Friday, September 2, 2011

You Had Your Time, Now Go Away

On a certain level, I totally get why publishers and authors push connected books.  It allows the author to tinker around, create an entire world, revisit themes and characters.  There's also the added bonus that if a series "hits" with the reading public that it's a bit like picking the right numbers on a lottery ticket.  If you can suck readers in with a series, a good many of us will ride with you until the wheels fall off.  A lot of us try to deny it, but really - a lot of us are creatures of habit. 

However, I think I may have hit a wall when it comes to romance series.  At least a temporary one.

Now, it's entirely possible that my mind isn't "right" at the moment (no comment from the peanut gallery).  Real Life has been....uh colorful of late.  I've been whining.  I've been depressed.  I've been bothered by the fact that I was put in a situation where I didn't know what was going on or how it would directly effect me.  I knew it would effect me - but how?  Yeah, Wendy doesn't do well with "not knowing."  I don't like it.  Again, I'm a major creature of habit - so when you disrupt my rut, and then don't give me new marching orders in a timely fashion?

Wendy meet wall.  Wall meet Wendy. 

Even though I try to not let things like this effect my reading, it inevitably does.  Now the good news is that I generally know when I'm being irrational.  In other words - I know it's "me" and not "you."  I still have the ability to register when a theme/concept is done "not so good" in one book by one author, and "wow, that was kinda fun!" in another book by another author.

Which is where I'm coming in with connected series books (you just have to give me enough time, I got back to it!).  One problem that series have in the Romance World is that the required "happy ending" limits you to a certain extent.  Readers like the couple to ride off into the sunset together.  Now intellectually readers know that no relationship is perfect.  Couples can be madly in love with each other and fight.  They can have arguments about money, the kids, the fact that the hero leaves his dirty socks on the floor.  Here's the thing though:

Most of us don't want to read about it.

So authors let their characters ride off into the sunset, and with following books they pair up new couples in the same world.  However, readers and authors cannot seem to help themselves.  They need to bring back those past couples in future books.  Typically, some readers like seeing them again.

Me?  Yeah, not so much.

Here's the thing, I've moved on.  Dear Hero A and Heroine B, you have had your moment in the sun.  You have had your time in the spotlight.  Now go away.  Sincerely, Wendy.

Now it used to be that I didn't mind past couples showing up, especially if them being "on page" was somehow important to the new story at hand.  They had to play an important role to the new romance.  Then it was OK.  If they just showed up on page to pose, posture, and act sickeningly sweet lovey-dovey - yeah, get the heck off the page.  You're wasting my time and giving me a toothache.  And don't get me started on characters who show up just to sequel-bait.  Hi, I'm Sexy Interchangeable Navy SEAL #49.  I'm going to get my own book in December 2029.  You shall read me.  You shall love me.  Here, look at my massive, manly pecs.


The reason I suspect I may have hit a wall with romance series is that even now past couples who are playing an important roll in the story at hand are starting to crawl under my skin a little bit.  I haven't hit the loathing their existence point yet, but they're starting to irritate.  Sort of like a mosquito bite that you just can't leave alone.  You. Must. Scratch. It.

But the good news is that I suspect I'm being unreasonable.  And I'm a big enough person to admit that.  I think Real Life has bled into my reading too much.  So yeah, it's me - not you.  The good news is that Wendy got those new marching orders recently, so I can start digging the beginnings of a new rut.

What about you?  Have you hit a wall on connected books? 


Kay Webb Harrison said...

I have been reading Stephanie Laurens' Cobra Quartet through this year--v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y. I am interested in the progress of the mystery from book to book and the development of the primary romantic relationship featured in each. Long ago I became fed up with trek books, which caused the second book to drag for me.

However, I do enjoy the appearances of previous books heroes and heroines. Royce/Dalziel is a major figure in the plan to destroy the Black Cobra and his cult; he enlists the aid of the Cynsters, the Bastion Club, and the couple from Captain Jack's Woman.


A Library Girl said...

