Beginning, Writing, and Ending a Series: Q&A with author DA Bale

Today, I welcome D.A. Bale, the author of the Deepest Darkness Series.

D.A., congratulations on the completion and publication of the final book in your series. This is no small accomplishment! Completing a series is triple the achievement of completing the first book. As every author knows, those books don’t write themselves. So, I say BRAVO to you!

DA Bale Front CoverMany publishers and fellow authors love the idea of a series. Of course, it makes perfect sense. If a reader likes one book in a series, they’re more likely to read (purchase!) the rest of the series. Publishers build contracts around series. Authors love series, too. Just ask Sue Grafton, J.K. Rowling, Suzanne Collins—the list goes on and on. However, while the concept of a series is win-win for authors and readers, it’s not as easy as it sounds.

One of the pros to writing a series is the opportunity to really get to know your protagonist. Still, the dual challenge to keep the action fresh and the protagonist interesting can be daunting. However, D.A. Bale has managed to accomplish just that. Today, she is my guest to talk about writing and publishing a series. Thanks, D.A.!

DAB:     Thanks, Kellie! And thank you for allowing me to spend time with you and your readers.

How far ahead did you plan the series? Was it always meant to be a trilogy?

DAB:     A trilogy? No. When I started Samantha’s story, it was initially intended as one novel. The beginning and ending were always at the forefront of my mind, with a few scenes scattered in here and there. However, as I wrote, the story elements and characters began to grow legs of their own and morphed into a much deeper and more entangled story. The exploration of the secondary characters and their back stories quickly produced some excellent material that demanded further examination into their lives and motivations. The more I probed their psyches, the more the characters intrigued me. So even though the main arc was still Samantha’s story, I found secondary arcs in Joe, Hitchens and Durksen. There were even some things about Hitchens that unexpectedly revealed while I was jogging toward the finish line of RISING. He even shocked me!

How difficult was it to maintain continuity in the series? 

DAB:     It really wasn’t difficult at all. The Deepest Darkness series is primarily one big, long story and not a series of standalone books with common characters throughout. That helped with the continuity factor. I believe the other factor in decreasing this difficulty is that I focused on the core of each character and got to know them somewhat before writing about them. This helped give each player in the novels their own “voice”. But just like in any relationship, sometimes you never truly get to know someone until you walk in their shoes. It’s in those times that my characters would shock and surprise me in the midst of writing their scenes. This also helped keep them fresh without growing stagnant.

Now my next series is going to be standalone books with common characters. We’ll see if this challenges the continuity ability a little bit more. J

How did your protagonist, Samantha, change (or not) throughout the series?

DAB:     Samantha faced many challenges growing up, most events completely outside her control. As an adult, she feels very deeply about everything and everyone around her, though she tries to hide it with a tough-girl attitude. The problem is that emotions control Sam’s reactions and, more often than not, gets her into trouble. She makes rash decisions based upon how she feels – and those decisions become her downfall. In RUNNING INTO THE DARKNESS, the first in the series, we see how Samantha’s rash decisions send her down the rabbit hole to a place she never could’ve imagined, doing things she never would’ve done if rational thought had prevailed. In PIERCING THE DARKNESS, we see Samantha facing the hard truth about what she’s done and how she’s alienated herself from the rest of humanity, even though there are many surrounding her that care about her. Samantha seeks absolution of her sins by doing as much as she can for the downtrodden of the world. Yet all the while, she refuses to accept help from anyone else until she is forced to do so. By the end of PIERCING, she sees the importance in taking responsibility for her actions and doing what she can to undo the damage. Then in RISING FROM THE DARKNESS, the finale of the series, Samantha has to dig down deep to find the strength and courage to do the right thing no matter what it costs her. In doing so, Samantha faces humiliation and loss of control once again, yet she is humbled to discover that the greatest measure of strength and courage isn’t in trying to do everything by herself, but it is shown in being willing to accept the assistance of others when necessary. And boy, is it necessary in this case!

How hard was it to differentiate the plot in each book while keeping the same character? Was it important to ramp up the suspense and raise the stakes with each novel?

DAB:     I think again, since this was a continuous story throughout the series, differentiating plots wasn’t quite as hard as it would be with a series of standalone books. Each book in the Deepest Darkness built upon the other, expanding and raising the stakes until exploding – literally. Personally, I love books that ratchet up the suspense and stakes factors to keep my heart pounding. It’s why I love reading (and writing) thrillers. My critique group probably thinks I’m somewhat of a sadist because I put most of my characters through horrible scenarios and situations until either killing them off or they find a way through it. No character is ever safe from elimination in my thrillers. I even went back and forth on whether Samantha would live or die in the end. You’ll have to read to find out if she makes it to the final chapter.

Did you ever have to “re-read” your first two novels while writing the final installment?

