I grew up reading long series of books. Did I say reading? Make that devouring. Third grade was spent in Narnia, fourth in Mallory Towers. All of the Oz books – including the ones by Ruth Plumly Thompson – tottered in a stack by my bed. I copied the maps of Moomin Valley. I knew Middle Earth as well as, and perhaps better than, my own town.
So it was very natural to me to write a series. I loved the characters and friendships that were created in books like The Valley and The Mountain of Adventure, and I wanted to have the same sort of thing in mine–a group of kids who would have perilous adventures and yet remain kids throughout. They would perform acts of derring-do, yet at the same time they would squabble and perhaps even develop romantic feelings for each other.
When I read books in a great series, it was like putting on a comfy robe or huddling under a warm blanket. I knew the people in the books and I had a fair idea of what the writer had in store for them.
Characters and adventure, then, drove a series for me. Either there was a group of kids – in the case of the Adventure stories, two boy and two girls – or there was fevered action, as in the Narnia books.
My Crown Phoenix books started around the scene of Miriam, an orphan, reading a book in a large house. She was soon joined by two boys: Simon (with whom Miriam argued mightily) and Neil, Simon’s friend.
Miriam’s governess, Mana, acted as a guide to the three of them. She was dependable and a bit magic at the same time, but her position was hampered by being a woman of color in Edwardian society.
At this point the adventures began to kick in. A pair of thorough villains showed up. I love the dichotomy of beauty and badness, so the woman, Barbara, was breathtakingly lovely and utterly evil at the same time. The three children were separated: Miriam and Simon were kidnapped and put on the train called The Night Watchman Express, headed to a dire end.
Neil took off for the island of Lampala to have his own series of adventures. There he met Riki, a very skinny girl who was immature and what I would call “a pain in the butt.” Eventually, however, they became friends.
As I wrote the books, two things happened at once. The action advanced, but at the same time the characters grew up. Miriam flourished under Mana’s teaching. Simon realized that beauty can be a dangerous thing. Neil found that acting in an irresponsible manner is sometimes the best thing to do. And Riki – well, she will always be Riki. Still, she did learn to be a bit more polite. Neil had a great deal to do with that.
Perhaps it is a bit of an indulgence for an author to write a series. We have the luxury of not having to give all the backstory, since readers (hopefully) will have read them all along the way. At the same time, we do have to provide enough guidelines for those who pick up a book in the middle of the series, as well as enough story in one single book to make it satisfying.
I am close to finishing the final book of the lot, and won’t I be sorry when it’s complete! I’ll have to leave my mythical island, Lampala, as well as all the characters I’ve learned to love. I’ll miss them in the way you would miss a friend who moves away when you are very young – you wish you could see them again, but you know you probably never will.