How NOT to Write a Trilogy

Eric Beetner's McGraw: The Complete Series—a gripping trilogy about a family of outlaw drivers—is out now, and today the author visits the site to share how NOT to go about writing such a series.

I’ve written three trilogies so you’d think I would know how to do it by now. You’d be wrong.

The first three-parter I wrote had a tortured journey to publication, with all three books in the series getting released by different publishers. That was the Lars & Shaine series, starting with The Devil Doesn’t Want Me. The first publisher went belly-up before the second book could come out, and the second publisher unceremoniously shut down only weeks before book three was to be released.

I’ve since rescued the books and they’ll be out in new editions soon, but that whole fiasco wasn’t my fault. Now, the McGraw books however….

When the first of the McGraw books—Rumrunners—came out, it was my most critically lauded and best-selling book at the time. I knew I wanted to write more about this family of criminal wheelmen who drove for a small-time crime syndicate in the midwest. I had a plan.

Then the character I heard the most about, and the one people seemed to connect with from the first book, turned out to be Calvin, the octogenarian patriarch of the clan who still kicks ass and takes names as he searches for his missing son. 

Not one to let down the readers, I decided I wanted the next book to center on Calvin. But as unlikely an anti-hero as he is, it would strain credulity for this eighty-plus year-old to go on adventure after adventure tearing a path of destruction through the criminal underworld like a man one third his age. I didn’t want him to become a caricature. 

Then I thought: prequel. 

Sure, why not?

I went back to the early 1970s for book two, Leadfoot, so we could see Calvin in his heyday. And since there are so many cars in the McGraw books—they’re professional drivers after all—it also served as a great opportunity to populate the book with vintage muscle cars before they became vintage.

And the idea of a prequel wasn’t entirely new. Sure, most people wait until they are several books into a series or many movies deep into whatever mythology they’re writing about. But this way, a reader could pickup Rumrunners or Leadfoot and read them in any order they wanted. It gave the reader options.

The idea of a third book got shelved behind the ten other novels I published in the interim. Side projects, new works I was developing with my agent, and TV work all conspired to keep a third McGraw book from happening right away.

When I entered discussions to re-release the first two McGraw books along with the Lars & Shaine series, I knew it would make a better bundle for readers as a trilogy and it gave me the little jolt I needed to get back to these characters and finally write a third installment.

So far, you might not agree with the idea to do a prequel right away, but the downsides were minimal. For book three, however, I had to decide: Would I continue on after the events of Rumrunners, or go back deeper into Calvin’s past and do a prequel to the prequel?

Or, could I find another way to muddy the waters? Yeah, that sounds like me. 

The idea I latched on to would be set smack dab in the middle of Leadfoot and Rumrunners. A sequel to Leadfoot, the prequel, but a prequel to Rumrunners, but not as much of a prequel as Leadfoot. Got it?

Sideswipe takes place in the early 1980s, at the height of Magnum P.I.’s popularity so you can be damn sure there is a Ferrari 308 featured prominently in the book. 

It felt great to get back into these characters and to find them in a different stage of life was a lot of fun—and an easy way to invigorate the story without retreading ground I’d already covered.

So what order should you read them in? You can go chronologically from Leadfoot to Sideswipe to Rumrunners. Or you can do it in the order they were written and start with Rumrunners, then go back to Leadfoot and end in the middle with Sideswipe. Sure, I may have chosen the wrong way to write it, but there’s no wrong way to read it. 

I think I learned my lesson. I don’t want to confuse the readers. It was hard enough to keep my own timeline straight after I’d write something without having any idea I’d go back and forward in time and have to reconcile any choices I made back in book one. But in the end, I’m glad I got to finish off the McGraw series in style with three books. And I’m really glad I finally got that Ferrari in there.


About McGraw: The Complete Series by Eric Beetner:

Meet the McGraws. They’re not criminals. They’re outlaws. They make a living by driving anything and everything for the Stanleys—a criminal family who has employed them for decades.

In Rumrunners, Tucker McGraw wants to go straight, much to the disappointment of his father, Webb. But when Webb goes missing after a job—with a truck load of drugs—and the Stanleys want their due, Tucker is forced to enlist the help of his grandfather, Calvin, the original lead-foot McGraw. In a dash to save his father, Tucker learns a whole lot about the family business in a crash course that might just get him killed.

Going back in time, Leadfoot centers on Calvin as he grooms his 19-year-old son, Webb, to uphold the family name. When a delivery goes wrong, Calvin steps knee-deep in a turf war between the Stanley’s and a rival Midwestern crime syndicate.

In Sideswipe—the never-before-published third book in the McGraw trilogy—Calvin is on the sidelines with a broken leg. But when he finds out he was a pawn in someone else’s set-up to fix a race, he makes it known that he doesn’t play that game. Webb, on the other hand, is sent on a simple job: pick up a car and drive it back. Unfortunately, the pickup goes sour, and he finds himself at risk of missing the birth of his son and losing his life.

Strap in and hold on tight. These outlaw drivers are about to take you on the ride of your life.

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