Occasionally, you can mine your earlier works to produce something greater than the sum of its parts.
...And give your audience a memorable character with a story arc they can identify with. Or develop a new insight into an ongoing character that gives them more depth.
I just happened to do both. Because I got interested in getting the characters good endings.
Sometimes, that is a journey by itself. And one of the main characters didn't get closure until the vary end.
In this case, it only took 2 1/2 years...
It started out with a standalone satire about the 2016 election. And wasn't written and published until July 2018. But the key point here was that I'd used two characters in this short story, one named "John" (a western mystery writer) and the other was "Mary" (a secretary in a steno pool). Book: The Case of the Walkaway Blues.
In that story, the guy helps the girl get over her angst of her candidate losing - and also she learns about the metaphor where fiction story structures explain real world situations. And at the end, he gives her a copy of one of his books with his phone number in it.
Oddly, I'd already started (Mar 2018) a series of stories where a recurring character named John (also a mystery writer) was going around helping ghosts move on by listening to their stories and helping them get a resolution to their own mystery. Book: Ghost Hunters.
In mid fall of 2018, I wrote a story about a ghost on a dinner-cruise ship who had arranged to have all the relatives of people onboard the ship when she "accidentally" went overboard - so she could enact her revenge. And the main (ghost) character was named Mary. John arrives onboard with his spirit-guide team to solve her case. Book: The Case of a Cruising Phantom.
Mid-July 2019 - I've discovered the duplicate character names. The trick is to then make Lemonade when you discover your own Lemons. And inspiration said that we can merge these into the original Ghost Hunters series by building out the origin/backstory for John. The young Mary then becomes somehow related to the earlier Mary from that ship, who died in the Roaring Twenties. Book: The Case of the Walkaway Diner Redoux.
In that resulting book, we catch the elder (Aunt) Mary up by having her go through special training (that was left open as an option at the end of her Cruising Phantom book.)
It gets thick here - and explains how it took about six months before I finally sat down, wrote it, and published. And all this took a lot of imaginative spare time "what-iffing", while I was still writing other stories each week. The details that had to be worked out about the universe they operate in - and that got really thick. (The conversations with my First Reader were intense - all by email.) By now, I'd been writing these fiction books every week for just under two years now and this was book number 125 (not counting anthologies and collections). So this book's universe was already populated with numerous characters and their various abilities.
Walkaway Diner Redoux sets a new stage with a villain's time loop that is constantly reset. Right at the end, the whole scene is "sorted out" by duplicating the diner and shifting it to another space (the moon, actually) and that allows the good guys to escape, while leaving the bad guy's time loop control fused in the "on" position. Meaning that we now had a place to put the bad guys until they decided to redeem themselves. (But hey, the food is really good there...)
In this story, we have Aunt Mary take the place of her Niece Mary (courtesy of time-benders and their version of time called non-linear or "simultaneous"). Young John (before he became a mystery writer in the Midwest) is saved to go on to join the Ghost Hunters and later rescue Aunt Mary in her own book. (Yeah, time travel is a weird thing - and this is the second series where I take this up. Again, this Walkaway series describes John's origin story, while the top-billing main character is Mary.)
So Young John escapes in all this, and Aunt Mary goes onto other adventures afterwards.
But it leaves open the question - what happened to John, because you know the baddies have a backup plan... So yet another character from a different series crosses over into this one to save him in the nick of time. After this episode, John is back on track to get recruited into the Ghost Hunters. Book: Walkaway Redemption.
Now, at this point, we find out that Niece Mary either lost the book Young John gave her - or more probably someone stole it from her to keep her from influencing him. (That point was left up in the air.) But whatever happened to her after that first book? So the next book along this line starts being planned in early Dec 2019, and written/published Feb 2020. This was the big breakup. And cements John's becoming a Ghost Hunter, with more details. While he was prepared to marry her, she decides to leave for a job offer in Chicago. So, while John's origin is wrapped up, it's still an incomplete romance story arc for Mary. Book: Walkaway Mary.
At this point, thinking I was done with the main story arc, I compiled the series into its own anthology and also included "Cruising Phantom" as background data in that anthology. Book: Walkaway Blues Anthology (planning started Dec 2019, published Mar 2020)
But... about that romance arc? Mary turned out to be a central character to the whole series. Which meant at this point, this was only a tragic romance. And I dislike tragedies.
We had to get Mary (not her great aunt) and John back together. So, a story develops where Mary "goes over the edge", kidnaps John by the aid of a supervillian who controls her through a ring on her finger (developed along another line - first shows up in a book called "Doppel"). She wants revenge. This is a crossover into another book universe (Hooman Saga) and so it's nearly impossible for the Ghost Hunter team to find him there. Bring in Sybil (from Walkaway Redemption above) as she's already crossed over into both of these universes before. Anyway, they rescue John by his sending in his now fiancee (one of those two spirit-guides who recruited John and she'd fallen in love with him meanwhile). Mary gives up the villain-ring and is taken to a clinic for healing. (The ring is sent to another space-time.) But no, Mary still is missing her HEA. (A sad scene is found at the end where she tries to reconcile with John as his fiancee looks on.) Book: Return of Walkaway Mary - Oct 2021
The anthology was updated at this point, but...
Ever had a character nag you incessantly until you give up and write another story for her? Mary is as persistent as she is gorgeous. In that last book, she gets a job on the same dinner-cruise ship because she is a perfect double for her great-aunt (which is how her aunt could sub for her inside that time loop). So the original Mary got everything she wanted except love in her life.
Two days ago, I sat down and worked this out. By - doing guess what? Looking back through my other standalone books to find a male character who would satisfy her needs. Ta-Dah! "The Maestro" (Jan 2019) has an unnamed male MC who ends up in a diner. (Coincidences are scary things sometimes.) So we came up with the name "Chuck" as I hadn't used it in any other book. (We're getting cautious these days.) And give Mary an option to return to that same diner again (which is now a depository for criminals, like the cult-leader Chuck was pursuing in that standalone). And Mary meets Chuck, takes him to John's cabin (who is absent because his new wife is expecting) and they work things out. A simple romance story to wrap things up. (Technically, it now looks like some of her friends coordinated things to set her up with a blind date.) Book: The Last Piece Missing - Dec 2021.
And that sounds pretty straightforward (as far as Mary is concerned) - except that there's another series which starts and ends with Walkaway Diner Redoux - and that series runs for 9 stories as a serial. ("The Saga of Erotika Jones Anthology".) And yet another book, "NaN" comes in from the side and also ends with that Redoux final scene. So we have crossovers galore. (While all this builds into what happens to that diner on the moon? ...Which answer is resolved through a planned 24-part epic coming out next year )
But at least now, Mary has her HEA (Spoiler Alert: she and Chuck return to her cruise ship, where his baritone becomes harmony for her own singing, plus he helps her as a dancing partner - somewhat.)
After 2 1/2 years, I hope that particular character is satisfied. (However, now we have another new character to borrow at some point. And then there is the plot of this couple starting a family... maybe they both go overboard like Mary's great-aunt - but this time wind up on a desert island...)
This write-up seemed necessary to describe how to involve readers in a massive universe, and bringing their favorite characters in, as well as others they may not have heard about. The idea is to create die-hard fans who are kept on their toes sleuthing out what happens to who and when.
Because that's the purpose of series and serials - to help the returning characters evolve and keep the reader happy.
Here's hoping all your characters meet their own happy endings (and your villains get suitably redeemed.)
PS. In this last book, we have now committed to John getting married to his Sal and having a baby, while I have to write the other books that describe this. Of course, Mary just drops this fact incidentally. Because she pushed me to get her book out NOW...