And Then There Were Two

Just like a good TV show that gets renewed for another season, there are plenty of serial stories within the Xenaverse. Whether it is characters who won't quit talking to their bards; story ideas that just demand to be heard; and fans who beg, as did Oliver Twist, for 'more ... please?'; it seems the popularity of serials is increasing. Not only in the archetypal Xena and Gabrielle, but also The Conqueror and 'uber' characters. Sometimes the series follows a theme, others delve in greater depth into the personalities of the characters, or explore new avenues to time/plot/personality and well, some just seem to stumble into trouble at every turn. These serials cover the range from historical through adventure and fantasy. While romance may always be a part of the story, it can be presented in many facets from humor to nail-biting 'angst'.

How these serials are devised, constructed and developed offer both positive and negative challenges to the bards. Obviously the challenge is to entertain the reader and leave them wanting more without feeling 'hung out to dry' by a cliffhanger. So join me as we talk to various authors to see how they create the right mix.

Joining us today are:

Carrie Carr          [Destiny's Bridge]

Anne Azel           [Encounters, Seasons, Murder Mystery, Journey]

Belle 'Belwah' Reilly [Darkness Before The Dawn]

Sword'n Quill       [Redemption]

SX Meagher     [I Found My Heart in San Francisco]

Nene Adams       [Gaslight, Myth, Xenaverse Faery Tales, Phoenix, Kwaidan, Chamber of Horror]

Minerva            [R' Place, Perspective, Afternoon Delight]

Verrath            [Tell Me, Xandra Trilogy]

Enginerd               [Walsas, Janice/Mel]

Morrig             [Sacraments]

Carole Giorgio   [Laguna Nights, Sedona Rain, New Beginnings]

NOTE: Anne Azel's characters decided to help her out by answering the questions along with Anne; click here to read her characters comments as a sidebar.

EM: Did you plan to write a series, if so, how did you divide up your stories and were they consecutive?

Meagher: I planned on writing a relatively short story about a young woman's search to discover her true self. It quickly got away from me though.

Carrie: [Same here.] I hadn't even started out writing a long story, to tell you the truth, "Destiny's Bridge" was the result of a dream, which continued to harass me in my sleep. I thought that if I wrote down what was going on in my head, it would stop and leave me alone. Then, I got brave and decided to post the first two chapters to an email list that I belonged to, and the positive notes made me decide to continue. It pretty much snowballed from there. I finally got to a place in the story that told me it was finished - there's no real way for me to know, until 'The End' shows up on the screen.

But the morning after I finished the first story, the 'voices' kept calling to me. Lex and Amanda demanded attention. "Faith's Crossing" pretty much wrote itself - I felt that I could delve more deeply into the background of Amanda, since she was still pretty much an enigma and had a story to tell. As soon as that story was finished, I took almost a month off, but "Hope's Path" came along soon after.

Enginerd: With my first story, "Justice In Walsas," I knew I wanted to write more and develop the characters within my Xenaverse. But I didn't have a master plan or even an idea what kinds of stories I wanted to write. However, I did have a direction - to develop the Xena and Gabrielle relationship. Each consecutive story progressed [their] relationship a little bit further. Hopefully, the story complemented the development of the characters and their relationship with each other.

Carole: [With "Laguna Nights"] I didn't even have an outline, so I certainly didn't have a thought of a continuing story. It was my first posting on the Internet, and I was unsure, as are we all, as to how it would be received by the reading masses. When the piece was finished, I sat back, waited to see what the response would be, and was pleased to have received many [emails] to continue writing about Alex and Sam. By that time, I definitely had an evolved story in mind, and a sequel was born.

Meagher: When I reached the 350 page mark and my main characters were still not at the point of declaring their love for each other I thought...hmmm...I seem to have an awful lot to say about these two. Once I decided to make the story into a series, I felt like I could let the characters go at their own pace, without feeling like I had to rush them into a physical connection that they weren't emotionally ready for.

Now, Iím so involved in the story that I canít imagine letting it go. As a reader, Iím always disappointed to reach the end of a story when Iíve come to care about the characters. Itís a very nice feeling to know that I can keep these people around until Iím thoroughly sated.

Verrath: [grinning] Well, it wasn't really planned to make "Tell Me" a series, but I knew it was a possibility. I basically wanted a typical short story with a surprise ending, and a few things left to the reader's imagination, just a scene in the life of two lively little kids with way too much imagination for their own good.

But the characters continued to speak to me, and I wondered what kind of other trouble they might get into - and there ya go!

As for "The Heart of a Leopard", I wrote that one with a trilogy in mind ["Xandra"]. Ironically, I'm not sure if the third one will ever be written. I did start on the second recently.

Morrig: When I first began writing "Absolution" I knew deep down that the story would have more than just one installment simply because of the nature of the 'world' where my characters live. Nothing there is ever simple, and one thing always leads to another or at minimum rears its ugly head at some point and bites. Magali, my UX, is a conqueror, sheís not really looking to 'become good', actually she enjoys being who she is no matter how much guilt it causes or her realizations that her life was pushed on her by circumstance. At the same time, however, she is self-loathing, who can only find peace when one person, the UG, loves her. The UG has her own problems. This situation is not an easy one, and itís not something that can be solved right away, and thatís only the character plot. Which, isnít what drives my story, itís simply an under current of everything else-- a piece of the characterís lives. Although I know the steps that the story needs to take to get to the end...what happens in the between is at the mercy of my muse.

