When a book becomes a series

Jason is being held hostage by work this week. He mumbled (can you mumble via IM?) something about 120 hour work week. So I said I’d stand in for him. The following post is one I wrote for Nocturnal-Lives a couple of months ago (with a few updates today). I thought I’d run it here today because Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3) will go live in a little more than two weeks.

How did I find myself writing a series? Usually, I don’t set out to do so. Honor and Duty (3 Book Series) was the exception. I knew it would be a series. The initial plan was for two books, three at the most. I wanted to do a story arc that took the main character, Ashlyn Shaw, from betrayal to redemption. I wanted it to be a mix of space opera and military science fiction. What I didn’t expect was that it, too, in many ways would take on a life of its own.

The first inklings of the plot for Vengeance from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 1) took root some time ago. A hint of a plot here, a glimpse of a character there. When I finally decided it was time to sit down and see if I could get it all to gel together, I had the basic premise firmly in mind. What I hadn’t expected was that this would be a book that resisted all attempts to outline, basic or in detail. It had a way it wanted to be written and nothing else would do.

So, after fighting it for a while, I gave in and let the muse — I have mentioned before she is not only evil but stubborn, or maybe evilly stubborn or stubbornly evil — have her way. What came out is a novel I’m proud of. It is also one I had fun writing, once I quit fighting it. More importantly, Vengeance does exactly what I wanted it to do. It is peopled by characters who aren’t perfect. They are flawed and know it. Sometimes they fight those flaws and other times they give in and do things they will come to regret. The heroes make mistakes and have “bad thoughts”. The villains might enjoy what they are doing but they do, on the whole, have some redeeming qualities. Not all of them mind you. After all, there needs to be at least one sociopath in any evil scheme, right?

Ashlyn Shaw has been betrayed by the Corps she devoted much of her life to. Worse, that betrayal led to the deaths of some of the men and women who had been under her command. The result was that she had been court martialed and, along with the survivors from her team, sent to a penal colony where brutal conditions would be an improvement most days. When she is returned to the capital without warning, the last thing she’s willing to do is trust those who now ask for her help. That changes when the capital is attacked and she slowly begins to understand that things have changed and those who turned a blind eye to the way she and her people had been betrayed were no longer in power. Not that she is willing to put aside all her doubts and suspicions, even when her people are freed and every one of them receives not only a pardon but full exoneration of all charges against them.

After all, she has a duty not only to the Corps or her homeworld but to those who had looked to her for leadership and protection. She would discover who had betrayed them and that person (or persons) would face justice, even if it came at her hand. Especially if it could come at her hand.

Duty from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 2) picks up where Vengeance left off. Ash is starting to settle back in to her role as a Marine. She watches closely as the investigation into the events leading up to her court martial continues. Trust is slowly returning but that niggling voice of doubt is still there. It is something she fights on a daily basis, except when she is with her son. He is her anchor and her reason for not doing anything foolish. They had been separated during her time at the penal colony and she would not let that happen again. Duty might take her away from him for extended periods of time but, short of death, she would always return home.

War is now a way of life for Ash’s homeworld and its allies. The enemy is one they know well, one they have fought before. But there is something different this time. Tactics and strategies have changed. More importantly, the enemy now has ships and weaponry it hadn’t had just a few years ago, before a ceasefire had been agreed upon. That bothers Ash as well as some of her superiors. Is the enemy receiving aid — or more — from a third party they have yet to identify? Or is this simply a case of them putting to use material gained as a part of the renewed hostilities?

In spite or, or maybe because of, her time at the penal colony, Ash and her Marines are sent on a mission to help liberate one of the systems seized by the enemy. Finding allied prisoners being held in conditions similar to those she had endured almost sends her over the edge. The only thing that keeps her from killing the commandant of the camp were her own people stepping in. That, and seeing how they understood and agreed with her but how they were also determined not to let her do anything foolish, causes her to step back. It is hard and she knows how close she came to breaking. More importantly, she is ready to face the consequences when she returns home, not that she wouldn’t do it all over again because it helped get them the information they needed to not only save more POWs but because of the possible intelligence it led to.

Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3) is currently available for pre-order. In this book, the war is in full swing. As the intelligence Ash and her people found, as well as that being sent from other units, is reviewed, it becomes clear that their suspicions were correct. There is a third party involved in the battle, one no one suspected. Add to that the fact the third party has operatives on-planet who are determined to make sure those who set up Ash and her people never reveal what they know.

Because it is war, people die. Ash is going to face the loss of not only some of those under her command but of people close to her. The first is expected. They are Marines and their unit is the one often sent into the worst possible situations, the unit expected to do the impossible. The latter is something she has always known to be possible but never something easy to take.

Here’s the blurb:

War isn’t civilized and never will be, not when there are those willing to do whatever is necessary to win. That is a lesson Col. Ashlyn Shaw learned the hard way. Now she and those under her command fight an enemy determined to destroy their home world. Worse, an enemy lurks in the shadows, manipulating friend and foe alike.

Can Ashlyn hold true to herself and the values of her beloved Corps in the face of betrayal and loss? Will honor rise from the ashes of false promises and broken faith? Ashlyn and the Devil Dogs are determined to see that it does, no matter what the cost.

Honor won’t be the last book in the series. There will be one more to complete this story arc. However, my evil muse is already telling me that there will be more stories written in this universe. Some will have Ash and company as supporting characters. Others will focus on some of the characters we’ve met but who didn’t play major roles in this series.

