Today I’m honored to host Playwright, Author, and Teacher, Devon Ellington. Not only have her plays have been international produced, she teaches her craft around the globe as well as creating memorable characters in her series.
I’ve used Devon’s Series Bible: Creation and Maintenance since I first decided Jake Carrington was going to be a series. Her book has helped me organize Jake and friends for the series to runs smoothly. And I recommend them if you’re creating a series.
Devon’s talking about juggling multi series and how the bible works for her. Welcome Devon.
Series Juggling Act
I am in a uniquely blessed-and-stressed period of time right now. Three of my books release in a four-month period. Three books, two names, three different series.
Three books. Three different series. Three distinct voices.
Granted, two of them are re-releases of books to which I got back my rights. PLAYING THE ANGLES, the first Coventina Circle novel, and TRACKING MEDUSA, the first Gwen Finnegan mystery, released several years ago, with different publishers, one of which we decided to part ways, the other who closed its doors.
All three are contracted to release first digitally, and, about eight or nine months after the digital release, to have a small traditional print run (not a POD).
All three books are examples of writing the book I wanted to read and couldn’t find. All three series are managed with detailed and evolving Series Bibles. (In fact, I teach a course on the Series Bible, and one of my Topic Workbooks is dedicated to just that).
I ended up in this multi-series boat thanks to a series of meetings with my advisors earlier this year. I felt the need to recalibrate the vision for my overall writing career. What did I want to write? How did I want it to reach readers? What, of the material I have, and what’s in the hopper, works in more traditional outlets, and what makes more sense in unique outlets? The industry is changing, rapidly. I can either make the most of those changes, and make choices that serve the work well, or I can try to force myself into other people’s boxes and be miserable.
PLAYING THE ANGLES, under its original title and byline, had sold decently but not brilliantly. However, as soon as it went out of print, the demand for it went up. I kept getting emails asking where they could buy it; they wanted more copies for their friends. You have no idea how often my interior monologue consisted of, “You couldn’t have asked this when it was still in print?”
I wrote the book I wanted to read, especially in terms of setting it backstage on a Broadway show. I spent the bulk of my professional life in the theatre, including Broadway, and it enrages me when books are set backstage, but use the same old tired clichés, don’t understand the deeply rooted traditions and superstitions, and don’t celebrate the creativity, closeness, hard work, exhaustion, exhilaration, and fierce loyalty that’s part of every production I’ve ever worked on. Plus, add in witchcraft, politics, theatre ghosts, and the Secret Service, and you’ve got quite the paranormal romantic suspense soup!
I re-read the manuscript, still felt it had good stuff in it, and sat down to, first of all, name the series, and then plan out the seven books in the series. I’ve got Writer’s Rough outlines of all seven books, and we’ve set a release schedule. Let me just add that I love my editor, who trains me out of my bad habits, and doesn’t complain when I keep coming up with new ones.
The Series Bible for PLAYING THE ANGLES was vital to writing those outlines and planning the series. I kept going back to it for character, location, and professional details. The series bible will be updated as each book in the series is finalized for release. Even though, in this paranormal romantic suspense series, a different pair of protagonists is central, and each book stands alone, the protagonists of one book are supporting characters in the others, and those relationships evolve over the course of the series. Also, in the final book, one of the supporting characters, Hartley Crain, who gets the short end of the stick in all the other books, poor guy, finally gets his well-deserved HEA. No, that’s not a spoiler. Believe me, by the end of the series, he’s earned it!
PLAYING THE ANGLES released in October 2017. The second book, THE SPIRIT REPOSITORY, releases in May 2018. It features Bonnie, a supporting character who enters near the end of ANGLES, and Rupert, a descendant of original New Amsterdam settlers, who owns a bookshop in Greenwich Village. It’s set against the old spirits of New York/New Amsterdam. The third book, RELIC AND REQUIEM, features Amanda (Morag’s coven sister and best friend in ANGLES) and Phineas Regan, one of the detectives in ANGLES, and is set in a small, private NYC museum with a haunted Victorian Cabinet of Curiosities. That will release in October of 2018. Small traditional print runs (not PODs) should release about 8-10 months after the digital releases.