Sword 'n Quill: [Naturally,] "Redemption", was to be simply a stand-alone novel. It was the first 'uber' I'd written, and at first I was just using it as a writing exercise to 1) see how it felt to write in "first person" narrative, and 2) see how I could develop independent characters within the boundaries of a very restricted setting.

As I began to get into the story I was writing, I began to see the possibilities of these characters that I was growing quickly to love. A very dear friend of mine (to whom Redemption is dedicated) would read hard copies of the updates that I'd printed out for him, and one day he turned to me and said, "You know, this story doesn't have to end here. You have a perfect setup for a series of novels, done in the old style. You know, "Love in Prison", "Love on the Lam", etc."

The more I thought about what he said, the more it made sense to me. I already knew, at that point, that I was going to have Ice escape and Angel be freed. I was planning on leaving the ending 'open ended' as it were, where the reader would always wonder if they had gotten together in the end, or if, indeed, Ice had even survived her escape. I hadn't been planning on writing a sequel at that time.

But his suggestion to me changed the ending to where Ice and Angel *did* get back together, and since Ice was a fugitive at that time, I decided to delve into the question of what would happen to them if they tried to make this relationship work with all the outside pressures being brought to bear on them.

Thus was born "Retribution". I always knew, from the very start of the second novel, that the beginning scene and the ending scene would be the same, where Ice is finally recaptured by the police. It wasn't a cliffhanger per se, to taunt and tease the audience into wanting more. It was just something that I wanted to do, and so I did it.

Belle: I started out writing Xena and Gabrielle fan fiction; to this day I believe there's still much to be mined from that source. With Xena and Gabs, I tried doing different things in terms of points of view, plotting, style, execution, etc., in part as a way of challenging and developing myself as a writer, and also of keeping the whole 'writing' thing fun to do. There came a time for me when the next logical extension of that process was to take on an 'uber', and that's how the characters of Capt. Catherine Phillips and Rebecca Hanson were born.

For me, one Xena and Gabrielle story always leads to another; it's just a question of whether I have the time and the inclination to put pen to paper, as it were. As I started to develop Kate and Becky, I found the same to be true of them. There seemed to be more of 'their' story that needed telling, and I was excited by the prospect that I could do so, while still meeting my own requirement of being able to create something 'different' than I had before. I unabashedly admit that I love the characters of Xena and Gabrielle, and I never forget that my 'uber 'characters are rooted in - and owe their 'thanks' to - those incarnations. But at the same time I believe it's important to build upon that in the 'uber' versions, and perhaps come up with a surprise or two along the way.

Carole: [Laughs] As for my Xena and Gabrielle stories, I had never intended to write fan fiction at all but was gently coerced into writing the first story. I chose, in my story line, to clarify the act of Xena hitting Gabrielle with the chakram in the episode Motherhood, simply because that violent act against the bard had upset me so deeply. The readers were the ones who got that series started by a resounding 'More!' at the conclusion of "A Place to Heal". It was extremely gratifying to see that the story had been received so well and there were a lot of situations that I had in the back of my mind to keep the story evolving; I was simply waiting for the response before continuing to post. Feedback is absolutely necessary soul food for the Muse!

EM: Now I KNOW there are series out there ... who planned to do one? And how did you divide it up?

Minerva: With the series "Perspectives", I fully intended it to be a serial. However, with series such as "R' Place" and "Afternoon Delight" they were meant to be just one shots, [however] the characters just wouldn't stop speaking to me. For instance, in "R' Place", I wanted to show a normal couple with normal problems that included coming out, dealing with family, old lovers, times of trouble, and each other. Nothing is ever honky dory in a relationship all the time. I wanted to show that.

In "Perspectives", I wanted to start with animosity between the characters, with them learning from each other, and to let the reader see into a different world, one that isn't delved into that often and with the degree I have gone into it.

As for "Afternoon Delight" Series, that one was just pure indulgence and solely based on feedback. Readers wanted more, and for some reason I felt that those two had more to do.

Belle: With the first three of my stories that featured Kate and Rebecca: "Darkness Before the Dawn", "Roman Holiday", and "Storm Front", I feel that an 'arc' of a sort was completed.

Certainly, I [am] gratified by the feedback I have received from readers; it is so rewarding to know that they have been moved in a certain way as a consequence of something my characters have said or experienced. Perhaps it resonates with them in their own lives, or has given them an opportunity to reflect and take an action that they might not have otherwise done. Hey - life is not a dress rehearsal, and I hope my characters 'live' that credo. What ultimately prompts me to continue, is if I feel the characters have more of a story that demands the telling of it, and whether I feel I can do that in a way that challenges me, interests me, and affects me to the extent that I cannot rest until the deed is done!

EM: Uhh Nene ... you have probably more series to your name than any other bard. How did you come up with so many topics?

Nene: Essentially, no series of mine is ever finished. The Muse can strike without warning, and frequently does.

The "Myth" series is where I got my start - comedy, pure and complicated. "Myth-Understandings", the first story in this series, came about when I was very new to fan fiction. One day, I got this mental image of Iolaus walking through a forest, and suddenly hearing Gabrielle screaming in the apparent throes of passion! It was too funny to pass up, and I spent a few weeks carefully crafting the story.

As I come from the Mel Brooks school of schtick - just keep throwing the jokes thick and fast, and eventually they'll stick - the next story was a bit wilder, then the next, and the next. I didn't actually plan this to be a series when I started out, but I kept getting ideas - in fact, I hardly ever do in anything I write. They just go on until I run out of ideas, time, or inspiration.

