Behind the scenes of creating my second literary child.
I think it’s safe to say that most authors, whether just starting out or who have already made a name for themselves, try to let people know when they have new material out there. When the release date for my second book came about, I was deep in the throes of stomach flu and moving. I believe when it was officially available for download on Kindle I was huddled in the fetal position, begging my guts to give me some sweet respite.
Perhaps it’s fitting that the launch of my second book, After Terra: In the Baron’s Shadow, was quiet and painful. Unlike the first book, Year 200, which was a breezy, fun, exciting writing process, the sequel was long, drawn out, painful, almost maddening at times.
It is even more fitting then, I suppose, that the general theme and vibe of book two is that of pain, whereas its prequel was based on the theme of love. And if the prequel was a child, full of innocence and wonder, its follow-up is a teenager, more refined, a little wiser perhaps, but struggling to find itself and its place, growing, searching, lashing out into the world with oft-misplaced anger.
Book one took about four months for me to complete the first draft. I did put it through some minor revision and extensive editing before releasing it to the public, but the story was told, mission accomplished at the end of four months. Even though Baron’s Shadow came in a tad shorter in length, this temperamental brain child of mine took about a year and a half to at last reach its ending. The misery my protagonist endured mirrored my own, as I was finishing the final excruciating chapters at the same time as my partner abandoned me, at the time I needed her most. I cried like a damn child as I wrote the ending and the epilogue, rivers of tears and words leaving my body in equal measure.
I would say I hit “writer’s block” at the halfway point, but I don’t believe in it. Doctors don’t get “doctor’s block” when they do their job, why should writers? Part of it was that I wasn’t giving myself the time I needed to write, time I owe to myself. It’s easy to say that much of my time and energy that wasn’t stolen by work was dedicated to my girlfriend, and that’s true, but if NaNoWriMo taught me anything it’s that you can always find time to write if you will it. When I felt stuck, it’s because I spent too much damn time thinking about the plot instead of just fucking writing it. The big problems I thought I would have worked themselves out when I made myself simply continue the story. Parts I thought were too ambitious or would require extensive research, I figured them out by and large by letting the story unfold. Often times the characters, who by this point have indelibly left their voices and lives in my head, figured out the problems for me, either through their ingenuity or occasionally, their own stupid mistakes.
Baron’s Shadow is more ambitious, I admit, than Year 200, even though the characters aren’t hopping around the Solar System quite as much. There isn’t as much action in space as on the ground this time. And I decided to be much more narrow and focused in my use of POV. You would think that all of the above would make it easier. What I found however is that sticking with one character for a really long time instead of regularly switching POV is challenging. You have to really get firmly invested in that character, you have to make sure that the audience is willing to take the ride with them. Doubly challenging is the trauma my protagonist endures because of the events of book one. Triply daunting was the task I gave myself of developing the first novel’s antagonist much more deeply, even though he isn’t physically present in the narrative. I thought it would be really interesting to only find out the secrets of an antagonist after he is, well, not your antagonist anymore. What if you found out that the person or force you so vehemently opposed was really not much different than you when you started on your own journey in life? What if he did everything for reasons that weren’t so bad? And what if he really was a hero at some point?
These are the questions I wanted to explore, and then some. I won’t pretend that I have found any answers, seeing as the saga is not yet complete. That is true of both After Terra and my own life. Like my own teenage years, I came away from Baron’s Shadow feeling a weight lifted off me, a jaded sort of gratitude for the pain and growth I experienced, for now I can approach writing and life as an adult with a strength and determination I didn’t know I was capable of.
If my first two books were me writing as a proverbial child and teenager, then at last in book three do I finally feel as though I can write like an adult, that my dream of one day joining ranks with the great writers of science fiction history may yet happen.
The chronicle of my life’s journey will continue next Sunday. The tale of humanity’s future and its fledgling place in the universe will continue in After Terra: Lunacy. In the meantime I would be humbled and gratified if you would consider inspecting my work so far:
After Terra: In the Baron’s Shadow