I'm not a huge fan of authors who are super obvious about the fact that they're setting up future books in their current book. I remember reading the first few Sherrilyn Kenyon books and trying to remember the many, many Hot Male Characters she introduced with the clear intention of making them main characters in the future book. I would really rather have just concentrated on the current book. Still, I kept reading, because one or two of those minor-characters-who-will-be-main-characters clicked with me, and I wanted to read their books. Unfortunately, that kind of thing can build up unreasonable expectations in a reader. I had those unreasonable expectations when it came to Acheron. When his book finally came out, it was a massive, brick-like letdown that I could not read all the way through. I skipped huge portions of it so that I could read the bits I wanted to read, the bits with the romance, but then the heroine turned out to be just like all the other heroines in the series. I couldn't see what made her special, the person for Acheron, any more than any of the other heroines in the series. And so I quit the series.

I like reading series and connected books, because, when I grow to know and love characters, it's nice to see them again from time to time. However, with a series, I'm aware that something may happen that will cause it to lose its shine, or maybe it will just go on for too long. I think I may almost be at that point with the In Death series. As far as connected books go, I like seeing beloved characters from previous books, but only if they don't take away from the current story. Plus, sometimes the reappearances can be a bit gag-worthy - yes, we know, they're a happy couple and now Heroine B is pregnant with lovely twins or whatever. If they're not around for too long, their HEA happiness has less of a chance to be annoying.

Linda S said...

When my life is crappy, I enjoy escaping back into that familiar fictional world with characters I like and the security that everything will turn out okay. I even like seeing the previous characters pop up in new books like old friends. My peeves are when the previous couples take too much time away from the couple the book is supposed to be about and end up overshadowing them, and/or when the author keeps bringing back the same previous couple that I wasn't crazy about to begin with. Where's the rest of the village? I am currently reading "In the Heat of the Bite," part of the Lydia Dare series (which I mostly really like, except for the embarassing titles), and the problem is the plot is so sluggish that most of the entertainment value seems to rest on the charm of past characters and their families. The balance isn't right, even for someone with my extreme escapist tendencies.

I am from libraryland, so I sympathize with your distress. Hope things improve soon!

Anna Carrasco Bowling said...

I have hit a wall, a long time back, actually. I prefer to read, most of the time, one hero, one heroine, one story, one HEA, and off into the sunset they go. Then read something else with all new characters after. That's my natural writing inclination as well. Then again, a lot of others require series - I do know people like that, and one is not better or worse than the other.

For me, what it boils down to is focus. I like the focus on the hero and heroine and their unique relationship. When her (or heroine) has a string of siblings or close as siblings who each get their own book, that can at times dilute the experience for me. H&H aren't special anymore, only part of the crowd, and I want the special.

I don't want to be able to rule out secondary characters as the villain or know they're going to survive the battle/plague/apocalypse because hey, they have their own book coming - read that, too. Not saying that all series books need to go away; that would be silly. I want the variety. Not every secondary character can or should be the next hero or heroine. Sometimes one book is enough.

Marguerite Kaye said...

When life bites me and I don't know which bit of it to bite back, I find that nothing pleases me, not even my favourite books, not even my favourite films. Nothing except martini and Kettle Chips will do. If you haven't tried it, it doesn't fix things but it makes you forget for a while - it certainly helped me through the huge rut I left behind a few years ago to take up writing.

I like series - books and tv - especially where the will they/won't they element is sustained. I like Deanna Raybourn's Julia Grey books in the same way as I used to like Moonlighting, for that reason.

I'm scared to mention it right now, but I'm working on a series with seven other Harlequin Historical writers just now. A Regency Upstairs Downstairs - and honest, it's different, but I don't expect you to believe me at the moment.

Sharpen your fingernails and hang in.

Dr J said...

Years ago it was not common to run into a romance fiction series unless it was specifically advertised and then it was a rare thing comparatively speaking. Now it has become the format du jour and yes, there are so many more instances when it is so contrived that I just want to gag and I'm made at myself for having bought more than one of those books. That being said, there are some characters where I am chomping at the bit to get the next book in the series. The characters are so interesting and are people I would have wanted to know in real life. Knowing how their particular story develops definitely has me hooked. Writers like Heather Rainier, Tonya Ramagos, Tymber Dalton, Linda Lael Miller, Beth Williamson, and others really reel me in.

Kate R said...

I love the Bujold series and am not bored with Miles Vorkosigan. I read them all out of order and it didn't bother me. And disk world is cool because there are different characters every few books.

But when you have the same people over and over and their story is the main emphasis of the book? Way too much telling to get us caught up with past events.

and I think far too dependent on emotional connection created in other books.

