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Sunday, August 12, 2018

Which Story Should Be Next?

by James M. Jackson

The sixth Seamus McCree novel, False Bottom, is with beta readers and soon will undergo my copyeditor’s red pen. For the first time, I have not already started another novel. I have three ideas, and I’d like your thoughts about which story I should pursue.

As followers of WWK know, I am a pantser, so when I start a novel, I know the inciting incident, but don’t really know where the story will take me. That said here are the three concepts:

Seamus McCree #7: It’s the “G” title in the series, and I already know what the title would be. (I’m not telling because my newsletter readers get that kind of news first!) Seamus’s granddaughter, Megan, is spending much of the summer at Seamus’s camp in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. When he picks Megan up after a playdate in town, she wants to hire her grandfather to find out what happened to one of her playmates who has gone missing. Seamus eventually accepts Megan’s employ and discovers a child in desperate need, an underground economy he knew nothing about, and forces that will stop at nothing to protect their enterprise.

While the Seamus McCree novels have received very favorable reviews (the series averages 4.32 on Goodreads and 4.67 on Amazon), it isn’t exactly a best-seller.

Alternative two is to start a new series, and my idea is a spinoff from the Seamus McCree novels. Those who read Cabin Fever (Seamus McCree #3) met Niki (single name, spelled with a single ‘k’). [Spoiler alert] She’s an undercover FBI agent who would rather get the job done then kiss ass and play politics. Her background is murky, so what would happen if I gave her a billionaire father who believes his kids should make their own way in life. He’s in the middle of fending off a takeover of his business and is kidnapped.

Naturally, the FBI refuses to let her get involved because she’s family, and she goes rogue. She brings in Seamus McCree to help understand the financial aspects of the takeover when it turns out her father has given her power of attorney. Seamus is a minor character, though, since this would be the kickoff of a new thriller series staring Niki. The series titles would be something like Niki Goes (fill in the blank) – for example Niki Goes Rogue or maybe Niki’s (fill in the blank) – for example, Niki’s Billionaire Father.

The third alternative kicking around in my head is to switch from modern day suspense/thriller to a dystopian YA trilogy. I’ve been playing with this idea for some time. I know something about the world: The US has split into East and West with flyover country acting as a buffer. Split into enterprise zones, the middle of the continent supplies food and raw materials to the East and West. Interpretation of the US constitution has morphed so that only corporations have voting rights. The heroine will come from what used to be Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

My problem with not working on this earlier continues to be that I try to be a plotter and scope out the trilogy before making any further false starts. (Several years ago, I wrote 30,000 words. It wasn’t working, and I stopped.) I am a committed pantser and will need to write the stories to learn what they are. One big difference in this case is I do know how the world changes by the end of book three, so I would be writing with that ending in mind. (Of course, by the time I am done, it might change!)

Given those three choices, which would you prefer I tackle? Vote in your comments:

[1] Seamus McCree #7 featuring granddaughter Megan and set in the U.P.

[2] Niki #1, a domestic thriller dealing with family, corporate power, and a take-no-prisoners heroine.

[3] Dystopian YA trilogy featuring a young woman in a world where the US has broken in two countries and corporations rule.


James M. Jackson authors the Seamus McCree mystery series. Empty Promises, the fifth novel in the series—this one set in the deep woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula—is now available. You can sign up for his newsletter and find more information about Jim and his books at


Paula Gail Benson said...

All three sound interesting. Personally, I find Seamus #7 the most appealing. I think Seamus interacting with his granddaughter would provide a different perspective on the series, but, from what you've written, I wonder if you're ready for a new direction? If that's the case, I would go for the YA. I like your historical stories and know you are good at creating worlds. It would be interesting to see what you make of the future. Hope this helps!

Jim Jackson said...

Thanks, Paula. I'm interested to hear everyone's perspective and see your vote is for "G"!

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

I would go for YA right now and get the first draft done. Our world grows more bizarre by the day. Seize the atmosphere.

Jim Jackson said...

Point taken, Margaret. Wait too long and I might be writing a history instead.

Annette said...

Margaret has a great point, and from a professional perspective, the YA is probably the right choice. But from my personal perspective, I love Seamus and would love to get my hands on "G."

Debra H. Goldstein said...

I suffer from indecision as all three have merit, but if not enough people are finding Seamus, I would write Niki (which lets a reader go back to your other books)….. and on the side keep tinkering with option 3.

Grace Topping said...

I’ve really enjoyed your Seamus books, but think branching out to another series featuring Seamus is a good move. I’d also would like to see Seamus’s mother come back in some fashion. Perhaps have Niki hide out with her, etc.

Warren Bull said...

I think the Niki idea has the most potential for expanding the Seamus universe. It gives you a female protagonist and your two characters can appear in each other's cases/lives. I wonder how much a YA trilogy would advance your career. It sounds like stand-alone territory, worth doing if you want, but maybe not an advance of your brand.

Deb Romano said...

I want to know more about Seamus and his family.

Jim Jackson said...

Just got in to our hotel for the night (Guelph, Ontario).

I appreciate everyone's comments. Keep them coming.

Deborah -- the good news for you is that "F" (false Bottom) revolves around Seamus and family, so your "fix" will be coming in the next few months. :)

Maggie Toussaint said...

Speaking as someone who also has a wandering muse, this will take some serious wrangling on your part. If you branch off into dystopia, let me assure you, it is hard to take off the dystopia hat and spend time in the mystery world. In addition, that's a whole new fan base, a whole new newsletter, a whole new set of conferences, and possibly a different name, which could mean a different website.

When I jumped off the romance train into cozy mystery, only about half of my mystery fans followed me. Less than 10% of those folks followed me to my mystery set 50 years in the future, which was so much fun to write I wrote 3 of them. I got the second website running, but I couldn't pull off double social media accounts everywhere. My pen name Rigel Carson got his own twitter handle but that was it.

Your Seamus books are very well written. If you feel you'd rather poke yourself in the eye that write another Seamus book, change gears. But if you are even halfway thinking about writing Meagan's story, do it while the Seamus story world is solidly around you. Once you start building another story world, or if you swap back and forth for a few novels, its hard on ailing minds to keep everything straight. You have to reeducate yourself to your own series. Been there done that.

In the final analysis, it's your decision. Just be sure its one you can live with three to six months down the road.

Jim Jackson said...

Well thought out, Maggie. Thanks for sharing your experience.

Gloria Alden said...

Jim, I want the first one with Megan. I like the relationship between Seamus and Megan already.
and I'd like the next one in your series include her. You can use the others for books 8 and 9, and you can always write another series, too. Other authors do so why not you, too. I'm in the process of writing a middle-grade book now as well as the 10th in my series, too.

Jim Jackson said...

Thanks, Gloria. Best of luck with you MG book -- that sounds like a challenge to me!

KM Rockwood said...

Jim, I'd go with the next Seamus, unless you feel like you need a change. You've gotten us deeply engaged with Seamus and his family, and I think you should continue with the head of steam you've developed with that series.

Vickie Fee said...

Jim, I'd love to read the Seamus story with Megan -- and you know I have a soft spot for the U.P.! But, if you're wanting to branch out, I think the YA trilogy has huge potential!