Serial or Parallel worlds? Real life timelines

Every writer when they sit down to start a book is faced with the conundrum of how their characters will come to life. How do they start writing the book? How do they allow the voices of the characters to speak to a wider audience through the page?

Spirit Warrior That was the challenge I faced when I sat down to write Spirit Warrior recently. Spirit Warrior is Book 2 in the Spirit Pass series and is a romantic western with a time travel component. The first book in the series was Indiana Wild. In the first book, Indiana Wild, we got to meet Allie and Jacob, who then went on to become the main leads in the second book, Spirit Warrior.

There were two options open to me as to how I should write Spirit Warrior; one was to start Spirit Warrior where Indiana Wild left off and the other option was to tell Allie and Jacob’s story as they were telling it to me in my head.

I made a conscious choice to start Allie and Jacob’s story when they insisted I should… when they first met. I did this because I needed to allow readers to see what Allie, in particular, was going through. A number of reviews for Spirit Warrior have mentioned that it was a mistake to write the story from when Allie and Jacob first met – that I should have started it from when they were galloping off into the sunset at the end of Indiana Wild.

Spirit Pass is a time travel/western romance series, which may lead readers to believe that the inevitable tension between the hero and heroine come from the tension between past and present. In actual fact, the conflict in Spirit Warrior comes from the internal life experiences of Allie and Jacob, rather than from their external environment. The setting was based in the past and present, but that was not what the story was meant to be about. It just happened to be where it was occurring. The story was in fact about two individuals faced with the challenges life had given them. For Allie, it was the fear of losing someone who she cared about again. For Jacob, it was knowing he might have to give up everything he and his brother had built and live a life in a world he was unprepared for.

For a moment, I ask that you place yourself in their positions and think of how you would feel and deal with such decisions. In reality, people have lived and done this hundreds of thousands of times before in our history. Every time someone we have loved has died or gone away or for the millions of people who have made the decision to leave their country or the only life they have known to journey to a place of uncertainty, a place that is strange/yet familiar, and given up everything they have for one reason or another.

I admit to being as insecure as the next writer about my books, however the negative reviews suggesting Spirit Warrior were a rehash of Indiana Wild did hurt. Some people understand ‘why’ it is necessary to tell a story a certain way. With Jacob and Allie, I had two choices, continue where Indiana ended and give little bits as to how they met and got to where they were, or tell the story from their point of view and what was happening to influence them. They both told me that was what needed to be done. The focus of the story was on them. Yes, some dialogue was the same because it involved the characters in the previous story, but that was a very small amount and only when it was absolutely necessary to blend the two timelines together. In my mind, I believed that if a reader really read the story, they would understand that it enhanced what was going on in the background of the previous book. It is important to realize that when I share a story, it is much like real life. Life does not always run in serial, but is often parallel. Just as you spend time with someone, such as your partner, spouse, or kids, during the day, then go about your daily life only to meet again, so do the lives of my characters. It would be the equivalent of me writing about your life, then the life of someone else you know. Your stories and timelines will be occurring at the same times and you sometimes meet and interact during that timeline, but then there are other things that are going on that you were not present for. In addition, each person has a different viewpoint of what is happening. As an author, I am fascinated by these different points of view and respect them as being important.

I spoke with several people about the reviews and one comment really got me thinking! My colleague’s comment was, “I think the problem is readers have gotten lazy because the majority of authors have gotten lazy: The next book starts where the previous book stopped. You’re not cookie cutter! You care about the story and take the time to blend & weave. Celebrate that because it’s an important part of who you are as a writer. This story needed to see how Allie & Jacob met and started their relationship. If you hadn’t of done that I guarantee more readers would be on your case for not telling a complete story. Yes, you could have done flashbacks, but blah not for this story. Personally, I loved that I got their full story from start to finish. I got to see Jacob struggle with modern/past times, I got to be there when Chris died, I got to understand in real time why Allie was closed off. That’s all important character development.”

And so the questions I would like to raise with my readers – because you and the characters are the most important part of why I write – are: Have readers gotten lazy? Have authors gotten lazy? Have we become so used to serial type books that we expect books to start where the previous one finishes? What is important to readers?

I would love your opinions. I ask that you be respectful, think about your answers, and be positive (ie. Don’t say something mean, just to be mean). Anyone who knows me and my stories know that I look for the good in everything. I value your opinions and comments.

For those in book clubs, I wondered if Spirit Warrior might be a good book to discuss and so I have created discussion questions for book clubs to use. Click here to download those questions and share with your book club friends.