The "Xenaverse Faery Tales" came about as a result of some discussion on a mailing list I subscribed to, a sort of challenge. Basically, I used common fairy tales, such as "Little Red Riding Hood", as my inspiration, and translated them to the Xenaverse. While the main plot may be familiar, added twists keep the story fresh, and they don't follow the Brothers Grimm exactly line for line. The stories are not interconnected as such; with the exception of a couple which are sequels. Each is stand alone, but each is also connected to the other through the [over-all] theme of fairy tales. There's comedy, drama, horror, and all of them are set in the realm of classic X&G.

[Now my] "Gaslight" novels were my first attempt at serious, dramatic drama - detective fiction. The phenomenon known as 'uber' was new. I was dying to try my hand at creating a story set in Victorian England, as I'm rather fond of the era. [In "Black by Gaslight",] a combination of Jack the Ripper, Sherlock Holmes and a lesbian detective seemed like an exciting way to go. After that one was well receive, I went on to create three more because I enjoyed getting into Victorian England and also crafting a romantic relationship with believable - if slightly larger than life - characters. I wanted to introduce readers to a world very different from their own, yet also with familiar elements.

The first four stories in the series all had a direct connection to X&G besides the protagonist's physical appearances. However, after an unsavory incident, I decided that I would rewrite these stories and remove the X&G connections, allowing them to stand alone on their own merit. As a result, the fifth and sixth were written as original stories in their own right, and I will continue this trend.

The "Phoenix" duology came about as a result of that newfangled [genre] called 'uber'. I wrote "Sunne in Gold" to see if readers could identify the X&G characters without the benefit of physical similarities of direct reference to X&G. It was also an attempt to write a romance novel in the medieval period, and create world for readers, which was reminiscent of the works available in the romance section of any bookstore. Instead of a man and woman, I wanted the protagonists to be two women, both with a past, both bearing scars, both eventually overcoming various obstacles in order to find one another.

The second novel, "Sunne in Scarlet" was written because I was curious as to how the characters had grown. I wanted different obstacles in this one, and the addition of two children to the mix, as well as peripheral characters, gave me some problems. But I persevered, because I was excited to be revisiting my medieval Irish world.

As for "Kwaidan", I had wanted to do a series set in a feudal Japanese world for some time. I finally got the time to begin. Kwaidan is a unique series for me because it is the only one where I have basically planned the number of stories as well as big chunks of the plotline beforehand. For those who are curious, there will eventually be 12 stories in this series, each taking place in consecutive months, and bringing the characters around full circle,

I didn't want to hamper myself by settling in one particular era. I also wanted to include supernatural elements, pieces of myths, monsters and gods. So I began with the premise that this is a fantasy Japan, an island that never existed. I've created a glossary of terms and terminology to help readers get along, but I have also tried to use unfamiliar things in a way that is immediately understandable. It's extremely difficult - some of the hardest writing I've ever done - but I love this world and the characters in it.

I am working on the third story "Omna Yugao - Lady of the Evening Faces". This will end the Tales of Unmei, which is the autumn cycle. Next will come the winter cycle. It's an ambitious project, but with luck and hard slogging, it will eventually come together and get finished. Shigata ga nai. [smiling]

The Xenaverse "Chamber of Horror" is more of a collection than a series, actually. There are no common themes, except those of a Gothic nature. I tend to write these things more in the style of Poe and other Victorian Gothic writers than in a more modern way. I try to add at least one each Halloween.

EM: What techniques to do you use to keep a solid flow from one story to the next?

Verrath: Umm, not much really. This particular series is written in a way that I hope lets each individual story stand more or less on its own, with one or two exceptions. There is as little as a day, or as much as several weeks, between each story. The only consistent thing is the premise for the series. Also, I think fleshing out the characters gradually helps keep it going. In most series, I discover a new trait in one or both of them that I can write about. Or, we meet another of their friends/enemies.

Enginerd: In the "Walsas" series, I'm not so sure you can say there is a solid flow from a story standpoint. Each story was written to be independent. However, I did strive for continuity of the characters. That is what I think makes that series - how Xena and Gabrielle's relationship grows.

With the Janice and Mel series, I've changed tactics a bit because I actually have a 'grand plan' in mind, in addition to the development of the characters. This will take a few stories to develop. In this case, I not only have to ensure continuity of the characters but of the plot points. The Janice and Mel series will be more challenging as a writer to make each story entertaining while constructing the 'grand plan.' With the last story "Duty," which was an essential step in the grand plan, I received interesting, much more emotional responses, and many more questions than I had with any other story. However, not surprisingly, the story did annoy some readers due to the deliberate 'incompleteness' and sad tone. It will be interesting to see how the next few stories in the series will be received and whether I can make them each entertaining while progressing the plan.

Carrie: Uhhh... I cheat. Seriously, I write a quick little synopsis of each chapter, and user is as a reference when I need to remember something. I also take bits from previous stories and use them as points of reference in later stories. [To me,]it helps give a feeling of continuity.

Sword 'n Quill: Techniques? Not consciously anyway. Each story has its own objective, its own goal. Ice and Angel are the sun and moon, and the outside characters are satellites brought into their orbits by circumstances. I enjoy inventing new characters and seeing how they develop as the story goes along. Corinne was the first 'non-uber' stand-alone character I'd invented, and I love her dearly to this day. She speaks to me in her own voice and, like Angel, tells me exactly what to write.

Morrig: With "Absolution", and I think it shows, I really didnít work any technique. I simply wrote what ever was in my mind at the time. As a result, Iíll be re-working the first part of the series; add some things I think are missing, and refine it a bit. I tend to look at that story as an intro into the series, the ëmeatí is in the later sections.

