Mabily “Mab” Jones’ life has returned to normal. Or as normal as life can be for a changeling, who also happens to be a private detective working her first independent case, and dating a half-fey.
But then a summons to return to the fairy world arrives in the form of a knife on her pillow. And in the process of investigating her case, Mab discovers the fairies are stealing joy-producing chemicals directly from the minds of humans in order to manufacture their magic Elixir, the dwindling source of their powers. Worst of all, Mab’s boyfriend Obadiah vows to abstain from Elixir, believing the benefits are not worth the cost in human suffering—even though he knows fairies can’t long survive without their magic.
Mab soon realizes she has no choice but to answer the summons and return to the Vale. But the deeper she is drawn into the machinations of the realm, the more she becomes ensnared by promises she made in the past. And in trying to do the right thing, Mab will face her most devastating betrayal yet, one that threatens everything and everyone she holds most dear.
SEQUELS DON’T HAVE TO SUCK
It is a truth universally acknowledged that movie sequels are (almost) always dreadful, yet that isn’t necessarily true of second books in a series. Perhaps what dooms most film follow-ups is that they try to stay within the well-worn tracks of the beloved original; when they succeed, it’s often because they go darker. The same is true for book sequels.
If the first book is too gratuitously grim however, it leaves the series nowhere to go, no way to up the emotional ante. Luckily, ELIXIR, the first book in my CHANGELING P.I. series, is notably less dark than what’s fashionable for urban fantasy. While it deals with serious and disturbing subject matter there’s an underlying optimism; it’s a “cozy urban fantasy” as one reviewer put it. Thus, the second book, UNVEILED, gave me a lot of room to go psychologically darker, while still maintaining that sense of hope. So much of a first book is taken up in world-building, introducing characters, and laying a strong foundation for the series that follows. With some of that heavy-lifting already done, I was now free to really focus on the internal development of my characters, forcing them to grow as people. I’d always heard that writing a sequel was hard, so much harder than writing a first book, and I had braced myself for the difficulty of this task. What no one told me is that writing a sequel can also be really fun. Maybe I’m a sadist, but I relished the freedom a second book gave me to really push my characters to the point of breaking them, to find out who they become when they experience more than they think they can bear.
TASKS EXPAND OR CONTRACT TO FIT THE TIME AVAILABLE
Because ELIXIR was my first book, I didn’t write it under a deadline. I could take my sweet time to work on the story, waste hundreds of pages on tangent plot lines that went nowhere, stop and start as inspiration ebbed and flowed, and revise indefinitely. All told, I spent almost seven years on that first book. And then the publishing gods smiled on me and I found myself with a two-book contract which allowed me a little over seven months to write the follow-up, UNVEILED. Given my writing history, this task sounded almost impossibly daunting. What I realized, however, as I successfully completed the manuscript well within the deadline, is that tasks expand or contract to fill the time available. I took seven years to write ELIXIR because I could. I wrote UNVEILED in seven months because I had to. More time does not necessarily make for a better book, either. When there was all the time in the world, that time was most often unproductively frittered, whereas the deadline had a way of sharpening my focus, making me more attentive. And attention begets inspiration.
THE OUTLINE CAN MAKE YOU FREE
In order to meet my first deadline, I had to break down the mammoth task of producing a manuscript into small, manageable chunks. This meant learning to outline. Not because I thought outlined stories were inherently better, but because outlines are a time-management tool, and adulthood no longer gave me the luxury of last-minute all-nighters. Yet at the same time as I saw the need for an outline, I was afraid of it. I had “pantsed” my first manuscript, and even when I became more of a plotter, it was an amorphous, at-least-I-know-the-ending sort of plotting, not a minute chapter by chapter plan.
I thought outlining would crimp my creativity. Instead, it saved my sanity. Nothing can cause writer’s block like the panic of not knowing where your story is going, or realizing you’ve pantsed your way into an enormous plot hole. My detailed outline gave me a time, a place, and a cast of characters for each scene – but beyond that point I was free. It enabled me to focus in on the moment, explore the nuances of the setting, and– because I wasn’t worried about what was going to happen— really let each conversation shine. It turns out my muses work best when given a bit of a structure.