I just got an 7th book of a series from the online library--a Merry Gentry book--and it was utterly baffling and unpleasant.
I hadn't read any others in the series. (Not a lot of books available in that online library)

You really have to have a hooked audience for that same set of characters.

CindyS said...

Like you, off into the sunset with ya.

I think this might have more to do with the fact that I have a horrible memory so most of the time I have no clue who the cutesy couple is that the hero or heroine now envy.

That said, I heard recently that Nalini Singh's next Psy/Changling book will have more Hawke/Sienna who got their HEA in the last book. Since I wasn't happy with H/S book I look forward to seeing if she can make more of the relationship. If Singh is going to have them making cooing noises at each other, then uh, no.

Good Luck!
CindyS (clinging to her own rut while people keep handing her shovels to make new ones. Gah!)

bafriva said...

Well, there's series and there's series.
The Bujold series mentioned by Katie R is following the life of one main character and his family and friends. The 'In Death' books are like that too. I have no trouble with those.
But I so totally get your problems with the other kind of series--the ever-enlarging circle of couples, all of whom have to make an appearance in the newest book. You reach a point where the newest book HAS NO STORY--it's all just reunion! Kay Hooper's old Loveswept series was like that. (Hagan was the boss, at least one of each book's romantic couple worked for him). Arghhhh! As a matter of fact, her romantic suspense series (featuring Bishop of the FBI)has reached that point and I've quit reading.
I think La Nora currently does it right-3 maybe 4 books featuring a group of characters, one long story arc to tie the books together and then done! (I'm glad she stopped doing those big family series like the MacGregors. When you have to put in a family tree so you can keep the characters straight.....but, YMMV.)

Anna Carrasco Bowling said...

There comes a point in series that are all set in the same time period, unless somebody heads off to the continent or New World or some such, where there are flat out no more empty seats in the drawing room.

Time spent on bringing readers up to date on h/hs from books one through whatever, going round the circle to show each couple doing the bill and coo bit, unless it does something to advance the story of the current book, means less time for that book's hero and heroine and their story.

If characters are going to reappear, I want to see them grow and change. The sorts of connected books I do like, and used to see more often, are generational stories, where the hero or heroine of book two would be the child of the couple in book one. Seeing the previous couples still in love and what they are like at a later stage of life is more satisfying to me than cramming the room full of blissful honeymooners and/or expectant parents. That may only be me, but I think there's room for both sorts of stories.

Joykenn said...

I really have a hate on for those "connected couple" series and I've never cared for generational books which often branch out into cousins, stepsibling, next-door neighbors--well, maybe not that last one.

I do like following a couple where they have their problems and triumphs and the series often focuses on other characters. I think Nora Roberts did it right in the In Death series. Loved when they brought more of Morris into the story and killed off his love. And, he doesn't magically get over it and find a new love. Much more realistic.

I am also from Libraryland and have been wondering about how your changed circumstances have been going. Know that we wish you well and hope things work out better for you. I usually cheer myself up with an old comforting favorite read in a comfy chair/sofa along with a cup of tea and some shortbread "biscuits"

LibraryJill said...

Speaking of generational stories, Heyer did it right with "These Old Shades" and "Devil's Cub". Few writers can even come close to her, IMO.

And if I need a comfort book, I'll reread an old favorite. Sometimes an easy romance or juvie/YA fantasy will do.

Love your snide Brockman dig. I am so tired of macho Navy Seals, each one bigger, tougher, and manlier than the next. Talk about needing a family tree to keep them all straight! Love her writing, but I think it's time to branch out.


little alys said...

Yes... I used to love connected books, but I stopped since as much as I love HEA, I still want the story to be believable.

Yes, I loved character so-and-so. Now stop showing up 10 books in some distant world still playing a life changing world building unstoppable powerful sage. I don't want to read about how you're doing awesomely well every single book. Or...

Yes, you're an awesome family, but at that time period? In those environments? In that gorey and bloody world? No. Not every single one of you will life into the ripe old age of foreverdom and hook up with your perfect one love with no problems eternally together. With bizilion babies.

Oh noes, this world is dying so you're gonna be the breeder to save em all. Blah blah blah. Honestly, I stop series after about 3-4 books nowadays and pick up new ones if the story appeals to me.

