Thursday, November 4, 2021

A Medieval Mystery Series Comes To An End, a guest post by Jeri Westerson

 JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I first met Crispin Guest in 2008, along with the chronicler of his adventures, Jeri Westerson. I've been a fan ever since, so when Jeri told me Crispin was exiting the stage (hopefully not pursued by a bear) my first response was, "Oh, no!" 

 

But my second thought was, "That's perfect." How many times have you read the final novel (or watched the last episode) and been left a little disappointed - no ultimate resolution, threads left dangling, questions unanswered. There's a reason people still talk about The Fugitive - we found out what happened with Dr. Kimble and the one-armed man!

 

So though I'm sorry to see him go, I'm very, very excited to find out what happens to Crispin, his apprentice, Jack, their friends and family and Henry Bolingbroke (okay, I know what happens to Henry Bolingbroke) in THE DEADLIEST SIN.



 

What do you write for the last book of a series? How do you sum up over sixteen years of your time and devotion?

By killing people, of course.

Well, not random people, but people in the book. There still has to be a murder. Or multiple murders, and in this case, because it is set in London in the late fourteenth century, it seemed that it had to be in a priory and the deaths had to be in the manner of the Seven Deadly Sins, hence the title THE DEADLIEST SIN. And so Crispin Guest, medieval private detective, embarks on his last-ever case to solve in the tangled and shadowed realm of St Frideswide Priory in the heart of London.

 

Of course, in the background there are great political movements afoot that will change the course of English fortunes. King Richard II, a far from beloved king, may be in the process of being overthrown, and he hasn’t figured that out yet. Henry Bolingbroke, the son of Crispin’s mentor John of Gaunt, the duke of Lancaster, has returned from his banishment…with an army. And Crispin must decide whether to commit treason again—the thing that started him on this course with his own banishment from court and all the misfortunes and humiliations he’d endured for the last twenty years.

 

But it was no secret to me when I began writing this series how I would end it. As always happens when you are researching a particular time period, your expectations expand when you find out all sorts of interesting historical nuggets that lead you on to new ideas, new directions to aim for in your plotting about a disgraced knight who is hired to solve crimes. When you hang your fortunes on the real timeline, and put your fictional characters in there, a natural ending unfolds.

I always planned on ending the series in a particular year. For one, I felt it would round out the characters’ lives sufficiently. And for another, I didn’t want to get stale or repetitive in my writing of it. I think fifteen books is a good collection of novels and it leaves me time to work on new historical mysteries where I can research in some other time period or periods. Two of which, I am already writing: One in Tudor England, and another in Sherlock Holmes’ London. 

 

 

As a writer, I like to constantly challenge myself to find other stories to tell. And it’s nice to get the chance to do that. There’s something about writing in another time period that gives an author a great excuse to spend those hours in university libraries or online archives. No matter how long you are at it, it’s never wasted time.

What has been the most interesting to me is the reaction to ending the series from readers and librarians. “I hope you’ll continue the series with Jack Tucker investigating,” many have remarked. Jack is Crispin’s servant and protégé, who started as an orphaned street urchin and cutpurse, and grew up under Crispin’s (at first) reluctant guidance.

But the answer to that is “no”. There will not be any spin-offs or sequels. The series will be done and complete, and I will be onto other things, as mentioned above. It’s funny what a writer thinks about their characters and how they interact with them…as opposed to what the reader experiences. And being a reader myself, I get it when you aren’t allowed to experience any more of a favorite characters’ adventures. But I always think that the best characters have lives before one opens the book and when one closes the cover on the last page; that they continue to live their lives…somewhere. We’re just not privy to them. Those are the best adventures. The ones that linger on the minds of readers. The ones that endure.

I need to thank Julia Spencer-Fleming for taking me under her wing when this series started. She certainly didn’t have to. But it was very helpful for me to understand what I had to do to promote this series and the fact that I still enjoy her friendship all these years later, well… It’s this wonderful community of mystery writers I am grateful to. As well as the booksellers I got to know through this series, and all the librarians all over the country. A big thank you to all. Be on the lookout for more.

 

JULIA: Thank you, Jeri, for the many years of pleasure I've gotten from following the adventures of Crispin and young Jack. Readers,  do you like it when a series has an actual conclusion? Have there been any that you felt leave you hanging? Let us know, because one lucky commenter will win a signed copy of THE DEADLIEST SIN!

