Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Order of Reading

Down in the comments section, some folks were wondering --
What order should the books be read in?

The order in which they were written?
. . . .  (1) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . (2)  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  (3)

Or the year in which the stories are set?  Their chronological order?
..  (1794 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . (1802)  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  (1811)

Or, like . . . alphabetically or something. 

This is what excellent commenter Annie said here:
". . . the reviewer [on Amazon] advises that the books should be read in order, by which she means chronologically by time period rather than the order in which they were written. 

I've been ruminating on the implications for the (or more particularly, my) reading experience ever since. Would I have read TSL differently if I'd encountered Adrian and Doyle first in FR?"

Which is the cogent point.

The books are meant to be standalone.  Everything a reader needs to enjoy and understand the story is contained in the book at hand.  We always start with the, 'You Are Here', on the map and explain the local topography, even though the territory stretches out large from there and we only cover part of it.

But the reading order is going to make a difference in how the continuing characters are perceived. 

An example of this, probably the most important instance so far,
(though I have another one I'm writing into the JUSTINE manuscript,)
shows up in the relationship between Doyle and Annique in Spymaster's Lady.

In TSL, I've tried to create a non-threatening and non-sexual role for Doyle.  There he is in 1802 -- all large, strong, masculine, and young enough to play a romantic hero.  But I don't want the reader to see that.  When Doyle and Annique interact -- alone together in her bedroom or sitting scrunched next to each other on the seat of the coach -- the reader is not meant to get any sexual vibe at all.

In Forbidden Rose, eight years earlier, Doyle is presented as an earthy, sexual man.  At least, that's what I'm trying for. 

If a reader brings the 1794, Forbidden Rose, sexual Doyle to Spymaster's Lady, she has an enriched view of Doyle.  She knows him better.  Because of that, he's going to feel like a 'bigger player' on stage.  And, most important, the scenes between Doyle and Annique might have undertones I'm trying to avoid.

So complicated.   Remind me again why I decided to set several books in the same fictive universe.

If I'd written the books in chronological order, I would have seen these problems of TMI about continuing characters and dealt with it in some cunning and just incredibly nuanced way that does not come to mind at the moment.

But I didn't.
Not a bug, as they say in the software industry.  It's a feature. 

So I think what I come out with at the end of this is:

If you read the books in the order in which they were written, you're going to see the characters develop as they did in my own mind.  You'll find out about them in the way I found out about them.

If you read the books in chronological order, everything is going to fit together neatly with the ongoing historical events.  And you should -- I hope -- get some sense of the growth and developing relationships between my folks.

If you go in chronological order, there will be no 'spoilers' about who ends up with who and gets happy endings. 

Though really, Romance genre is not the place to come if you want to be surprised at the end of the book that the hero and heroine live happily every after.


  1. Since I've been reading them as they come out, I have no choice but to read them in the order you've written them in.

    However, after I read TFR I'm going to re-read TSL so I can visit Maggie and Doyle as a settled couple, and so I can see how Adrian's childhood made him the man he is. It'll be fun to go back and re-read the older novels because I'll have an enhanced vision of the secondary characters. They won't be so secondary any more.

  2. This is so uncanny. I was just reading the reviews for THE FORBIDDEN ROSE (all glorious, btw) on Amazon last night in anticipation of my Borders run today and I have been debating in which order I should read the books. I already own THE SPYMASTER's LADY but have not started it yet. I decided to go chronological for exactly the reason you named, Jo. I want that "insider's view" of Maggie & Doyle when I go on and read TSL.

    I am pretty confident that knowing a more intimate Doyle will not detract me from Annique & Grey's story. I'm not a stickler for spoilers, I read romance for the journey to love that the h/H take. I already know there will be a HEA. There better be!

  3. Having read them in the order you wrote them, I like that order and don't think I'd like seeing Maggie and Doyle later relegated to secondary characters. For me, reading them in publication order has been like getting to know new real life, I don't know the backstory of people's lives up front unless we've been friends for ages. I get bits and pieces of their pasts as they see fit to share with me.

