When I first started writing, I never considered writing a series. I started with one book, and then discovered that I couldn't let the characters go, so I kept writing. And writing. After four and a half books, when none had sold, I laid them quietly on the shelf. And kept writing, except about other people.
Now I find myself in the enviable and overwhelming position of writing more than one series at a time.Of course, it didn't happen all at once—it just kinda grew.The book that eventually led to the Orchard Mystery series was supposed to be a standalone, but Berkley Prime Crime liked it, and I've now written six of them (which bear little resemblance to that original standalone concept).Actually the setting came first—an old house in a small New England town—and the people kept showing up, one or two at a time.It's kind of like settlers moving into a village.The place is based on a real town and a real house.I've never lived there, but generations of my ancestors did, and I feel weirdly at home there.
My second series is nothing like the first—intentionally. I sometimes wonder if many writers harbor split personalities. I think I do, because both series reflect sides of me, but they're not exactly related. I've never been a farmer, but the Museum Mystery series is set in the cultural community of Philadelphia, where I worked for several years. It's urban—definitely not a small town, unless you count the population of museum professionals as their own tribe. Meg in the Orchard series struggles to manage an orchard; Nell in the Museum series struggles to raise money for the historic institution she runs. And both keep tripping over bodies. Makes you wonder if anywhere is safe these days!
The Orchard series seems to tap into a vein of American nostalgia—wherever you were raised, you probably still have this image in the back of your mind of a small town with a central green dominated by a tall-steepled church, with blazing red, orange and yellow trees on the hills behind. It's all new to Meg, but she's finding that she likes it. On the other hand, a city—any city—has its own kind of energy. Things happen just because there's so much energy there, and so many people. Nell may retreat to her home in the suburbs to recharge her batteries, but she loves working in the midst of so much history.
And if that's not confusing enough, earlier this year I contracted to write yet another series (don't ask me if they'll all run at the same time!), this time set in Ireland. For once my protagonist is not an educated professional woman; instead, she's a young blue-collar woman raised by an Irish grandmother. She's definitely not into nostalgia for the Ould Country, because she's seen too many down-and-out Irish immigrants pass through her life. But it shouldn't be a surprise that she changes her mind when she gets to Ireland: it's not what she expected.
And that's another piece of me—my father's parents were both Irish-born, although I never knew them. I didn't travel to Ireland until I was in my forties, but as soon as I arrived it felt like home. In writing about it, I want to get past the tacky leprechauns and paper shamrocks and find out what a different country is really like under the surface.
Now the challenge will be to keep all these people straight in my head: the reluctant farmer, the committed professional, and the skeptical barmaid. And don't forget, I have to throw in a body or two.
After exploring careers ranging from art historian to investment banker to professional genealogist, Sheila Connolly began writing mysteries in 2001, and is now a full-time writer. She writes the Orchard Mystery series, the most recent of which is Bitter Harvest (August 2011), and the Museum Mystery series, based in Philadelphia; the second book, Let's Play Dead, will be published next week. Her first e-story, Called Home, is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble this week.