Today I have a guest article from author Anna Belfrage, who is best known for her Graham Saga time slip series of which she is currently publishing book five, Serpents in the Garden. Anna has been on the blog so many times already, maybe seven or eight times now, and I was intrigued by her ability to write such a wonderful series that really sticks together well. Also, I wondered how hard or easy it was to sell a series, though I am sure with her beautiful covers and great content, they each sell on their own. This is the post I was given in return. Enjoy!
Oh, and if you’d like to see my review of Serpents in the Garden, you can see that HERE. You can also see reviews of Like Chaff in the Wind (book two), The Prodigal Son (three), A Newfound Land (four), a guest article on creating characters, and an interview with Anna also on this blog.
From a Nagging Idea to a Series
by Anna Belfrage, Author of The Graham Saga Series
I recently read on some blog or other that apparently writing series is “the thing” right now. Readers want to invest in characters over multiple books, be swept into their lives. If so, aren’t I the lucky one – or at least my timing is impeccable – seeing as I have recently published the fifth (of eight) books in The Graham Saga.
Personally, I am one of those readers who enjoy a series. I do, however, know many readers who prefer not to read series. I guess it all comes down to preferences, and whatever the case, I did not originally set out to write a series. Things happened, as they say…
It all began in 1624, when a twelve-year-old boy named John disembarked in Gothenburg. He was a Scot, of noble birth, but something had forced him and his mother to flee their homeland, leaving behind the boy’s father. (John never saw his father again)
Approximately 370 years later, I married the descendant of that boy – yet another John, but with the name’s Swedish version. My husband brought a lot of admirable qualities to our marriage – and as the icing on the cake, he came with this fascinating family history, manna from heaven for a history nerd like me.
As a consequence, I started reading a lot about the 17th century, trying to discover why John and his mother fled in 1624. So far, the precise reasons remain unknown, but John himself cited religious upheaval. Whatever the case, thanks to long dead John, I developed a fascination for the 17th century – and particularly for all those religious conflicts that so plagued the century.
Some people ask me why I haven’t written a fictionalised version of John’s life instead of inventing my own set of characters. The answer to that is that I don’t think John was a nice man – he achieved far too much success to not have walked over a dead body or two along his way. Besides, John’s descendants may not have liked how I portrayed him, and as I live with one of those descendants (well, five to be precise, as my children also have John up their family tree) I felt it better not to. For now.
This is the very personal reason for me setting my books in the 17th century – and for having a male protagonist for whom religion is a big thing. Okay, so most people back then considered religion a big thing – especially along the lines of “are you with me or against me”. Catholics persecuted Protestants, Protestants persecuted Catholics, and Christians persecuted Jews and Muslims – in general a heady brew with not one jot of tolerance in sight. Which was why I was so delighted when I came upon the Colony of Maryland and their innovative Act of Toleration, dated 1649. Seems some people got tired of religious strife already back then and attempted to do something about it, creating a safe haven for people of various creeds to live together.
By now, I was starting to see a certain structure to my story: Presbyterian Scotsman must somehow end up in Colonial Maryland. Said Scotsman is an attractive man, veteran of the English Civil War, a man of integrity and convictions. Borderline staid one could argue – which is why I threw dear Matthew a curve ball by gifting him with a time-traveller wife. Alex is a woman Matthew is helplessly attracted to, can’t live without, and who challenges his predefined notions over and over again. She is also brave and resilient, willing to risk everything for him, and being a man, Matthew is of course most flattered by her devotion and love.
At some point, I realised I had a tapestry of events I wanted to somehow depict. The starting point would be 1658, when Oliver Cromwell died, thereby plunging the fragile Commonwealth into a period of instability that didn’t end until Parliament invited Charles II to return to his kingdom and throne. The ending point would be in 1690 – some years after the so called Glorious Revolution that deposed a king, disinherited a prince, and set a Dutchman on the English throne. More than thirty years… That is when I realised I had a series on my hands, rather than one book. After all, book one was almost finished, and I had gotten no further than 1660!
Besides, Matthew and Alex had grown into very tangible beings – I knew how they thought, what they liked, where they came from. I didn’t quite know where they were going. Major nail-chewing situation, to have characters I’d invested so much in and not know if they would survive the tough circumstances of the 17th century! So obviously I opted for travelling onwards with them, allowing them to mature as time passed.
