Think of this post as what’s been falling out of the holes in my head lately. I’m working on a story with a deadline. Late last week I figured out why it had stalled and how to fix it; I’ve gotten a few thousand words done over the last couple of days. I figure I’m about half done unless the thing goes in an unexpected direction (again).
But that means I’m not getting as much reading done as I usually do. Lately my habit has been to read one novel in print form (usually a review copy) while reading something else on the phone’s ereader app (usually when I have time on my hands and am not at home), plus assorted nonfiction as I can fit it in. I’m not making much progress on the current paper novel.
I’m enjoying it quite a bit, but it’s rather thick. So I’ve been thinking a lot lately, in odd moments here and there, about how things have changed since I was a kid. (It’s a requirement for me to earn my Geezer Merit Badge.) As a teenager, there were paperback books all over the place, for sale in a variety of venues. Most of them were around 200 pages in length, if not slightly less. I could finish one of them in a day or two. They had bright, eye-catching covers and (although I hadn’t yet encountered the term) were full of all kinds of pulpy goodness. (I’m looking at you, DAW books.) Swords, monsters, NSGs.
And it wasn’t just science fiction and fantasy, either. There were plenty of mystery and thriller titles around (Fawcett Gold Key, anyone?), although I really didn’t get into those until I was
an adult fully grown.
The point to all of this rambling is that things have changed quite a bit in the last 30-something years. Books are a greater investment of time. This wouldn’t be a problem except that now I have less time, both in hours left in my life to read as well as free hours in the day. Yes, I understand there are a variety of reasons for this thickening of books, including larger print (something my aging eyes appreciate). But I don’t have a long attention span when it comes to reading long books unless I can devote longer than average blocks of time to them. (This is a result of early imprinting in middle school when I usually finished a book every other day or so, resulting in a strange kind of attention deficit.) There are too many other things out there I want to read, and sometimes I get – Squirrel!
See what I mean.
That’s why I’m glad we’ve had the “Indie Revolution” (or whatever you want to call it) in publishing. Shorter works, novella to short novel length, are commercially viable again.
Which brings me to the other part of what I’ve been thinking in terms of paperbacks.
There was a day in the not too distant past when series proliferated. (I’m defining series here to be books that have a continuing set of characters, at least in most volumes. I’m not sure how category romance meets that definition since most romances that are published as genre romances have to have a fairly happy ending, making a continuing story a bit of a trick. At least that’s my understanding, since I don’t read romance. I could well be wrong.)
That’s true as far as it goes. Westerns seem to be the genre where series as I’m considering them are still somewhat prominent. There are a few in the science fiction and fantasy fields, such as the Rogue Angel books, which are published every other month. Detective fiction has always been series-centric. The difference these days is that publishers usually publish one installment per year, at most, in a series. The Rogue Angel series and one or two others are an exception. They’re also published by a subsidiary of Harlequin, which has always published multiple titles a month in an imprint.
What I’m thinking about are series like the John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee, or E. C. Tubb’s Dumarest of Terra, or the Dray Prescott planetary adventures. Or even (shudder) John Norman’s Gor. Some of these, like the Prescott, had story arcs that carried over for a number of titles. The Dumarest books concerned a man’s desire to find the location of a mythical planet called Earth but had self-contained stories that might advance that quest. The Travis McGee books were stand-alones. On top of that, there were series in a similar vein that had a definite endpoint, such as Brain Stableford’s Hooded Swan books, or Jack Vance’s Demon Princes or Planet of Adventure. (Note to self: finish the Planet of Adventure series.)
There was always something fun around to read, entertainment where story was not subsumed in message. I’m not saying there wasn’t message or philosophy in some of these series. Try giving John D. MacDonald a read and see if he doesn’t have plenty to say about the society of his day.
But the main point is that they were lean, fast-paced, and fun. The authors wrote them to pay the rent and buy groceries, not make a sociopolitical statement, and that often meant the novels had to be turned out fast. The result was that there were plenty of them.
That’s not what I’m seeing in a lot of the contemporary stuff. I’m not saying contemporary novels aren’t enjoyable. Many of them are. But more and more, reading them feels like a marriage, not a date. (You there in the back, yeah, you. I heard that crack about one night stands.)
Again, this is where indie comes in. It’s possible to put out multiple titles a year, even multiple series in multiple genres. K. W. Jeter has a series of thrillers about a woman named Kim Oh that looks interesting. (I haven’t tried it yet.) I’m not aware of anyone who is doing something similar with fantasy or science fiction, although I suspect there probably is. There’s at least one publisher in Australia who is putting out books in serial form before releasing the whole volume in a single ebook, but that’s a little different than what I’m talking about.
I’ve got some ideas I’m starting to kick around. I’d like to try my hand at some type of pulp adventure series, where the focus is on action, adventure, maybe a dash of romance, and a whole lot of fun. And I’m talking novels, here, not short fiction. I’m not sure what genre (or blend of genres) I’ll try. There are several ways this could go. I’m going to keep thinking on it. Maybe by the end of the year, I’ll have a series with a new title every six to nine months. That would be fun to try.
Anyway, these are some of the things that I’ve been kicking around in my head lately.