Potpourri: ConCarolinas Recap, Launching the Blog Tour With a Giveaway, and a Bit About Sequels

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Lots on today’s agenda, and I’m already running late, because I got home too late last night to post this ahead of time:

First, ConCarolinas was great fun.  Magical Words has definitely left its mark on the convention:  among the professionals appearing were ten current or former Magical Words contributors — Faith, Misty, John, James, Carrie, Kalayna, Edmund, A.J., Stuart, and me.  And among those attending were many of our regular readers.  I want to give a special thanks to Mud and Laura, who threw a terrific party on Saturday night.  And I also want to thank everyone who not only made me feel welcome, but who also took under their collective wing my younger daughter, who came with me to the con. We had a great weekend.

Quarry200ThieftakerT-Shirt600Second, today marks the kickoff of my Summer 2013 THIEVES’ QUARRY Blog Tour.  Yeah, I know:  I’m here at MW most Mondays, so it doesn’t really feel like a special event.  But the release of Thieves’ Quarry, the second book in my Thieftaker Chronicles (written as D.B. Jackson) is now less than a month away (July 2) and what better place to begin the virtual tour than here at my favorite blog in the world?  To mark the occasion, I am giving away a Thieftaker t-shirt to some lucky reader.  Leave a comment on this post sometime  between now and Friday, and you will be entered in a drawing for the shirt, which will be available in any size you want.  Already have a Thieftaker t-shirt?  No problem — they make great gifts!  So leave a comment and maybe you’ll win!

Thieves’ Quarry, of course, is a sequel, and as such presented unique challenges when I wrote it.  I wanted to recapture the tone and feel of the first book in the series, and I wanted to build on the character work I started in that first volume.  But by the same token I wanted to make certain that I was not simply recreating the first book.  The last thing I want to do is bore my readers or give them cause to believe that “if you’ve read one Thieftaker book, you’ve read them all.”  More, I knew that I needed to increase the stakes.  The second book in a series, even a series of stand-alone stories (as opposed to an extended story arc), should feel bigger and weightier than the first.  So, in other words, I was trying to write a novel that took all the good stuff from book I and did it all better and with more significance.  It had to feel familiar enough to fans of the first book to let them know that they were in for a similar ride, but it couldn’t be so similar that if felt ho-hum.  Oh, and by the way, it also had to work for new readers.  The characters, setting, magic system, and history had to be reintroduced so that those coming to the Thieftaker Chronicles for the first time with Thieves’ Quarry, would not feel lost.

None of these challenges was unique, of course.  Faith deals with issues like these with each new Jane Yellowrock book.  Misty had to do it with the second Kestrel book (which, by the way, I cannot wait to read).  A.J. has to do it with the Darwin Arkwright books.  Carrie, Mindy, Di, Lucienne — they have all had to do this.  I had to do it with my extended story arcs in the LonTobyn, Forelands, and Southlands series.  But since Thieftaker is a different kind of series for me — again, stand alone novels as opposed to several books in one narrative arc — it felt different, new, and a bit intimidating.

In the end, there were several things I did that helped me with this book:

1. I came up with a starting point for my plot that was both similar to that of the first book, and also different enough, and big enough, to feel fresh.  In the first book, Ethan Kaille is called upon to investigate the murder by magic of one young woman killed on the night of the Stamp Act riots.  In this book, he investigates the murders by magic of nearly one hundred men aboard a British naval vessel.  Similar, yes.  But on a grander scale and with different implications.

2. I allowed my worldbuilding — in this case the history that I use as a backdrop for the books — to guide some of my choices.  This second book takes place during the British occupation of Boston in the fall of 1768.  The naval vessel in question is one that I created for the book, but it is part of an armada that really did sail into Boston Harbor in September of 1768 carrying soldiers for the occupation.  So as long as the fleet was just sitting there, I though I might as well use it . . .

3. One of the best things about Thieftaker, the first book in the series, was Ethan’s interaction with his thieftaking rival, Sephira Pryce.  I wanted to go back to that interaction and explore it in greater depth, but again, I didn’t want their relationship to be static.  And so I introduced a new element in their rivalry:  I managed to give Sephira access to a conjurer of her own.

4. I kept the emphasis on character.  Ultimately, all of our stories are about people, and even when I was worrying about plot ideas, I tried to keep in mind that in the end the book would come down to Ethan, Kannice, Diver, Sephira, Janna, and the rest.  And so I did my best to show how the characters and their relationships with one another had grown and changed in the intervening years between Thieftaker and Thieves’ Quarry.  Yes, these are stand alone books.  But while each new book draws upon a different narrative, the character arcs span the entire series.  Keeping that in mind allowed me to make certain that I wouldn’t — couldn’t — write the same book a second time.

