Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Subspecies Inc., Mike Arsuaga talks about writing series books

Mike Arsuaga is back with me today.  His second book in his series, Subspecies, Inc., has just been released.  He was willing to share some of the steps in creating a series book.

Writing a Book Series
Besides the obvious challenges such as keeping eye and hair color, as well as names straight there are deeper and more subtle issues lurking about that can suddenly leap up to bite the hapless author. To minimize the threat, I recommend keeping an outline of the series, a sort of road map showing where it is headed. Make changes only after careful thought as there are unintended consequences everywhere.

The History of the Series
The first installment of the subspecies series, “SUBSPECIES” began life as a well received short story “The Girl in the Library.” Doctor Jim White, math professor and vampire, first saw Samantha “Sam Johnson" standing on a library book shelf ladder. Because of the powerful physical attraction, he’s torn between hunting and loving her. The hook of the story is he discovers she’s a lycan and hunted him as he hunted her. The story ends with Sam jerking a small thumb in the direction of the bed they’d recently heated up, suggesting because of their sexual compatibility they could “work something out.” After several suggestions to write more, I completed “SUBSPECIES.” “Subspecies, Inc.” and “Children of Subspecies” followed as natural extensions. “SS” ended with Sam and Jim relocated and safe from police suspicion. Subspecies of both types flocked to the corporation’s protection. “SS, Inc.” begins five years later. The corporation is a success, having developed nutritional supplements to allow lycans and vampires to abandon feeding on humans. Most subspecies embrace the new diet. Improved technology made it increasingly difficult for The Subspecies to remain in the realm of myth.  They are revealed to the world under dramatic circumstances.  Sam and Jim lead their community on the first steps toward redemption and salvation, even embracing Christianity. “Children of Subspecies” follows the development of the family to adulthood and middle-age. Sam and Jim cope with the tragedy their children, as lycan/vampire hybrids, live human lifespans which are about a third of subspecies’. The third installment ends with the children’s varying acceptance of their fate and a hopeful future for The Subspecies.

Things got a little tricky with “The Tenth Legion” and “Lagrange Point.” In the latter two, I shifted the main characters, relegating Sam and Jim to supporting, even cameo roles. Beginning on the first day of the 22nd century, “The Tenth Legion” is told from the POV of Lorna Winters, a lycan, and police lieutenant, raised “on the wrong side of the blanket” from the corporation. She meets Ed White, Sam and Jim’s grandson and CEO of Subspecies, Inc.  The last of the White’s children passed away in 2098. Sam and Jim live on the Martian colonies, constructed by the corporation. Ed and Lorna learn they have more in common than either would have suspected. The Tenth Legion is an organization dedicated to the destruction of subspecies and their hybrid offspring. First introduced in “Subspecies, Inc.”, by 2101, the organization has a following of millions worldwide and believes lycan and vampires should be punished for past acts of preying on humanity. Through visions Lorna contacts Cithara, an ancient vampire who foretells of an extinction level event happening to earth on one of three dates, the earliest being in 2107. By then Lorna and Ed are together, having weathered family betrayal that attempted to introduce a subspecies specific plague. The book ends with their efforts to prepare Mars as a refuge from earth wide catastrophe and the tenth Legion.

Set twenty-five years later, “Lagrange Point” is the story of Cynthia May’s self realization as she explores space, and time. The great-granddaughter of Sam and Jim, she is a deep space explorer. Discovery of a prime Lagrange Point where the gravity of all planetary bodies in the solar system are cancelled out, prompts a corporation sponsored mission under her leadership. Before the end, she meets dead ancestors, younger versions of living ones, and learns answers to Creation’s plan.