  4. I think I'm in the read them in the order they were published camp.

  5. Another consideration, is that people who read TFR first, probably won't like how minor Maggie's presence is in TSL.

    Also, I remember thinking before I read TFR that I wouldn't like Maggie too much because of the whole standing in front of the window when there might be snipers in TSL. She seemed TSTL to me based on that. She's not in TFR, of course, but people who read TFR first might dislike that moment in TSL.

  6. Precie took the words right out of my mouth. But even though I'm glad I read the novels in the order in which they were written, I just mailed off a copy of FR to a friend knowing she has not read the other novels. She's someone who doesn't read historical novels, but admires good writing of all kinds. And based on what I know of her after 30+ years, I think she's going to love Doyle (and also Maggie and Adrian and Carruthers; come to think of it, she may like Carruthers most of all!). To use a Doyleism, I'm being all cunning-like using FR as bait to entrap her in the Bourne-verse with the rest of us.

    Impatient as I am for Justine, it's also kind of fun to spend the time speculating on what you have in store for her and Adrian. I have theories about why Adrian was shot in TSL--I'm sure they'll turn out to be wrong, but it's entertaining as heck to think about the various clues.

  7. Hi Katrina --

    As I say, I worry about the presentation of Doyle in SPYMASTER'S LADY when someone comes to him fresh from FORBIDDEN ROSE. Is he now over emphasized? Do readers subconsciously expect him to drive the plot of TSL?

    Have I maintained the character from one book to another? The 'de-protagonist-ing' of a character is hard, moving from primary to secondary spot.

    And I'm doing it all backwards. Like Ginger Rogers.

  8. Hi Scorpio M --

    That's one vote for chronological. It'll be interesting to see if you think TSL 'works'.

    I worry about stuff like emphasis and story-shape and character balance and sources of narrative drive that would be slightly different when FR comes first.

    But I have pretty much decided that all the stuff I obsess about, nobody else seems to notice. And the stuff folks DO get all het up about is just an eyeblinking, 'huh?' for me.
    There is doubtless a lesson there someplace since there is, just about mostly.

  9. Hi Precie --

    The writing order seems very natural to me, as you would imagine.

    I guess FORBIDDEN ROSE going back to a previous time is like getting pulled into a REALLLLLY big piece of backstory. Which I don't mind so much.

    I am messing with different time periods in the JUSTINE manuscript and that is making it harder to write. But then, lots of stuff is making it hard to write JUSTINE so dealaing with juggled time periods is just one more alligator in the hen house, as it were.

  10. Hi Verona St. James --

    I think it is very hard for folks who write in a continuing fictive universe to deal with characters they'd like to bring back but who don't have a place in the new story.

    So if there is anyone who thinks Maggie should have had a bigger part in TSL, all I can say is -- 'She has plenty of action for somebody whose book this is not.'

    (I had to change the 'whose book' in the sentence above from 'who's book' which is what I put first. One of those usage bits that do not come to me naturally. I hope I've got it right this time.)
    (Thank God for copyeditors, says I.)

    And Maggie and Doyle get to disappear off together in the direction of the exotic Meeks Street bathtub where they get up to the mind can only imagine what.

    Ah. The scene where Maggie walks across the window.

    Maggie is not a trained agent. She's been a strategist type, a 'Staff Officer' type, rather than a UW or commando, Sayeret Mat'kal sort, or a line officer type.

    We have Maggie make the mistake Annique just DIDN'T make because the two are being deliberately contrasted.

    Maggie -- whom Galba shows the personnel files and asks for advice on how to deal with a tricky human relations problem.

    Annique -- who IS a trained agent and wouldn't walk in front of a window. She's left guarding the others when the bullets start.

