The Language of Bees
One of the drawbacks of writing a series, especially for those of us writers who have a low threshold for boredom, is that die-hard Fans want essentially the same book but with new trappings. After all, they fell in love with a group of characters and a situation, and they don’t really want huge changes, any more than a person desires huge changes in the person he or she married.
However, not all of us are equipped to be a Sue Grafton or Lee Child, those blessed writers who positively enjoy working within a closely confined palette of settings, characters, and times. Some of us get to book four or five and begin to eye the characters who are now riding our backs, and contemplate acts of nasty violence—there’s a good reason why Arthur Conan Doyle pushed Sherlock Holmes off a high cliff. I have no doubt he came to regret not providing the grieving Watson with a corpse, laid in a nice Victorian coffin, its lid securely nailed shut.
Over the years, I have got around the problems inherent in writing the same characters in two ways: First off, I tend to alternate my writing, shifting from the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes historical series either into the contemporary Kate Martinelli procedurals, or into a standalone, which has me spending a year in another world entirely. Either way, I return to the continuing Russell saga with clear eyes and a genuine interest in what has been going on in their lives while I was busy elsewhere.
The other way I’ve escaped serial tedium (and remember, the reader may take pleasure in a yearly voyage in the company of familiar characters, but the writer has to take that voyage using a close-up, slow-motion, continuously-replaying camera focused on Every. Tiny. Step. Along. The. Way.) has been to throw something new into each book. The Martinelli novels tend to have a main character who doesn’t reappear in others, or if so, just briefly. The Russells tend to travel.
Russell and Holmes meet, as the first line of The Beekeeper’s Apprentice puts it, when both she and the century are fifteen: “…fifteen years old with my nose in a book as I walked the Sussex Downs, and nearly stepped on him.” Sussex, London, Wales, Dartmoor—the first books are tightly British as she grows to maturity as a person and as a detective, and they find their variety in the contrast of bustling urban streets and bleak moorland loneliness.
The Language of Bees ended with those three dread words, To Be Continued, sparking an outrage that has not been seen since Conan Doyle “killed” Sherlock Holmes at the Reichenbach Falls. It is perhaps appropriate, then, to end this post with that same notice:
This post to be continued…next Tuesday.