Laying Out the Plan
Having prepared a capsule synopsis I built a more detailed outline for developing characters. The series covers a time period from the present to roughly a hundred and thirty years in the future. The first step is to list each character’s physical characteristics with personality notes. I call them “Smokes, drinks, curses notes”. As an example, I’ll use the character Sam Johnson. She begins as a twenty something “Girl in the Library” ending as a fortyish “great-mom.” In “Subspecies” there is a flashback to the major events in her life before meeting Jim.  She developed from pre-emergent child to tough Mickey Dawson and playful sexy lover to the loves in her life, to dedicated but still sexy mother and mentor of young Cynthia Meadows, to hot CEO of Subspecies, Inc., to still sensual granny and leader of the Mars colonies, and finally the all wise Great-mom. With each step her character changed. The sexuality became progressively more sublime and the passion subtler, as happens with age. Her consort, mate, and husband, Jim, was further along to begin with. He ages gracefully through the series, going from journalist to electrical engineer, math professor, to historian, corporate chief counsel, pioneer of Mars, and back to mathematician. The hardest character to develop through the series is Cynthia Meadows.  She appears in four of the five novels. Beginning as a headstrong teen, her emergence is told in detail to provide foundation for those of Sam, Jim, Cithara, and even Cynthia May. Originally she was intended as a walk on character, but early on she wrote herself into something greater. She matured in “Subspecies, Inc.” into a sort of Audrey Hepburn-like humanitarian as well as legendary beauty “whose name appeared on any list of the most beautiful women who ever lived.” Her greatest desire was to have children. The sad left handed way Fate granted the wish in “Children of Subspecies” was hard to write.  She returns in “Lagrange Point” through the younger Cynthia’s time travels and in a special way at the conclusion of the book.  Hint: Cynthia ponders on who “the one” for her grandmother could have been as follows. “…No mortal would satisfy. She was the stuff of goddesses…”

Putting It Together
Thirty pages into writing “SUBSPECIES,” I decided there would be at least two sequels.  The decision should be made early so you don’t write something in you can’t undo and prevent advancing the sequels. In “SS, Inc.,” I almost made Cynthia pregnant in by her lover, a vampire named Juan. That would have deflated the drama of The Subspecies’  “coming out” as well as her character in the next episode.

Probably the most important step in creating a series is to almost constantly refer to the preceding installments while writing later ones to avoid contradictions. I almost forgot in "Lagrange Point" to make Cynthia May bi-sexual.  During time travels to earlier periods, especially to Sam’s childhood village in France, I returned to “SS” at least thirty times to consistently transfer details. I almost messed up the description of Father Laurent and Sam’s father between the two. At the last second, before submitting the final galley of “SS,” I caught a contradiction in Sam’s birth month between the first and last book. (She’s a Leo.) These are details reviewers harp on and that can make the series less professional. Editors are excellent at ferreting out contradictions within a single novel, but since they read the books of a series one at a time, usually several months apart, to the author falls the major responsibility for maintaining consistency among the installments.

Always remember, once the earlier installment is published, you’re bound by whatever you wrote, and it sets the rules for all that follows.

Jim travels to Spain to be with a dying Contessa Malvina Arriago, the oldest living subspecies. He arrives amid excitement over a flurry of vampire and lycan sightings.

The Scene Unfolds:
The Guardia shot two men trying to abduct a mother and child. Reports of one changing shape in his death throes circulated on the web. According to Angelica, the media had a videotape of the incident.
“Every television station in Spain is carrying the account,” she said. “You cannot see much. The quality is poor and the authenticity is questionable.”

“So tell me Angelica,” Oscar asked, seeing an opportunity to gauge the opinion of the human community about our existence, “do you believe in such things?”

“When I was a child, the family shared dark stories of terrible creatures that turned into wolves and bats. They kidnapped and ate unwary travelers and vagrants. If I misbehaved, my parents threatened to give me over to them. The unexplained remains always with us, but no, I do not believe in them. They would be extremely skillful to never have been discovered, or else rarer than we imagine.” She stopped. Her deep brown eyes met mine in the rearview mirror and she added, “But Abuela swore to her grave, as a child, such a creature rescued her from a well into which she had fallen. Perhaps all of them are not evil, eh?”

Carole’s Death
Vampire Carole Henson was Jim White’s nanny and lover after his emergence. She knew him by the name of Tom Watkins. Jim has brought her to his home to spend her last days.

The Scene Unfolds:
The third morning I entered to find Claire keeping Carole company. She had dragged a chair next to the bed and wedged it between the vital signs monitors. Carole’s limp hand lay in her lap, enveloped by tiny, brown fingers.

