The Dark Tower Fiasco (aka: Incomplete Series Malaise)
A fan named Gareth, irate at the author of a series in progress, wishes that the author would hurry up and get the next book in the series out the door. Gareth asked Neil Gaiman, “…what responsibility does he have to finish the story?”
Have you been there? I know I have. I remember just settling into Stephen King’s ‘Dark Tower’ series when King took a break from writing it to pursue other projects. I thought to myself, “What happens now if he gets hit by a car?”
Then, he got hit by a fucking car. Seriously.
Thankfully it didn’t stop him from finishing the series, but it certainly stopped me from ever starting on a series that wasn’t completed – a situation I called “The Dark Tower Fiasco”, but we can also call it a more generic term: “Incomplete Series Malaise.”
Mr. Gaiman lists “life” as one of the things that can get in the way of deadlines, but “death” can too. There’s plenty of other reasons books in a series might *never* get published. An author’s imprisonment, career change, drug rehab, spiritual awakening or legal issues can leave an unfinished series unfinished forever.
Audience Expectations vs the Fickle Muse
So what’s the answer to Garth’s question? What responsibility does an author have to their audience, (even to the *world*) to finish the series?
Mr Gaiman answers in no uncertain terms: The author does not work for you.. Actually, that’s only partly true. He said:
The author is not your bitch.
And I agree.
Despite my own frustration at the large pause in the Dark Tower series, it never occurred to me to get upset at the author. Any author/artist/musician can tell you the creative spirit which possesses them is fickle. Force it and it seems…forced.
I’d rather that Stephen King take a break if he’s burned out. I’d rather he shifted gears if that’s what he needs to do. Because if you really want to write a crappy story, simply write one you don’t want to write. And if the author’s heart NEVER comes back to finish the series or the genre or even if the author never writes again… that’s the way it is, and I’d imagine the author would be far more disappointed about it than any fan would ever be.
How the Multi Book Publishing Deal is not helping…
Aggravating the issue is the fact that both authors and publishers LOVE to work the series. They layer multi-book-deal upon multi-book-deal with no end in site, treating their works like a television show. Laurell K Hamilton, Jim Butcher and many others have made multi-multi book deals, and who could blame them? Multi-book deals are a security blanket for authors who normally live from book to book.
Given, some writers will write books in their series as separated tales in the same universe. This is how I approach it myself with The Demonslayer’s Handbook, but some writers are pumping out a 1,200 page epic saga and parsing it out over three or four books, and publishers (and fans) are eating it up. This is only going to make Incomplete Series Malaise more common.
What to do when an author gives you ‘Incomplete Series Malaise’
It’s difficult when the author takes a break from a series you really love, and begins working on other things, but just keep in mind that there’s plenty of other people in the author’s life/career who want other things from them. (The publisher being one of them; an obligation I’ll discuss in a future post)
Because of these practices and my own experience with the Dark Tower Fiasco, I vowed not to start reading a series until the author is one or more of the following:
Finished with the series
I’ll catch the finished version when it’s actually finished. Like Mr. Gaiman said, there are plenty of other books to occupy you in the meantime.
But what else can be done? What if you get sucked into a series and you simply cannot wait one more day for the next book? (I think this is why Scott Sigler calls his fans “junkies”…) I think the best thing you can to to help motivate the author is to tell them how much you love the series. Threatening might work. (Read “Misery” by Stephen King.) Bribery might work, but I wouldn’t count on it.
Sorry if that’s cold council, but this is the danger of getting hooked into an unfinished series. You have to keep in mind that the author does not work for you. The author can’t please everyone, and you are part of that everyone.
In the next post on this topic, I’ll turn the discussion around and we’ll see how what the author *does* owe to the audience...