5.  Finally, I had fun.  Seriously, that’s really important.  I LOVED writing this book.  It was fresh for me as a writer, and that made me confident that it would be fresh and fun for my readers as well.  We’ll see once the book is released if that worked, but so far the reviews are very good, so I’ve reason to hope.

What challenges have you faced going from the first book in your current project to its sequels?  Or, if you’re not there yet, what issues have you concerned?  Let’s talk about it — and that way you’ll be entered to win a shirt!!

David B. Coe
http://www.DavidBCoe.com
http://www.dbjackson-author.com
http://magicalwords.net

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31 comments to Potpourri: ConCarolinas Recap, Launching the Blog Tour With a Giveaway, and a Bit About Sequels

  • vsprouse

    I am very excited to read the new book! -Valerie

  • Con Carolinas was indeed a lot of fun!

    One of the things that scares me about sequels, is: what if I (expletive) up something in the first book, and then I’m trapped/stuck with it for the rest of the sequels? I mean, short of a “and he woke up and it was all a dream” OR “alternate dimension/timeline” thing, how do you fix that? Better yet, how do you prevent it? Have you had something like that happen? (Either in Thieftaker or others of your works.)

  • Emily, it was great to see you and so much fun to be on a panel with you. Looking forward to many other opportunities to do that.

    This is a terrific question. The short answer is: Yes. I have definitely made poor choices with respect to worldbuilding or character in early books that I have had to deal with later in the series. Usually these are small matters — the way a character speaks, or small details in my setting that can be corrected later without creating too much of a stir. But in my first series I tied myself into some worldbuilding absolutes that while not total screw-ups were just too limiting and difficult to work with. What did I do? Not much really. I set the rules in the first book and I had to live with them. In this case, prevention really is the best cure. The way you prevent it is to start thinking about books 2-20 before book 1 hits the shelves. Actually your deadline coincides with the submission of proof corrections. Once you’re done that (which comes after writing, revising, and copyediting) you’re pretty much stuck with your manuscript as is. So you want to be certain then that the choices you’ve made for book I will translate to the plot lines you have in mind for subsequent volumes.

    Again, this is for big issues and things that can’t be corrected with narrative sleight of hand. If the magic system operates a certain way in book I, it really should work the same way throughout. If someone has blue eyes in book one, her eyes should still be blue in book 15. As for smaller issues, you can usually count on the fact that MOST readers won’t notice subtle changes. Those who do notice can usually be mollified with a “Yep, you caught me — good eye!” email. Yes, we want our books to be as consistent as possible. Hell, we want them to be damn near perfect. But in the end, we’re human, and most discerning readers understand this. Hope that helps a bit.

  • Need to finish something/anything before worrying too much about sequels ;). Really enjoyed the first Thieftaker book – looking forward to the next. My reading queue is several deep now though, so it’ll be a little while.

  • Chris Branch

    At the risk of going off topic from your request, I’ll take this excuse to comment on item 4. I’ve noticed that most people seem to treat saying a book is “character driven” about like saying it consists of words. It’s taken for granted that a good story has to be character driven, pretty much by definition. Well, I like characters just fine (wouldn’t have much story without them!), but I’d like to question this apparent orthodoxy. I’ve always thought that some of my favorite books, say for example those of Tim Powers, are not primarily character driven. Maybe he himself would disagree, but to me it seems that his stories are plot driven – the characters are tools that are carefully chosen and shaped just right to meet the needs if the plot. Of course this doesn’t jump out at the reader unless you stop to think about it. But I believe he’s stated that at least the occupations of his protagonists are consciously chosen to fit the plot he has in mind. Obviously I think the books are fantastic, but what sticks in my mind about them is not the character arcs, but the plot. I’m pretty sure I could come up with other examples of this. What do you think, am I really in such a minority to think that character can be secondary in a successful story?

  • Chris, I’ll stick my neck out with this and see what the others say. Sam Spake books were plot driven. Jack Reacher novels (while character is what brings me back) are plot driven. All sorts of thrillers (just in example) are plot driven. They do have fantastic characters, yes, but it’s the plots that the individual novels.

  • Even though I know I’m getting way ahead of myself, one issue that concerns me about planning ahead for sequels is deciding how much backstory to provide for my main character in the first book. I want to scatter enough details throughout the first book to provide motivation and explanation for the reader, but I don’t want to give everything away just in case there is another book about the character in my future. How do I strike that balance?

  • Razziecat

    Very much looking forward to Thieves’ Quarry! Wish I could have been at the Con.

