Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Writing a Fiction Series: Ins, Outs, Ups and Downs: Part One

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Kid Lit Can

I have recently been contracted to write books 4, 5 and 6 in my chapter book series The Puppy Collection for Scholastic. I'm excited to write more about main characters that I already "know" and to create new adventures for Kat, Maya and Grace to enjoy with the puppies they'll meet in each of these three new books.

But there are challenges when writing a series, challenges that don't arise when writing stand-alone books. "Knowing" one's characters presents opportunities for developing them further but also limits one's imagination somewhat. Writing within the structure of a series can be exciting but it also confines the scope of the story. Yup, as with most projects, there are pros and cons to this!

With these thoughts in mind, I decided to interview three children's book authors about their experiences writing series fiction: an early chapter book series, a middle-grade series and a YA series.

Let me introduce you to them.

Caroline Adderson is the acclaimed author of three novels, two collections of short stories, as well as books for young readers, including the chapter book series Jasper John Dooley (Kids Can Press). Book three in the series, Jasper John Dooley NOT in Love, was just published.

Philippa Dowding is a Toronto-based award-winning copywriter, poet and children's author. The Lost Gargoyles (Dundurn) for middle grade readers is made up of The Gargoyle in My Yard (2009), The Gargoyle Overhead (2010) and The Gargoyle at the Gates (2012) — at least so far!

Moira Young is from Vancouver, BC, and now lives in the UK. A former actor and opera singer, her prize-winning debut YA novel, Blood Red Road, the first in the Dust Lands (Doubleday Canada) trilogy, was published in 2011 and is being developed for film by Ridley Scott. The sequel, Rebel Heart, was published in 2012. Raging Star will be published this May.

And now here we go with the questions.

SUSAN: Can you describe your series in two or three short sentences?

CAROLINE: Jasper John Dooley is a chapter book series for emerging readers featuring a very real, highly imaginative boy.  Everyday life is Jasper’s adventure — losing the classroom hamster, for example, or coping with a besotted schoolmate. All the books are, I hope, very funny.  

PHILIPPA: The Lost Gargoyle series follows Gargoth of Tallus, a 400-year-old gargoyle, who after misadventures in medieval England, France and then 19th-century New York City, finds himself lost in modern day downtown Toronto. Despite his naughty antics he makes friends with two children, Katherine and Christopher, who stick by him as he faces his foe, the evil Collector, and searches for Ambergine, his lost gargoyle friend. The middle-grade series explores themes of difference, inclusion, bullying, urban renewal, and friendship.

MOIRA: I'll try to describe my YA Dust Lands series in one sentence: In a damaged future world, a determined girl fights for her family and freedom.

SUSAN: At what point did you know you were writing a series?

CAROLINE: I envisioned a series from the start.  I'd published two collections of stories for emerging readers with Orca (I, Bruno and Bruno for Real) and wanted to write something longer for the same age group.

PHILIPPA: The quick answer is not until I started writing the second book. I left the first book open-ended with Ambergine searching the skies above Toronto for Gargoth. Once I found a publisher, I realized that I could do a lot with a 400-year-old character. What were his early days like? Where did he live? Who was his first human friend? How did he arrive in Toronto? There was a whole book there, which turned into The Gargoyle Overhead.

MOIRA: If I'd planned a trilogy to begin with, I would have been too overwhelmed to even make a start. Before Blood Red Road, I'd only ever written a picture book and a couple of short humourous books for younger readers, none of which had been published. So I really had very little idea of the reality of writing a more ambitious book; the plotting and shaping and writing and abandoning and rewriting and rewriting and rewriting ... But the idea of this girl living in the future who goes in search of her kidnapped brother wouldn't let me alone so I tumbled headfirst into the bottomless pit of Blood Red Road and dragged myself out of it, exhausted and battered, four years later.

My original ending closed the story off. But in the final stage of rewrites — really quite late in that process — a much bigger story and larger themes began to whisper in me. I started to think in terms of the three acts of an opera, with Blood Red Road as the first act. I really had only vague thoughts about what would happen in Acts 2 and 3. In fact, when we sold Blood Red Road, it was without a character who is absolutely crucial to Saba's story. He didn't appear until the editorial revision stage; even then, I only put him in because I hoped he might be useful as I went along. I had no idea what role he would turn out to play.

SUSAN: What's best about writing a series?

CAROLINE: You get to know the characters so well.  I don't have to think about what Jasper, or his parents, or his friend Ori, would do in a given situation.  They just do it.

PHILIPPA: After dancing so long together, you come to really know your characters and how they will react in any situation, so you can do more with them as the series develops. You get a little braver with them, I think. Also, you get pretty fond of them so the thought of doing anything really terrible to them is almost heartbreaking.

MOIRA: It gives you such an enormous canvas for your story. I like big screen, operatic stories and themes and a series gives you the chance to really flesh out your ideas, your characters and the world you've created.



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Check back in March for Part Two of this chat about writing series fiction for kids. And in the meantime, please write in with any comments or questions.

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Susan Hughes is an award-winning author of children's books — both fiction and non-fiction — including The Island Horse, Off to Class, Case Closed?, No Girls Allowed and Earth to Audrey. She is also an editor, journalist and manuscript evaluator. Susan lives in Toronto. Visit her website, www.susanhughes.ca.

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