December 19, 2016

Author Insights: Balancing a Series: a guest post by Thomas S. Flowers, author of "Conceiving"

Thomas S. Flowers is the published author of several character driven stories of dark fiction. He resides in Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter.
He is published with The Sinister Horror Company’s horror anthology The Black Room Manuscripts. His debut novel, Reinheit, is published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein and Apocalypse Meow. His military/paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Books, Dwelling, Emerging and Conceiving, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC.
In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston Clear Lake with a BA in History.

He blogs at machinemean.org, where he does author interviews and reviews on a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can learn more about Thomas and all his strange writings by joining his mailing list at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.


Author Insights: Balancing a Series
By Thomas S. Flowers, Author of Conceiving

There are plenty of examples of how different writers handle balancing various series. Consider the classic Universal monsters for example. The Mummy character ran within the original lexicon for about five or six (if you include the Abbott and Costello feature) movies. Arguably, we could say that The Mummy’s Hand (1940), The Mummy’s Tomb (1942), The Mummy’s Curse (1944), and The Mummy’s Ghost (1944) are more technical faithful sequels, most of which taking place at the end of the previous film. And in similar fashion, some writers balance their series with the next book and/or film taking place directly following the events of the predecessor.

And there are those that keep to the context of the previous work but move forward in time, be it a few months or a few years. Consider J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter franchise as a good example of that. The next book picking up a few months following the end of the previous book/film, at the end of summer vacation as the new school year is taking place. Thus, each book is closely connected. I’d be amiss not to mention Stephen King’s manga opus, The Dark Tower series in which the gunslinger embarks on a quest to find The Dark Tower. Though technically a trilogy, Blake Crouch’s Wayward Pines series takes part years between each other, with both new and reoccurring characters.

A third example, I think, are book series, and even film, in which the sequels are only connected through characters and/or theme. Consider the classic young reader series The Boxcar Children as a good example of a series that is connected on the theme of solving a crime or mystery. The books can be years or days apart (story wise) from each other, it doesn’t matter. Goosebumpscould be another example, though with Goosebumps the only connection is the “Goosebumps” title and the understanding that you’re about to read a scary story, the brand more or less.

I’m sure there are other examples of how different writers balance and control the flow and development of their series. For me, I wanted to make my Subdue Series both connected and rewarding for longtime readers, but also easy enough to jump in without getting lost or confused, making the new book accessible for those who do not want to read the previous ones. This was somewhat challenging, balancing the two groups of readers, the faithful and the newcomers. Giving just enough to satisfy both. Before we dive into that, let me at last describe each book, generally, so that we are all on the same page.

Dwelling was my first book in the Subdue Series. The story follows five childhood friends now adults and torn apart by war. Each character is thus connected to the Iraq War in some way. All served directly, except for Maggie, who was married to the fifth friend, Ricky. As adults the once childhood friends are now only loosely connected. Phone calls every now and then. Letters. Emails. Etc. etc. Some stay in touch more than others. Johnathan and Ricky for example were very close, up until Ricky’s death. From his death, we see an impact in the lives of Johnathan and Maggie. Bobby, another member of the childhood friends, is in hiding, more or less, homeless on the streets of Houston, Texas. He chooses to live a life of solitude because he fears he’ll harm those he loves if he’s around them. During his service in the Army he contracted a curse, an uncontrollable rage that takes over every full moon (wink wink). On his course of self-destruction, he happens upon a strange woman who seems to know a lot about his condition. She attempts to help him, warning him of impending danger. Jake is the last of the childhood friends. He more or less stays connected with Maggie and Johnathan the most, as no one is able to find Bobby. Having served as well, Jake deals with his own brand of guilt and doubt. As a Presbyterian minister, this religious doubt becomes more of a focal point for him. And of course, I’d be amiss not to mention the House, the driving force that eventually will reconnect the friends, for good or bad…who can say? Some of the history of this “house” is told in historical segments through the character Augustus Westfield, dating back to just after the American Civil War (1865).

