Series Books: An Exercise in Waiting

Elizabeth Bluemle - April 25, 2014

There’s not much delayed gratification for privileged Americans these days. Technology has spoiled us so much that we feel frustrated if a website takes a few extra seconds to load or we have to bake a potato in the oven instead of the microwave. The few things we can’t access 24/7 via the internet — or influence the timing of — include tides, the weather, the motion of the planets, and someone else’s creative process.
I’m as much a product of modern convenience as the next person—maybe even more so, since I grew up with a Dad who leapt to test out the next new gadget or gizmo: Pong, laser discs, holographic sculptures, Space Food Sticks. (I know!) So waiting is not always my strong suit. When I discover something terrific — the His Fair Assassin series by Robin LaFevers, say, or Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black, or, this week’s yearning for book 2 of Sally Green’s Half Bad series — I want the next installment right away. Internally, I’m stamping my impatient feet.
Soon, we’ll be able to 3D print a new pair of shoes for those feet right at home. But we still won’t be able to rush an author, and that’s a good thing. Even though it’s hard to wait, there’s something important about delayed gratification. We value what we wait for. We get to experience the deliciousness of anticipation. And waiting is a humbling reminder that we are not the architects of our own little worlds, as much as we may try to be. Back in the glory days of buildup to a new Harry Potter book, kids would complain about the wait for each volume. Their desire for the new story was so intensely felt, they would vibrate with it. I’d say, “Think of it this way: You are the only generation that gets to experience this excitement. The midnight parties and predictions about what will happen to the characters… this worldwide anticipation… will never happen again in the history of the universe, and you get to be here for it!” I don’t know how much it helped assuage the agonized longing, but it was true, and I think at least some of the older kids appreciated it. (Of course, I was also playing to the desire for specialness, their own echoes of Harry-Potter destiny, and don’t think I didn’t know it. But, it was still true.) It will be the equivalent of the old codger whining at kids about having to walk two miles to school in a blizzard with no shoes. “Back in my day, we had to wait three years before we could read The Order of the Phoenix. THREE YEARS!”
So I was extremely pleased to suffer at the end of the aforementioned Half Bad by Sally Green. I had picked up the ARC a while ago, and put it down for a bit because it starts off dark, and I wasn’t sure I was up for reading about a maltreated boy who is kept in an outdoor cage. I am often drawn to dark books, but cruelty has never been easy for me to stomach, so I kept my distance. But the bookseller buzz was so strong — there really is nothing as effective as word of mouth! — I gave it another chance, and this time, I was hooked. Without going into too much spoiler material, the main character is a young male witch coded as a dangerous Half White Half Black Witch. (The full implications of the racial overtones built into those terms, “white” and “black,” remain to be seen; we suspect that the maligned Black Witches may be persecuted than persecuting, but by the end of book 1, while we know that many of the White Witches are truly evil, we still don’t know for sure what the story is with the Black Witches.)
This blog post is not intended to be a book review but a discussion of frustration, so I will end here and merely ask, How do you approach a new series? Do you wait until all the books (or TV episodes) are out before even beginning? Or do you, like me, enjoy the anticipation? And what, pray tell, are you waiting for right now?

5 thoughts on “Series Books: An Exercise in Waiting

  1. Sarah J

    I can’t help but feel as if there is an overabundance of trilogies these days. While I love having more books to read, a small part of me is also exasperated that writers can’t get their story done in one book or are just jumping on the series bandwagon.
    If the book ends tidily, I don’t mind it being a trilogy. Jennifer Nielson’s A False Prince is an excellent example. You end the book knowing there will be more, and you’re excited, but you’re not frustrated because Jennifer does an amazing job of tying up the story-ends for that book. There is nothing more frustrating then getting to the end of a book, realizing it just…ends…and you feel as if you spent the whole time going in circles only to have nothing resolved.
    I’m currently waiting oh so patiently for Jeanne Birdsall to write the next Penderwicks book. 🙂

  2. Kath

    Much like the old Girl Scout song, Make New Friends, but Keep the Old, one is silver and the other’s gold, I love to discover a new author but am fiercely loyal to my favorites. The worst is to lose an author, which seems to happen more often as we age. As a mystery buff, I miss Robert Parker but was delighted to discover Tim O’Mara. We just read his entree with enthusiasm and can’t wait until October for his sequel. Similarly, although my J K Rowling enthusiasm was restricted to the Harry Potter movies (fantasy is not my genre), I loved her new series penned under the name Robert Galbraith. She promises a series of seven. The first was wonderful and the second is due out soon. Oftentimes, I just have to wait our turn at the library. Just finished the second in the latest Jeffrey Archer series in paperback. May not be able to wait for the latest in paperback (oh, for the days when the wait was only six months not a year)!! I agree, just like a child on Christmas morning, the anticipation is always worth the wait!

  3. Eleanor (Ellie) Miller

    I’m a sucker for sequential reads whenever I can find an author whose characters really make me want to know what-happens-next! I think my attitude about a wait depends upon whether we’re talking trilogy or series. Whenever possible, I try to wait to read trilogies in ‘one-fell-swoop’. (Sometimes I’ll get involved before I realize that that’s going to be the case…argggggh!) With series, it becomes more a case of grin-and-bear-it and mark my calendar for the release date (if I can find one) of the next book. However, re: series: I’m with Sarah anent ‘tidy’ endings…reasonable breaking off points. NOTHING is worse than a cliff-hanger which leaves the characters and the reader hanging in limbo from my POV, and although you know there will be more to come, it’s cold comfort. Saddest of all (again my POV) is losing a beloved author in media res. I cried over the deaths of mystery writers Barbara Michaels (aka Elizabeth Peters) and Elaine Flinn, BOTH of whom were at the head of my must-read list. Currently I’m possessing my soul in patience for the next ‘Toby’ Daye urban fantasy from Seanan McGuire and NATCH! season five of “Downton Abbey”.

  4. ccr in MA

    I know someone who won’t start a series unless it’s done, but even she got burned by a series that was supposed to be five books, five had been written, and at the end of book five there was a note from the author that she’d had to make it six instead, and that would be published the next year. Was my friend mad!
    I’d rather be able to read them all, but in retrospect, I may enjoy the ones where I have to wait a little better. More time to think about what might happen is tantalizing, but entertaining. What I truly hate is when a planned series doesn’t get written. City of Diamond by Jane Emerson is a wonderful book in itself, but I wish she’d written the trilogy, because I want to know what happens…

  5. James S.

    What’s even WORSE is to be enjoying a series and the author DIES. That happened with Robert Adams and I had read the first two books in his Stairway to Forever series and was eagerly waiting for the next book. I didn’t find out until three YEARS later that he had died and that there were no plans to finish the trilogy. This was in the days before the Internet so I had no way of knowing like we do now.
    As a related note to “Sarah J,” and, speaking as an author myself, most publishers don’t even want to look at “one and done” books now unless you’re writing literary fiction. Everything must be pitched as at least three (or more) books. Which also causes the problem when one of the books in a series under-performs and the publisher just yanks any more books from that series (or author). Readers are left high and dry.


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