Aka S. E. Smith


  1. Jessica Hale(Parsons) says:

    i don’t mind different types of writing styles but if there is a big gap between series or if the books in a series can be read as stand alone it can be good to do what you did in spirit warrior if people haven’t read the first or haven’t had time to re-read the first or don’t remember it. What i read depends on my mood so it is good to have different stories, writing styles etc, i have several go to authors if i’m in the mood for a particular genre or writing style

    1. S.E. Smith says:

      Thank you, Jessica. I also like seeing scenes from different POV as it enriches the world for me. I’m like you. I think I have to be ‘in the mood’ for certain genres.

  2. valerie d says:

    I loved “spirit warrior” as much as all the other books. I love the characters, their depth and their descriptions. Please continue to write the way you do, I can’t wait for your next book

    1. S.E. Smith says:

      Thank you, Valerie. I listen to the characters (they just ignore my opinions, LOL).

  3. Christel Goedecke says:

    Spirit Warrior disappointed me. I read your books on my kindle which shows % of book read. In Spirit Warrior the new story line did not continue until after 65%. Way too much! A flash back here and there is one thing, but I have to agree that most of the book came across as a rehash of the first book in the series. Yes, the rehash was fleshed out a bit more, but still a rehash. However, since I read Indiana’s story just prior to reading Spirit Warrior to make sure I was up to speed on the story line, my response was not positive.

    I love all your various other alien series. They grab your interest right at the beginning and leave you wanting more at the end despite some of the cringe worthy errors in grammar, syntax, and vocabulary.

    Spirit Warrior did not at any level.

    I really wish you would stop using bravo when you mean bravado, supine means on one’s back, (think spine), while prone means on one’s front (think proboscis). Give you credit for improvement though, although not 100% improvement,

    Looking forward to Merrick’s Maiden, and hopefully Risteard and Ricki’s story in the near future. Very NEAR future.

    I really love your books.

    1. S.E. Smith says:

      Thank you, Christel, for you input. I rustled with whether to start at the end of Indiana, but the characters insisted I start where they wanted (yes, the weird voices in the head thing). Still, I know from my own experience that not all stories come across to the reader the same way. I appreciate your thoughts on it! <3

  4. Jolanda Lodder says:

    I don’t understand what all the fuss is about. Susan did the same thing in her stories over the dragon lords of Valdier. That there is a great series. She started every story from the moment the caracters meet. No fuss over that serie, so why start now when she does execly the same thing, that gives us a very good undersranding of tjestory from begin to end, if you don’ t like it don’t give the author any creap. It is persenol. Some like it , some don’t. I love it. So stop making one of my favorite author insecure. Susan please keep them coming because you give my a few hours of peace and fun before I have to return to the hard real world of to days live.

    1. S.E. Smith says:

      Thank you, Jolanda. Yes, I did go through a few days (okay, maybe more than a few) of insecurity, but I really wanted to know what readers thought. I’ve learned I can hide my head (used to do it all the time), or pull up my big girl panties and ask. It has been cool getting such positive feedback. Of course, I can see both sides as I have my favorites and the ones I don’t care for.

      1. Elisa says:

        I agree with Yolanda. I like having the story from when the couple meets.
        I did want to say though, don’t pull your big girl panties up to far or you’ll give yourself a wedgie. I read your work because you are an inspired author. I reread your work because it touches my heart and when I’m feeling depressed or stressed, I pull one of your books up and sink into your worlds. You rock!

        1. Elisa says:

          ‘too’ far, not ‘to’ far. Sorry. 😛

          1. S.E. Smith says:

            LOL. To be or not too be… who really gives a rat’s behind sometimes. Sigh… thank you for the smile! <3

  5. Angie says:

    I read Indiana it was good but for some reason I just could not get into Spirit. I think honestly that genre is not my style but because you wrote it I tried it. I just don’t care for going back/forward in time. Love love love your sci-fi. I have read every book that I could find that you wrote. I know I’m missing some earlier books but that’s okay someday I will find them lol. Please don’t ever stop writing.

    1. S.E. Smith says:

      That’s okay, Angie. I love time travel, but it has to be a certain mix of it. Same with most other books. I love Dean Koontz… can’t stand S. King. Go figure!

