Tracy Townsend: In Pursuit Of The Sequel

Tracy Townsend is back at terribleminds, this time talking about one of the more curious difficulties an author will have — writing the second book in a series! 

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Friends, I come fresh from the battlefield of my second novel, The Fall. Now that it’s out in the world where you, too, can see it, I can tell the tales of how it was wrought. I would be a very poor guide, indeed, if I did not want you to learn from my mistakes.

So you’ve decided to hunt down a sequel to your first book! Brave, industrious soul. Perhaps you thought this journey would be just like the last one? A long, winding road, full of switchbacks and mysterious, distracting dream-peddlers, maybe a treasure hoard at the end, guarded by some hulking reptilian being?

Oh, poor dear. You did think that.


Here. Come closer. In the words of an old friend of mine, “It’s not safe to go alone. Take this.”

Take some notes about your last book, because whatever map you think you’re going to use to get to the end of this one, its legend and key are based off that first, big brother book. You’ll forget how far apart the oceans are, or which roads run north, or even whether the hedges that grew up against the side of the cathedral were boxwoods or junipers. I know I did. (Thank god for copy editors. Thank god for fifty thousand words of story bible. Never throw away anything, my friends. The devil truly is in the details.)

Take a plugin and install it on your web browsers. Go ahead. Do it. Tell it you get some wickedly paltry allotment of minutes to dip out of your writing and into the digital sandbox beyond. Tell it all your worst habit sites and draw crosses over them in blood. (If you are like me, this will also significantly decrease the influx of impulse-purchased graphic tees in your home.)

Take some friends – the sort you can text or email at any hour of the night, howling unspeakable oaths, knowing they will stroke your fur flat until the full-moon madness of I-can’t-do-this passes. (My friends are too many to list. If I chant their names together, they rise up like a great writing Patronus and remind me that chocolate consumption alone does not write books, however much I want it to.)

Take a digital backup. And a hard drive backup. And an emailed copy of your work. Take a pile of parchment penned a nearsighted monk, but please, take every chance to duplicate your work. (This comes from someone who did – or thought she did – and still had to rewrite the last twenty thousand words of The Fall in a single weekend when her backup done backed out on her. Save. Every. Thing. Save it everywhere.)

Take family. Take the people who loved you before you ever wrote a single word of fiction, and who will love if you never do it again. Let them remind you that you’re more than your output. (My son, for example, has helpfully observed that my real superpower is “making breakfast.” All shall love me and have high blood sugar.)

Take a willingness to tear up the map. Your sense of what you needed to write to bridge two books into an ongoing story will change, as surely as a flooded river might wash out a road or submerge a bridge. There are other ways to get there. Some of them might even tell better stories. (Ask me about the time an incidental news article on contract law changed a key plot point, and how I would build toward it. “Debt management and property law” wasn’t on the map when I started, but. . . *shrug*)

Take the courage to break up the band. You haven’t really been traveling alone, even before you came to this list. You had your characters, good people or villains or rapscallions though they may be. You’ve learned to live with them. You might even love them. But new journeys call for  new maps and new roads. There may not be space for everyone to walk abreast anymore. Be ready to break up the party and send them off on their own quests.

This one will hurt.

Take a deep breath.

Maybe they’ll come together again. Maybe not. Maybe you’ll need another book to show them the way home together.


Tracy Townsend is the author of The Nine and The Fall (books 1 and 2 in the Thieves of Fate series), a monthly columnist for the feminist sf magazine Luna Station Quarterly, and an essayist for Uncanny Magazine. She holds a master’s degree in writing and rhetoric from DePaul University and a bachelor’s degree in creative writing from DePauw University, a source of regular consternation when proofreading her credentials. She is the former chair of the English department at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, an elite public boarding school, where she teaches creative writing and science fiction and fantasy literature. She has been a martial arts instructor, a stage combat and accent coach, and a short-order cook for houses full of tired gamers. Now she lives in Bolingbrook, Illinois with two bumptious hounds, two remarkable children, and one very patient husband. You can find her at Twitter @TracyATownsend, and online at

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