With "Penitencia", it was quite the opposite. I had a clear vision of what I wanted to happen from beginning to end, and went as far as writing them into an outline. However, the muse is fickle, and small events that I did not plan filter in and cause havoc later on. Exactly what those are is a mystery to me until they actually happen. Though there are small seeds to them that pre-empt the events, I canít explain at all. In other words, there are little clues as to what will happen from one story to the next, and sometimes they are so small that you miss them. They do run consecutively, but may come up disjointedly. For example, an event that happens ten years in the past, is shown in the present, for something that happened a day or two earlier and then it impacts the future. Tricky, huh?

Nene: Technique? What's that [laughs]. I'm not a professional writer. Never took classes, never went to college, have no formal training whatsoever. I just sort of fell into this by accident. I am an avid reader and read everything from Gothic romance to historical romance, from mystery to detective fiction, [as well as] science fiction and fantasy. I also read a lot of research volumes on various subjects that interest me.

Minerva: There were no special techniques used; I don't think. In one story I may have been discussing what happened in a day or within several days. In the next one, I always covered what happened in the last with flashbacks or just the characters mentioning a feeling that she had at that moment.

In "Perspectives", I showed that Cory went into the field everyday and more often than not with dire consequences. I wanted to keep that up to show the readers how it changed her, Taylor and even Barb.

In the "Afternoon Delight" series I just picked up right where I left off to keep the continuity. In "R' Place", it is a matter of coming to terms with problems in their relationship that seemed to grow with each installment. They hardly knew each other before they got hot and heavy. I am trying to show the repercussions of that.

Belle: Hmmn, Hindsight is 20/20. At the time, I probably had a half-baked sense at the end of each story that I wanted to do another one, but nothing was written in that old 'creative' stone. And so I probably could have done a better job with transitioning from one tale to the next. However, I'm not so sure that that's as important as having created characters who you care about, who you feel you know, and who you look forward to seeing in new situations. I think if you've established a firm foundation in that regard, then you don't have to necessarily belabor the 'flow' of one story into the next. The vibrancy of the characters will do that for you, and then it becomes my job to not get in the way of that!

Meagher: I don't think of the books as separate novels. To me, the entire story is one piece, and I only split it into parts because many people might be just a bit intimidated to begin to read a 2,000 page novel! So far, the longest time span between the end of one book and the beginning of the next is about two hours, so it's not hard to keep them flowing.

Nene: The only series I write which has a sort of continuity from one story to the next is the "Kwaidan" series. The rest ("Gaslight" etc.), while obviously connected together, are more like commercial novels in that they contain the same characters, may refer to past events, but are not direct continuations of previous novels.

I must admit that in the "Gaslight" novels, I did have a sort-of-hidden thread underlying the first three novels which came to a culmination in the third. I hinted that Lina had a drinking problem, and brought it all out in a very emotional, secondary plotline in the fourth novel ("The Hour of the Jackal").

In essence, I am an off-the-cuff writer. I get an idea, flesh it out in my head somewhat, and start writing. I don't work from outlines but do have lots of little books filled with notes. I decide on a per-novel basis what theme I want to explore, how I want the characters to grow and be challenged, what mystery needs to be solved, but, I don't have what I would call a firm technique for pulling it all together.

Call it magic!

Carole: When I realized that "Laguna Nights" was becoming a larger story than originally anticipated, I tried to write a conclusion that would answer almost all the questions the story had brought into play but leave something left over to be finalized in a sequel, thus "Sedona Rain" was born. I made sure to resolve all the immediate situations, bringing the necessary conclusions into play but tried to leave a nagging thirst at the end, with room for a continuation. In and of itself, "Laguna Nights" is a complete story, but there were interactions between characters that could readily supply fuel for a sequel, especially since Alex and Samantha were still in the honeymoon stage of their relationship.

Likewise, with the Xena and Gabrielle stories, when "A Place to Heal" ended there were situations that had been set up throughout the story that kept the reader's interest. Even though the story was complete, as any singular episode of the TV series is, there was still the seed of 'what comes next.'

I had achieved my goal with the chakram, but in doing so, I added a new twist to the story by having Xena ask Gabrielle to marry her. The entire tale could have ended with the final words at the finish of "A Place to Heal", but the readers encouraged me to tell them more about the pilgrimage back to the Amazon village, to their home towns, and eventually to the wedding altar. Getting the characters to all those places and finally to a commitment ceremony has turned into a real journey, for me.

EM: Another little twist would be, How do you keep your characters and plots fresh?

Nene: In order for characters to be interesting, they must be as human as possible. Nobody is really interested in reading about characters who are absolutely perfect in every way; never make mistakes, have no bad habits, and are Teflon coated with all the personality of a Stepford wife. Characters need to appear human - they must have flaws, weaknesses, and problems that can be related to. The more human a character appears the more real they are to the reader.

As an example, I had the embarrassing experience once of trying to explain to a somewhat confused fan that Lady Evangeline St. Claire ["Gaslight"] was not a real woman. I could not put them in touch with her; and even if she was a living, breathing person - which she is not - then she wouldn't be interested in this fan's marriage proposal, as she would be over 100 years old!

Belle: Well, I'll be the first to say that it's important to maintain a distinction between the 'fiction' world and the real world. Most of the time, anyway!

But I'll freely admit here that any freshness - to the extent that it may exist - with my characters and plots, is a direct reflection of my personal Worldview. I think it's vital that people have an innate curiosity about the world around them; that they constantly be willing to seek out and learn, to experience, to change, to be profoundly affected by the people they meet; the things they do. I sincerely hope that is a driver that translates to the 'printed' page. And so I enjoy having my characters turn up in interesting places, have them confronted by the unexpected, and be impacted as a result of that. If that constitutes 'fresh,' then that's what I aim to do.