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Jeri Westerson writes the CrispinGuest Medieval Noir novels, a fifteen-book series nominated for thirteen mystery awards. She also writes an urban fantasy series, Booke of the Hidden; a spin-off werewolf mystery series, Moonrisers; a gaslamp-steampunk fantasy series Enchanter Chronicles Trilogy; a few standalone historical novels; and a humorous/romantic LGBTQ mystery series, the Skyler Foxe Mysteries under the pen name Haley Walsh. Find them all and any future series at JeriWesterson.com. She is also happily active on social media at Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and Twitter.



 



60 comments:

  1. It's always mixed feelings when a spectacular series comes to an end, Jeri. Thank you for all the wonderful adventures with Crispin and Jack . . . they will be missed.

    It's always a satisfactory sort of feeling when an author ties things up and gives me an ending for a series I've enjoyed. Offhand, I cannot think of a series that left me hanging, but I'm always sad to see a wonderful series reach its end . . . .

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  2. JERI: Congratulations on writing a long-running series. I am glad to hear that you were able to end the series the way you wanted.

    YES, I do like it when a series has a conclusion. Some authors are able to plan and execute a 5-book, 7-book ARC for the series. But I also know several authors being disappointed when their books are dropped after 3-5 books or publisher goes under and authors/book series are left orphaned.

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    1. JERI: I had to look up "gaslight-steampunk fantasy" when I saw your bio. I am intrigued!

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    2. Thanks, Grace. I definitely looked at the series as the biggest novel evah! Where a character really has a chance to grow, and yet, keeping each book like a stand alone.

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    3. And yes! Gaslamp fantasy! It was roaring good fun. Really loved writing it. Some memorable characters.

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    4. JERI: Yes, that is the challenge of a series for an author. Giving the protagonist an opportunity to grow throughout the books, and keep long-time readers engaged vs. putting in just enough backstory so that first-time readers are not lost if they pick up your series mid-way, and then go back to read them all.

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  3. Congratulations on your new book, Jeri and welcome to JRW. I think it's wonderful that you can tie the series up in your own way and leave a finite number of books with a real beginning and a real end. Readers should appreciate that. I do.

    Although I know it happens to authors, my experience has been more with canceled tv programs. It's risky to leave viewers with a cliff hanger and have the show disappear. I can think of 2 shows off hand that were canceled like that but there must be hundreds of stories. For instance, if the original Star Trek had a five year mission, why are there only three seasons?

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    1. JUDY: I agree with you about the cancelled TV series.

      As well as the original Star Trek, Star Trek: Enterprise did not have a cliffhanger but a real crappy season 4 (and series) ending that was so unsatisfying to me and many others. Another fave sci-fi TV shows of mine is Quantum Leap. After leaping into dozens of different people and positively changing their lives, Dr. Sam Beckett never returned home. And that was the last line the narrator says in the show? Lame.

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    2. Not the writers faults, of course, on cancelled tv series or book series, for that matter. We are at the mercy of our publishers just as screenwriters are at the mercy of ratings. So many tv series that I liked got the ax.

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  4. Jeri,

    Well isn't this just the way it goes for me? I pick up the first book in the Crispin Guest series and then find out that the series is ending. Better extremely late than never I guess though.

    It's nice that you have a planned out ending that doesn't leave readers hanging wondering what happened next.

    For me, if a series is going to end, I do want there to be at least some kind of finale to the story. Even if it is obvious that the lives of the characters will go on without us there to see it, at least leaving them in a place where things are resolved as much as possible.

    I'm looking forward to diving into Veil of Lies and then moving forward through the series. Congrats on ending the series on your own terms Jeri!

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    1. Jay, you'll have the same pleasure I did when I discovered Ellis Peter's Brother Cadfael mysteries in 1999 - four years after the author's death. I knew going in there weren't going to be any more, but on the plus side, I had the WHOLE series to binge read, without waiting for the next book to get published.

      Apropos to today's discussion, Peters (Edith Pargeter) planned the last book to wrap up Cadfael's story, and managed to finish it despite her final illness. Now that's an author who respects the readers!

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    2. Julia, I discovered the Cadfael books long before she finished them, snatching each new one up eagerly. The final book did her proud. And to my delight, I discovered long after her death, the short stories--one of which describes Cadfael'ss first journey to the abbey.

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    3. Thanks Jay. I needed that conclusion myself.

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  5. I'm right there with Julia, Jeri, on loving this series, although I think I'm behind with a couple of the most recent books. Brava to you for ending the stories on your own terms and in a way that suits you as well as Crispin and Jack.

