Thursday, May 08, 2008

On Authors and Finishing Series

I was reminded by a thread over at the Terry Brooks message board that Melanie Rawn still has not started work on The Captal’s Tower, the third volume. I double checked Rawn’s own board and read through the most recent thread of folks whining that Rawn has moved on to the Spellbinder series. There was a little tidbit which I was not aware of before, namely that the long gap between The Mageborn Traitor and Spellbinder was due to Melanie dealing with some serious depression and writing Spellbinder was part of her therapy. Or something along those lines.

Now, I have to remind myself sometimes that writers are people too - complete with all the personal, emotional, physical, mental, and health issues that everybody else has and that life can really kick the ass of a person, no matter the best intentions. Being a reader is so much easier when the books magically appear in the bookstore and in my library and I don’t have to consider Author as Person. Thanks a lot, Maturity.

This means, of course, that the most important thing is that Melanie Rawn the Person is healing and doing what she needs to do to continue healing.

Do you hear a but here?

How about a “however”?

However, I do find myself coming back to something that Shawn Speakman has said from time to time on that same Terry Brooks message board. The author does have a obligation to write the book they have contracted with a publisher for. So, unless Rawn was writing without a contract, she was in breach of contract with her publisher. Now, Speakman was talking more about George R. R. Martin and the continual delays in A Song of Ice and Fire, and that Martin was not showing professionalism by not delivering work on time. This led to discussions about contracting art and timelines and putting out the best product possible. My personal opinion is that the author should take as much time as is reasonable to complete a work on time and that the contract should hopefully reflect the amount of time required to produce the product on time. Sometimes (ahemTerryBrooksahem) I would prefer if the author took a little bit more time to write a better book.

That last paragraph was a bit scattered, but rather than re-write the paragraph, what I am getting at is that if an author has contracted for a book or a series of books, that author should (my opinion) strive to complete that book or series of books. I have less of an issue with delays for personal / professional reasons. That’s...well, not fine, but understandable.

What bugs me, as a reader, as a potential book buyer, is that if I know a book is intended to be part of a series and that the conclusion is in the future, and I purchase Book 1 and I purchase Book 2, I feel I am entering into a trust with the author that the author fully intends and will strive to complete the series. If said author takes a 14 year break in the middle of a planned 3 volume series because he / she has to deal with personal stuff, that’s one thing. That’s...well, not fine, but understandable. But, if in the middle of this 14 year break between the publication of Book 2 of a 3 volume series the author writes several completely unrelated volumes and has made no announcement of when Book 3 will even be worked on, I would feel somewhat betrayed as a reader.

Life gets in the way, I know. Authors may not be able to complete a series for a variety of reasons. But, in the case of Melanie Rawn, she has since published Spellbinder, has announced Spellbinder 2 is on its way early 2009, and reportedly has suggested Spellbinder 3 is in the works...I think, as a reader, that’s crap. I did purchase The Ruins of Ambrai when it was first published. I have it on my bookshelf. I almost purchased The Mageborn Traitor.

This isn’t Rawn, Jennifer Roberson, and Kate Elliott not writing the spin off novels of a single volume complete story The Golden Key (excellent novel, by the way), this is Rawn choosing to not finish a series she started, promised an ending to, and betrayed the trust of the people who spent money to purchase her books and put a little bit of coin in her pockets.

Don’t start what you can’t finish, and don’t go on to the next project if you’re not still working on the first project.

In my mind this is different than George R. R. Martin working on Wild Cards and various anthologies while still working on A Dance with Dragons, or Elizabeth Bear having a variety of novels contracted in multiple series (for which she is meeting her obligations) and is certainly different than Robert Jordan’s health issues.

In the case of Melanie Rawn and The Captal’s Tower, I do feel betrayed and disappointed by Rawn.

There have to be other authors who have similarly betrayed their fanbases by completely stepping away from finishing a series. I know Glen Cook never wrote the last Dread Empire novel, but at least he had the courtesy to be robbed by a “fan” who stole the only copy of the manuscript.

Anyone know of other examples where the author moved on to other works in the middle of a series outside of publisher-driven reasons and never finished that series by choice?

If working in a series, what responsibility does the author have towards the reader?


John Ottinger III (Grasping for the Wind) said...

Joe - Depression is a medical reason much like Jordan's. If writing Spellbinder was therapeutic for Rawn, it was essential that she write it. It's highly likely that in pursuing that therapy, she wrote the entire trilogy, and now needs to simply clean it up for publication.

I don't think your post is fair to Rawn. Sure, its annoying that one of her trilogies is unfinished, but I think you are being ungracious to her where you are gracious to GRRM. He has no real excuse, and he has republished or expanded several projects while completing his series.

Essentially, if you excuse Jordan or Martin, than you must excuse Rawn.

Anonymous said...

One of the reasons why I am generally anti-series.

Orson Card and Kathryn Kidd never finished their Mayflower series, and we're 15 years in to that. I think Lovelock was the last Card book I liked, though it could be the haze of memory obscures my vision and I have to go further back to find something decent from Card.

Joe said...

John: I half agree with what you're saying. I understand depression is a medical issue and I know that is the reason for all those years of silence from Rawn. She should take as much time as she needs to deal with what she needs to deal with.

Plus, she is admittedly a slow writer.

But, what I'm saying (or, more likely, trying to say) is that I have no issue with writing Spellbinder. I'm not even sure I have an issue with her writing Spellbinder 2. I suspect, though, that she did not have all three volumes written before Spellbinder 1 was published. If that is the case, it isn't so much of an irritation that she has an unfinished trilogy (of which people have purchased earlier volumes in good faith that it would be completed), but that it appears that Rawn has given up on finishing a project in order to work on other projects.

