buzzard Had It Coming was named an Oklahoma Centennial Book in 2007. She is a former teacher, academic librarian, and entrepreneur who lives in Tempe, Arizona, with her husband. Read the first chapter of each of her books on her website
Elevator pitch
Passions run high in the small town of Boynton, Oklahoma, the home of Alafair Tucker, her husband, and their 10 children. Patriotic zealots are on the lookout for anyone not doing their bit for the war effort. Yet the local unionists and Socialists oppose the far-off war. Innocent civilians such as Alafair’s German-born son-in-law, Kurt Lukenbach, Alafair’s son-in-law, are caught in the general distrust of foreigners. On top of everything, Alafair’s IWW-activist brother, Rob Gunn, comes for a visit, and his arrival coincides with civil unrest, acts of sabotage, and murder. In the middle of it all is “old Nick,” a ubiquitous stranger feasting on the conflicts and fanning the flames.
Kirkus Reviews says about All Men Fear Me: “Casey’s skill at making you care about the injustices of a time and place not often covered in history books is second to none. The admirable mystery is the cherry on top.”

2 thoughts on “Keeping It Fresh; The Joys of Writing a Long Series by Donis Casey

  1. reidpatricia says:

    I think I have read all of Donis books with the exception of All Men Fear Me and I will be reading it soon. I can recommend her books as excellent reads.

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