This week Bookshelf checked in with the creators of six of this spring’s highly touted sequels — it turns out some of them never intended to write these books! (And check back soon for more interviews with authors about their big spring projects.)
Gayle Forman on Where She Went
It’d be hard to top the critical and commercial success of Gayle Forman’s second novel, If I Stay, about the aftermath of a car crash that left 17-year-old Mia on the brink of death – five starred reviews, several weeks on the bestseller lists, optioned for film. In fact, Forman says she tried her hardest not to write a follow-up.
Forman: I had no intentions of doing a sequel but after I handed in the manuscript for If I Stay, Adam wouldn’t leave me alone. I had started writing the next book, it had a delivery date, but I was waking up at four in the morning, thinking about what a terrible place I had left Adam and Mia in. This went on for a while.
Actually, there’s no way of talking about this without spoiling If I Stay for anybody who hasn’t read it so DON’T READ THIS if you haven’t read the first book yet.
I had left things on a hopeful note, but when I thought about it, I knew there were going to be a few awful years ahead. The idea of writing about that from Adam’s point of view took hold of me even though I did NOT want to write a sequel, I was writing a completely different book! So finally, I just banged out a larval draft and felt great relief. I went back to the other book but the minute I turned it in, I knew I had made a mistake. I went back to the larval draft which I should have just thrown away. It was insanely difficult to work from it. I wound up writing 21 drafts.
The only part that was easy was that it felt completely natural to write from Adam’s point of view because I knew him so well. It was sometimes challenging to be in his head because he’s so angry and can’t see what’s right in front of him. But I was as angry as Adam and I was really pissed off at Mia, too. In fact, I’m seeing a lot of bloggers saying that now – ‘I’m really pissed off at Mia,’ and I’m talking back to the screen saying, ‘I know!’
Maureen Johnson on The Last Little Blue Envelope
In Johnson’s The 13 Little Blue Envelopes, 17-year-old Ginny is sent on a mysterious journey throughout Europe, following a trail of directives found inside a series of letters written by her beloved aunt, who has recently died of cancer. Readers of book one demanded a sequel.
Johnson: Ginny’s story is finished enough in book one but I always hoped to write another one. I let it rest for a few years but the time seemed right. I’m living about a third of the year in England now so I was able to write a lot of it in London. It was as simple as asking my publisher, ‘Can I write another one?’ and the answer was yes. It is far and away the bestseller among the books I’ve written. I never really tracked how books do so I didn’t really know how well it had done in comparison to my other books but I knew from the number of people who were writing me that it had made a connection with a lot of girls. I have gotten a lot of notes and e-mails about the first book and the most popular question is, ‘What happened in the 13th envelope?,’ so that was a big part of my reason to revisit the story. It felt a little wrong to have it lingering. A bit cruel. A lot of girls read the first book as they were starting high school and now they are about to go to college. They’re different girls now and so is Ginny. She’s a lot more confident when she makes this second journey so there are different issues, but this one needed to resolve that question about your first crush. And I really can’t say more about that without spoiling it.
Jeanne Birdsall on The Penderwicks at Point Mouette
Birdsall’s first book, The Penderwicks, won the National Book Award in 2005. A sequel, The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, followed three years later, and now, after another three years, the third book hits shelves in May. Birdsall hopes readers will find it was worth the wait and that she’s overcome the “third book jinx” by taking her time.
Birdsall: [With] first books, the plots are really good because people spend a million years working on them as they try to get published. Second books are also usually good because those are typically started before the first one’s been published. You have time. It’s the third book where things start to fall apart. So I am really lucky because Knopf has protected my process. I feel like a princess. I have never ever been pushed even after [winning] the National Book Award. And I need a lot of time. If you are trying to write books that will stay in print for a long time, you hopefully have a publisher that can think that way – what’s an extra year? That’s always been their philosophy.
I call myself a slow writer. I guess I’m a perfectionist. Part of it is, I’m old. I’ll be 60 [this] week. This is both the beginning and the end of my career and I want it be really good.
The biggest challenge in terms of structuring the book is figuring out how to tell the real story within the larger story. In this one, the real story is Skye taking on the responsibility as the OAP (Oldest Available Penderwick), but it took me forever to figure out how to show how Skye felt emotionally about that, because she is a girl who doesn’t understand herself. She acts everything out. So that and the technical work – who’s going to tell which part of the story – those are the things that take me forever. Which part will come from Batty’s point of view? Which from Jane’s? Is it a whole chapter in that character’s point of view? Each girl’s story has to be the right portion so one doesn’t overwhelm the rest. In the first draft of this one, I still didn’t have enough Skye. Too much Jane. I often feel when you’re working with this many characters, it’s the same technical challenge as writing a mystery novel. But the fourth book is underway and, with any luck, it will come out in three years.