I am entirely sympathetic to the personal reasons behind the gap in volumes of the series and writing Spellbinder, but Spellbinder was published in 2006. There isn't a 2-3 year gap for "Clean up" of a previously written book. She has left readers (i.e. people who have paid money for a partially completed series) in the lurch of Captal's Tower.

I think I am partially unfair to Rawn, but if Spellbinder 3 isn't published until 2012, where does that put Captal's Tower.

I have issues with Robert Jordan relating to Wheel of Time, about the bloat, about the prequel volume (which is still part of that series), about storytelling, but the man continued to work on that same series to attempt to bring it to a conclusion until the day he died...and even made sure that the details of what he wanted to accomplish with the conclusion were communicated to his family and to those who could ensure the series will be completed.

Even death of the author hasn't stopped The Wheel of Time from being finished. Does Jordan get a pass from me? Absolutely.

Martin...the man works slow and I wish he'd not do Wild Cards and anthologize while he finishes Ice and Fire, but, unlike Rawn George Martin IS working on A Dance With Dragons and George Martin communicates this with his audience.

Rawn hasn't.

I think the circumstances are completely different. If Melanie Rawn was actively (even slowly) working on finishing Captal's Tower while writing the Spellbinder novels...that would be the pass.

As far as anyone is aware of...she's not.

I don't know where my mental balance is for sympathy for Rawn's personal life and disappointment that she is essentially saying "screw you" to everyone who bought Books 1 and 2 of an unfinished series.

ThRiNiDiR said...

Here is another argument (I'm not necessarily in favour of it):

If we consider a writer as an "artist"...then he probably does not have so much responsibility (and obligation) towards its audience. Now, if we should think about a certain artist as a "craftsman" than the situation would be a little different. But are not artists also available for contract; and is not a craftsman a bit of artist as well...

I can understand while some people get frustrated over the long wait, but I never thought about it in such manner - I always respected, if an author takes its time to complete his work when/how it suits him; or even if he abandons something. Because I really believe, that the best stuff comes from the inspiration and the heart, rather than when writting something becomes a tedious chore.

ThRiNiDiR said...

my god...I must really be tired; it hurts to read what I just wrote - syntax errors abound! I hope that the point I was trying to make can still be understood.

Tia Nevitt said...

I understand where you're coming from, Joe. I love reading fantasy series. I love them more than standalone novels. But fantasy is somewhat unique in that the story does not end with one volume. Science Fiction also has its trilogies and other ologies, but other genres tend to have standalone stories that are connected.

For example, in mystery, each novel is standalone, but is also part of a series where long-running storylines go from book to book. Jacqueline Winspear's excellent Maisie Dobbs books are a good example.

In fantasy, the story takes X number of volumes to complete. When I was reading The Wheel of Time, I decided to stop reading after book 6 and wait to see how many novels it would turn out to be. I got rather impatient with GRRM when A Feast for Crows brought in a whole new set of characters, and I didn't have the patience to finish the book.

What I'm trying to say, is that when I read a fantasy series, I'm making a long-term commitment to finish the series. When I go to the bookstore, I check to see if the latest volume is out yet. So I understand Joe's point of view.

I'm not sure what the issue is with Rawn, but if she has an unfinished trilogy, maybe she ought to at least communicate when or if it might be finished. She might have a good reason for not finishing it. For example, if there was a death in the family when she was working on it, it might be too painful for her to pick it up again. I just find it hard to believe that a writer would not abandon a series without a good reason.

Sara J. said...

I understand what you're getting at Joe, but it troubles me how you approach the logic. While it's kind of a pain in the rear to have a series not finish, the end is not a prerequisite to reading the first two, and if they were such worthwhile books that you want another, it sounds as though they both accomplished what they were meant to do.

In that case, why not buy the second book of an unfinished series you know you like rather than the first book of an untried author who you may not even like?

I'm sure Melanie Rawn has been in communication with her publisher, and they have probably come to some conclusion or another regarding the third book, if indeed it was officially contracted for (I don't know the details, and I don't expect to be enlightened; it's not my business). As far as I'm concerned, artists and craftspeople only have an obligation to themselves and the person they hold a contract with.

Yes, it's great if there's news about projects, and contact with readers, and other such things, but in other genres there are authors who chug along happily never meeting the public and behaving in perfectly curmudgeonly manners with 10-year or more waits between novels.

When you buy a book, you buy a book. You don't buy a full series. None of the cost of those other books translates directly into the next book, and frequently series have ended earlier than planned or just cut off entirely irregardless of the author's intentions.

I for one am not really bothered by the change in direction, and personally I though the new direction gave her a chance to write about things through a new lens.

There are all sorts of reasons why she may not want to revisit that third book, as Tia noted. I think what must make things difficult is speculation and criticism on a very personal level.

But that's just me, obviously :)

Ilithyia said...

Sara J.,

In this case I disagree with your idea to just buy the first two books and let it rest with those. As I recall, though it's been about 12 years since I read it, the last book ended in a pretty heartrenching cliffhanger with the supposed death of one of my favorite characters. You can't simply let a series rest like that without some kind of resolution.

I agree with Joe that if you are planning to write a trilogy and you announce it as a trilogy you have an obligation to those people who read your books to finish that trilogy. If it's about artistry and the "need" to write, then don't share it with the world. But if you're trying to make a career out of your talent (and she has it), a commercial enterprise, then you should have the decency to hold up your end of the bargain. You write and I'll read it, but I can't read it if you don't write it!

I think my point is, that if she was just writing a series of related books whereas each was contained within itself I would not have such an issue. But she deliberately hooked the audience with the last page, and she has a responsiblity to follow through with the ending.