Orca launches new series, The Seven Sequels

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October 2, 2014

Orca’s The Seven Sequels

Sleeper by Eric Walters; Broken Arrow by John Wilson; Coda by Ted Staunton;

The Wolf and Me by Richard Scrimger; From the Dead by Norah McClintock;

Tin Soldier by Sigmund Brouwer; Double You by Shane Peacock

Orca Book Publishers

By Margaret Thompson

When Orca published the original Seven series in 2012, few could have anticipated just how successful it would be.

The concept, “spawned in my hot tub” according to author Eric Walters, was unusual: seven loosely connected books by seven different authors about seven grandsons fulfilling tasks dictated by their grandfather’s will, the reading of which provides the starting point for seven simultaneous adventures.

Publisher Andrew Wooldridge admits it was a risky venture, but the gamble paid off. To Orca’s somewhat panicked surprise, the first run sold out in two weeks, 100,000 copies have sold in North America since then, and foreign rights have been sold in Brazil, India and South Korea, as well as world French rights.

That is the stage set for the The Seven Sequels, which officially launched Oct. 1.

The publication of any book is a collaborative effort. Obviously, producing seven books at one go calls for a remarkable degree of cooperation from three entities with very different concerns and priorities: the publisher, the editor, and the group of writers.

Wooldridge sees the series filling a need for books aimed specifically at boys, notoriously reluctant readers. Not surprisingly, the story idea came from a writer who has long concentrated on exactly that particular audience, and Walters enlisted a team of similar authors well-known for their skill both in storytelling and in presenting their material in schools. Orca added two of the final seven writers.

Armed with Walters’ anchor scene, the authors were free to write their own stories. Richard Scrimger, author of The Wolf and Me, saw the strength of the plan.

“Writing is a solitary business,” he says. “You, the keyboard and the cup of coffee.”

Yet he found it easy to sit down with friend and fellow writer Ted Staunton over “a drink or six and figure out plots that would work for each of our characters.” Scrimger sums up the essence of this kind of approach: “Because our stories are still very separate, we have that sense of control that writers like – and yet we can borrow from each other as needed.”

Shane Peacock’s experience was somewhat different. His character is an odd man out in the series – an American, infrequently in touch with his cousins. Apart from  avoiding contradictions, Shane had little contact with the other authors or need to compromise. He found this changed with the sequels, starting with the plans for the second anchor scene.

“We talked at some length about how the opening scene would work and made sure it made sense for all of us. We even asked for certain things and objects to appear in the opening sequence.”

In Shane’s case, that was a Walther PPK pistol. Knowing more about the characters made him search for more ways to connect the second time round, but he was cautious: “I had to make sure I didn’t overthink the connection to the others.”

Given the complexity of the project, it’s hardly surprising everyone concerned pays tribute to the editor, Sarah Harvey. Asked what it was like to be single-handedly responsible for editing seven linked stories for simultaneous publication, she was pithy and to the point:

“Short version: logistically challenging, time-consuming, terrifying (at times), satisfying (when the books finally arrived in the warehouse!)”

“Terrifying” stands out, of course, and Wooldridge echoed the sentiment: “A nightmare, at times,” he allowed. Dealing with seven different authors at the same time sounds akin to wrangling a herd of cats; Sarah Harvey wrote an entertaining piece for Publishers’ Weekly (2012.08.27) about the experience which outlines her fear of not being able to “keep all the balls in the air,” and illustrates better than anything else what collaboration can involve, including “way too many text messages.”

Practice makes perfect, though.

The sequels were less terrifying all round. Still risky, because a series like this swallows the resources for a season. But the lessons learned with Seven have resulted in advances and innovations for Orca: investment in a shrink wrap machine to do their own bundling; production of audio tapes for all the books; digital versions; teacher guides (with the help of real teachers!); an access of confidence in large projects.

There were similar spin-off benefits for everyone involved. Sarah Harvey does her work much as she has always done, but apart from the “street cred” she claims, tongue in cheek (though it’s real enough), she welcomes “the knowledge that I’m capable of undertaking a large project and doing a good job.”

The writers enjoyed the collaboration, and valued the novel experience of joint presentations. John Wilson said, “We still present individually in schools, but we often do evening presentations for entire school districts, which involve all seven of us on stage at the one time, a very exciting and energizing experience for us and the audience.”

At the end of her article, Sarah Harvey asks a question: “Would I do another series like Seven?” And answers it: “Probably. If Andrew asked nicely. And gave me danger pay. And a week in Maui afterwards.”

Andrew must have asked nicely. Here we are, two years later, with the launch of The Seven Sequels.

This time the anchor scene involves five of the boys discovering a cache of money, a gun, forged passports in different names all with the photo of their grandfather, a coded notebook and a menacing accusation. Free of adults for a week, they scatter to discover whether their grandfather was a spy or not.

The stories are fast-paced and action-packed. Accordingly, the boys’ progress is as punctuated by gunshots, murder, kidnapping, betrayal, codebreaking, pursuit and pretty girls who may or may not be trustworthy, as any Bond movie. The settings range far and wide—the boys have all that hidden money, after all—from Uruguay to Spain, from Bermuda to England, from Toronto to the Southern States, from Jamaica to New York, with a divertingly original crossing of the US-Canada border complete with magic realism for good measure.

The stories benefit from the varying expertise and interests of their authors. Sigmund Brouwer’s Tin Soldier explores the Vietnam War and the American military; John Wilson uses the downing of an American plane carrying nuclear bombs over Palomares, Spain, in 1966 as the catalyst for his plot in Broken Arrow; Norah McClintock’s From the Dead investigates the secret world of Nazi war criminals in a wonderfully realized decaying Detroit; Eric Walters’ Sleeper involves the treachery of the Cambridge Five.

Subversively informative the novels are, but they are fun, too. Shane Peacock’s Adam in Double You is obsessed by all things Bond, and the search for Bunny in Ted Staunton’s Coda is enlivened by the frequent allusions to movies, not to mention an unexpected alligator guarding a grow-op. Richard Scrimger’s Bunny is perhaps the most endearing character; sweet, naif, literal, appalling speller, he gives the reader a glimpse, as the author says, “into an ‘other’ kind of mind,” one that will find it perfectly reasonable to play a game of shinny with his kidnappers.

The real genius of this series lies in the simultaneous action of the individual books. It is a series without sequence. You can read them in any order, and they make sense. You can choose to read only the ones that interest you without losing the thread or missing something vital. It is, in fact, the big family saga as smorgasbord, the separate dishes all served at once, take whatever you want, and make a satisfying meal.

And will Seven spawn sequels like Rocky? Will there be granddaughters? No and no. But Sarah is at work on a new series called The Secrets with female protagonists, to be published Fall 2015.

“Different challenges,” she says, “but a nice change from all that testosterone!”

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