Release Day for Darwen II!

A J HartleyA J Hartley
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First, thanks to Faith and Misty for switching their schedules with me so I can post on release day!

Today, the second in my middle grades series, Darwen Arkwright and the Insidious Bleck, hits shelves, and I thought I’d tell you something about the high wire act which is writing the second book of a series.

The original cover Darwen II art as it appeared on the ARC

To be clear, this is a second stand alone story in the Darwen universe. There are larger plot lines being developed from book to book, but each volume is its own story with a beginning, middle and end. They are probably richest read in order, but they don’t have to be.

Book 1, Darwen Arkwright and the Peregrine Pact, introduced the core characters (Darwen, Rich and Alex) and established their world (Hillside Academy in Atlanta) and the key issue: there are portals to a parallel world called Silbrica populated by strange creatures, some of which are bent on invading what we regular people think of (rather quaintly) as reality.

Book 2, takes those core characters and their larger mission to an entirely new place–a jungle camp in Costa Rica—on a school trip which has been organized by their new World Studies teacher, Mr. Peregrine, in response to a series of abductions. Darwen and his friends have to figure out how the monster(s?) are getting through from the other side, stop them, and unravel the larger issues this new plot seems to manifest.

I had a great deal of fun writing this book and think it’s funnier, scarier and a little deeper than book 1 was, partly because I already had so much of the world in place. Moving the students into an entirely different environment which was still part of their reality also allowed me to move away from the Harry Potter-esque environs of book 1 and explore a completely different set of dynamics and ideas. It also got to invent a new set of monsters suited to jungle environments, one of which lends the book its mouthful of a title ☺.

The revised, simpler and more eye-catching cover for Darwen II

In short, my strategy with BLECK was to return to elements of what I think (hope) worked in book 1 while making the second book feel completely different: close enough to the original to keep readers who liked it, but different enough that it feels not like a retread but a fresh and surprising story. The familiar elements are a kind of security blanket for my readers, while the new stuff will—hopefully—make for a more invigorating experience entirely.

Whether I’ve been successful or not remains to be seen, but that’s part of the thrill of release day, right?: that what has been private—shared only with a few people most of whom work for my publisher—now goes out into the world where I have absolutely no control over it whatsoever, where readers will decide its meanings and its worth without me running interference. It’s terrifying, to be honest, and utterly thrilling, like stepping through a mirror into an entirely new world…

So if this sounds like your kind of story (or one kids in your life might like) please consider picking one up at whatever location (real or virtual) suits you. I hope you like it. Please let me know, and post reviews if you get chance!

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all.

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