  6. Lauren says:

    I’ve read ALL of your books (except Spirit Pass 2) and I haven’t had a problem with any of them. There were a few moments where I was thinking ‘huh?’ but it didn’t take away from the overall enjoyment of the book. I was highly entertained so mission accomplished. Keep them coming! I haven’t read SP2 because hubby said he needed at least a few select books to buy me for Christmas. 🙁 I don’t want to wait that long but it is what it is. Since I read 50-75 books a week he was desperate. Not waiting on the upcoming bundle though! ;P

    1. S.E. Smith says:

      LOL. Your hubby sounds like mine. He keeps asking what I want for Christmas… three weeks of uninterrupted writing would be great, but I don’t think that was what he means. Sigh… Any suggestions?

  7. claudia says:

    Hi Susan,
    Please try not to take it too personal. I have learned from experience that you cannot please everybody with your work and that until someone writes a story cannot comment and even then should not be mean towards ones work.
    I admit at times I might have been disappointed with some stories and left some comments but never be the one to judge because creating a story it’s an amazing thing to do and not for everybody.

    1. claudia says:

      And I believe and we all make our own reality and we can do what we want with it.
      Nobody holds creative patent on time travel since nobody that I heard off went back in time and told us the story. And because somebody started the time travel trend doesn’t mean that they hold the truth.
      As for the creative process I dare all your critics to write and publish to see how it is and then talk and even then should hold their negative comments because the creative process it’s personal/ individual.
      So keep writing your books because I love your stories (some more that others).

      1. S.E. Smith says:

        Thank you! I agree, I have my favorites from the stories I’ve written and even more that I haven’t. Sometimes it is just what is going on in your life that can influence how you feel about a story. One of the first stories my dad read to me was The Secret Garden. It has been, and will always, hold a special place in my heart. I make sure I read it once a year just so that I don’t forget that magically time lost in another world.

    2. S.E. Smith says:

      That was an important lesson I learned as not only a mom, but a teacher. My job was to guide and educate students, not tear them down or make them feel less because I might not agree with what they were saying. I’ve often found they were looking at a problem in a way I never even considered. It was a definitely eye-opener!

  8. Kym D says:

    Ok, here are my thoughts…. get ready ;)… you did use the same style in DLoV, with, I think, great success. There was plenty of action with numerous characters taking part in different, but overlapping parts of the story. You pretty much had to do it that way or you’d be skipping huge chunks of the overall story. We’d have no clue how some things were done or when, otherwise. I’m not one, generally, to read reviews, so I’m not sure if you’ve had negative comments on them about it. I haven’t seen any and they are hugely popular.

    But as you have had the response on Spirit Warrior, what’s the difference? I think it’s the audience. Yes, there’s the element of time travel, but it’s basically a Western. You’ll have your fans who read everything you write and you’ll have some pick and choose or who are new to your work. I really think that some of those who have chosen to read a Western Romance with a side of time travel or are newbies, have a different take on what they’re looking for in the story than someone who reads your DLoV or other more sci-fi series. Westerns don’t tend to *need* more than one couple’s perspective on the same time frame. There’s usually a focus on a few characters in a clean, linear time frame with no real need to know anything that doesn’t directly impact them. Several viewpoints on one set of events is quite common in sci fi, though; if not different books with overlapping dialogue and events, at least chapters from different characters’ POV, covering the same events.

    This writing technique is quite useful in some cases and is far superior to chunks of exposition that get the gist of the missing story line across, but only bores readers. It just, I don’t want to say “works better with”…it’s just more common with sci fi/fantasy than Western.

    I completely think that it’s just a matter of reader expectation not matching what they’re reading and it really has nothing to say about your choices in when to pick up and tell a story.

    1. S.E. Smith says:

      This is such a wonderful reflection, Kym. You completely ‘get’ how I write. Yes, I had a few minor complaints about it in the DLOV series, as well. For me, the world is literally full of color and different ways of seeing things. One of the things I did with my students was I had a large box with small holes all around it. The students would get in and tell everyone what they could see of the classroom. Then, I would open the top and have them stand up and tell us. I told them that life was like that. They could either see just small, narrow views of it or stand up and see the entire world from a whole different view. That my gift to them was knowledge, something no one could every take away from them, they could never lose, and would only grow if they opened their hearts and minds to what was around them. Thank you so much for sharing! This type of affirmation makes a HUGE difference.

  9. Sue says:

    I love all your books and find I can read them over and over. Being able to see other characters points of view over a series of books enable me to know all the characters better. Keep writing the way you do. I know you work hard at getting the books out but please one book every two weeks would be good. Only joking….not really. Thank you for the laugher and the tears.

    1. S.E. Smith says:

      LOL. My characters are in love with you, Sue. They would love it if I could get one out every two weeks! They are always on my case about taking too long to tell their tale. If it helps any, my grandson is still coming back and asking when I’m going to finish Milo!

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