Dwelling ends somewhat nihilistically. Most have enjoyed this aspect, however, a few did not jive well with the stories conclusion, or lack thereof. The questionability of purpose and meaning, I felt, was an honest take on the characters and the deeper theme of the book.

Emerging is the second book in the series and takes place only a few short months following the end of Dwelling. The same cast of characters return and are in route to rondevu at the “house,” Maggie’s house in Jotham, Texas. At the end of Dwelling, Maggie had sent out letters to each of her surviving friends. Due to their individual struggles and issues, some of the characters begin to clash with one another. Trust becomes elusive as the “house” begins to take its toll on them. The history of Jotham and its connection around the “house” is farther expanded on, as is the source of the presence felt in and under the “house.”

Emerging ends less nihilistically than Dwelling, but since I do not personally believe horror is ever meant to answer anything, but rather raise more questions, the story cannot completely remove the mood of this philosophy.

Now…how to pick up from here in continuing a series? Hours? Days? Weeks? Years? And with what characters, some, all, or none? Can the source of the power within the “house” in the previous books be so easily destroyed? All these questions were considered when drafting the third book. I decided to base the story “nearly” a year following the events of Emerging. And limited the characters. In Dwelling and Emerging, with four-five major characters and the minor characters of whom they interacted, the cast was filling a bit cramped. In Conceiving, this third book in the series, I decided to narrow the players to three groups and individuals. And the only major carry over being, Bobby Weeks, who’s particular condition allows him the ability to survive extreme situations.

Let’s stop here, as Bobby is really the key to how I balanced Conceiving as being accessible to new readers and faithful to reoccurring readers of the series. Dreams and memory can be useful tools when trying to “recap” previous episodes or events. But you have to be careful, as too much of these can be daunting and downright annoying. For Bobby, I did a “recap” in a memory within a dream. I’d love to explain more of that, however, I do not want to spoil anything that ought to be discovered through reading. But I can say, though, there is a minor recap regarding the events of the previous books, mostly dealing with Emerging. For new readers, they get to be introduced to this new character while getting a little bit about their history set within an action sequence and not just exposition. Exposition is fine, but only in short doses, and with Bobby (especially with new readers) I didn’t want the first impression to be a boring one. For reoccurring readers, you are reintroduced to an old friend, catching up on why he is the way he is, his horror, why he is in mourning and the benefit of seeing him and his curse evolve.

Luna and Ronna Blanche, the second group in Conceiving, would be the only other characters long time readers will be familiar with. Thus the major benefit of having read the previous books is already being intimate with the history of the cast. Luna was a minor character in Dwelling and Emerging but now plays a larger role. Ronna is a name you will only recognize if you’ve read my novella Lanmȯ, a horror story based in Mississippi’s 1960s Civil Rights Movement. Ronna was a young voodoo priestess then and now in Conceiving, as it is set during modern time, she is an old woman, Luna’s grandmother. There are events that happen in Lanmȯ that correlate and farther develop in Conceiving, of which I cannot giveaway. In balancing old and new readers, this story between Luna and her grandmother is new for both parties. New readers get the benefit of discovering who this woman, Ronna, really is and what her so-called “sin” is as described in the book. Longtime readers get the added benefit of already knowing that “sin,” but being able to see the story told from another perspective with detail not previously known.

Boris and Neville Petry, the third and final major group in Conceiving, are brand new characters for both longtime readers and new readers, thus benefiting both equally. Between Bobby as the one major carryover and the Petry’s as the one “brand new” members to the cast balance each other, giving more tasty detail to longtime readers and making the story accessible to new ones. Telling the story like this has helped me make Conceiving approachable as a standalone AND as a continuation faithful to readers of the previous books.