    Re: character vs. plot: They are related, no question. No matter how fascinating and intricate a plot may be, it’s still a reflection of the characters, and they are a reflection of the plot. Sometimes you want a certain thing to happen in the story and you make adjustments to the characters; sometimes the characters’ needs and desires dictate that certain things must happen. In the end I think they really can’t be separated, or you wouldn’t have a story ;)

  • sagablessed

    “What challenges have you faced going from the first book in your current project to its sequels? Or, if you’re not there yet, what issues have you concerned? ”
    My first WIP was designed to have sequels, but it sucked so I stopped. (Hey, I learned so much that I keep it around.) I have three WIPs going. One -the scifi- is plotted such that sequels could happen. I am not sure how to keep it fresh. SiSi, I agree: another concern is how much back-story to reveal.
    My epic fantasy…I don’t know if it will be a total stand alone or not. I honestly have not given it thought. My world building and plot lines are working well, but if it becomes more than one book, I don’t know what I would do. I might do a spin-off of it. Same world, some of the same characters, but a new POV.
    My UF…well, I lost my hard-drive, so I am trying to re-type it back in the computer. It is actually a quintet. I have the whole thing plotted out. My issue is how much of the magic system remains a mystery, and how much does not.
    Ummmm……..I think I might be a bit overextended.

  • Valerie, thanks for the comment. Glad you’re looking forward to it.

    Dave, thanks for the kind words. I certainly understand a large TBR pile, but I hope you enjoy Thieves’ Quarry when you get to it.

    Chris, you ask a fascinating question, one that might well deserve to be a post (or series of posts, or one of our MW multi-author posts) in and of itself. The short answer is that Faith is right. One can find examples of books that are driven largely on plot. Their characters are strong, but plot is the driving force for the series. That said, though, I’m not sure that I would qualify my statement in number four about our stories ultimately being about people. And no I’m not trying to be coy and overly literal. I think that, as you say, even those authors who many of us believe write plot-driven books might not think of their work that way. And I think it’s telling that in agreeing with you Faith cited series that are identified primarily by their lead characters — the Jack Reacher books, the Sam Spade books. When I refer to character-driven work, I do not mean to imply that plot is unimportant, or even necessarily secondary. But I would say that even the most plot driven books work because of the voices of their point of view characters. The Thieftaker books are plot-intensive, but they focus on Ethan and his emotional, physical, and analytical reactions to events. Are they driven by character or plot? I don’t really know. I think Ethan’s character traits are central to everything that he does and says and sees. But without the plotting my readers wouldn’t care less. I’m not necessarily disagreeing with you, and again, I think it’s a terrific point of discussion, but I wonder if in the end it is a chicken-egg conundrum. Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

    Faith, see above. Thanks for chiming in.

    SiSi, this may be a cop-out, but I think the answer lies in your comment. I hint at much of Ethan’s backstory in book one, but I don’t explore all of it by any means. Certain aspects of it that pertain directly to the story I’m telling I touch on in great detail — the details of his failed love affair with Marielle Harper, for instance. But I say much less about his time as a prisoner and the circumstances surrounding the mutiny that leads to his incarceration. You get more of that in book 2, and will see still more details of is past emerge in books three and four. As with worldbuilding, I believe you only want to give as much detail as your story necessitates. Does that help at all?

    Razz, thank you! And yes, we wish you had been at the con, too. I agree with you about character and plot, as you can see from my response to Chris’s comment. Story elements — character, plot, setting, etc. — can’t really be separated from one another, but are inextricably bound. Just try talking about plot without mentioning character; or, on the flip side, try discussing character without referring to the conflicts and drive your plot. Can’t be done. But it does all make for fascinating discussion. At least for a writer geek like me.

    Saga, you do seem to have a lot on your authorial plate right now… As to the back story thing, see my comment to SiSi. For the epic, I think that switching POVs for a second volume (and then perhaps doing it again for a third) is a terrific idea and a great way to keep the work fresh. I did something somewhat similar with the LonTobyn books. As for the third project, I am still trying to wrap my mind around “I am trying to re-type it back in the computer.” Wow. That sounds deadly to me. I admire you for making the attempt. And I think that, as with character back story and other things, you let your plotting dictate what magic system details you reveal, and when.

  • Melissa Gilbert

    Hello!
    I enjoyed ConCarolinas so much! I took lots of notes during the panels and really learned a lot. So, thank you.

