The Grind Show was published back in May. It’s ostensibly a tale about demon hunting, but in truth it’s more than that. It’s about how far you’re willing to go to do the right thing. It’s about personal sacrifice for greater causes, it’s about that fine line that divides right from wrong, which somehow remains slippery even in a world polarized by the presence of demons. Since May it’s been resonating with readers; it’s been selling steadily, and garnered a slew of positive reviews.
Which means I should knock out #2. That’s the logical move. I’ve got the plot figured out. The cast is sitting on the sidelines, ready to go, smoking cigarettes and looking bored, on the phone with their agents. I’ve got the style figured out, and even an expectant audience asking when oh when is #2 is gonna come out? Clearly I should dedicate a couple of months to writing it–right?
If only it were so easy. Perhaps you guys aren’t familiar with the second novel blues. It’s that sense of weary lethargy that sinks into you when your consider picking up the plot where it last left off. It’s a feeling of detachment from the world you created due to having put the first novel through interminable edits and rewrites until you were nigh sick of it. It’s a sense of repeating yourself when all you want to do is something new.
In effect, you need to reinvent the wheel without losing your original audience. You need to deliver what they enjoyed in the first book without repeating yourself. If your series is liable to turn into a trilogy, which Grind Show might, then it’s the middle, where things have started but cannot yet end. Second novel blues, and I got it bad.
I’ve written four false starts. The latest one got to about 20,000 words before I fizzled out. I’ve plotted and re-plotted. I’ve tried to diving into it, and tried taking it slow. A great friend of mine invited me out to California to do a research trip around Utah, and I spent a weekend scrabbling around the canyons of Zion with a bum knee taking notes and envisioning scenes that I thought I would scribble down with furious focus. I’ve searched out photographs of the characters, I’ve spent hours pouring over Google Maps, and here I sit, with nothing to show for it.
So I published another novel, and then a novella. I’ve begun to research a new book that’s got my mind thinking about mining ventilation, the rise and fall of 4th century Manicheasim, the Industrial age. Yet through it all the Grind Show continues to sell, and people to ask me about book #2.
Hell, I guess I don’t give up easy. So I sat down one more time this morning and opened up a new Notepad file. Frowned, and got up to make a coffee. Came back and stared through the computer screen. It was so early in the morning the birds hadn’t even started tweeting yet, and my dog refused to do more than blink blearily at me in the gloom before tucking his muzzle back under his paw. What’s holding me back? I frowned some more, and then I understood: my lack of excitement derived from a sense of repeating myself. I was going to take the same characters and throw them into a number of fights and car chases, rush them through the plot and be done with it. Which sounds about as exciting to write as it would to read.
So I started to write in my Notepad file. Asking: how have the characters changed since book 1? What’s going on in their heads? How have they grown? Where are they now? I began to peel back the layers of the onion, and get to their core. Connect with them.
I’ve been trying to write the novel that I think people are expecting to read, and not the one I want to write. I’ve felt pressured to be all Bonnie and Clyde on the run, hysterical laughter punctuated by shotgun blasts as demons fall from the sky as if lined up in a carnival shooting gallery. Filthy hi-fives and whiskey glasses, inane jokes and anime-style sword fights. Instead, I want to go deeper, stir those muddy waters, push the characters to their edge and then push them a little further. A different, darker tone from the first novel.
So here’s the opening paragraph I’ve come up with. It’s wordier than book #1’s style. It’s a change of pace, but hell, at least it’s something:
The sheer scope of the Nevada sky outside the window made the bar feel tiny. A matchbox dropped on the face of the desert, insignificant under the righteous blue that seemed to not meet the horizon but extend past it. We’d been waiting for two hours, and I had settled down to watch where half a mile away Highway 168 disappeared into the darkness under the I15 overpass. Twain sat slouched over the table, cheek resting on the base of her palm, slowly reworking the lyrics to one of her songs on a napkin. Vanilla ice cream had melted into a crescent moon around the dark stains of our second slice of blueberry pie, and my coffee had run cold, but I waited with implacable patience, watching for our backup. Six months we’d been hunting holy men, and at long last we’d finally found the real thing.