Gary Schmidt on Okay for Now
Doug Swieteck appears, initially, in Schmidt’s Newbery Honor winner, The Wednesday Wars, as the hero’s nemesis, a classroom menace who has compiled a list of 410 ways to drive a teacher insane. But by the end of the book, Doug has mostly seen the error of his ways and Schmidt was sure he and Doug had parted ways for good.
Schmidt: I have always made fun of authors who say they had to write a sequel because there were characters they couldn’t get out of their heads, but now I have to take back all those truly horrible things I said. I had started a book, in third person, about a beat-up kid who’s struggling in school. I did not want to write another book with a main character who loved to read. I wanted to write about the kid who sits in the back with the baseball cap drawn down low over his eyes who wants everyone to leave him alone, most of all the teacher. So I wrote the story in third person and it stunk. It was boring. I had to change the narrator. I made it first person and as soon as I did that, it was Doug [Swieteck] from Wednesday Wars. I resisted this. I resisted and resisted. I didn’t want to do a series. I didn’t want to do a companion book. But my third start on this stupid novel, it was Doug telling the story and it was right.[Doug]
is a real kid I remember from school, a troubled kid who was never able to keep up with the rest of us academically. He would act up. Back then, I thought, ‘What a jerk.’ Now I understand there was more going on than we knew about. One of the things going on in Doug’s life is that he’s never learned to read so, of course, when the teacher calls on him to read, he’s going to do whatever he can not to. There are a lot of kids like Doug for whom school is a place of fear. When pressed, they don’t want to look stupid so they try to be funny, or act aggressively to fend off looking stupid. That was the kid I wanted to write about.
Alison Goodman on Eona
When readers finished Eon: Dragoneye Reborn, the heroine’s secret was out – she’d been studying dragon magic for years, hoping to be chosen as an apprentice to one of the 12 energy dragons, by posing as a boy. The sequel covers a lot more ground, though the idea for both books (nearly 1,200 pages in length) came to Australian author Goodman in one lightning strike of inspiration.
Goodman: I knew from the beginning that Eona’s story was bigger than just one book. The story arc of the first book came to me in a rush after I read a paragraph in a history book about ancient China. At that stage, I also knew there was a second book, and how it was roughly going to end, but not the particulars of the storyline. It was not until I had finished Book 1 that I knew how the story line of Book 2 was going to play out – the sequel had to grow organically from the events, themes and characterizations in the first novel.
I wrote the two books back-to-back, so I was never actually out of Eona’s story for the whole six years it took to write and edit them. Writing such a big project does take up an enormous amount of headspace, especially when writing the climax of each novel. Thankfully, I have understanding friends and a very tolerant husband who slides food under the door and cheerfully takes on dog-walking duties when needed.
Jennifer L. Holm on The Trouble with May Amelia
Holm’s first novel, Our Only May Amelia, was a 2000 Newbery Honor book. In the intervening decade, Holm wrote the Boston Jane series, a half-dozen stand-alone novels including the Newbery Honor winners Penny from Heaven and Turtle in Paradise, and co-authored the Babymouse graphic novels with her brother, Matthew. Now, May Amelia returns.
Holm: I did feel like this one had to stand on its own because there was a huge amount of time between the two books. It just took a while to write because life got in the way, mostly having kids [Holm is mother to an eight- and a four-year-old] but also because of my dad. May Amelia was inspired by his family and he got really sick over the years. [Holm’s father died in 2008, 13 years after having been diagnosed with Parkinson’s.] I relied on him a lot but when someone’s not feeling well, taking care of him comes first. It was hard, though not to have him as my sounding board.
So I guess I was really ambivalent about doing a second book until I hit upon the story that my father’s family had once lost everything in a land swindle. I uncovered this just as we hit the recession. [Her husband] Jonathan had been laid off and had no other job prospects. Millie was just a year old. It was like it was the end of the world. I was scared to death we would not be able to sell the house we were living in Maryland. When that happens in a family, you are at each other’s throats. What were we thinking? Should we have been looking for another job? Why didn’t we see this coming? But when I thought about how my father’s family, how a hundred years ago they had lost everything, I realized, this happens all the time. I don’t think I would have been pushed to write this book if not for what happened in our personal life. It wound up feeling cathartic to write about it through May Amelia, and it was strangely fun to get back into her head.