Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Scary Question

I was asked kind of a scary question the other day: Are you getting tired of Betsy and Godwin and the other characters who inhabit your needlework mysteries? Thank heavens I was able to answer honestly: No. Unspoken was: Not yet.

I don’t know if I’ll ever tire of Betsy Devonshire. More likely what will happen is what happened to the first sleuth I invented: when sales fell off, my publisher grew tired of buying more stories.

It also sometimes happens that the author dies, which is what happened to Donald E. Westlake. He had just finished working on a Dortmunder caper novel and was vacationing in Mexico, where he suffered a fatal heart attack. Curiously, the novel feels like a wrap-up, so perhaps he had decided not to write any more of that series.

John D. MacDonald died in 1986 after his final Travis McGee thriller, The Lonely Silver Rain, was published in 1985.

Dorothy L. Sayers left notes for a Lord Peter Wimsey novel, Thrones Dominations, when she died. Jill Paton Marsh used the notes and fragments to write the novel, which was published in 1996. (An aside: the title comes from the Fifth Century list of the nine “choirs” of angels: angels, archangels, principalities, powers, virtues, dominions, thrones, cherubim, and seraphim,)

Dame Agatha Christie wrote into her dotage, as anyone reading her last-published books can tell. Interestingly, she wrote a “final adventure” for each of her two most famous sleuths, Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, while she was at the height of her powers. She directed that they were not to be published until after her death.

Now and again I think I’d like to do that, but I’m too busy trying to keep up with my contracted mysteries to think of more than the title, which, of course, would be Goodbye, Crewel World.

Possibly the most well-known attempt to escape writing any more adventures was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s story in which his hero, Sherlock Holmes, was thrown into the Reichenbach waterfall in Switzerland in a fight with his nemesis, Professor Moriarity. The uproar from the reading public this created caused Doyle to rethink his decision and resurrect the famous sleuth for more adventures.

Is there a series you were sorry ended - or a series you think continued after its author wore out his/her welcome?

Lots of famous mystery authors have had, after their deaths, other authors try to continue the series, some to great success. Others are failures. Is there one of these you particularly like? Why, do you suppose, no one has tried to write a new Agatha Christie?


Linda O. Johnston said...

I'm very fortunate, Monica, in that although there are no additional Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter Mysteries currently planned, Kendra and her dog Lexie will be making cameo appearances in the spinoff Pet Rescue Mystery series, which is just about to debut.

Camille Minichino said...

Fascinating post, Monica. "Goodbye Crewel World" is inspired, though I'd rather not think about the significance!

Like Linda, I've kept an otherwise ended series alive through other means, such a short stories.

I think the best thing that's happening in the industry is that authors can keep series alive today in spite of publishers' decisions, and thus keep readers happy, which is what it's all about.

Monica Ferris said...

Linda & Camille, I love your ideas for keeping the characters from one series alive in another, or by writing short stories about them. I will certainly keep them in mind!

Elaine said...

I adore the title "Goodbye Crewel World" but do not see it as an ending exactly. Say, for example, Excelsior had bad flooding this spring. Betsy would have tons of adventures finding a new location. And they would probably find bones or something dreadful when they demolished the old building. Just saying....DON'T stop this series, I love it!

Betty Hechtman said...

A new option is publishing directly to ebooks, so even if a publisher doesn't continue a series, it doesn't have to die.

Monica Ferris said...

Elaine, I love your plot suggestion! But I may keep the title in place for the last book in the series.

Betty, I'm attending a seminar tomorrow evening on e-books which will very likely address this very topic.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to see a story about what happened to Betsy's first husband -- the one she met when both were in the Navy. From what I'd gathered, that split was more or less amicable.