When she finished writing her first book for children, Running Out of Time, Margaret Peterson Haddix deemed it a stand-alone novel. Published by Simon & Schuster in 1995, the middle-grade adventure settled onto bestseller lists and over the past 25+ years has sold almost one million copies. Yet despite its success, Haddix firmly stood her ground, and the novel remained a one-off. That will change in summer 2023, when HarperCollins’s Katherine Tegen Books releases a follow-up, Falling Out of Time. Tegen acquired the novel from Haddix’s agent, Tracey Adams at Adams Literary, who negotiated the deal for North American rights.
Fittingly, since more than two decades passed between the publication of the first book and its follow-up (which takes place 25 years after the original), time plays a pivotal role in the story arcs of both novels. In Running Out of Time, Jessie and her family live in the frontier town of Clifton, Ind., in 1840—or so the girl thinks. It is actually 1996, and their home is a reconstructed village that serves as a tourist site. When diphtheria breaks out and the children of Clifton begin dying, Jessie’s mother sends her out into the alien, threatening outside world to find help—and secure the medicine that can cure the dread disease.
Falling Out of Time flashes forward to the next generation, when heroine Zola, who has a surprising connection to Jessie, discovers that she’s stuck in a fake utopian future—and that others who are relegated to a dark dystopian future are counting on her to help them escape.
Hatching a Career
Though the kernel of the story that would become Running Out of Time occurred to Haddix many years ago, she noted, “I still vividly remember my inspiration for it—even after all this time.” An Ohio native, the young aspiring journalist was working as a summer intern for the Indianapolis News when she was assigned to write a story about Conner Prairie, a living history museum in Fishers, Ind.
“I was interviewing one of the workers at the museum,” she recalled. “As we sat in the middle of a field with no one else around, the setting was so realistic that I almost forgot I wasn’t actually in the past!” That memory lingered long after her internship ended, but Haddix didn’t start writing her first novel for four years, since, she said, “It took me a while to make the transition from having the idea to actually writing the story based on it.”
Haddix subsequently picked up her fiction writing pace—significantly. Some of her fiction has been informed by her journalism experience—and other books have been inspired by newspaper articles that sparked her creativity. Haddix has published more than 40 middle grade and YA novels since Running Out of Time, a number that includes stand-alone books as well as the series Children of Exile, The Missing, Under Their Skin, and Shadow Children.
Yet, despite repeated requests from teachers, librarians, and young readers, Haddix resisted creating a follow-up to her debut novel—for a solid creative reason. “Some kids even suggested what the sequel should be about!” the author said. “Even though I had written multiple sequels to books and series, I never felt I had a good enough idea for a sequel to Running Out of Time—one that would have the same sense of adventure and mystery as that story.”
A Creative Change of Heart
Like so many, Haddix found her outlook on life shifting when Covid descended—and she began rethinking the notion of picking up the thread of the story she wove in Running Out of Time. “In the depths of the pandemic, I had some conversations with kids that included elements of looking forward to the future, when the world would resume being normal again,” she said. “That planted a seed in my head. I knew it would be genuinely difficult to go back to Jessie’s life and write an immediate sequel, but I was drawn to the idea of fast-forwarding 25 years and introducing a new generation.”
Adams, who has been Haddix’s agent since 1998, refused to push the author toward a sequel, despite fans’ clamoring for one. “I knew it would not find its magic unless it came naturally from the author, and Margaret had always said her first book was a standalone,” she said. “But I always sensed a bit of doubt about that in her mind.”
Not surprisingly, Adams was elated to receive Haddix’s call validating her hunch—but she kept her cool. “I was calm and collected on the phone when Margaret told me she had an idea for a sequel,” Adams said. “But after the call, I began yelling and dancing around the room. It has not been easy keeping the book a secret!”
Tegen, who has edited Haddix’s books published by her imprint since 2019’s Greystone Secrets #1: The Strangers, was not only thrilled when Adams submitted Falling Out of Time to her last August—she was completely surprised. “Margaret is a stealth writer,” the editor explained. “She writes secretly, without always telling me what she is working on. So, I am never quite sure when Tracey will send me the next book, and I certainly didn’t anticipate this follow-up. It is such a good book, and it clearly shows the 25 years of writing experience that Margaret has gained as a prolific author, and also reveals her as someone who is very in touch with her audience. Like all of her books, it is a page-turner and impossible to put down.”
In a passage on her website, Haddix hints that time and experience has brought her some peace as an author. “I know I have to write a story when the story keeps me awake at night, teases at the back of my brain all day, just won’t let me go,” she states. Asked if she experienced much sleeplessness while writing Falling Out of Time so long after its predecessor, she replied, “When I got stuck on this book, it was in a good way. This novel was a much more pleasurable thing to obsess over. The good thing about being older and having a lot more writing experience is that I am much calmer about it now—I don’t as easily go into a panic.”
And will there be a follow-up to her upcoming follow-up? “I don’t think there’s another one,” she mused. “But actually, by now I probably should say, ‘I honestly have no idea!’ ”