Morrig: Tragedy, itís as easy as that. For my characters, as it is with real life, nothing ever really ends it just becomes something else. Crisis doesnít come in a straight line, itís forked like lightning, and only one string can be tackled at a time. Of course, the many facets of one problem can be complicated, and they can affect minor characters and create new ones. Something, which I think that adds dimension to a story, is when minor characters become major ones. After all, the protagonists of a story donít live in a bubble, and their lives are affected by the lives that surround them.

Verrath: Well, these are short stories, and I only really write one when an idea for a plot hits me. They are usually written in a day or two. As I said earlier, I try to add a new facet to the characters in each new story, if the plot permits. Many elements are taken from my own childhood memories, I guess that helps, too.

It's a bit more of a challenge for the Xandra trilogy, since these are rather long stories, and the characters have been pretty much fleshed out in the first piece. I'll have to find a way to develop them, and keep them occupied with a gripping plot I did leave some minor loose ends in the first story, that I get to tie up some time, I guess [smiles].

Sword 'n Quill: keeping the characters fresh...well, that's one of the challenges of writing in first person, because every single character is slightly skewed in the light of Angel's eyes and her thoughts. You like a character if Angel likes her; you don't if she doesn't. You take the ride on Angel's shoulder, as it were, and see the story through her own eyes.

Carrie: [Well], I hope I keep my characters fresh - it's always hard for me to be impartial where Lex and Amanda are concerned. I like use bits of my own personal life to sometimes give them a little push - things that have happened to me in the past can sometimes end up in the actual story. Most of the time it's not deliberate, but it does happen.

Enginerd: Luck? First and foremost, I want to be interested in the characters' journey. Hopefully, the plot I use will allow the characters to develop and do really neat things.

I also like to utilize supporting characters. The main characters' interaction with supporting characters can be much more interesting than narrative trying to explain the main character and her actions. I think this better enables the reader to 'see' things as they happen. Also, the supporting characters can provide an interesting 'voice' when observing the main characters.

Nene: Characters also need to grow. As you continue to write about a character, you get a sort of mental inventory about them. Things are revealed that you, the writer, didn't know about when you first created them. They take on a life of their own. If a character remains completely static, the reader loses interest. On the other hand, if a well-established character suddenly begins behaving in a totally different way from before, the writer had better have a damned good reason for it. Readers crave the familiar, but shy away from the extreme. A paradoxical tightrope which every series author has to teeter along as best they can.

As far as plots are concerned... well, they just come to me. Sometimes I am inspired by something seen on TV ("The Mystic Dragon's Curse" came out of a Discovery Channel special on the history of magic). Sometimes I can be sitting somewhere alone and suddenly lightning strekes. It can be from a book, or someone glanced at in the street, and, my brain starts to boil with questions, scenarios and dialogue.

I don't make a conscious decision to make my plots fresh. I do try and avoid too much repetition, particularly in my detective fction. You can only have so many blackmailers, so many poisoners, so many similar plots before it starts to get stale. That's also a problem which series authors face. I just do the best I can.

Minevera: Each story with each character I try to delve deeper and reveal another truth about them that wasn't there before or that they did not see. As for the plots, I like an active one, fast moving with angst, humor, teasing foreplay, and great banter between characters. I try to dig deep enough for the reader to feel each emotion and identify with it. I also tend to have unique plots---social work, homeless, and real relationships.

Meagher: My series is entirely character driven, and I keep them fresh by letting them tell me what they want to say. This sounds a bit odd, but I honestly feel like I'm merely chronicling their story, rather than contriving it. I also have a lot of characters involved, and I try to add a few with each book, so there is always someone new to get to know. I try to use each new character to play off a different facet of my main charactersí personalities, letting the reader get to know them a little bit better through another characterís eyes.

As to plot, the easiest way to keep it fresh is to avoid it at all costs <lol>. I'm only partially kidding when I say this. I don't decide on a story line and then fit the characters into it. Rather, I let the characters live their lives. I've tried to give each of them enough of a personality to allow them to behave naturally and interact with one another. Then, I can just sit back and watch what happens.

Carole: Keeping the characters and plot fresh was not too difficult after "Laguna Nights", as I did have an outline for "Sedona Rain", which simply continued the growth of a new relationship, delved into new aspects of the characters personalities, and elaborated on a topic introduced in the first book.

"New Beginnings", which is what the Xena and Gabrielle stories eventually were named, as a series were not exceedingly difficult to keep fresh. There was still much to be accomplished by the [preserved] duo after having been frozen for 25 years, and the time lapse led easily to renewed acquaintances and new adventures.

EM: Does your series have a theme; a moral or societal issue you want to explore?

Carrie: [Not really.] I think the main theme I'm trying to share is that true love is the best thing in the world, and that two people can share a bond and still keep their individuality.

Enginerd: I've "explored" issues within stories, such as in the Xena and Gabrielle story "In a Man's World," but I have not constructed any series around issues (so far).

Carole: Starting out "Laguna Nights" did not have a theme, but as the book and characters grew, a theme eventually evolved and wove itself between the lines. Although the main issue is all tied up in a love story, the topic of reincarnation, karma, and the inevitability of two halves of the same soul finding and recognizing each other in today's world became the crux of the sequel, "Sedona Rain". My life-partner (25 years so far), Trisha, and I were once told by a psychic that we had a symbiotic relationship and we were like souls in unison, that is the kind of relationship I envision for Alex and Samantha.

