Saturday, October 14, 2017

Oops. Now What?

Once upon a time there were two girls. One was named Sarah and one was named Susan. They were the bestest friends, closer than sisters. They posted selfies and praised each other on social media. They had whatever the female equivalent of a bromance is.

They were also writers. Sarah Maas created the Throne of Glass series of YA fantasy adventure books, among others. Susan Dennard wrote Truthwitch. The gushing mutual admiration continued in the Acknowledgements sections, where they sang each other’s praises in support of each other’s books. Susan even said the heroines of her book were based on Sarah and herself, and the series was inspired by their friendship.

And then, apparently, something went very, very wrong.

I learned about the mutual admiration society these two had going when I started binge reading the Throne of Glass series. It was all Susan this and Susan that and Ours Is An Epic Friendship That Will Last Beyond The End Of Time. Well, the end of time must have arrived, because around the fourth or fifth book Susan’s name vanished from the “thank you” pages. I even went back and checked over it again. Nope, she’s gone. Curious, I found a copy of Truthwitch and turned to the Acknowledgements. Plenty of mention of Sarah. That was Book 1. When Book 2 came out, Sarah’s name had likewise been scrubbed clean from the copy. Something was clearly afoot.

Bolstered by the firm belief that fans are fully entitled to be told everything about their heroes, even when it’s none of their business, I turned to that unimpeachable source, the Internetz. Social media confirmed my theory. There were rumors of a falling-out between the duo. A story they’d been writing together online ended abruptly in the middle. A fan who saw them on a writers’ panel at a con reported they made a point of completely ignoring each other.

Details were skimpy. Sarah didn’t say anything. Susan posted a vaguely-worded Tweet referring to “toxic friendships” and “standing up to bullies.” They just don’t make epic friendships like they used to.

My first thought was: Susan’s book was inspired by their relationship. Now that the friendship’s gone bust, what’s going to happen to her series?

Because these aren’t ebooks, where (at least in my experience) each book is an individual item, even if it’s part of a series, and each one gets its own separate contract. This is Big Time Publishing, in print and in bookstores. I’m betting they signed multi-book contracts. It’s not uncommon for traditional publishers to sign an author for two or three or even more books on one contract, even if the first book was meant as a standalone. The author agrees to deliver Book 1 by a certain date, Book 2 by a later date, and so on. Which means if your inspiration dries up, or you get sick, or have a religious conversion and only want to write sonnets praising Buddha now, too bad. You’re still on the hook to produce those books you agreed to write when you signed on the dotted line. Otherwise you have to give back the advance. Dunno if interest is included.

I hope Susan didn’t lock herself in for too many books on her contract. I don’t imagine it’s fun for her writing about those characters at this point, what with all the bad feelings it must be stirring up. The character based on her former bestie might do an about-face and suddenly become the bad guy. Or die. Horribly. That’s one way to get closure.

Hey, we’re writers. It happens. Sometimes the well runs dry, with or without loss of a friendship. Conan Doyle got so sick of writing about Sherlock Holmes he killed off his most famous character. Then had to bring him back due to popular demand. Ditto for J. K. Rowling. She didn’t kill off Harry Potter, but by now I’ll bet she wishes she had that luxury. She said all she had to say on the subject, wrapped up the series, and attempted to write other things. The public, or maybe her publisher, said, “Write more Harry Potter.” So she’s back to writing about wizards and such, and no doubt grumbling under her breath all the way to the bank.

I’ve had series die out on me, for one reason or another. You get distracted by having to earn a living. Or interest fades. Or you get bored. Inspiration dies out and there’s no magic left. I was writing a long-term serial story over on the old Shapeshifter Seductions blog when a writer’s block hit. I ended up abandoning it in the middle. Maybe someday I’ll finish it; I know where the story’s going, and I’ve already written the ending. For those of you familiar with my vampire series (Belonging, Legacy, and the YA spinoff Slayer for Hire), know this: there was supposed to be a third book, about the Preacher. Then there’s a fourth book set in the future that wraps everything up. I just never got around to writing them. Dunno if I ever will.

In cases where a contract, and the publisher’s legal department, isn’t involved, I don’t know how one goes about boosting flagging interest in your own series long enough to write it, or even if you should. The boredom might be temporary, or you could be finished for good. I recall Stephen King saying something about how he was dragging his heels over continuing his Dark Tower series, until he got hit by that van. Confronted suddenly and dramatically with proof of his own mortality, he whipped out the final three books in short order. I do not recommend arranging a near-death experience to rekindle interest in your story. There’s such a thing as overkill, y’know?'

Anyway, I’ll be keeping an eye on the YA shelves to find out what happens in the next book of Susan Dennard’s series, assuming it even gets written. If she’s lucky, she only signed up for a trilogy. Two down, one to go. Then she can move on to other things without being haunted by the ghosts of friendships past. Mostly I’m curious to see if her ex’s character meets a really nasty end. Never piss off a writer.

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