Or, my muse could fool me again and decide that there will be another two books in the series. I just have to remember to remind her that there comes a time when all series, no matter how much she loves them, must come to an end.


  1. Handing the reins to your Muse, AKA trusting that your subconscious has absorbed the structure and requirements of a novel, is difficult. And that wretched inarticulate subconscious can’t tell you it’s got it all (and the conscious part needs to stop insisting on being in control) in any way but stopping the writing.

    But some of my best _and_ worst stuff comes that way. Most of the really good ones are a combination, these days stopping partway to give it the “proper craft” shaping before handing it back to the Muse to run loose with again.

    😀 So Honor isn’t the last? Excellent!

    1. I believe my muse — who, btw, is named Myrtle — is an evil bitch who hates me most of the time. Why else stop me in mid-novel, one that has to be finished, just so I can write something totally unrelated? I keep expecting her to wake me some morning with her own Jack Nicholson impression from The Shining, switching her name for “Johnny”.

      And yes, there will be one more to finish out this story arc. Then I will move on to another story arc in the same universe — unless Myrtle decides to make a liar out of me. VBEG.

  2. IMO Honor And Duty is the “best type of series”.

    One where the author has one story to tell but needs several books to tell it.

    Now, Amanda’s Muse has decided that there’s another story to tell in this universe after this story is done but what can a poor author do. 😉

    1. This poor author can bitch and moan, whine and scuff her feet in the dirt because my muse is evil and won’t let me write what I want half the time.

  3. *points, giggles* Heh, heh, your muse is as evil as mine. *does cat happy dance* I’m on book 9 of a short story.

    1. 9? I only see 6 Colpatschki books. I stopped at #4, but seeing the title of #6, it’s time to catch up.

      1. Seven are published. Eight is running on my blog starting this Saturday, because #9 and 10 really want to be published first, even though I have not finished #9 yet. I anticipate the current WIP, at the moment called “Forcing the Spring,” to come out in late 2016, between the WWI books. It takes place a few years after “Elizabeth and Empire,” in a different part of the world.

      1. Come to think about it, my fiction didn’t really start getting out of control until I began hanging out here and at AtH. Hmmmm . . . .

  4. Yeah, well that’s how it goes. I’m on the eighth book of what was supposed to be a single stand-alone historical about the German settlements in Texas. Which went to a trilogy because there was just so much excellent materiel, and then to five more set in approximately the same time-space-character lifetime frame because so many of the minor characters demanded their own piece of the action… The muse, she is a merciless b*tch.

    1. I am wondering if the muses have a contest to see who they can torment the most. I think mine is in the lead. After all, I have three active series going, a fourth that should be active and another that I do NOT want to do but certain folks [looks in Pat Patterson’s direction] seem to think the standalone book should be the start of a series.

      1. “Ladylike clearing of the throat here”
        Ok – so I have the German-Texas historical series going, then the YA reworking of the Lone Ranger … and the contemporary short-stories and humorous small-town Texas thing going with Luna City … so three going on?

      1. LOL! I probably actually saw them a while back, but engaged in a bit of self-restraint and then forgot about them.

  5. I liked the first two books and I’m looking forward to the third.

    The problem I have found with writing a series, is that some people expect to see major development changes in the main character in the first book. They don’t seem to understand that being a series, the character will be developing and growing over the course of the books. That some changes, as well as some realizations, take time.

    1. Thanks, John.

      I know what you mean about some readers wanting major changes right off the bat. I had a couple of reviewers complain about that with Vengeance. They seemed to think that Ash should have simply thrown off all the doubts and suspicions and guilt and paranoia without pause. It didn’t matter that the book took place over the course of just a few weeks or so. They wanted her to shake off all the bad NOW. I simply had to remind myself that a real person wouldn’t be able to do so and I would have more folks complaining if she had than I did those complaining because she hadn’t.

  6. My muse is a bit too inventive for his own good* and likes to make things bigger and more complex than they should. When in doubt, my first impulse is always to make things worse and pile more hazards on the characters.

    Sometimes a growing story works, sometimes it doesn’t. I’m thinking of those Hobbit movies: what was originally a small, focused, somewhat whimsical fairy story with hints of a grand epic at the edges became an exploration of the history of Middle Earth. A fun trip for the fans like me, but I think the half-hour animation from the early 80s was actually the better adaptation.

    If I may ask, at what point did the single book become a series? During the writing of the first volume? Did it involve extending your planned one-book arc or starting a new one?

    *(talking about my sci-fi/fantasy muse here, that one’s a male. I’ve got a horror muse who’s somewhat androgynous and somewhat hermaphroditic in the most hideous of ways, and a romance-erotic one and she lurks in a converted basement dungeon with numerous interesting toys, but that’s a whole nother story).

    1. I knew from the beginning that this would be a two book series. Once I started writing, especially once I neared the end of Vengeance from Ashes and I started Duty from Ashes, I knew it would be three books. I quickly realized that if I wanted to do justice to the story arc, it would have to be 4 books. But that will be the end for this particular arc.

      Now, for the Nocturnal Lives series, I started with only Nocturnal Origins in mind. What I didn’t expect was that I would come to like Mac Santos as much as I do or that she would have such a strong voice — or be so demanding that her stories be told.

      Sword of Arelion, my fantasy novel and book one of a trilogy, was always planned as the first of three books. The second book, Dagger of Elanna, is the next one up on my to be written stack. I hope to have it done by Fall. It will only be three books because that is the way the story arc is playing out.

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