    Since I haven’t finished the first book yet, I am not struggling with a sequel, but the thought does come up. Right now I am weighing the options of pushing my work toward arc driven stories or stand alone stories that could be read out of order. Each of those certainly has its own inherent challenges and benefits. First things first though… butt in chair. Finish the first one. :)

    Cheers,
    Melissa

  • Barbara Stephenson

    Hope to see you at the Booknack!

  • On plot-character: both need to mesh to create something readers will come back to over and over, but one can save the other if it’s lacking. Good plot can drive mediocre characters just as great characters can carry a plot that might not be quite on point. If one is stellar, a reader may well forgive the weaker of the two.

    And I’ll be glad to use my bod as a billboard if I win. :)

  • We missed you at BitterCon, those of us who were unable to make it to the other one. ;-)

    I’m only going to make one comment re plot vs character. Every story has to have a story, and people to populate it. They all have to have a world. And they all start with an idea, a what-if that allows the rest to become.

    The most difficult issues for me are, 1) introducing new readers to the back-story vs boring return readers, and 2) staying true to the growth and personality traits/quirks of the characters and allowing them to change and mature over time. People change, and yet in some ways they don’t. For example, I was the ultimate late-70s flower child. Then I joined the military, got married, had kids, etc. I have good memories of that era, but I’d be truly uncomfortable if I stepped through a time portal and found myself back there – even if I was 18 again. On the other hand, I know a lot of people my age who would gladly step through, even if they stayed mid-50s.

  • ajp88

    Really looking forward to Ethan’s next story. That cover is still a stunning piece of work!

    I think, as you said, that it’s a chicken-egg scenario. To me what makes an incredible plot is how characters react and change both emotionally. And an incredible character is one with a nuanced personality whose actions both surprise me and immediately make sense to their written soul.

  • I had *so* much fun at ConCarolinas. The moment Ed cracked a joke about how Canadians couldn’t be trusted at one of the Sunday panels, I was reminded how much at home I felt there. And the party was a blast! I especially liked playing the polite bouncer and discouraging random drunken party crashers with kindness and the “oh, we’re just writers here,” line. ;)

    In the UF I’m writing, I would *love* to write more books beyond the one that I’m working on. The world my main character has entered has a certain tone and perspective (comic, adventurous, and centred around a tabloid that protects supernatural secrets). My MC learns that her abilities, which she thought were just being able to speak with ghosts, allow her to do one certain thing in the first book. But I don’t want the focus to be on the fact that she can do that. That’s not the point, and isn’t true to the tone of that particular world. I have other ideas for future stories in that universe, but I don’t want to be constrained by that one thing. I just realized it could be that in future stories she learns more about the scope of powers, too, that takes her in other directions.

  • Melissa, thanks for the comment. Good to hear that you enjoyed the con and our panels. You’re right of course — you want to finish the first book. But it is never too early to think about where you might take a second or third volume. You only need to look at the Harry Potter books to see how important it is to set up future plot points well in advance. Best of luck with your WIP.

    Barbara, thanks! I’m looking forward to the BooKnack signing.

    Daniel, I agree that one story element can compensate for flaws in another, though of course we aim to make everything excellent! And I appreciate the billboard offer.

    Lyn, we missed all of you at ConCarolinas. That’s a great point and one that, to me, touches on the “sometimes reality is stranger than fiction” theme that we talked about in a post a few weeks ago. Some people do change drastically during their lives. I think it’s hard to do that convincingly with a character. Maybe I’m wrong. I suppose you can have a dramatic turnaround tied to some searing event (for want of a better example, think Tony Stark in the first Ironman movie). But the type of evolution you’re talking about in your own life might leave readers unconvinced, even though it was very real for you.

    AJP, thanks very much. I love that art, too. And I love this: “an incredible character is one with a nuanced personality whose actions both surprise me and immediately make sense to their written soul.” That’s beautifully put — if you don’t mind, I might steal it for a panel or workshop some day.

    Laura, it was wonderful to see you, and again, thank you so much for the terrific party. It sounds like your (very cool) world will be able to support many more stories and ideas, which is, of course, a good thing. I love that feeling of looking at something I’ve created and seeing tons of potential beyond what I’ve done with it already. Have fun!

  • Ken

    Hi there David,

    ConCarolinas was a lot of fun. I’m already thinking about next year.

    I really enjoyed the first Thieftaker book and I’m looking forward to the next one. What I like about your process this time around is the way that you’re gradually raising the stakes. I haven’t finished my book 1 yet, but my biggest concern going from book one to book two is keeping a handle on the stakeraising. I’ve got to stay aware that things could blow up too much and too fast.