  11. Hi Annie --

    In TSL I put the bullet hole in Adrian for plot purposes and gave him a committed-but-impossible relationship for plot purposes and made her French for plot purposes,

    and I figgered . . . why not connect everything by having the impossible girlfriend put the bullet in him?

    Since I like to keep plot simple.

    At that time, in the middle of TSL, I had a picture of how this had all come about though I did not put any of that in the TSL book.

    Writing JUSTINE, however, I have decided to do the shooting differently.

    So you might be picking up vibes from my original intention
    and be 'right', really,
    even though the shooting will work out differently in JUSTINE.

  12. I'm definitely in the read-'em-in-the-order-they-were-written camp. Well, okay, that's the order *I* read them in, and I loved the experience, so maybe I just want other people to experience the books the same way. But it was incredibly fun to come to know and like and trust Doyle in TSL, and then watch him bloom into full dimensions in FR. (The delight of watching an old friend fall in love.)

    Oh, and someone else mentioned Carruthers. LOVED Carruthers...great character. And her counterpart the Madame Justine "works" for. Great suggestions of depth in both for such brief appearances. I hope one or both appears in JUSTINE!! (no pressure, though...sounds like you've got enough o' that.)

  13. Christine6:38 PM

    I am firmly in the camp of "read them as they were written" however I have no real argument to back it up as that is all I know! I will say in defense of my choice I have loved seeing all the "clues" unravel and putting together who knows who and how. It reminds me a bit of the Harry Potters in spirit because the people have rich backstories that we get bits and glimpses of. I must also confess I love mysteries and "A-HA!" moments when you pick up on some seemingly small piece of info or "Easter egg."

    I also would not worry at all about Doyle being read chronologically as if one reads FR first and sees him with Maggie, no one would ever think he could/would have designs on Annique. He comes across as very avuncular as you said before. Even Adrian who is very handsome sly and flirty in SL seems very unthreatening ( and yes he is wounded but is he ever not dangerous?) and protective of Annique. I also liked seeing that about him in FR too, regarding Doyle's relationship with Maggie.

    I think however one reads the books will be the way you think is perfect.


  14. Christine6:43 PM

    Dear Jo,,

    I have a question... Why is Jean-Claude Van Damme there?

    Does Doyle resemble him? Or are you a secret action movie fan? Or do you just love "The Muscles from Brussels?". LOL


  15. Hi Elisa,

    I know Madame is in JUSTINE, with on-stage time. I'm pretty sure we'll have a scene with Carruthers, too, though that's only in rough draft so far.

    You like Carruthers? Oh good. I like tough old ladies.

  16. Hi Christine --

    I have decided Doyle might kinda look a little like Van Damme. I've been trying to put together pictures of the characters but I'm not doing so well.

  17. Hmm, the more comments I read, the more its seems I shouldn't rock-the-boat. Maybe I'll just start with TSL because I don't want it to 'not' work, this is such good feedback!

  18. MJ Selle12:36 PM

    Hi Jo:
    Since I snap up your books the minute they hit the shelves, I've read them in the order written. However, after finishing Forbidden Rose, I then went back and read the first two. Frankly, I loved seeing Doyle in his secondary role, knowing that he really was more than he appeared. And a lot of what was fueling my re-reading was to see how Adrian was evolving. He's such a great character! I'm really looking forward to Justine.

  19. Hi MJ --

    (jo waves)

    I'm glad Doyle works out reasonably well as a post-sex-object kinda guy. I have worried about the transition.

    I tried to set the stage for this in Forbidden Rose by, (I hope,) making Doyle someone who appreciates women but is not interested in casual sex.

    And there's this. By 1802, the year of TSL, Doyle has several kids at home. He's going to feel a different generation from somebody only seven or eight years older than his own daughter.
    He sees himself so much as husband and father by 1802.