I agree though, Real Life takes it's toll and makes all books feel dull. Only a very awesome creative story can pull me out. Usually watching Spirited Away (or any Miyazaki) helps. :)

I do hope you feel better soon, Wendy. *hugs* Miss you lots!

nath said...

For me, it mostly depends on the series. Most historical series don't go on forever, so the appearances of previous HEA couples are limited.

For other long series such as paranormal romance, well I think the authors have finally realized that they need to balance it... cos otherwise, it'd be too much.

To me, what you're describing is mostly happening in contemporary romances and some paranormal series. I have to admit, sometimes, it gets on my nerves, but mostly, I go with it :) I like to know stuff about the world and what's around them...

*Goddess* said...

I used to like the connected stories, also, but lately they are making me crazy. I don't think authors realize how distracting it is to be constantly yanked from one story to give back history. It's annoying, and I find myself sitting there going, "now did I read this story? and what happened to them again?" The Bravo series is one that's just out of hand. It's bad enough that we have brothers and sisters, but now cousins? The history just bogs the book down and it's really bad when the author tries to dump a lot of it right at the beginning of the book.

*Goddess* said...

BTW, one book I read recently, the author tried to not so cleverly disguise back history by having a family member at a party say, "Let me point out all my family to you." UGH!! I realize the marketing idea behind series romances is clever, but quite frankly I don't care about the illegitimate sons of illegitimate dirt farmers! OR their cousins!

Bobbiesox said...

I don't mind series, but I agree that seeing couples after the "Happily ever after" is freaking annoying. This weekend I tried reading the 3rd book in the lauren Dane "Laid Bare" series and I could not get past page 100 becasue the whole thing seemed to be about the previous couples and how happy they were and supportive of each other...I thought I was going to go into a diabetic coma. This was coupled with the fact that the hero was a long time slut who got offended that everyone kept questioning his intentions and the heroine was unbelievably annoying as well. her woship of this an who really did not deserve it and the contant ruminating over her past trauma that she "recovered" from just was too much to handle.

It's funny how I enjoy the couple when they are getting their HEA, but afterwards....I really don't give two shits about how happy and sunshiny everything is!

Manda Collins said...

Hey Wendy, sorry things are not so swimmingly right now:( Hope things improve soon. Or that you know more. Not knowing sucks.

There is a certain long-running series where the first hero and heroine come back frequently for cameos. I say cameos, but they are more like book hijackers. I'll be all ready to dive into the new couple's story but wait, here comes Couple #1 butting in and sucking up wordcount with their drama. I'm to the point where I think I might be done with the series, even though it seems destined to continue until the end of time. I'm just tired of couple #1 and until the author is ready to give them a rest, I'm giving myself a rest from the series.

Hilcia said...

Wendy, I feel the same way about series where there's a "happily ever after" at the end of each story in a series. I really don't need to see a lot of those characters in the follow-up books if they don't significantly contribute to the story. I certainly don't want a scene taking place in THEIR bedroom. That drives me nuts... enough already.

There are other series where there's an ensemble cast of characters where I think it makes sense to have recurring characters making appearances... but those are not usually in the historical or contemporary romance categories -- they usually entail an overall story arc where those characters are needed.

You know what? I truly miss the good old standalone and look for them constantly!

Wendy said...

Look at all these lovely comments....that I'm just now responding to. Because I suck like that.

I think my definite wall might be the "happy ever after" at the end of each book in a series. I think it's the Book Hijacking thing that gets to me. Those past couples really need to feel "relevant" to the story at hand for me to even want them there. Otherwise, I just start resenting their syrupy happiness and the fact that they are detracting from the new couples' story.

Also, another thing that kills me is when Past Syrupy Happy Couple needs to step in and talk to the New Hero (usually) or Heroine (sometimes) about how Super Neato being a couple is. Gag me with a spoon. I'd rather have New Hero and New Heroine figure it out on their own...

Holly said...

Yes. This. I am so over seeing our intrepid hero and herione from the previous book (or 5 books, whatever) get page time in my current read. So.Over.It.

I especially hate when the h/h of the previous book get POV time in my current read. It's bad enough that they're there, making the current h/h jealous and generally being obnoxious. But when they get full chapters dedicated to their POV..I just want to scream.

Then again, I'm just generally bitchy. So it could be me. *g*