From the start of "New Beginnings", I wanted to show how Xena and Gabrielle went on with their lives after being returned to a world that had continued on without them for 25 years. In this respect, the only theme would be the continuation of their relationship and the taking of it beyond where it would ever go on the television screen.

Verrath: [smiles] [Moral or social Issues?] Umm... I want to be a kid again? I love big cats?

Seriously, I guess with Tell Me, I'm hoping to make people remember the time when they were kids, hopefully bringing back to them some times when they did similar things, e.g. sneaking into the study at night to watch a scary movie. And, mostly, it's a trip back to my own childhood.

Belle: No, there's no overwhelming 'blanket' theme. For my style of writing, I think such a thing would be restrictive. Instead, there are just a few simple core values, I think. Honesty - with yourself and others, compassion, adventure, being willing to take risks and deal with the consequences; the sacredness of life, of love, and of friendship. For standing up for what you believe in, no matter what.

Gee - not until I just ticked them all off did I realize they sound an awful lot like a certain television program I know!

Nene: I write to entertain - that's all. My writings may contain moral or social issues, but that not the be-all, end-all. The only consistent theme throughout has been the concept of 'soulmates'. I believe in soulmates; my partner Corrie, is mine and neither one of us have any doubt about that.

Minerva: Oh yes, "Perspectives" definitely have a moral/societal theme. I want to open eyes as to what these women go through on a day to day basis. Sometimes it crushes them as we saw with Cory. I also wanted to bring to the forefront issues in communities that people have forgotten about because it's not in the news everyday. Just because we don't see it doesn't mean its not going on. I want to make sure none forget.

As for "R' Place", it has the overall theme that all relationships have a bumpy road. It's normal and reality. The trick is going through the storm and sticking it out together.

Sword 'n Quill: [Me too], and each issue is plainly explained in the title. I'm easy that way.

Meagher: Definitely. When I decided to make my short story into a series, I decided to explore several themes. My story is an 'uber' - but with a small twist. In my view, Ryan and Jamie (Uber X and G) embody my image of who Xena and Gabrielle might be if they were born in the 1970's to two families from different cultural and economic backgrounds. My main theme is to show how people develop their sense of self - not just from their innate gifts, but from familial and societal influences.

I also want to show how freeing it can be to acknowledge, and eventually embrace who you are. In some ways, this is a 'coming out' story, but I truly want the series to be accessible to people of every sexual orientation. Most people have, at some point in their lives, struggled with accepting some part of themselves... accepting oneís sexual orientation is just one example of this nearly universal theme.

As for societal issues, I think I will eventually cover almost all of them [laughs].

Morrig: The "Sacrament" series happen in a sub-culture of our society. Itís a dark place most people would be insane to visit, while others know it well. I come in the latter group. Poverty, crime, violence, drug use, the seven deadly sins are ënormalí and commonplace there. Itís what we watch on the news and shake our heads at. We judge the events to be tragic because ëoh, its circumstance that makes those people behave that wayí or ëone chooses what to do with their lives.í I believe itís both with lots of grey in the middle.

I never intended to make any sort of statement in what I wrote, I just simply put down what I know as true, though one of my betas has pointed out some socialist strains in my writing. What I do explore purposefully is the murky area between [which] the good guys and the bad guys are. Are there really any or is it a case of one personís villain is anotherís hero?

EM: Here's a 'pet peeve' of mine. When does a series end, and what constitutes a 'cliffhanger' versus a tease for the next story line?

Morrig: A series ends when the characters die or they have changed so much that they are no longer the [original] characters of the series. Then it becomes a different series!

A cliffhanger is when a bard cuts a scene in half; they leave the reader dangling without any resolution whatsoever right off the very edge of the climax. Hence... 'cliffhanger'... I crack myself up. But a tease, oh thatís just delicious. Thereís enough resolution that the major conflict of the story has come to fruition, yet there are or is another in the first stages of conception. I guess then that 'cliffhangers' and teasers are like tiny segments of good sex...they both leave you wanting more, though in different degrees.

Nene: "Kwaidan" is the only series I write which contains 'teaser' endings. Actually, each story is complete, in and of itself. The epilogue of each tale is a 'preview' of the next story in the series.

A 'cliffhanger'? It could be regarded as such, certainly. However it was not my intention. The main plot thread of each story is completed within that story. Because the "Kwaidan" tale are interconnected, certain issues will inevitably be carried over - that can't be helped. But readers who avoid 'cliffhanger' or incomplete stories can certainly enjoy "Kwaidan", as it is really meant to be read on a one-story-at-a-time basis.

Minerva: As far as the difference between a cliffhanger and teasing for the next story, is there one? [laughs] My readers don't seem to think so. I like to leave a story in the series with the reader thinking what is going to happen next? [That] let's their imagination go wild and mine too. I am one that does not believe in outlines. I just get on the 'puter and type. The characters speak to me better that way.

Verrath: [Hmm... I think] That would depend on the type of series. If you have a set of characters, and a basic premise (like Sina and Gabby and their rampant imagination [smiles], I guess there will be as many episodes as you write. Like a detective show, you write it as long as it wants to be written/read, and each episode is mostly stand alone. Others might be laid out to be a trilogy or cycle to begin with, where the first story might deliberately set up a conflict, leave a few loose ends, or foreshadow things to come in future volumes.

As for 'real cliff hangers', I don't really think I do them, unless it's me posting an unfinished story bit of that notorious story I've been writing on for two years, ever since I started writing fan fiction [sighs] I'll be mighty relieved when that one is finished.