Dark things are dwelling in Jotham, Texas. Malicious forces are seen emerging from the sinister house on Oak Lee Road…
With little memory of the events that took the lives of his friends, Bobby Weeks tries to move on with his life, and finds a job at a warehouse on Galveston Island. The evil in Jotham won’t leave him behind, though. Strangers from the cursed town find him, offering information about what happened to his friends. It all leads back to Baelo University…back to Jotham.
Luna Blanche has always been gifted, but now she must use those gifts to save Bobby…
Luna goes to the Mississippi Delta to take care of her dying grandmother. She misses Bobby, and when she attempts to see Bobby through her mind, all she finds is a deadly future. Fearing his life is in danger, she leaves the Delta and searches for him in Jotham.
Neville and Boris Petry want nothing more than the picturesque American Dream…
After Boris accepts a new job teaching at Baelo University, the Petrys move to Jotham to finally live out their dream. Following a drunken faculty party, Neville discovers she is pregnant. She should be ecstatic, but dreadful dreams lead her to feel as if something is wrong with the baby, her husband…and the school.
Four destinies bound on a collision course, a plot conceived in the shadows of Jotham…and an evil biding its time…waiting for them all.
Dwelling, Book One in the Subdue Series
A group of inseparable childhood friends are now adults, physically and psychologically devastated by war…
A horrifying creature emerges from a sandstorm just before Ricky Smith dies in battle. Forced to leave base housing, his widow Maggie buys a home on Oak Lee Road in the town of Jotham. Maggie is isolated in the historic house…and disconcerted by strange clicking sounds inside the walls.
Jonathan Steele attempts to drink the painful past away…
Jonathan was wounded in that fateful battle and now suffers from PTSD. He wants to put the nightmare behind him, but when Ricky’s ghost appears with cryptic warnings about Maggie’s house, he begins to question his sanity.
Bobby Weeks is a homeless veteran struggling with a lycanthropic curse…
Afraid of bringing harm, Bobby stays far away from those he loves. But after a full moon, a mysterious woman approaches him and reveals a vision about a house with a sinister presence, and he realizes staying away might no longer be an option.
Minister Jake Williams lost his faith on the battlefield…
While Jake will do anything to reconnect with God, he turns to vices to fill the religious void. But a church elder urges him to take a sabbatical, and a ghost tells him to quit the ministry, and his life is more out of control than ever.
When Maggie wakes in a strange subterranean cavern, she can’t deny her home harbors dark secrets. Desperate, she sends letters to her old friends to reunite in Jotham, and events conspire to draw them all to the house…unaware of the danger awaiting them.
The friends have already been through hell, but can any of them survive the evil dwelling beneath the House on Oak Lee?
Emerging, Book Two in the Subdue Series
Traumatized by war, friends gather for a reluctant reunion…
A historic house in Jotham, Texas harbors a malevolent force, and as her fear grows, widow Maggie Smith pleads with three lifelong friends to gather in her home. But will their presence combat the darkness…or feed it?
Minister Jake Williams fears Maggie has had a breakdown…
Feeling he has no choice, Jake locates the other intended guest, Bobby Weeks, who agrees to go with him but struggles with keeping his lycanthropic curse hidden.
Jonathan Steele, a wounded veteran battling PTSD, arrives with his disgruntled wife. After drinking too much at dinner, Jonathan insults the homeless Bobby, and Bobby is missing from the house the next morning.
The dark past of Maggie’s home awakens in the present…
Jake, whose faith is in doubt, confides in a local priest while he and Jonathan search for Bobby, and Ricky’s ghost makes another visit to Jonathan, causing him to become fixated on saving Maggie from the evil that surrounds her.
As the danger intensifies, trust is elusive, and betrayal is certain…
Maggie might be lost, Bobby confronts a terrible choice, and Jake and Jonathan fight to save them all—before they become more victims of the horror emerging beneath the deadly house in Jotham.

Purchase Links
Conceiving – Book Three
Dwelling – Book One
Emerging – Book Two
Limitless Publishing will be offering all three books in one boxed set coming late December 2016! You can pre-order NOW though for an exclusive price of only .99 cents!

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for having me, it was an honor being here!

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    Replies
    1. You're quite welcome, Thomas. A great guest post, for sure.

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