In Serpents in the Garden, Matthew and Alex are pushing fifty, surrounded by a large family and blessed with very interesting and exciting lives. Too exciting, Alex would argue. Far too exciting, Matthew would agree, frowning in the direction of the forest that surrounds their little homestead in Maryland. I tell them all that action keeps them young, but for some reason this makes Alex glare at me, while Matthew raises his brows, those hazel eyes of his darkening.
One of the benefits of writing a series is that one can tag along as the characters move through life, amassing experiences and wisdom (Well; Alex is not always wise, she is far too spontaneous – in this she resembles her creator). As a mother, I know for a fact most of us are born with the characteristic traits that will define us through our lives, time serving to grind of the harder edges rather than to fundamentally change us.
In writing a series, it is important to keep the characteristics true to the protagonists – over multiple books – and this is both a challenge and an opportunity to flesh out the character. I actually wrote all eight books before publishing the first, and I believe that by doing this I was in a better position to keep Matthew and Alex consistent throughout.
One of the recurring themes in all my books is love. Love between parents and children, between siblings, but primarily between man and wife – in this case Matthew and Alex. Having been fortunate enough to experience just how fulfilling and loving a relationship can be even after twenty-five years of marriage, I must admit to wanting to share that insight with my readers. There is a pre-conceived notion that romance and passion are restricted to the young. Ha! One of the better surprises in life, let me tell you. Matthew and Alex would, I believe, agree. (Alex is grumbling in the background that yes, the love and all that is very fine, but seriously, must there be so much action, so many heart-stopping moments? Short answer: yes. And in the next book… Alex sort of hunches together, eyes widening in apprehension. I clasp her hand)
As the series has developed, so a number of new characters began jostling for space in my heart and my mind. Matthew’s son by his first marriage, Ian, is especially precious to me as is Sarah, the youngest Graham girl, and Jacob – and little Samuel, and Mrs Parson, and Simon Melville… It is therefore quite inconceivable for me to end this series until these youngsters have their moment in the limelight. Plus, of course, we still have the matter with the nasty Burley brothers to resolve. And Luke, Matthew’s estranged brother. And Isaac, Alex’s son in the 21st century. And Mercedes, time travelling witch and painter of time portals. So many threads to somehow pull together, so many voices to merge into a whole.
It began with a piqued interest in one of my husband’s ancestors. It ended as a literary effort spanning three decades in the 17th century. I guess that’s what they mean when they say “think big”, right?
Anna Belfrage, Biography~
Anna Belfrage is the author of The Graham Saga – so far five of the total eight books have been published. Set in seventeenth century Scotland and Virginia/Maryland, The Graham Saga tell the story of Matthew and Alex, two people who should never have met – not when she was born three hundred years after him.
Serpents in the Garden (Book 5), Synopsis~
After years of hard work, Matthew and Alex Graham have created a thriving home in the Colony of Maryland. About time, in Alex’s opinion, after far too many adventures she is really looking forward to some well-deserved peace and quiet.
A futile hope, as it turns out. Things start to heat up when Jacob, the third Graham son, absconds from his apprenticeship to see the world – especially as Jacob leaves behind a girl whom he has wed in a most irregular fashion.
Then there’s the infected matter of the fellow time traveller Alex feels obliged to help – no matter the risk. Worst of all, one day Philip Burley and his brothers resurface after years of absence. As determined as ever to make Matthew pay for every perceived wrong – starting with the death of their youngest brother – the Burleys play out a complicated cat and mouse game, and Alex is thrown back into an existence where her heart is constantly in her mouth, convinced as she is that one day the Burleys will achieve their purpose.
Will the Burleys succeed? And if they do, will the Graham family survive the exacted price?
Serpents in the Garden is the fifth book in Anna Belfrage’s time slip series featuring time traveller Alexandra Lind and her seventeenth century husband, Matthew Graham.
Graham Saga Titles
Book One: A Rip in the Veil
Book Two: Like Chaff in the Wind
Book Three: The Prodigal Son
Book Four: A Newfound Land
Book Five: Serpents in the Garden
Book Six: Revenge & Retribution (coming August 2014)
Book Seven: Whither Thou Goest