    I have done same with two series and, while my Quaker midwife might pop up again in a short story or two, I've moved on to other books and another time period.

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    1. When it's time, it's time, Edith. I think I was being Crispin-blocked from working on another heavy-duty series, so now the Tudor series can flourish. :)

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  6. Wow Jeri, congratulations on the new book, a long-running series, and ending that on your terms. I love the idea of characters having lives after the book ends...

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    1. Thanks, Roberta. It almost ended far too soon when my first publisher was done at six books, but getting picked up by another gave it the life I felt it deserved.

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  7. I remember reading your first Crispin book, Jeri, and loving it... the series has had a terrific run. But what are you going to do with all your suits of armor?

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    1. I'm going to wear them, Hallie. And fight for right!

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  8. Congratulations on the series, Jeri, and getting to end it on your terms.

    I do like it when a series is wrapped up. Not every single little question needs to be answered. There can be room for imagining what the characters do. But I do like having all the major questions answered.

    I can't think of any books off the top of my head, but TV, oh yes. I watched a series on SyFy called "Dark Matter." It went three seasons and then was canceled, but my husband and I could only think, "But what happened to...?"

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    1. Liz, the Maine Millennial and I were fanatics about a science fiction/mystery/drama in 2009 titled Flash Forward. Great cast, with Joseph Fiennes, John Cho, Dominic Monaghan - lots of people you more frequently see in movies. It raised all sorts of puzzles among multiple storylines and then, bam! Cancelled. Nothing resolved. NOTHING.

      Can you tell I'm still bitter?

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    2. JULIA: Yes, devoted TV series fans can feel betrayed/bitter long after these series end. If we are still talking about it 10, 20, 30+ years later, then it left a lasting (good/bad) impression. And it's interesting that we both gave examples of sci-fi/drama shows that were lacking in resolution.

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  9. Jeri, I want to be able to imagine how beloved characters move on with their lives--which is much easier to do when the author is able to give readers a final book in a series. But I can think of several where it was clear the series ended abruptly. I can't think of specific authors. I know there's a real trend in cozy mysteries right now for the main character to be a witch--one such series began years ago--I liked the characters, the development of their lives, the setting--but the series stopped after a few (3?) books, leaving me scratching my head. The author was clearly ahead of her time. I'm off to find Crispin's first adventure--I enjoy starting at the beginning of a series like this!

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  10. I have mixed feelings about a beloved series of books ending. I want to keep reading about them,but it's nice to have a conclusion. And I can always imagine my own continuing adventures for the characters.

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    1. Kathyc23 - as long as they don't die, right?

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  11. I do like to see loose ends tied up and know that the characters are simply off living their lives, something like friends moving off to a faraway state or country. Several series I read ended abruptly because the authors died. That felt like a double loss for sure.

    DebRo

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    1. Yes, Deb, and in the olden days--of which I was on the cusp in publishing--once a publisher no longer wishes to publish a series (and this happened to me with Crispin), that was it. It was done, and to heck with the readers. But because it was able to be picked up by another publisher that felt it was still viable, it got to reach its conclusion. And, of course, today, an author can self-publish that series.

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  12. Congratulations on writing the beginning, middle and end of your series on your timeline, Jeri!

    Like any relationship, the one I have with characters in a book is most satisfying when it ends in a way that makes sense to me. Leaving me hanging mid-arc is, well, frankly it's annoying. That is what happened with the brilliant series by Harry Bingham, who invented Fiona Griffiths, a fascinating police detective (likely on the autism spectrum) in Wales. I cannot pronounce a single one of the place-names in the books, but I would happily read another six stories about Fiona.

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    1. Amanda, that's always so exasperating! Of course, like TV series that get cancelled, sometimes the author doesn't know their publisher is pulling the plug until too late...

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    2. Not usually the author's fault. Publishers are persnickety about meeting sales goals...without actually promoting their product. Weird.

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    3. Right? "We didn't do anything, and your book isn't selling as well as we wanted!" If any other industry ran the way the book business does, it would be bankrupt in a year.

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  13. Julia, thank you for introducing me to a new to me author. Why on earth didn't I know about this author despite my bookstagram account on Instagram??? I am amazed by how many authors out there that I do not know about! This sounds like a wonderful series! I am taking a break from trying to write my first mystery novel this morning.

