Standing alone

When I was a younger writer, I thought a lot about series. My second book would have kicked off a series if it had sold; a couple of later ones would too. One of my earliest published short stories, Where Angels Fear to Lunch, looked like it had potential to be a series; it did eventually generate a sequel short story, No Good Deed Goes Unpunished (the first story isn’t out anywhere online — well, not at the moment).

Unsold novels, however, do not turn into series. And few of my short stories generate enough interest to feel a sequel is particularly sellable. The exception is Atoms for Peace: I submitted the tenth story in the collection, Instruments of Science (actually the first chapter of a then current WIP) to Big Pulp more than a decade ago as a stand-alone. They asked for more. Ironically, the changes I made to the stories changed the original novel so much (titled The Brain From Outer Space) I was never able to get it back on track.

As I’ve grown older, my mind seems to generate stand-alones, not potential series. I look at stories that could generate sequels like One Hand Washes the Other, and nothing comes to mind. Partly because that story is an intensely dramatic turning point for the protagonist; I can’t make every story a turning point but I don’t usually want to write Just A Story about the characters. And partly, I suspect, because I’m older and I’d sooner write whatever fascinates me at the moment than just whatever sells. Of course, I don’t sell that much (yet!) so it’s not like there’s any overwhelming pressure to provide a sequel; as I’ve joked before, I’ve never been forced to choose between the magical realist novel I want to write and the lucrative werewolf raunch comedy movie script.

I do not think, however, that I’ve left any unresolved cliffhangers. I don’t think anything I’ve written doesn’t have a satisfactory ending concluding the arc, even if there are clearly more stories ahead. At the end of One Hand Washes the Other, my protagonist starts a new life as sidekick to a wizard, but his character arc for the story is complete. Atoms for Peace has an unresolved plot thread or two — will Steve ever find his brother? Will Dani and Steve tie the knot? — but I can’t see anyone feeling frustrated there’s no follow-up.

Which brings us to Questionable Minds. When I wrote the original “finished” draft more than twenty years ago, I thought that if it sold I could do lots of sequels. Maybe even follow Sir Simon Taggart’s daughter Ann growing up and becoming a hero in her own right. But it didn’t sell.

Perhaps self-publishing and putting in a modest amount of promotion will sell enough copies that a sequel becomes practical. I do have ideas for another book, maybe two.

But if not, I don’t think anyone will walk away frustrated. While Simon’s hunt for his wife’s killer remains a loose end, the ending does resolve some of his trauma over her death. As a character arc, I think that works to make it satisfactory even if it’s a standalone. And the main threat of the book, Jack the Ripper, is well and truly dealt with. I think I’ve stopped where it encourages people to want more (I can dream) but it doesn’t require more. Even if I write nothing more, I don’t think it’ll leave readers frustrated.

Less than two weeks to launch, woot!

#SFWApro. Covers by Zakaria Nada (t) and Samantha Collins (b) all rights remain with current holders.

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Filed under Atoms for Peace, Short Stories, Writing

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