When I began writing Birth of a Dark Nation, I imagined it to be the first in a series of novels, much like LJ Smith’s The Vampire Diaries and The Secret Circle series, about vampires and witches, respectively. Those books came out when I was in middle school. I was immediately taken by the story and fell in love with the characters. To this day, nearly 30 years after their publication, I still grasp a piece of amethyst and say “Earth and water, sand and sea/As I will, so let it be.”
The people love a franchise, don’t they? It seems to me that after Smith’s success, the world of children and young adult literature grew up, took the supernatural franchise model, and ran with it. That’s how we get glittery vampires, folks.
In addition to the idea of a series of books feeling natural, I feel that I have a lot of story to tell, so one book wouldn’t really be enough. I’m the kind of person that wants to know what happened after a couple rides off into the sunset.
Part of that might be because I am also heavily influenced by soap operas. From Days of Our Lives in my childhood to The Young and the Restless as an adult, and Dark Shadows somewhere in between, I love the idea of the big story arc.
I hope that when people read Birth of a Dark Nation, cliffhanger ending aside, they feel that they are getting their money’s worth when it comes to world building.
One reason that the next book I published was not its sequel was because I wasn’t sure that I liked the direction in which the story was heading. It was too plotted, too rigid, didn’t feel romantic anymore, and felt more like a straight adventure tale. That’s not who I am.
But I wasn’t sure that I could repeat the success of Birth of a Dark Nation with the same characters and a new villain. Justin Kena’s transformation was such a big part of the novel that it felt weird for him to have no further transformation. Just dipping him into an adventure felt…well, cheap.
So I stopped working on the sequel to let it breathe. I excised some of the content and made it into a short story that lives in my anthology Time (coming soon). And I did something else kind of radical:
I switched to a different book entirely. My work in progress is still in the Dark Nation universe, but it has an entirely new cast of characters, new villains even more sinister than the Anubis Society, and a brand new mythology.
More important than all that, even…this shit is actually scary.
When Birth of a Dark Nation was in progress, I thought for sure it would be scary. But it’s not. It’s shocking and violent (without being pornographic about it), but it’s not really scary. Although I was disappointed that I hadn’t written horror, I was happy that what I wrote was still authentically mine.
My work in progress, however…. man. This thing is frightful. It’s possible that I needed to do a little bit more living before I could accurately capture what it is that makes people afraid.
Justin Kena, who I love, came from an upper middle class, largely white upbringing. His proximity to the “street” was tangential through his work in the nonprofit sector, and through Dante, who who only knew to be somewhat of a hustler.
The characters in my work in progress are different. They are from those corners of the city that have yet to be gentrified. Their regular lives are tough, so those things which go “bump” in the night must be truly terrible in order for them to be afraid.
And I think I’m doing it. That makes me happy, through the complications and uncertainties of doing this work full-time. It makes me feel good that I still got it, so to speak, and I am getting better.
Finally, in terms of the order in which I’m writing the novels, I have a reading order in my head that doesn’t match the publication order. I’m one of those CS Lewis snobs who insists that the publication order is the only proper reading order of the Chronicles of Narnia, but I wonder if I will agree with that for my own work. I think (and hope) that I will continue to get better and better as a writer, but I also hope that the books will be standalone enough to be enjoyed in any order.
That’s it. Just a glimpse into this process. I’m getting back in my groove and I’m enjoying it. Ciao, for now.