By Nancy Mehl
Writing for publishers can be exciting, disappointing, confusing, and fun. Sometimes, all these emotions happen with one book! There are a lot of things that happen behind the scenes that impact readers. For example, the other day a friend asked me about sequels that aren’t published. Readers who connect with certain characters feel that they’ve been left hanging. Authors get the email that starts out…”Whatever happened to…?” Today, I want to talk about why sometimes characters appear and disappear like mini-raptures.
When an author starts writing a series, we all hope we will be just like Sue Grafton. She started out with A is for Alibi and will release W is for Witness in September. I can only guess that the next books will be X is for X-ray, Y is for Yawn and Z is for Zzzzzzz, seeing her character, Kinsey Malone, must be in her eighties by now. Unfortunately, most publishers don’t like long running series. The current trend is three books and you’re done. For authors who are always optimistic (or living in a dream world), the hope is still out there that our editor will say, “This is the best series ever! Don’t make any plans for the next thirty years!” But, unfortunately, that doesn’t happen very often. So…characters we’ve planted in the background, hoping to bring them forward in a sequel, just float off into character heaven. Unloved, unfulfilled, and un… Okay, I ran out of “un” words. But you get the idea. This happened to me recently with characters from my Road to Kingdom series. So, what does a hapless writer do with these poor unfortunate characters that never get a chance to live out their fictional lives?
When I was notified that my Road to Kingdom series was over, and it was time for a new series, I was disappointed that Kingdom and its inhabitants were headed for character heaven. I quickly came to the conclusion that the only possible reason had to do with the Kingdom titles. We’d simply run out of titles that ended with –able. Inescapable, Unbreakable and Unforeseeable. All we had left were choices like: Unbelievable, Indescribable, Unworkable, Untranslatable, Unutterable, Unthinkable, Unprintable, Unidentifiable, Undecipherable, Uncopyrightable (yes, it’s a word!), Incomprehensible, and Insufferable. As you can imagine, it was a set up for disaster. Mean-spirited reviewers would have pounced on these unfortunate titles with evil relish. Now my editor hasn’t admitted that this was their thinking, but in my mind, this was the only possible reason to discontinue the series. This explanation makes me feel better. So leave me alone.
But what about poor Sophie who fled Kingdom in shame? And the suitor Hope didn’t choose? And what about poor plain Leah, the schoolteacher who never found love? What happens to these lost souls?
First of all, characters are never really wasted. They can make a comeback in a different book. For example, Leah Burkholder from Kingdom, Kansas, has become Sarah Miller, a schoolteacher in Sanctuary, Missouri. So, Leah’s story will be told. But what about Sophie and the young man rejected by Hope in Unbreakable? It would have been hard to recreate these characters under different names. Sophie would have had to cause chaos and leave town again. If the Sanctuary series stays at three books, poor Sophie will be cast out into the world for the second time. That just wouldn’t be fair. She could start feeling unloved.
In this situation, I contacted my awesome editor and mentioned that people in the real world actually do move. What if Sophie showed up in Sanctuary? And our poor man with the broken heart happens to be there as well? Thankfully, my editor gave me the go ahead. So, these characters will finish out their stories. My readers will be able to see their fictional lives fulfilled.
So, if you notice a character that springs to life in your favorite author’s book and then fades into the sunset before living a full life – have hope! They could make a comeback. They may look different, act a little different, and have different friends, but inside they’re the same.