We're pleased as punch to be joined by one of our faves Heather Demetrios, author of Exquisite Captive, the first book in the Dark Caravan Cycle trilogy. In honour of the upcoming release of the sequel, Blood Passage (available March 1st), Heather's here today to talk about the challenges of writing a second book in a series. Take it away, Heather!
I love series—especially trilogies. There is nothing more satisfying to me than living with characters I love in a world that I’m dying to be in over the span of several books. They tend to be the books I remember best because I necessarily have to devote more time to them. Most of my favorite characters are in series in part because I get to spend hours by their side. Can you imagine there being just one Harry Potter or Throne of Glass? One His Dark Materials, one Alanna? Hell no. Though sometimes crazy-making, it’s a delicious sort of torture when I have to wait for the next book. We’ll call it literary foreplay. By the time I get that book—whether I had to wait a year or a day—I am so ready, so hot and bothered for that story to continue.
All that being said, when an author decides to write a story in series and then falls down on the job I am NOT OKAY WITH THAT. Author and reader are entering into a contract with one another when embarking on a novel, or novels. It’s built on trust: I, author, will not waste precious hours of your life with a sub-par book; you, reader, will pick up my book, trusting I’ve upheld my end of the bargain. I get seriously pissed off when a series doesn’t get better as it goes along. And I get really annoyed when I’m reading a trilogy and book two is a lame-ass placeholder that does nothing but torture the reader unnecessarily and do very little to move the plot or character arcs forward.
That’s why I was terrified to write the second book in my Dark Caravan Cycle, Blood Passage. I didn’t want to let down myself, my readers, or my story. I didn’t want to write a bridge book that wasn’t as good as book one or book three. I didn’t want to save all the goods for the grand finale. I didn’t want it to only be a set-up for book three. And I really didn’t want to torture my readers or my characters. A few pet peeves about book twos (ones I promise not to do to you):
1. Most stories do not need to be told in series. And of the stories that are written in series, not all of them need to be three books. Two might suffice. But the author, instead of writing two badass books chock full of awesomeness, writes two good books sandwiching a mediocre book. Not cool.
2. Have you noticed how a lot of book two’s keep the romance in peril? Why does it have to be like that? I mean, sometimes it’s necessary for the story, but more often than not I can see the author behind the curtain trying to lengthen a romance’s arc unnecessarily. Pro tip: think of other things for your plot instead of making the romance do all the heavy lifting. It’s like, oh no another obstacle and another and another and, whoops—now you don’t know if they get together or not. The author’s dangling book three over your head and you’re swiping at it like a cat desperate for its toy.
3. I hate when a book two doesn’t really move the plot forward. It’s full of filler, usually in the form of unnecessary romance drama (like separating the characters for no reason other than to torture everyone involved, including the reader) or convenient situations that feel contrived. I’m willing to suspend my disbelief quite a lot, but book twos are often full of scenarios in which the protagonist is conveniently set up to do x so y can happen because PLOT.
4. It’s all a set-up for book three; it’s too easy to see the machination of novel writing at work. Characters are being put in place, hints about future challenges are made without there being real, necessary challenges in book two.
5. It provides too much or too little backstory reminders from book one or puts exposition in inelegantly. I won’t assume you re-read book one or recently read it. It’s important that necessary backstory be given to the reader, but it needs to be done in a seamless, natural way.
There is nothing more satisfying than a good book two of a trilogy. All parties are happy and even more excited for book three. These are some of the things that make a book two sing:
1. It has all the things that made you fall in love with the series in the first place: it’s chock full of new settings, new major developments, believable romantic tension (if there is romance), and action scenes that move the story forward rather than simply just appear for no reason.
2. Introduces new characters that draw the reader deeper into the heart of the story by giving us their backstory and making them essential to the plot and the protagonist.
3. A protagonist who continues to grow and learn both about herself and the world around her. The last thing you want is a protagonist who is just waiting to have revelations in book three.
4. An exciting journey. In fantasy in particular there is often some kind of physical journey the protagonist and her allies take. This journey should only be in the book if it’s necessary and it should entice the reader by deepening the story’s world and revealing new things about it.
5. Good writing. Anyone ever noticed how sometimes the actual prose is lackluster, as if the writer is saving up all her good metaphors for book three? The writing should be just ascharged as book one.
Here are some of my favorite book twos (some are from longer series):
The Subtle Knife (Phillip Pullman, His Dark Materials)
The Ask and the Answer (Patrick Ness, Chaos Walking)
Lola and the Boy Next Door (Stephanie Perkins, Anna, Lola, Isla)
Crown of Midnight (Sarah J. Maas, Throne of Glass)
Dirty Wings (Sarah McCarry)
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter)
In the Hand of the Goddess (Tamora Pierce, Song of the Lioness)
Anne of Avonlea (L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables)
Where She Went (Gayle Forman, If I Stay duololgy)
The Story of a New Name (Elena Ferrante, Neapolitan Novels)
If you’ve had some disappointing series…don’t give up! There is nothing more disappointing when a series doesn’t live up to expectations but for every one that doesn’t…there is one that does. Happy reading!
About the Author:
When she’s not traipsing around the world or spending time in imaginary places, Heather Demetrios lives with her husband in New York City. Originally from Los Angeles, she now calls the East Coast home. Heather has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts and is a recipient of the PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award for her debut novel, Something Real. Her other novels include Exquisite Captive, the first in the Dark Caravan Cycle fantasy series, I’ll Meet You There and the multiplatform serial novel, The Lexie Project. She is the founder of Live Your What, a project dedicated to creating writing opportunities for underserved youth. Find out more about Heather and her books at www.heatherdemetrios.com, or come hang out with her on Twitter (@HDemetrios) and any number of social media sites.
Thanks so much for stopping by, Heather!
Blood Passage will be available on March 1st.