SAVASANA AT SEA (which just released under the Ava Dunne name) was also a case of writing the book I wanted to read. I’m tired of books making fun of yoga practitioners. I worked in the office of a cruise line in San Francisco in the mid-1980s and have always liked the locked-room aspect of murder on a cruise ship. I wanted a LARGE, diverse, international ensemble (which is realistic for a cruise ship). I wanted this series to be lighter, have more humor, and more romantic elements, which meant it fit the Ava Dunne name. I wanted to use some elements of a cozy mystery, but also chose places to break the formula.
There were huge changes in the nine drafts it took to make the book the best it can be. Some of them even happened in the ninth draft! The biggest was switching (in draft four or so) from third person to first person. Sophie’s voice kept coming to me in first person. Trying to force it into third took a lot of air out of the piece.
Of course, changing POV is more than changing pronouns. It means major revisions, because the perspective on details changes.
I have thumbnails of the first six books (at which point we’ll reassess and decide whether or not to continue with the series), and am almost finished with the Writer’s Rough of the second and third book. Again, the Series Bible was vital in tracking details. The alliances will shift in this series, as it does when a lot of people with different ethnicities, religions, and other values are forced together in a finite space. How those alliances shift are vital to the plots of the individual books and to the overall series arcs. I couldn’t do it without a detailed Series Bible.
SAVASANA AT SEA released in November 2017, with a cruise line route from New York-Bahamas. The second book in the series, DAVY JONES DHARMA, features wreck diving a sunken pirate ship off the coast of Bermuda, and releases in November 2018.
TRACKING MEDUSA, the first Gwen Finnegan mystery, was going gangbusters until the publisher shut its doors. That book, a paranormal archaeological mystery, again is a book I wanted to read. It explores the older woman-younger man relationship against the backdrop of the paranormal mystery. It’s also set in some of my favorite places in the world, including New York and Edinburgh.
There are four Gwen Finnegan mysteries planned. The first three are a trilogy of the Gwen-Justin relationship, and the fourth goes back to events that are discussed and are the catalyst to TRACKING MEDUSA.
TRACKING MEDUSA releases in January 2018. The second book, THE BALTHAZAAR TREASURE (also about a sunken pirate ship) off the Bahamas, releases in January 2018. But there’s also a between-the-books novella, MYTH & INTERPRETATION, that will release in July 2017.
It was the Series Bible that made me realize I needed to cut the first third I’d written for THE BALTHAZAAR TREASURE because it was important to the series but didn’t drive that actual novel. So that material is going to be in MYTH & INTEPRETATION.
What’s great about using the Series Bible is that I tend to plant seeds for that grow in future books in the early books of a series. So not only do I keep track of things like hair color, eye color, room decor, how a character likes her coffee, but I can choose which seeds grow into which arcs in which books. It helps me keep the long-term arcs tracked while making sure each book satisfies the reader in the short term.
I have several stand-alones that are being prepped for more traditional outlets. The Series Bibles make it possible for me to switch between projects and still stay on track.
PLAYING THE ANGLES Buy Links
Coventina Circle Website
SAVASANA AT SEA Buy Links
Nautical Namaste Website
Gwen Finnegan Mysteries Website
The Series Bible: Creation and Maintenance
Full media kits available upon request.
Devon Ellington publishes under half a dozen names in fiction and nonfiction, and is an internationally-produced playwright and radio writer. She writes the urban fantasy Jain Lazarus Adventures for Solstice Publishing, the Coventina Circle paranormal romantic suspense, the Gwen Finnegan paranormal archaeological mysteries, and, as Ava Dunne, the Nautical Namaste yoga/cruise line mysteries. She also writes digital shorts, in series and stand-alones, plays, radio plays, articles, and marketing writing for companies all over the world. Her blog on the writing life is Ink in My Coffee: http://devonellington.wordpress.com and her main website it http://www.devonellingtonwork.com.