I have often said Haxan is my own little corner of the universe where I can play with matches. That much is certainly true, but I don’t think it would be as much fun if it weren’t for the fact Haxan is a series.
Maybe it’s somewhat surprising, but working in a series appears to give me more running room and allows for more sustained creative energy than I would have writing singleton-genre stories. At least this is how I view it. I suppose if I never created Haxan, and the characters who inhabit that world, I would be writing about something else. Come to think of it I know I would.
I’ve been thinking about this since I read Richard Parks’s blog entry entitled “Series Seriousness” in which he describes the fun and problems of working with a series. Parks has done quite a bit of work in series from his Eli Mothersbaugh stories to the excellent Yamada tales. He describes the problems of trying to find a steady platform or venue for readers and fans to find the work. But underlying all these problems is the fantastic fun you can have working with a series.
One of the nice things I like about Haxan is how it lends itself so easily to many different genres and interpretations. I can do horror, dark fantasy, fantasy, straight westerns, weird westerns, romance, mystery…the only genre I don’t see working well in this mythos is science fiction. I have yet to write a straight SF story in Haxan and I doubt I ever will. It doesn’t fit my view of Haxan and what that world entails. But many of the other genres, especially horror and dark fantasy and western, certainly fit, and it is here I am most comfortable.
One of the problems with a series is bringing fans from one venue to another. You might cross many different genres and publications in a series and your fans can lose track of where to find you. Unless you make a special agreement with a publisher or something you will have to work doubly hard to make sure your fans know when and where the next Haxan story (or whatever series you are working on) will appear.
Also, and Haxan is a good example here, you might run into the problem with some fans who are not interested in one particular genre. Like I said, Haxan runs from horror to western to dark fantasy. Sometimes mixing all three at once. If I have a fan who only likes the straight-up western stories, he might not like the ones that have stronger elements of dark fantasy. That’s not his fault. We all like reading particular things that are in our comfort zone. I don’t like some genres. That doesn’t mean I don’t respect them, it’s just not something I read. So if I have a reader who likes a Haxan story based on horror, she might not care for the fantasy story that takes place in the same mythos in another magazine.
Not every series runs into this problem. You might develop a high fantasy series that remains high fantasy. Or dark mystery, or a blending of science fiction/horror, or whatever else interests you. I’m saying from my perspective I think fans of my Haxan stories kind of learn to like and appreciate the mythos of Haxan, and the idea of Haxan, more than any one particular genre. Especially since Haxan sort of straddles so many different genres at once. So that’s what I try and concentrate on, or allude to in every story I write: the mythos.
If I want to bring more people on board as fans I need to sell the idea of Haxan rather than any specific a genre. If I say, “Oh, yes, they’re dark fantasy,” and someone reads a Haxan story that is a straight-up western…I’ve probably lost a reader. Conversely, I know I am starting from behind the eight ball because these stories have a western background. A lot of readers hear “western” and immediately turn away. Not their fault. It’s not something they read or are interested in.
Therefore, Haxan is not necessarily genre specific. It was never meant to be from the outset of its creation. I don’t know if that limits the numbers of my readers. I’m rather afraid it does, to be honest. But I can only write the stories as they come to me. I have been doing this long enough to know you can’t force something, especially a story, into something it’s not meant to be. That doesn’t work and will never work. I can’t bend a Haxan dark fantasy story into another genre because I think it would be more palatable to readers and editors alike. I don’t write that way and I never have.
I don’t think it would be fair to the reader, and I know it wouldn’t be fair to the story.
So that’s my cross to bear, for what it’s worth. Putting aside that I think it’s a great thing for a writer to work in his own series. It’s your entire creation. No one owns it, or owns you. And you can do literally anything you want in that world, as long as it remains logically consistent.
Even though I mostly write Haxan stories now I still write other stories in other genres from time to time. I have fun in Haxan, but I don’t feel limited by it. I don’t feel the series owns me or that I own the series. As long as I have interesting stories about the people in Haxan I will continue to write them. If I have an idea about ballerinas, high-energy physics and the universal power of love, I will write that one, too.
I’m a writer. I’m not a stenographer. I write stories that need to be told. I don’t pick and choose, the story chooses itself.
I am not limited by my Haxan series or imprisoned. But having the series at my elbow, knowing I can walk into that world anytime, and knowing I have structured it in such a way I can tell stories from a variety of genres — I find that liberating.
So here is my advice to you. If you have a particular genre, or idea of place, that you want to write about, I suggest you look into developing it as a series. Not only will you have the continuity thing going for you, which readers love, it will be your own little corner of the universe.
And while you’re working don’t mind me over here in my little corner. It’s a universe. There’s enough room for everybody out there, along with their ideas.