Grunt Hero author Weston Ochse on the ancient art of writing trilogies

Weston Osche writes about the joys of writing and reading trilogies

I grew up reading The Bobbsey Twins, Tom Swift Jr, Nancy Drew, and The Hardy Boys. These mysteries were packaged by the Stratemeyer Syndicate and specifically targeted kids. Like many of my contemporaries, I liked reading these books because they were about kids like me solving fantastic mysteries. I fell in love with the characters, following them from book to book. I was especially fond of Frank and Joe Hardy, adventuring with them in The Sinister Signpost, The Phantom Express, The Ghost of Skeleton Rock and so many more. Reading them was like reading about old friends and I never tired of it.

Then I grew out of them and began reading Heinlein and Bradbury. While the books were gloriously good, I found myself missing the characters as soon as the book ended. I wanted them to live on. I wanted these characters to continue their adventures so that I could follow them. While I began each book with that joy of wonder only a child has, by mid-book I’d begin experiencing a growing dread that left me sick with grief by the end.

Then at age ten, I experienced my first trilogy. I was sick one Monday, then pretended to be sick the rest of the week so I could devour Lord of the Rings. I think my mom was keen to it, but because I was voraciously reading, she let it slide. LOTR was the first time, outside of comic books, and the Stratemeyer books that I was able to follow characters from one book to the other. It’s like I had a chance to watch them do fantastic things and make them family, much like I’d done with Frank and Joe. Only, now I had Frodo and Sam.

My Joy had returned.

Soon, I discovered The Shannara books, Anne McCafferys Dragon books, C.S. Friedman’s Coldfire Trilogy, the Dune trilogy, David Eddings trilogies and The Dragonlance Chronicles. Tasslehoff Burrfoot danced with Paul Atreides on the back of a dragon. Even now, I smile as I remember those halcyon days where it seemed as if trilogies were everywhere. These three book bundles of adventurous joy where I could follow a character through trials and tribulations, but see them alive at the end of one book, only to find them immediately again in the next book, was the antidote to my troubles. Sure, the endings still stung, but now I had three books to get used to the idea that I might never see my familial characters again, instead of one book.

Fast forward to 2011 when I get a book deal with Thomas Dunne Books of St. Martin’s Press. I pitched and was signed to write SEAL Team 666—a book about an even more special U.S. Navy SEAL Team that protects America from Supernatural Attack. This was my choice to write a modern day fantasy. Instead of my characters wielding swords, they’d wield rifles. Instead of daggers they’d have pistols. They even had a dog who helped them fight the nasty monsters I’d yet to develop. Through three books, I wrote about SEAL Team 666 and their efforts to save America, first from Asian monsters, then from Aztec, Toltec, and Olmec demons, then finally from a mad white supremacist King Arthur.

When it was all done, I sat back and sighed with delight. I’d finally written my trilogy.

Only I hadn’t. I’d written a series. There was no through line, no arc for all three books. Each book had its own arc within which the characters had their arcs. Each book stood alone and did not depend on the other. What I wrote was The Hardy Boys with guns.

So it was when I next signed to write three books with the well-known science fiction imprint, Solaris Books, that I knew what I was going to write. I was going to finally write a trilogy and to do so, I needed a plot that would span three books with enough plot hooks and characterization to fuel the narrative. So what did I do? I had aliens come down and destroy planet Earth. In Grunt Life, the Earth was destroyed, but the heroes figured out how to fight the aliens. In Grunt Traitor, just as the heroes are getting the best of the aliens, more aliens arrive, and terraforming begins. In Grunt Hero, the main characters figure out why Earth was invaded, they get pissed off, and seek wet hot revenge against any alien in front of them.

When it was all said and done, I sat back and said, “Now, that’s a trilogy.”

Although The Hardy Boys with guns was great, they never grew up.

Sometimes I want to see my characters grow up.

Even if it means destroying the world to do so.

About the Author: Weston Ochse is a former intelligence officer. His fiction and non-fiction has been praised by USA Today, The Atlantic, The New York Post, The Financial Times of London, and Publishers Weekly. The American Library Association labeled him one of the Major Horror Authors of the 21st Century. His work has also won the Bram Stoker Award, been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and won multiple New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards. A writer of more than 26 books in multiple genres, his military supernatural series SEAL Team 666 has been optioned to be a movie starring Dwayne Johnson. His military sci fi series, which starts with Grunt Life and ends with Grunt Hero, has been praised for its PTSD-positive depiction of soldiers at peace and at war.