Sunday, December 2, 2012

GUEST BLOG: M. H. Mead on "Not A Series"

A Set, not a Series by Margaret Yang and Harry R. Campion, writing together as M.H. Mead

Our third novel, Taking the Highway, came out a few days ago. A third novel usually comes with nice things like a fan base from the previous books, reader anticipation for the new one, and happiness at more adventures with a beloved hero. Taking the Highway came with some of that, but mostly it came with questions.

Readers often ask us if our books are stand-alones or part of a series. The answer is that they are kind of both. Unlike most series, our books don’t follow a single character. The Caline Conspiracy, Fate’s Mirror and Taking the Highway all take place in near-future Detroit and some characters continue from book to book, but they can’t properly be called a series. We prefer to call them a set.

There are huge advantages to writing a set rather than a series. The thing we like most is the chance to keep it fresh. Every book is a new, big adventure that will forever change the life of our hero. We find that more believable too. Nobody’s life is one of constant danger, and it can get pretty ridiculous if a character stumbles across a dead body every few months. But for our heroes, it’s always the first time. More importantly, each book resolves. We hate cliffhangers, so we don’t write them. Our books end with the bad guys vanquished and some of the hero’s emotional scars healed too.

We love our characters way too much to write about just one of them. So a minor character in one book becomes the main character for the next one, and vice-versa. With a broad cast of heroes—hacker, PI, cop—there is someone for everyone. We’ve also enjoyed writing short stories set in near-future Detroit, and without being tied to a single main character, we can more easily tell the stories we want to tell. The short stories have been a great way to introduce new readers to our work. Since readers can start anywhere, everyone can have their own entrance point to our world.

This is not to say it’s all wonderful. Readers adore series—in movies, on television and in books. They love to see a character deepen and evolve. Although we personally think 400 pages is plenty of time to get to know someone, many readers want more. It’s also harder to get people hooked on our books. Since each adventure is self-contained, no one is compelled to read more books in order to complete the story. Each book we write has to do its world-building from scratch. We can’t count on readers being familiar with our earlier novels and stories.

In essence, each book is like a first book. But to us, that’s not a bad thing. We can never coast, counting on the good will of forgiving fans. We are forced to woo readers, to make them believe in our world and our characters every single page of every single book. It keeps us sharp, makes us consider every story choice, and work harder than we’ve ever worked on anything. At the same time, we’re writing the exact books we want to write, and that our readers want to read.

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About the authors: Margaret Yang and Harry R. Campion are the authors of three novels and numerous short stories, published under the shared pen name M.H. Mead. They can be found on the web at and on and on Twitter @Margaret_Yang


  1. Thank you for letting us visit your blog today, Deborah!

  2. You're very welcome. I hope my readers enjoy your refreshing perspective!

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  4. SET sounds like a more flexible approach to a group of books set in the same approximate time. And when done well (as Margaret and Mead do) 400 pages is plenty of time to dig into one character. But there may come a day when you have one that has such a fascinating backstory or expertise and we won't be able to resist getting more of him or her. I'd have been sad not to have had more of Stephanie Plum and her crazy mother who goes to funerals for entertainment. Both approaches seem to work well for what they are meant to do. Great post, Margaret!

  5. I am reminded of the Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell. A minor character in one book takes center-stage in another set in the same place at a different time with a different story. I can't count past Octet but I'm sure someone else can do better. Keep going! Shanti,fan.