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    Structuring a Book Series

    By Michele Karlsberg–

    Michele KarlsbergMichael Nava, author of ten Henry Rios novels, is featured in this issue of the San Francisco Bay Times. I asked Michael to discuss crafting a book series. He explained how he works through concept, consistency, connection, strategic loose ends, and so much more. The latest Henry Rios novel, Carved in Bone, was published in September by Persigo Press.

    Michael Nava: Twenty years after the publication of the last Henry Rios mystery, I’ve added a new book to the series. The original Rios novels cover the period from 1980 to 2000, roughly. Carved in Bone is set in San Francisco in 1984. Originally, I re-read the novels with the idea of writing a new book set in the present. Then I saw there were thematic and chronological gaps in the series. Among those gaps was the evolution of the gay male community in San Francisco in the 1970s and the impact of the outbreak of AIDS on that community. I plotted the murder mystery in Carved in Bone around those themes.

    Writing a series is both easier and harder than writing a stand-alone novel. Seven books in, I’m intimately familiar with my protagonist, Henry Rios, a gay, Latino criminal defense lawyer. Picking up the thread of his life story in Carved in Bone was like resuming a conversation with old friend. The hard part of writing a series is keeping it fresh. It’s easy for a mystery series to become formulaic if all you’re doing is churning out books. I’m not that kind of writer. Writing’s hard work. I had to feel a passionate need before resuming Rios’s story. I didn’t know it would take twenty years!

    Another challenge in writing a series is connecting each book to the others while making sure each one also stands on its own. Each Rios novel is a stand-alone murder mystery while, taken together, they also tell Rios’ life story. So, each one must be a complete and complex mystery on its own while, at the same time, containing enough of Rios’ back story to be part of a multi-book narrative. That requires exercising judgment about what to include and what to omit. This is not so much a writing skill as a story-telling skill. I’m still developing mine. For instance, when I re-read the original books, I noticed inconsistencies I had missed when writing them. As I’ve prepared them for republication, I revised them, some more extensively than others, to smooth out those inconsistencies and put in some foreshadowing to more strongly link the books.

    The final challenge in returning to the series was to maintain the same high standard of the widely praised, award-winning earlier books. Between 2000 and 2014, I worked on a massive historical novel eventually published as The City of Palaces. As I struggled with that book, I deepened my knowledge of my craft; in some ways it was like learning to write from ground zero. At the same time, I passed through my fifties and entered my sixties, and gained a more mature perspective on life. Writers’ lives are inseparable from their art. I’m a happier, more mature man and a better writer now than when I wrote those first Rios books. And because of that, Carved in Bone may be the best book in the series. So far.

    Michael Nava is the six-time Lambda Literary Award-winning author of the Henry Rios Mysteries and the producer of the Henry Rios Mysteries Podcast available on Apple I-tune and other podcast platforms. You can reach him at 

    Michele Karlsberg Marketing and Management specializes in publicity for the LGBTQI community. This year, Karlsberg celebrates 31 years of successful book campaigns. For more information: