A Baker’s Dozen

by Wendy Hornsby

About a month ago, I delivered the manuscript for my next book, Disturbing the Dark, to Perseverance Press.  When this book is published in the spring of 2015, it will be the tenth Maggie MacGowen Mystery, and my thirteenth book altogether. A baker’s dozen. The question my husband posed on the way home from handing the book to Meredith, my editor, was, What next? I did not have an answer.

One might think that by now I would have this writing thing nailed down so that producing a book has become a snap, but I don’t. Every book, like every child, presents its own joys and crises. For various reasons, getting to the end of the recent one seemed more grueling than usual. As Paul said, we were overtaken by events that stopped book progress dead for a bit, so getting it finished was something of a literary marathon. I was both exhausted and exhilarated when I reached the end.

After the manuscript was safely in Meredith’s hands, and the grandson and his parents, who live nearby, had been visited, Paul and I took a much needed long ramble home. Some important questions came up during our drive:

Does a series have a shelf life? We know that many readers love to follow the further adventures of series characters, but do those characters, and their creators, get stale, or redundant, after time? We know that Agatha Christie killed off Poirot and Conan-Doyle threw Sherlock over a precipice before their readers were ready to attend the funerals. But you have to admit that the books that followed Sherlock’s miraculous reappearance and Poirot’s demise getting locked away in the publisher’s vault showed the authors’ malaise. Have I reached that point with Maggie MacGowen? I hope the next book leaves the reader eager to find out what comes next for her, because I am.

Does the writer have a shelf life? A good friend, a writer who, like me, had a hiatus between his early publishing success and a second start, but who came back like gangbusters in part two, asked that question recently. He was weighing the amount of time and energy he spends writing and promoting his books against the years he has left if he reaches his statistical lifespan. At this time in his life, he wondered, are there more important ways to spend the time left to him? Only he and his wife can answer that. However, at the same time my friend posed his query, my husband, who has been endlessly supportive of my writing, always my greatest cheerleader, asked me to take a break. Not to quit, certainly, but to take some real time off to travel and to give hard thought about the direction I—we—want to go. A stand alone, the historical I have wanted to write for a decade, a new anthology of short stories? Another Maggie MacGowen? A new series?

I have no answers yet, except that we have several trips planned this summer and fall. And two short stories with deadlines.  Beyond that? Who can say? Except, I have a great story line brewing, based on something we encountered in a local pioneer cemetery, but a thoroughly contemporary event. Rich material for a book.

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8 Responses

  1. I’ve just recently discovered you (Bad Intent) and been delighted to find there are 9 others to read. I’ll follow you no matter where the road leads.

  2. A great blog, Wendy! And ah: old writers (like soldiers) never die. At least, like you, I’ve been contemplating that dictum. I keep telling friends I’ve written my last novel, but then an idea possesses my brain and I type on. In my case it’s no longer a sequel. But in yours, why not do that next book? Just take a refreshing break–like the gap year my grandkids have been taking before college… (Oh, and please forgive my almost appropriating your blog space today. A miscalculation since I keep switching days!)

  3. Nancy, every time I start a new book I have to remind myself that I’ve done it before and can do it again. And when it’s finished there’s a moment when I wonder why I write at all, a sort of postpartum blues.

  4. Wendy, a very interesting post. I can relate. I thought I was going to start another Jeri Howard book, which would be the 12th. But I find myself working on another book, with an idea and character I’ve been thinking about for several years. Could be a stand alone, could be another series. We’ll see. As to retiring from writing, I don’t think I ever will. Too many stories in my head wanting to get out. Including that historical novel I’ve been planning to write for 30-plus years.

  5. I also cannot imagine not writing. The big question is, write what? Or, write which? Too many choices right now.

  6. I love the series, but I think you should decide what would give you pleasure. I think (and hope) you’ll keep writing but maybe the series could take a break.

  7. I can only add how delighted I was to find you again when you went to Perseverance Press. The books were well worth the wait.

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