I remember quite clearly when I began to write my epic fantasy series, set in the imaginary Celtic country of Deverry and its environs. It was a rainy Washington’s Birthday weekend in February of 1982. The last of its fifteen volumes came out in 2009. That’s twenty-seven years of my life. Now during that time I did also write three science-fiction books and work on two collaborations, but Deverry was never far from my thoughts or from my work day. I doubt if I exaggerate when I call it an obsession.
When I finished the series I went into something like shock. I sent the corrected page proofs back to DAW, then sat down and stared at the wall for a very long time. I had no idea of what I was going to do next, except for the dim feeling that Urban Fantasy looked like an enjoyable option. I’d wanted to write something humorous for some while. What humor there is in the Deverry books is of the black variety, and all too often the jokes turn violent. I also wanted to write shorter books and straightforward stories that ended at one volume, even if the main characters continued on to other episodic adventures in other books.
After some fiddling around with the concept, I began LICENSE TO ENSORCELL. Nola O’Grady’s distinctive voice appeared immediately to narrate the tales with a wry, distanced take on herself and on the genre. She brought her extended family and its wild talents with her as well as the mysterious Agency she works for. Lots of good material there, I thought, and plunged onward. The obvious location occurred to me, San Francisco, where I’ve lived for most of my life.
I planned three shortish books, each complete in itself, in each of which Nola would have a different love interest and a different mystery to solve. I could poke a little fun at the “James Bond school” of impossible gadgets and equally impossible secret agents along the way, I figured. It all made sense, and my editor liked the idea enough to give me a three-book contract.
Silly old author to think she had everything under control!
The first warning I had that the characters were taking over came from Ari Nathan, the love interest for the first book. I carefully set it up that he was going to leave at the end and stay gone. He refused. He’d found the woman he wanted in Nola, and he was coming back. Every time I tried to write the Big Farewell Scene, my mind went blank. I tried writing the Big Return Scene, and my mind obligingly coughed up the right pages.
Character note: arguing with Ari is a waste of time.
So the series became “mysteries for Nola and Ari to solve.” Is this information a spoiler? Not really. It was pretty obvious to everyone else, that is, to beta readers and secondary characters alike, that he was going to come back to her. Only Nola and I were left in the dark until the last minute/page.
There have been other developments as well — a backstory that refused to stay as simple as I wanted it, for starters. My idea about a purely episodic structure has been shot to hell as well, although the first two books, LICENSE TO ENSORCELL and WATER TO BURN, are indeed self-contained. The members of Nola’s family are demanding more time onstage and getting it. At this point I’m not really sure of where the series is going. I do know that I can trust the characters to tell me, whether I like it or not.
If you’d like to see how stubborn Ari can be for yourself, the first chapter of LICENSE TO ENSORCELL is available here on BVC.
Katharine Kerr is the author of too many weird books. Her SF novel, POLAR CITY BLUES, is currently being serialized on Fridays at Book View Café.