    JW, welcome to Jungle Reds and congratulations on writing the beginning, middle, and end of your series on your timeline. When a beloved series ends, I decide to keep the books because I never know if the books will still be in circulation at the library. When I moved, I had the dilemma of sorting books. I decided to keep the books from a series that I loved and I was glad that I did because the series ended shortly after I moved and I cannot find these books anywhere in bookshops nor libraries.

    Are your medieval mysteries similar to Cadafel? I am adding your mystery series to my tbr list and I plan to read them in 2022 since I already have Nonfiction books (too many) to read for November nonfiction month plus a buddyread of a Virginia Woolf Novel then in December it will be the Holiday books all month.

    Diana

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    1. Hello Diana! Cadfael inspired all us medieval mystery writers. Ellis Peters is the mother of us all! But Crispin is decidedly different in that he is hired to find, to discover. So he is a hardboiled detective on the mean streets of fourteenth century London. I hope you enjoy them.

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  14. Congratulations! When I read a series I become engrossed within the story and n ever want it to end. I continue to ponder their lives and future. When it ends it is devastating and depressing.

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    1. Same here. Every writer is also a reader. This influences what we write and what we decide NOT to write.

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  15. Jeri, congratulations on a wonderful body of work, and on ending the series on your own (and the characters) terms. And what fun you must be having dipping into other eras. I must check out your gaslight/steampunk fantasy--that's irresistible!

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    1. Hey Deborah. Long time, no see! Yes, the Enchanter Chronicles are done in three. A little easier to manage.

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  16. Welcome to the Jungle and congratulations! Reading a captivating series gives me such enjoyment and pleasure. It is an experience which I never want to end. The story and the characters are part of me. If this ends it is so sad and upsetting as I think about them for al ong time.

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    1. Yes, we do get so involved in their lives. I have never decided on a death date for my characters, so as far as I know, he is still in London, a 671-year-old man.

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  17. I definitely want resolution when a series ends! I don't like to be left hanging when I've invested time and emotion in characters. That's great that you could choose when and how to end your series.

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    1. I suppose many writers choose to write a series until they drop dead themselves. But as many have pointed out, I wanted to make sure I was there to give them their due, and not leave readers hanging. I certainly didn't want to get stale with the stories either.

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  18. Jeri, congratulations on the last Crispin and the debut of your new writing. It's exciting to start a new series or novel. Especially when the prior series has such a satisfying conclusion.

    I do like having a wrap up when an author knows a series is ending (we don't always have that privilege). It's nice for the author - who gets to round up the stories they wanted to tell - and it's nice for the reader to close the book with a feeling of satisfaction. Well done, Jeri!

    P.S. I'm looking forward to your next, but am slightly partial to Sherlock Holmes's London in case you are taking a poll :)

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    1. Thanks, Kait. If I can work it out, I hope to have both out there so I can switch back and forth. The Tudor series will either have only six books (six wives) or nine books (six wives and three more monarchs after Henry VIII for his court jester to solve the murders).

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    2. Love it. Like the rhyme we learned in school - divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived!

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  19. Congrats on book 15 and on getting to end the series on your terms. That's important for you and for fans as well.

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    1. Thanks, Mark. Yes it is. I hope it will be satisfying to one and all.

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  20. I've always loved this series, Jerri! Congratulations and very excited about what's coming.

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    1. Thanks, Wendall. I hope for good things to come.

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  21. How annoying. I'd written my comment and when I clicked Publish, it all disappeared. And it was brilliant, of course!
    Hm, is that what it's like to have a publisher stop your series?

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  22. I remember meeting you, in person, at the Upland Library for a book talk right around the time of Troubled Bones. I have loved the Crispin Guest series ever since. As a fan, l am truly sad to see it end, but l also know it makes way for other good things to come. I raise a final cup of mead to Crispin and Jeri, thank you for a very special and memorable series.
    Jodie Rue

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  23. So sad to see Crispin go, but I love that you're in control of the narrative, Jerri! Bravo!

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    1. Thanks, Jenn. It was touch and go there, when St. Martin's said good-bye after book six. Thank you Severn House!

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  25. Jeri,

    So sorry to see the end of the Crispin series, but also excited to see how you decided to wrap it up! I think Crispin was unique among the medieval sleuths—a disgraced knight who had to reinvent himself and in the process took the reader into an underworld we don't usually get to visit. Carry on!

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    1. Thanks so much, Rosemary. I hope I succeeded. The reviewers seem to think so.

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