On sequels; or, a second-timer’s thoughts

When I wrote Pilgrim of the Sky, my life was quite different. As a writer, I was struggling to find a voice. I wanted to write something with (and I quote) “an indie vibe.” Having spent the better part of the early aughts entrenched in my own secondary world fantasies, the idea struck me of something that might almost be marketable. A story about a woman who could travel through worlds and, in particular, a steampunk world. Between 2008-2010, I wrote a total of five novels. Pilgrim began in 2008, but wasn’t published until late 2011.

And here we are – it’s 2013. Many people ask me the question: “How long did it take you to write the book?” and my answer is always, “Which time?” Pilgrim was never going to be an easy sale. And while I was in that crazy time of writing novels every few months, I honestly was just thinking of one thing: publication. I made an asinine promise to myself that I’d be published by 30, and well, that did actually happen. But between writing and publication, that was almost four years.

Pilgrim of the Sky hit the market in December of 2011, and I became a Published Author. But there is so much more to the story.

In 2010, my hands started failing me. Carpal tunnel. Thoracic outlet syndrome. Repetitive stress injury. Depression. Some mix of those. Doctors, surgery, all sorts of  awful adventures happened. Painkillers made writing impossible. A new job made it even harder. Pregnancy in 2011 meant that all writing came to a halt, as it had in 2005-2006, the first time around. My husband was laid off three times. Sequel? Not of the book variety. It wasn’t even on my mind. Nothing was on my mind but work and family and trying not to throw up.

Then my daughter was born in May 2012, and the skies cleared. I wrote a book in four months, and then came NaNoWriMo. I joked. It was, after all, how Pilgrim was born (even in its totally different form than what it eventually came to be). What was the harm in trying? If it didn’t work, I’d just toss it aside. I’d done it before. No big deal.

Then Joss Raddick showed up, thanks to a casual conversation I had with my best friend Karen. I’d had another sequel to Pilgrim of the Sky lined up. I thought this would just be a fun little dip into my favorite character’s life story. But it wasn’t a dip: it was a dive. Even though I wrote the first 50K in November, I’ve spent the bulk of the last six months up to my elbows in Regency alt-history. Every time I think I have this godling of water under control, he flits away under a shadow and I lose him (just like a smart brown trout). Or, just when I think I’m writing something entirely to the “outline” (intentional quotes there–let’s face it, I’m a pantser), everything changes course. I guess that’s what you get when writing a water elemental, right? Yet, he never fails to inspire. So much so that I’ve created a very lovingly curated Pinterest page as a wall of inspiration for the book.

But that’s not the biggest change. Pilgrim and Watcher of the Skies technically take place in the same univers(es). There are characters who come through. But Watcher starts out with the birth of Joss Raddick who, from the youngest of ages, simply knows he is different. And while his life is tied up with greats we know–William Wordsworth, Percy Shelley, John Keats–this is still very much his own story. He takes his time. He’s growing and changing and moving.

And so am I. Taking my time, especially. Maybe it’s that I’ve been through the publication of two books now (one fiction, one non-fiction). But that burning desire to Be A Published Author has somewhat dimmed. It’s not that I love it any less. It’s only that I’m taking my time. I’m relishing the process. I’m enjoying my new job. I’m loving being a parent. It’s not about the word sprints. It’s not about proving anything to myself. It’s about becoming a better writer, and learning from the experience. But it’s also about giving myself enough room to live. Because it’s in the living that the details of fantasy truly come to reality.

And oh! how I’ve learned. As I come upon the final chapters of Joss’s story–which is so much sadder, funnier, and stranger than I’d first imagined–I can tell that I’ve challenged myself. And hopefully, I’ve risen to that challenge. The book isn’t a sequel in the traditional sense. It’s more of a story within a cycle of many (truly, infinite) possibilities. But it’s a far deeper tale than the first book, a true bildungsroman, inasmuch as an immortal can have.

If anything, the second time around has taught me about loving my craft. All the worrying and desire the first time left little room for perspective. And now, I’ve got it. While part of me can’t wait to share the tale, the louder and more practical part of me simply wants to deliver the best book possible. And that, I think, makes all the difference in the world(s).

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Natania Barron blogs at nataniabarron.com, and chatters over on Twitter.

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