Let's talk about long-running series novels. I have one of those, the Matadors, for those of you who don't know. Space opera, bodyguards, martial arts, exotic weapons, galactic conflict, all like that. They are essentially anti-war novels, though they've always sold pretty well on military bases.
Originally, I pitched the idea to Ace as a single novel of about 100,000 words. My editor allowed as how it would be better as a trilogy, and she explained it thusly:
1) You'll get more words to play with. Sixty, sixty-five thousand words each, that's almost twice the room to explore your story and your characters.
2) You'll get more money from three books than one, especially if they take off, saleswise.
Well, who was I to argue with such reasons?
So, The Man Who Never Missed; Matadora; and The Machiavelli Interface.
Enough fans liked these that they did sell pretty well. Not spectacular numbers, but since the advances were so small, they earned out, and they like that in New York City.
I was happy how they turned out, and went on my way.
A year or so after the third book came out, I was spending a fair amount of time trying to get into selling stuff to Hollywood. I had some success with animation, courtesy of my collaborator, who dragged me kicking and screaming into that. Old joke was, "If I can get two more of you suckers hooked into toonery, I'll be free!"
My collaborator (Reaves) and I wrote a spec script based on our novel Hellstar. Our agent, who wasn't very good at live-action stuff, sent it out. Somehow somebody at a production company we hadn't sent it to got hold of it and gave us a call. Come in and pitch, they said.
I flew to L.A. Reaves and I put on our lucky Power Extreme! underwear and went to the meeting. Met with an assistant producer who looked to be about fourteen.
He loved us, we were wonderful, the script was dynamite. We thought we were going to ejaculate all over his desk, but then he said, Of course, we can't do it, too expensive, but we have an idea we want to do -- Escape from Alcatraz in space! Can you do that?
Sure. We can do anything. Quickly, Reaves and I did a blue-sky pitch, using my Matador universe as a background. And he loved it.
To make a long story short, we kinda-sorta had a deal. We'd do a "few notes," which is Hollywoodspeak for a freebie treatment, and we'd also get a book tie-in to help pre-sell the project, which we called The Omega Cage. We called our editor in NYC, told her we had a movie deal, and did she want to do the book? She did.
Then, as such things sometimes do, the deal went into the toilet. The nice young man quit the company to go into television, and we went from pitching our orphan idea at 20th Century Fox to pitching it to Troma, which was pretty much the bottom of the barrel ...
And we were stuck writing a novel we didn't want to write, a book that was essentially a long treatment for the movie. We wrote it, it sold well, earned out, but we weren't gonna be big-time Hollywood writers because of it.
Fast forward. I had an idea for a prequel -- how did my hero's teacher come to be? Thus The 97th Step.
Then I wondered: What happened to the old gang after the Confed was bested? They get married, settle down, have kids? Thus The Albino Knife, Black Steel, Brother Death. (This last one had a working title of Mue, which if you've read them, you know why, and if not, it concerns the protag's genetic engineering. Ace decided they didn't like the title, so we changed it, but it showed up that way in the previous book's upcoming list, and I still get comments from people who want to know where they can find it.)
Some years later, and deeper into the martial art that I had found which was closest to what I had envisioned the Matadors doing, I had a thought about a distant prequel, how the art came to be, so, The Musashi Flex.
Which is where we stand.
There is only one other area I now think I might explore in the Matador universe, and I'm not quite ready to do it -- the origin of the "religious" order, The Siblings of the Shroud. Which would be the title of the book.
I understand how fans who get into a series want to see more of it, I'm that way myself. Even if ole Travis McGee was getting long in the tooth and of an age to become a grandfather, and even if the last five books were cookie-cutter the same, I would have kept reading them forever.
But I also understand writers (and actors and assorted other artists) sometimes feel the need to leave a comfortable and popular series and try something else. Sometimes they can, sometimes not, but they feel the need to try. (You didn't watch Star Trek for the science, but for the characters. And only a couple of the actors got past their roles. Shatner did. Nimoy tried, but wound up behind the camera.)
Sly Stallone will always be remembered as RR -- Rocky and Rambo. That's what fans wanted to see, and that's pretty much all his fans wanted to see. It made him a millionaire many times over -- he wrote the first Rocky movie's script, did you know? -- and as such, he doesn't get to complain, but he was typecast in those two roles. Every time he tried to step into another role, the movies essentially tanked.
Better to be famous for something people like than unknown? Sure.
Probably I will get back to the Matadors one more time, even though I know they aren't ever gonna make me rich. But I have to try a couple other things first.
(Editor's Note: The shrouds did come from the Muslim burqa. When I started these books, in 1984, the Middle East was not in the news the way that it is these days, and not a whole lot of folks in middle America knew about such garments. I thought it was a fairly clever notion at the time. And for those of you in the male-chauvinist-sexist-pig category, go here and click on See Original Image at the top of the page ...)