DAB:     Oh, absolutely! There were so many moving pieces in the puzzle that needed tied up by the end so readers could find closure with certain characters and situations. After writing these novels over a period of several years, there was no way I could even consider leaving any loose strings before writing THE END. Therefore, to ensure my brain hadn’t escaped in the interim, I re-read both books before even starting RISING. Then I read them again as I neared the end of the first draft of RISING. Then I read them a third time before final edits. I may have a good memory, but I’m not THAT good.

How important is it to repeat information from the first book(s)? Was it necessary to bring the reader up to date?

DAB:     A couple of sentences, maybe a paragraph or two, woven into the midst of the subsequent stories are important to give the reader a sense of motivation – of why this or that character is in the midst of doing what they’re up to. Between RUNNING and PIERCING, there was a gap of several months before PIERCING opens, so it was important to give a hint to the reader about what Samantha and Joe had been doing in that interim period. There was a gap of mere hours between the final events of PIERCING and the opening of RISING. In that case, there was only a sentence here and a couple of words there to reference how we got from Point B to Point C. It’s important to bring readers forward, but the problem for some writers is they resort to an info dump of page after page of unnecessary and repetitive detail – not a good way to welcome readers into a novel. Minimization is the key. Then weave those moments in to create a beautiful tapestry instead of throwing it down ala the World Wresting Federation.

How important do you think it is for the covers to be consistent? What if each novel is meant to be stand-alone as well as part of a series?

DAB:     Covers are so much fun to create, so the sky’s the limit in how you wish to convey your story image to the reading public. That said, when writing a series, there should be at the very least a smidge of continuity to allow for immediate reader recognition. It can be as little as the font type and size or title/author placement. Colors can change. Backgrounds can change. But there needs to be at least one consistent factor to the cover that says ‘this is the next book in this series’. And no, having the name of the series on the cover doesn’t count as consistency. Let your series covers speak to that first glance.

If you use characters on your covers, it is very important to use the same model for the facial images. That can sometimes take a lot of searching to come up with a model who not only embodies your character image, but who has enough variety in their portfolio to meet your expected number of novels in a particular series. When I decided to invest some coin into professional covers, it took days and days (and days and days) of searching to find the right look for the model. Then I had to start over again when I realized that model didn’t have but a handful of shots in her portfolio – of which none of the others would work for subsequent novels in my series. Hair, skin, and clothes colors could be changed, but I wanted the right facial expressions that embodied what Samantha was ultimately going through in that particular book of the series. I give major props to my cover artist at LaVO Designs for putting up with my nitpickiness.

Did you “wrap up all the loose ends” or leave just a hint that Samantha might come back?

DAB:     Gosh, I hope I stopped all of those ends from flapping in the breeze! But no, Samantha’s story is done, and I have no intention of resurrecting her and forcing her back into the torture chamber of my mind. A couple of years ago, I briefly toyed with the possibility of having another arc pop off of this series, but it broke my heart to do that after everything I’d already put these characters through. So nuh-uh. It’s time to let them ride off into the sunset of retirement.

Have you considered spinning off any of the characters for a future book or series?

DAB:     I know they say it can be extremely smart from a marketing and profit-margin angle to create spin-offs, but my brain doesn’t work that way. My characters have a story to tell. When that story is done, it’s time to retire them. Plus it is fun for me as an author to create something new. If writing ever becomes drudgery strictly for the paycheck, I’ll quit writing and find something else as an outlet for my never-ending creative juices.

Please tell us what the future holds for you? Are you working on any new projects?

DAB:     Best-selling author, a cozy cabin in Alaska…wait a minute. I just drifted into la-la-land for a moment. Now I’m back. J

Actually, I’m working on a planned six-book series of humorous mysteries. A hyper-observant bartender babe meets a rootin’-tootin’ Texas Ranger. Chaos happens. Bellies jiggle from laughter (hopefully), and maybe – just maybe – they might solve a mystery or two if they can stop arguing. The series is tentatively titled the Before & After series, and the first book is definitely titled LOOK BEFORE YOU JUMP.

Yeah, I know – I’m going from heart-pounding, gut-wrenching thriller drama to silly fluff. I like a challenge. But there might also be a few surprises and nuggets of gold intertwined between the guffaws. Within the series, I’m going to also offer some challenging ideas to a few (what I consider to be) errant teachings in certain sectors. It’ll probably tick a few people off, but hopefully the others can see through the fun to get to the heart of what really matters.

Have I intrigued you yet? I hope so. Be watching for the first novel in this series to arrive by yearend (fingers crossed – and toes, legs, eyes, etc.).

Thanks again for having me, Kellie. Best of luck with your next Detective Cancini novel.

Author HeadshotTo learn more about DA and her books, you can find her at http://dabalepublishing.blogspot.com/.