Writing a series comes with its own specific challenges. Many of these stem from the possibility of a reader picking up a book out of order. How do you fill them in on all that happened in the previous novel(s) and introduce them to your cast of characters in a way that doesn’t feel contrived or stall the story? And, keeping in mind those readers who’ve been reading chronologically, how do you do all this in a non-annoying way?
David A. Adler, author of the classic and mega-popular Cam Jansen series, is masterful at handling such delicate situations. Granted Cam’s adventures, collected in several dozen slim books, don’t follow a single plot, but hop from one mystery to another. However, Cam remains the same girl. She’s brave, observant, astute, and – most remarkably – equipped with a flawless photographic memory.
Perhaps the wisest thing Adler does when introducing (or re-introducing) his readers to Cam is embed such sentences in larger scenes that, whether it’s just then clear or not, prove integral to the unfolding of the story’s plot. In that way, longtime readers learn that even these seemingly redundant portions of the book have a part to play, and that they better not let their attention drift.
Here are a couple examples of how Adler has Cam – and her unique gift – make her entrance.
From Cam Jansen: The Mystery of the Monster Movie, by David A. Adler (p. 1-3)
It was a cold winter Sunday afternoon. Cam Jansen and her friend Eric Shelton were waiting in line outside a movie theater. Cam’s parents were with them.
Cam’s eyes were closed.
“What’s the big headline on top of the movie posters?” Eric asked.
“That’s easy,” Cam said. “‘Monster Movie Month Continues. Now Showing – ’”
“And what’s printed on the first poster?” Eric asked.
“Let’s see,” Cam said with her eyes still closed. “There’s a parade of giant brown, white, and black shoes. ‘Shoe Escape,’ it says. ‘Starring Joe Roberts, Angela Kane, and Robert Allen.’
“I can tell you what’s on the other poster, too,” Cam said. “And I can tell you what you’re wearing and that one of your shoelaces is untied.”
From Cam Jansen: The Mystery of the U.F.O., by David A. Adler (p. 3-6)
One cold November afternoon Cam Jansen and her friend Eric Shelton were walking through town. Eric wanted to enter a photography contest. Cam was helping him look for something to photograph.
Cam picked up a crumpled potato chip bag from the street and held it over a litter basket.
“Take my picture,” she said. “You can call it ‘Local Girl Cleans Up.’”
“I can’t take a posed picture,” Eric told her. “You know the rules.”
Eric reached into his pocket and took out a page torn from a newspaper.
“Here it is,” Eric said, pointing to the page, “rule three.”
“I know the rules,” Cam said.
Cam closed her eyes and said, “Click.” She always said, “Click,” when she wanted to remember something. “My mind is a mental camera,” Cam often explained, “and cameras go click.
“Announcing our first Junior News Photography Contest,” Cam said. Her eyes were still closed. “Grand prize one hundred dollars. Entry rules. One. Only twelve-year-olds and under may enter”
As Cam talked, Eric looked at the contest announcement in the newspaper.
“Two. Photographs must be black-and-white. Three. Photographs must be of local interest. They must not be posed. Four. All entries must be received no later than November thirtieth.”
“You did it!” Eric said. “You got every word right!”