“She was lonely Daddy,” Claire explained. “I wanted her to feel better.”

“As a child you were caring like this one,” Carole’s hoarse and labored voice overpowered the quiet of morning and the small noises coming from the life support machines and monitors.

“You sound better,” Sam said from behind me.

“Mommy,” Cassie asked, bursting into the room and scattering the tranquility of a moment earlier. “Bertie said we can go to the zoo? Can we?”

Sam smiled and patted her head. “We’ll see. We need to have breakfast first.” Cassie began to coax her sister and mother from the area. Claire hesitated, but the simple gratifications of an outing outweighed the subtler ones associated with keeping company with the dying, and she promptly joined her sibling.

Claire took a couple of steps down the hall then turned. “Daddy, are you coming to eat?” she asked.

“No dear,” Sam answered for me. “Daddy needs to talk to Aunt Carole. He’ll be along later.”

When we were alone, Carole spoke. “Claire is the image of your father. Humans do not appreciate the wonder of seeing the faces and personalities of parents and ancestors reappear in the young ones.”

“The experience is new for us. When the uniqueness wears off, we will take it for granted, too.”

“I don’t believe that. All my life I wondered what it was like to see myself in another. After discovering so much of you in Eddie and your father in little Claire, I know I was right to hold the desire in the highest esteem. My regret is I won’t live to see me reflected in children of my own. I must take comfort from knowing someday they will be born, and they may occasionally remember me.”

 “You’ll always be remembered,” I said.

“Lying here with the end coming upon me, I’ve had time to reflect on my life. I did often terrible things. Some were necessary, others were not. The faces of those I killed gratuitously pass in memory, and I feel guilty for ending their lives. Am I insane Tommy?”

“No. The wisdom that created the universe made a future which always provides the opportunity to regret misdeeds and to make amends.”

Carole chuckled weakly. “You sound like the Christian God,” she said.

“Sam is the family expert in that department. Since our wedding, she’s practiced the Catholic faith. I know this much. All they ask is to believe, forgive others and yourself, and you will be forgiven.”

“Do you believe?”

“I’m not sure. Their gospels, written by some of the early leaders, make a lot of sense. It’s all the rules popping up in subsequent centuries that are the problem. They can be archaic, unnatural, and confusing, something like how the American government has muddied up The Constitution with tons of complicated and often needless regulations. But whether this god or another is the true one, I do believe we can be forgiven. All we need do is to ask.”

“Will you forgive me Tommy?”

I smiled down on her. “Always.”

She confessed to me, as Sam and I had done to Father Rafe. I absolved her using the words as I remembered and dripped water on her forehead. I wasn’t sure whether what I did was appropriate or even allowed, but I couldn’t believe a loving God could find fault, and if no God existed the act lacked meaning as well as harm to anyone.

Later the same morning with Bertie and the kids on their way to the zoo, Carole uttered a deep groan.
Sam who had been sitting with her called out.

As I raced to the room, the mindless, unvarying tone of the monitors announced Carole’s passing. She lay in the bed, eyes closed with a wry smile on her face, like someone who knows something you don’t.
For the first time in our lives, we looked with knowledge upon a subspecies that had died of natural causes.

Samantha ‘Sam’ Johnson, a Lycan, and Jim White, a Vampire, are founding members of Subspecies, Inc., a Fortune 500 company, formed to promote the interests of Lycans and Vampires. The main objective is to integrate their kind into humanity. Life for Sam and Jim seems blissful, three children and a wedding in the future. After events force The Subspecies to reveal themselves to the world, the love of Sam and Jim is tested.

After three children and six years together, Sam and Jim take the final step.While on a mission in the Spanish Pyrenees to save a family friend, Jim is lost for 15 months with amnesia. As memory returns he uncovers a rogue operation working to create an army of super soldiers, putting Subspecies, Inc., at risk. After Jim’s rescue the two lovers are reunited and a spy, determined to undermine Subspecies, is discovered.

Themes of salvation and redemption blend to evolve The Subspecies, reviled and feared by humans for centuries, toward becoming the finest expression of Creation. Can Sam and Jim continue meeting the challenges of persecution and resume the effort to deepen and perfect their love?

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