  20. Carol6:41 PM

    Reading FR is great because we know what does happen to Doyle and Maggie and Adrian, but all the books are stand alone. To me Doyle could never be a love interest for Annique. For one thing he isn't in the cell with Grey and Adrian and her -- that's where the connection starts for those two. so for someone to start with FR and go chronologically, they may remember the hints from FR about certain characters.

    I also love Carruthers - hilarious imagining her dealing with teenage Adrian.

  21. This comment has been removed by the author.

  22. Hi Carol --

    It would not bother me to walk into TFR, knowing that Doyle, Maggie and Adrian all come out the other side, safe and sound. This is Romance genre, after all. We don't go killing off our sympathetc characters off.

    We ALWAYS walk into a story knowing the characters are going to be alright.

    I'm glad you like Carruthers. I will use her again in JUSTINE. I have to expand her somewhat. Hmmm ...

  23. Jo,

    I join those who don't see a conflict with Doyle in FR, TSL and MLS. I remember Annique noticing the practiced married kiss between Doyle and Maggie, plus Grey's comment about them in the bathtub in TSL, so even before FR I saw him as a faithful husband who got it on with his wife.


  24. Hi Martha --

    And when I go into FORBIDDEN ROSE, I'm kinda writing backwards knowing where the William-Maggie relationship ends up, if you see what I mean.

    When I wrote 1802, I could see the dynamic of how Will and Maggie would be when they met, back 1794, in the Revolution. It was all in my head when I was writing SPYMASTER'S LADY.

    This is why the question of what order to read the books in is so vexing for me. Because I've tried to make each book standalone and continuity-checked. So reading them in chronological should work fine.

    BUT, if I've failed in my character dynamics continuity, then reading the books in the order they were written would work better.

    So I think I lean towards 'Order of Writing', on the grounds that I've probably messed up somewhere.

    But if the idea of all that time-wrenching anarchy drives somebody itchy, then they should stick to the order in which Real World Things happen, because I've tried to make the emotional and 'character dynamics' of that work and nobody has yet pointed out big bloopers where I haven't.

  25. Anonymous12:00 PM

    I have just finished Forbidden Rose and all I can say is WOW. If Joanna knew me well enough to know that I have a smart mouth, I'd say "Don't bother writing any more books 'cause it would all be downhill after this" But I'm not stupid enough to cut off my nose etc. I kept the other two books and now I'm gonna treat myself and go re-read them. I thank my lucky stars that Joanna writes books.

  26. I like Carruthers as a character. definitely terrifying. I don't like her because she put the finger on Adrian for a time... and for someone who just picks up TFR it might be suspected that Adrian would not make it through the book... so I think you have great suspense in every book and they each work on their own. whatever order one reads them in, they all work out beautifully.

  27. And also I loved the last scene, so much was set up in regards to the relationship between Justine and Adrian and his connection to the Service. just great!

  28. Hi MizWaller --

    Thank you so much.

    *g* I am not going to be able to stop writing books just immediately because I already have an advance for the next one -- the Adrian and Justine story -- and I think the publisher comes and repossess significant parts of your body if you do not produce the book they have paid for.

    (For those of you who do not immediately recognize it -- That is a joke. The publisher does not come after you.)

    My daughter has just been telling me about the movie Repo Man, which stars Giles from Buffy, but even with that incentive I am not going to watch it because I am a gentle soul and do not watch horrible fictional stuffs, reality providing all I need in this category.

  29. Hi Carol --

    I do promise that I have not been inserting Adrian into other stories for the purpose of giving him a book of his own. Each time, I need him for a secondary plot line.

    I didn't originally intend to give him a book of his own.

    Ah well. Let us hope I rise to the challenge.

    I am so glad you like the ending scene. It *looks* like one of those 'happy Romance epilogs'. But it isn't.

  30. A wee bit late to the party (fashionably late, one would hope)with a vote for chronological order. If I'm reading within a fictive universe, then I want to experience that in linear fashion, with the timeline passing for me at the same order and rate as it does for the characters.