Sword 'n Quill: [My] series was meant to be a trilogy, and will likely end after "Restitution", unless somewhere down the line, Angel whispers in my ear again and decides to take me on another journey. I think, however, it's time for them to have a little privacy in their lives. The "Three R's" series has chronicled almost ten years of their lives together, and that's long enough, for the time being, to live under a microscope.

As I stated before, the ending to Retribution wasn't meant to be a 'cliffhanger' per se, but, again, rather a writing exercise in developing a novel that goes full circle, where the beginning and the ending are the same.

EM: Ahhh... I'm beginning to see a pattern here.

Carrie: I think a series ends when you have no more story; you've explored everything that you feel you can, without boring the readers (and the writer) [chuckles].

'Cliffhanger' versus teaser?... I think that a 'cliffhanger' is something that makes a person scream 'NOOO!! You CAN'T end it here!' [While] a tease is where you may mention something in passing (like a past incident, or even a person), but don't go into great detail. You may go into greater detail in the next story, if you feel you have something to say.

Enginerd: Hmmm. When does a series end.. If a series [were] written with an objective in mind, I would suppose it should end when the objective is reached. Of course, if the series is following the ups and downs of a relationship, I suppose it could go on forever. I guess another question would be - when SHOULD a series end?

'Cliffhanger' versus a tease... I'm sure there are better dictionary definitions than what I'll say here, but I'll give it a shot.

The 'cliffhanger' is when a story stops without resolution, such as the man in the black mask tying Penelope Pitstop to the railroad tracks and a train approaches with no hope of rescue! However, you are promised resolution in the next 'episode.'

A tease is an idea that could be developed in the next 'episode' but is not required to complete the current story.

Meagher: [Mine] is an "alphabet" series, so it will logically end with "Z." By that time, I hope to zoom forward a bit and show how things are going a few years hence.

I am antagonistic to 'cliffhangers', so I don't write them. I want each story to be mostly self-contained, but I do try to tease the upcoming book a little bit by leaving the reader with a desire to know more about some particular event or circumstance in which the characters are involved.

Carole: [I agree that] a cliffhanger is [not] a good way to end a book, although it might very well be a good way to end a chapter in a book or a single story in a series of stories. Ending with a 'tease,' by giving the readers something to look forward to, at least keeps their interest.

I think a series ends when you have extinguished most of the situations that have been surrounding the characters from the onset and when the readers start losing interest. This goes for both the 'uber' fiction and the fan fiction. When the characters come to a standstill, when their lives not longer seem exciting, or when fresh ideas no longer lend themselves into the story line, then it's time to end and begin a new series.

Belle: When I start an individual story, I already have in my mind's eye a fairly complete vision of the entire piece; what the characters will do and say and how they will interact, woven amongst the plot. I can't say that the same is true in terms of consciously linking one story to the next. So while there may have been 'cliffhangers' of a sort: 'Will Kate and Becky ever get together,' or 'What will Kate's new job be like?', for me it's important that each story stands on its own; that a reader could pick up 'Storm Front' and enjoy it just as much without having read 'Roman Holiday.'

For example, the 'uber' I'm working on now, "High Intensity", introduces two new 'uber' characters, who happen to be climbing Mount Everest! While I'll spare you any 'cliffhanger' puns. [At] this point I have no idea whether there will be a sequel, so I don't intend to write the close of this story as if there were. If it happens - if there is more of their story that needs telling - then it will happen. If not, that's okay too. I won't know it until I'm 'there.'

And with any story, the getting 'there' of it for me means having a clear direction of what's going to happen. Including a detailed story outline, character backstories, etc.. If it sounds like 'overwork' it's not. It all flows quite easily from the 'hearing' and 'seeing' of the story and working it through in my imagination, before I ever sit down to write. So I suppose I'm more of a 'tease' than anything, as opposed to the 'cliffhanger' type [smiles].

EM: Final question. What does writing a series gain you over a single story in terms of characterization?

Meagher: Everything! It allows you to really 'go deep' with your characters, and get at what makes them tick. In a way, it's a much easier task than writing completely different stories, since I don't have to create a new world each time. I know who the characters are, and I can concentrate on what they're doing, rather than trying to figure out their backgrounds and their motivations.

I can also introduce many more peripheral characters than I could in a single story. In a limited space, having too many people involved is just distractingóit takes too much of the focus away from the leads. But in a series, having more people to play off gives me a lot more room to explore different issues.

Carole: I believe the writer gets the opportunity to take time to introduce the characters without having to rush in and tell the readers absolutely everything about them from the get go. Everyone gets to watch them develop and grow throughout more than one story. They become 'family' to the reader as well as to the writer.

Belle: [Exactly,] just as I feel I've gotten to know 'my' versions of Xena and Gabrielle better through each successive story I do, I think I have that same advantage with my series characters. The more I 'know' them, the more I 'like' them, flaws and all! As you build a history with them, you can pretty much throw them into any situation and know how they're going to react, what they'll do and say, and that certainly makes it easier to write for them. However, they're only 'people,' and so they can still do the unexpected, the unpredictable. And that's what - for me - keeps it so interesting, and worth coming back to. Ah, the possibilities!

Enginerd: If the reader can stick with a series, the author gets a chance to add depth to the characters and layers to a story that you wouldn't necessarily pick up on in one story. As an author, I enjoy developing the characters and my 'Xenaverse' throughout the series.

