My trilogy is finished. The series–titled Surgeon’s Duty–is set in Regency England (specifically 1816 and 1817) and follows a hospital surgeon and several body-snatchers (a.k.a. resurrection men). The body-snatchers dig up newly buried bodies and sell them to the hospital surgeons for dissecting. Book 1–titled Ravaging the Dead–is nearly ready to be published. Here are four things I learned writing a trilogy.
1) Each Book Took a Year to Write
When I started I had no intention of writing a trilogy. I began with an interest in exploring the relationship between hospital surgeons and body-snatchers in Jane Austen’s England. I was also interested in surgery, medicine, and treatments during those years. After finishing the first book I realized there was more to write about and so I began writing book 2. Each book took roughly a year to write, mainly because extensive research was required. Another year was required to make sure that historical facts and story lines were solid across all three books.
2) I Had to Take the Long View
I wrote the books, one right after the other, in a sort of feverish frenzy, mostly because I was homebound due to the COVID pandemic. Some writers publish their books over a period of decades. Winston Graham, for example, published four novels in his famous Poldark series between 1945 and 1953. Then he waited nearly 20 years before asking himself whether there was anything else to write about Ross Poldark, Demelza Carne, and Cornwall coal mining. It turns out there was lots more to say, and so he published eight Poldark novels between 1973 and 2002.
Unlike Graham, I wasn’t sure I could control my story lines. What if I wanted to change something in book 1 while I was writing book 3? If the previous book was already published, I couldn’t go back and drop hints or start a subplot. But over the months I began to learn how to take the long view of character development and plot lines. It is a skill I had never needed to learn, but by writing the books one right after the other, close together, I was able to weave the story lines with confidence.
Friends have asked if there will be a book 4 in the series. I confess to having a rather large spreadsheet for a 4th book, but I’m not sure I’ll do anything with it.
3) It Was Hard to Choose a Cover Designer
The problem here was that I was spoiled for choice. There are hundreds of cover designers on Fiverr and there are numerous websites whose business is to design book covers. After studying hundreds of covers, I chose 100 Covers because it had the largest number of covers I liked. I knew what I wanted: the cover should look intriguing and a little bit menacing. The artist, Joms, working with the project manager, Phyllis Ngo, gave me exactly what I wanted.
4) There Were Surprises Along the Way
There were occasional surprises. For example, chapter 1 of book 1 begins with a discussion between James Hammond, my protagonist–a young surgeon who is passionate about learning anatomy through dissection–and one of his colleagues at St. Thomas’s Hospital in London. I hadn’t written more than 3 or 4 lines when up popped a boy, asking questions. He arrived fully formed. His name is Sam Fry. He’s a curious, impish child who hardly ever tells the truth. How he came to be in my story is a mystery, for I never conceived the idea of him when I was thinking about characters. Still, he was determined to stay and became the favorite character of all my beta-readers.
Another surprise: at the end of book 1 my protagonist decides to leave London, the only home he’s ever known. I imagined the entire series taking place in London! My protagonist had other ideas, and I couldn’t talk him out of it. The situation reminded me of Edith Wharton, who had trouble with one of her characters in her novel The Buccaneers. She wanted to change Laura Testvalley’s surname, but had this to say about the impossibility of doing so:
“Several times I have tried to give my character another name, since the one she bears, should it ever appear in print, will be even more troublesome to my readers than to me; but Miss Testvalley is strong-willed, and even obstinate, and turns sulky and unmanageable whenever I try to hint at the advantages of a change.”1
Edith Wharton’s comment was a good reminder that characters are their own persons with their own ideas, and my job as a writer is to let them tell their story. Indeed, my first two novels–Rosings Park and Cousin Anne–both had stubborn characters. My trilogy was no different.
It Feels Good to Have My Trilogy Finished
I plan to have book 1 ready to publish before Thanksgiving (provided the creek don’t rise). Book 2 will probably be published early next year. Book 3 will definitely be published next year. Regardless, I am coming into the home stretch and it feels very good! I hope that’s not me as a balloonist being pulled along by two galloping horses in the featured image at the top of this blog! Yikes! I do have days when I wonder whether everthing is under control. Here’s the full image:
Reference: (1) Edith Wharton. Confessions of a Novelist. The Atlantic, April, 1933.
Image Source: Wellcome Library No. 36353i at wellcomecollection.org