    If I read, say, book three first, then go back for books one and two, where I see Hero Three as a carefree bachelor defiling debutantes right and left, to me, it's going to feel like he's cheating on Heroine Three...even if he hasn't met her until book three, period. In my head, he's a married man, and that's not changing due to a trip in the wayback machine. Reading out of chronological order takes away the pleasure of seeing events as they unfold; how can I find the suspense in whether or not Plan X will succeed, when I was just there, and I know darned well that it did?

    I am reading TSL now, fresh off TFR by hours, and while I expect to be able to recognize Maggie and Doyle, it will be as they would be a few years down the line, as a married couple and not the focus of this book.

  31. Hi Anna Bowling --

    You are not late. The party doesn't really start without you.

    A chronological approach has much going for it, including, y'know, logic.
    So a chronological approach is ALWAYS right and if it isn't it's because I haven't done a good job writing.

    But . . . I worry that folks will not be able to fully appreciate Annique in SPYMASTER'S LADY if they come to her AFTER FORBIDDEN ROSE.
    She'll seem less . . . unique . . . somehow, because we've already been in the French Revolution world.

    I worry Doyle and Adrian won't be 'mysterious and unknown' for the reader who's met them in FORBIBBEN ROSE. Their familiarity may take attention away from Grey.

    Why am I worrying about this? It's not as if I am short of stuff to worry about.

  32. I think Adrian is plenty mysterious after meeting him in Forbidden Rose, and were Doyle ever to be predictable and unintriguing, that would surprise me. Of course Annique is going to be unique for me, because we're visiting her after some time of being away; I don't know what happened to her in the interim, and besides, she's the star of this story and she wasn't before, so that's unique right there.

  33. Hi Anna Bowling --

    There. That means it works chronologically. Good.

    Bit of a challenge for me, right now, trying to see Adrian at several different ages, with a voice that carries through the lot. And I'm trying to build a 'voice' for Justine that's good enough to carry half the story.

  34. Hi Jo, I had the same experience. I read TSL first, in which Doyle didn't come across as a sexual being (haha), more of just Adrian's friend and co-spy. As I said in my review, Doyle and Maggie didn't stand out at all. And I think my perspective would've been different if I'd read TFR first before TSL, because then, I'd be focused on Doyle and Maggie as well, because hey, I know them! As it is, I'm going to reread TSL since I'm now interested to know what happened to them after the events in TFR.

    The Romance Reviews

  35. Hi Carole --

    Y'know. That's the problem with secondary characters. Well, with any character.

    We see only a thin slice of the character's life for just a short space of time.

    For instance, Doyle interacts with Jessamyn.

    But when he's not working, he goes home to Maggie and the kids.
    And we don't see him do that.

    Maybe he puts on his gentlemen's clothes and goes to his club. Maybe he drops by to see his old tutor from Cambridge. They're good friends still.

    But when he's a minor character, the reader isn't supposed to particularly 'notice' the complexity of him.

  36. Anonymous10:30 PM

    Janet W: Where does Sir Adrian, as we meet him in Her Ladyship's Companion (think that's the title) fit into the sequence ... and can you tell me the year ... because I think it's clear from the book that he's not married. It was written first: should it be read first?

  37. Hi Janet W --

    Her Ladyship's Companion takes place in the summer of 1818. The Justine manuscript is set just a few months later, in the autumn of 1818. Adrian is not married at that time.

    In case you were wondering, Adrian is granted a knighthood for unspecified 'Services to the Crown' in 1814.

    The chronological order of reading would place HLC after My Lord and Spymaster and before the Justine story.

    My advice would be not to bother tracking down HLC. I understand it is hard to find. It's . . .

    I wrote Her Ladyship's Companion a looooong time ago. It was the first fiction I attempted. It was honest work and the very best I could do at the time. But it's a small and outdated Regency and there's about nothing in it that relates to any of the other stories.