THE EDITOR IS ALWAYS RIGHT
The first professional writer I ever got to know personally was a 60-something, veteran journalist, a larger than life character to whom the phrase “tough old broad” seemed both complementary and apt. I was a wide-eyed recent college grad who’d been lucky enough to get to house-sit the apartment next to hers in a renovated tenement on New York’s Lower East Side. At that time, it never occurred to me to even dream of writing novels. I had set my heart on freelance journalism, and it was through my neighbor’s generous networking that I had my first article published. I also got my first experience of being professionally edited, and it was not pleasant to watch my most beloved paragraphs be summarily plucked from the piece. There was one change I was particularly unhappy about. I asked my neighbor if I had the right to refuse the editor’s request? I’ll never forget what she said to me, in her gravelly Long Island accent: “I’m going to give you the best advice you’ll ever get in your career as a writer.” “What?” I asked, rapt and eager to hear this wisdom. She leaned in, as if whispering a secret: “the editor is always right.”
I was disappointed to hear this, but I followed her advice. I saved my original draft, and kept it alongside the clipping of the piece when it was printed in the newspaper. When I read them both ten years later, I could only smile to myself and shake my head. That paragraph that I’d thought was so eloquent at the time? Turns out it was merely over-wrought. The editor’s changes had simplified it, made the story shine through without being bogged down by bombastic prose. In short, the editor had been *ahem* right.
I recalled this memory as I did revisions for UNVEILED with my wonderful editor at the time, Rebecca Lucash, who proposed a few changes that pained me to accept. I must confess I doubted her judgement at times, and clung tenaciously to my creation as it was, but in the end I realized that this person was a brilliant professional whose instincts I should trust. I can’t tell you what the change was without revealing a huge spoiler, but when I look back on UNVEILED now with the perspective of time, I must admit the advice of my old journalist friend still holds true. We as authors are often very poor evaluators of what’s working or not working in our own books; we’re just too close to it. I’m sure there are exceptions to the editor being right…but I haven’t found one yet.
YOU GET TO BE A LOCAL INSTEAD OF A TOURIST IN YOUR “WORLD”
One of my favorite parts of writing the CHANGELING P.I. series has been getting to make New York City into a magical place – because, in my experience of my adopted hometown, the real city is stranger than any fictional version. New York is its own character in this series, with all the quirks and flaws of any of the other characters. Since the first book was an introduction to this world, I had to take a tourist’s eye-view, as if I was introducing readers to the real city as well as my take on it. ELIXIR gleefully riffs on classic New York landmarks – for example making the Times Square New Year’s Eve ball drop into a portal to fairyland, with the focused attention of millions of people unwittingly powering the spell. But with most of the quintessentially New York places already touched upon in the first book, UNVEILED allowed me take the reader farther afield, beyond the boroughs and into both the glamorous and the gritty Tri-State commuter towns, the areas that tourists never see, the areas that frankly seem the least enchanted. But I set out to change that (perhaps because I’d moved out of the city and into the suburbia over the course of writing this series, and I was determined to find the magic here.) And plenty of weird, unexpected, magical things exist in the New York suburbs amidst the split levels and the strip malls, but you have to look harder to find them. The more mundane my settings, the harder I had to work as a writer to make them feel magical, and I think that challenge made me a better writer. Because a too-magical world is like a too-powerful character – boring. And while I admire the epic fantasy writer’s craft of made-from-scratch universes, personally, I’d rather believe that fairyland is no farther away than my own backyard.
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Ruth Vincent spent a nomadic childhood moving across the USA, culminating in a hop across the pond to attend Oxford. But wherever she wanders, she remains ensconced within the fairy ring of her imagination. Ruth recently traded the gritty urban fantasy of NYC for the pastoral suburbs of Long Island, where she resides with her roguishly clever husband and a cockatoo who thinks she’s a dog. Ruth Vincent is the author of the CHANGELING P.I series with Harper Voyager Impulse, beginning with her debut novel, ELIXIR. Ruth loves to hear from readers.