However, there are pitfalls to this 'advantage' if the author expects the reader to know all the details of the past stories. That expectation by the author could seriously undermine a really good story because of assumed reader knowledge that just causes noticeable story gaps. With any luck, the author can avoid the gaps by providing enough detail in the current story and encourage the reader to check out the previous stories at a later time, at which point they will no doubt be awed and dazzled by the author's genius! Or not..

Sword 'n Quill: For me, it enables me to show the growth of the characters in many different settings under many different pressures. Love is the key, and it will always remain that way.

Carrie: I think you can go into more depth with characters - find out what things in their past made them who they are today, and possible give the reader insights [into] why they do the things [that] they do.

If you try to cram too much characterization in a single story, it tends to get wordy, and the reads (as does the writer) can quickly lose interest. I love writing a series, because I can continue to explore the characters, and also bring more depth to the secondary characters which I love to do.

Minerva: Hmm, well in a series I think you get the chance to learn everything there is to know about the character because the reader gets to read about her in all aspects of her life. Where as a story usually follows a formula. We meet the characters, learn about them as individuals through jobs, friends, etc., learn about them together which reveals more of their individuality, and so on.

To me a series gives the reader a more rounded view of the character, in that, they get to see them at home, at work, at play, at their worst, best, together with their lover, in arguments, in love making, and a myriad of other things that makes them all the more three dimensional.

Verrath: With a series of short stories, you can develop a character gradually. When they are introduced, the reader doesn't know much about them. In "Tell Me", the two main figures started out as just two little girls who have a striking resemblance to a grown-up warrior/bard duo we all know. That's all. I quite deliberately left them unfinished as far as characterization goes, [and] left the ending open, although as I said before, I wasn't really sure I'd continue the thread - I just wanted the readers to have something to think about, and to fill in the gaps with their imagination. There was no real need for more (I hope) to get the image across that I was seeing. So, they were never meant to be deep, REAL characters, but 'the kids' had other ideas.

With each story, I get to bring out something new in them, as much or as little as I want, their friends, their families, teachers, toys, etc. Some story lines don't need much characterization, and others delve more deeply. I find I quite enjoy the dynamic there.

I don't think the "Xandra Trilogy" can be viewed in that light, as they are more lengthy stories. I put some effort into their characterization in the first piece. Now I'll try to build on that in seeing how they deal with the crises I plan to hurl at them...

Nene: When writing 'uber' or original fiction, it is difficult sometimes to develop a character or a theme fully in the space of a single novel. Complex characters will also grow and change as time goes by, becoming more fully human with each tale.

I don't really think in terms of characterization or anything like that when I start writing. These things just come to me in the course of actually sitting down and typing the thing out. Mostly, I'm concerned with plot ideas. Will it work? Is it too complicated? Have I manage to get all my plot threads together by the end? Is the finished product satisfactory? If all this comes to pass, then I'm satisfied.

Minor characters ten to spring fully-grown from my brain and land on the page without any help from me at all. You can think of major characters as the meat of the story; minor characters are the spice.

When writing classic X&G, you are dealing with major characters that have already been firmly established. There is no real need for too much exposition - readers are already familiar with the 'Xeanaverse' and all the folks therein. You can add touches of originality by creating other characters to interact with the familiar, or by putting familiar characters into situations that we'll never see on TV.

In terms of plot, there are just some plots that are too big to develop properly and completely in one story. They need to be told over time, given the opportunity to blossom into the fullness of their potential.

Morrig: [I gain] Three dimensions worth of material. In a series a bard gets to ëplayí more with a character, their motivations, fears, traumas and triumphs. The connection to them is stronger; they become part of a bardís memory and family. Their pains and joys are your own because you caused them really.

In a single story, at most, a bard can only deal with one or two faces of a character. Whether itís their relationship with people, or their occupations, or whatever, one has to stand out. In a series there are smidgens of all parts of life. Everyone is different depending on where they are at the time. Someone can be one person in the office while someone completely different around his or her friends or at home. In a series, a bard gets to look at all those people and mesh them into one. Thatís the magic of the muse.

EM: Wow! Those were some very interesting answers. I have to confess that I've always wanted to ask Nene this question: What benefit does extensive research do for a story, for example, dress and language?

Nene: I do a LOT of research. I have a lot of books on various subjects which I delve into constantly, and acquire more [all the time] - much to the detriment of [my] pocketbook! [smiles]

Adding period details to a story helps draw the reader into the world you're trying to create. It helps to fasten a concrete image in their heads, which makes the story come to life.

For example, there probably aren't a lot of people who read my "Gaslight" novels who are experts when it comes to the details of Victorian life (such as fashion), but by giving them those details, they can visualize it. They can breathe the sooty air of London, watch women in colorful dresses parade by and take a moonlight carriage ride with Sherlock Holmes.

If a reader can be absorbed into my world - if they can see the words turn into images and [become] a movie running behind their mind's eye - then I've succeeded.

For "Kwaidan", I ran into a unique problem. The Floating World is very alien to most people, particularly if they have no familiarity to Japan. Explaining everything without getting the story bogged down in exposition has proven to be difficult, but I've managed... I think.

The hardest part of any story [that] contains historical elements is the dialogue. Characters have to communicate with one another in a way [that] makes sense to the time and place. Otherwise, it can be very jarring to the reader. For my "Gaslight" novels, I have read a lot of Victorian literature, to get a feel for the way in which writers of that time had their characters talk to one another.

EM: As usual, I am thoroughly impressed with all of your comments. I do believe you've shown the readers just how much effort goes into creating quality stories. I HOPE the readers will take the time to send even a simple 'Thank you' to these wonderful authors.