  • Cindy

    I am sorry that I live so far away it is impractical to attend ConCarolinas. If any of you are coming to a Western Con, please let me know. :)

  • JeffBarnes

    It was my first time at ConCarolinas. Had a blast. (I was the rather large, rather quiet guy in the Firefly dinosaur shirt.) The MW panels were definitely a high point. Lots to think about, and very entertaining. Thanks to all three of you (and John, and AJ, and…).

  • quillet

    The main thing I worry about is developing sequelitis. You know, that disease writers get when the the world-changing, soul-changing story has already been told and there’s nothing that important left for the characters to do, but the writer and/or readers want to keep spending time with them, so the writer invents make-work stories for them. Bit of this, bit of that, just so no one has to say good-bye. Mind you, I think that’s a disease more likely to afflict the unplanned sequel of a closed series (like a trilogy), rather than an open-ended series, if you know what I mean.

    PS: Can’t wait for Thieves’ Quarry. Reading your point #5 just makes the waiting harder! *bounces in chair*
    PPS: I love. That. Cover.

  • Ken, it was fun, wasn’t it. I had a great time. Thanks for the kind words about Thieftaker. As you point out, I wanted to raise the stakes, but to do so gradually with each book, so that I do more with two than I did with one, but don’t make numbers three and four (and any that might come after) impossible to write because I’ve set the “stakes bar” too high. If that makes sense.

    Cindy, I would love to attend some cons out West. At some point I hope to get in touch with the folks who run them and arrange some appearances.

    Jeff, so glad you enjoyed the con and our panels. As you could probably tell, we were having fun, too.

    Quillet, thanks so much. Glad you’re excited about the book. And I love the art, too. I agree with you about the sequelitis thing. I only write books that I am excited to write and that have a purpose. Though I suppose if somebody was throwing gobs of money at me to get me to write more, I might be tempted. Glad I don’t have that problem . . .

  • ajp88

    @David By all mean, steal away!

  • Johnathan Knight

    My only concern with writing a sequel is that I have to do it shirtless. You see, I don’t own any shirts. Which means I can’t go to, say, a coffee shop and write. I’m stuck in a dark room without windows or friends or caffeine. I sure do wish there was a way to solve this problem.

  • AJP, thanks!

    Johnathan, I sympathize. If only there were businesses — physical commercial clothing hubs, as it were — where you could go to purchase these “shirts” of which you speak. Then, perhaps, you could write fully clothed and in venues of your choice, private or public. But alas . . . Perhaps, in the future, as 3-D printing technology progresses, you will find a remedy for your curious affliction. Until then, I wish you all great success in your dark, friendless, semi-naked, caffeine-free endeavor.

  • Johnathan Knight

    Rats. This means my sympathy ploy to win a shirt isn’t working, doesn’t it? Okay, fair enough.

    But seriously, I think the only two sequel issues I really have are:

    1. Avoiding exposition in regards to the back story. It seems to be important, at least to me, to get across a sense of what happened in the last novel while not dumping all of the information upfront. I feel like sprinkling that information in is somehow harder–again, at least for me–than it is to sprinkle in other bits of history and worldbuilding. But I suppose, under close examination, it’s probably the same process.

    -and-

    2. Keeping the arc of the middle book(s) tight enough to stand alone, but still leaving something for the finale. I often notice that the second book in a series (in general) tends to be weaker and acts more as a bridge than a stand alone tale. I prefer when each novel wraps up nicely, at least in regards to the central threads. But such seems difficult to do while leaving something major hanging for the next book. If that makes sense.

  • These are both legitimate concerns. Regarding #1, I do think it’s similar to putting character background and worldbuilding details. You mention what you need to when the information becomes relevant and necessary, and, hopefully, you do so in a way that is brief enough and that blends well with the rest of the narrative, so that it doesn’t come across as a data-dump. As to #2, this is obviously a problem for an extended story arc, rather than a series of related stand-alone novels. When working on multi-book story arcs I try to make certain that each book has at least one major subplot or, better yet, one major piece of the overarching narrative, that can be completed within that particular novel. You want your readers to feel at the end of each book that they have made progress in the larger tale, that they have accomplished something by reading the novel. It is difficult, but it can be done.

  • During ConCarolina’s panel on Voice you mentioned providing exercises to help explore Voice. Could you provide them here?

  • Hi Eric. I will absolutely post those to the site, but to be perfectly honest I am planning to put them in a post, and so I don’t want to steal my own thunder by putting them in the comments section here. The post will go up on June 24. Yeah, I know that’s a while from now, but this coming Monday we have a guest post from Will McIntosh, and the following Monday I’m off and Carrie will be posting. But I promise you that the post on Monday June 24 will have a bunch of writing exercises in them, including those for Voice.