How could anyone resist this description from the latest Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch book, London Gambit, which comes out Thursday!
On a moonlit London night, Suzanne Rannoch slips away from a glittering Mayfair party to assist a wounded man who has escaped Paris one step ahead of Royalist pursuit. That same evening, Suzanne’s husband Malcolm, himself a former spy for Britain, is summoned to the warehouse of a shipping company where a thief has been knifed to death. These two seemingly unconnected incidents prove to be the opening gambit in a deadly game that will test the Rannochs’ skill, strain their divided loyalties to Britain and France, and entangle not only fellow agents and spymasters, but their friends and family. The stakes are their security, their marriage, their very lives.
Tracy has taken the challenges faced by most series' writers and doubled them--or is it quadrupled? (You will see!) Dealing with the peculiar problems of series characters is a dilemma close to my heart--here's how Tracy does it.
TRACY GRANT: I love series, both as a reader and as a writer. As a reader, I love to follow the twists and turns and speculate with other readers of the series. I worry about favorite characters and checking back in with them is like reconnecting with old friends (with Debs' Gemma and Duncan, I feel I know them and their world so well it’s like stepping into their house for a cup of tea or sitting across from them in a pub over a pint). With my own writing, my mind inevitably thinks in terms of a series. After a book, I’m always wondering what happens next for the characters and even when I get ideas for new characters, I want to fit them into the pre-existing world.
Recently, I was asked whether I have the series planned out or make it up as I go along. The answer, I realized, was a bit of both. My series is particularly complicated because I started out telling the story of Charles and Mélanie Fraser and then when I changed publishers and couldn’t take the series forwards, I decided to go back in time and tell their back story. But I had to change their names, so they became Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch. Different names but still spies for opposite sides in the Napoleonic Wars (he for the British, she for the French) who end up married to each other. Eventually I had to move the Malcolm and Suzanne books into a sort of parallel universe for a book or two to catch up the two series and move forwards to the books I had originally planned to write in Fraser universe. Not the way I would have chosen to do it, but it did allow me to dramatize their history at the Congress of Vienna and the Battle of Waterloo and in Paris after Waterloo, which I loved telling.
Because I went back in time, I more or less knew how I wanted those early stories to play out. But there were still plenty of details to fill in and some points where what I thought was going to happen didn’t fit where the characters actually were when I got to that point on paper. With my last book, The Mayfair Affair, and my new release, London Gambit, I’ve moved into uncharted territory, taking the series forwards in time, not locked into any plot twists in prior books. But there are still certain developments in the overarching plot of the series I know I am writing towards, some of which I’ve had in mind from the start, some of which have occurred to me along the way, The Mayfair Affair introduced a fairly major new romantic pairing for the series. I had actually intended to get one of these characters together with another ongoing character at the start of the series, but I decided several books ago that these two characters were a better match, and I was really excited to finally get to the point where their relationship could progress. Other things I’ve thought I was writing towards end up playing out differently when I get to that point in the story and realize what I thought would happen doesn’t make sense given where the characters now are.
London Gambit contains a major plot twist I’ve had in mind for some time, though I wasn’t sure precisely where it would occur in the series. It’s something of a game changer for the series. Even when it occurred to me that this plot twist would fit logically in London Gambit, I wasn’t quite sure I was ready to go there. I dithered. I felt like I was being mean to my characters. I considered softening it. I started writing the book with the plot twist in mind, but wasn’t sure I would really go through with it. I even drafted scenes not sure I would include them. Then I discussed the possible plot twist with a writer friend who has read the series from the beginning. When I said I wasn’t sure I really wanted to go this far, and I felt I was being mean to my characters, she said, “That’s probably when you know you’re writing the exact right thing.”
I realized she was right. So I drew a deep breath and went through with the plot twist. And I’m glad I did. It opens a lot of very intriguing possibilities for future books that I’m eager to explore. At the same time reading over the galleys, I still felt a pang for my characters. Which I suspect proves that my writer friend was right - this was a good choice to make.
Writers, do you plan your series out in detail or make up events as you go? Have you ever felt conflicted about a game changer twist in your series? Readers, what are some of your favorite game changer moments in series you read?
DEBS: I cannot wait to read this! And, oh, so many times I've dithered over whether or not I can really put my characters through the plot twists I've come up with--and found, like Tracy, that it was exactly what I needed to do.
REDS, readers, what do you think? Do you want your characters to be challenged?
Teresa (Tracy) Grant studied British history at Stanford University and received the Firestone Award for Excellence in Research for her honors thesis on shifting conceptions of honor in late fifteenth century England. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her young daughter and three cats. In addition to writing, Tracy works for the Merola Opera Program, a professional training program for opera singers, pianists, and stage directors. Her real life heroine is her daughter Mélanie, who is very cooperative about Mummy’s writing. Tracy is currently at work on her next book chronicling the adventures of Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch.