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Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Welcome Fred Warren and The Muse, Writing a Sequel

Please interact with our guest authors by answering the question they provide. IF there is a book giveaway, your response will also enter you in the drawing for a free book.


When he's not writing, FRED WARREN works as a government contractor in eastern Kansas, providing computer simulation support for Army training. He’s written 26 short stories published in a variety of print and online magazines, and his first novel, The Muse, debuted in November 2009 from Splashdown Books. It was a 2010 American Christian Fiction Writers Carol Award finalist for book of the year in the speculative genre.

Fred married the girl who should have been his high school sweetheart, and has three kids, three dogs, and a mortgage. You can find him online at

by Fred Warren
Published by Splashdown Books


Stan Marino needs a muse. He's written himself into a corner...again. A shot of inspiration is all he needs to finish his story ...where is he going to find it? What Stan doesn't know: Inspiration has found him. And it's about to take over his life. Ripped from reality, he must lead a band of lost souls in a life-or-death battle with a merciless enemy. Stan has found his muse, but will he survive it?

Readers, buy your copy of The Muse today!


Writing the Sequel, or, You're Probably Going to Want Some Milk With That Cookie

One of my family's favorite books is If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, by Laura Numeroff. A mouse comes to visit, and a little girl gives him a cookie, which of course requires a glass of milk to wash it down, which sets off a cascade of other requests that get bigger and bigger until they take over the entire house. It's the story of our life. If my daughter has track practice, they're probably going to want a case of juice boxes to go with it, and so on, ad infinitum.

When I wrote my first novel, my goals were modest. I was a short-story writer. I wanted to challenge myself to write a story longer than 8000 words. When I passed 10,000 words, I was ecstatic, and the writing got easier once I'd broken through that mental wall. After I finished, to my great surprise, I had something in excess of 50,000 words that I thought somebody else might actually want to read, once I'd cleaned it up. To my even greater surprise, one of those somebodies wanted to publish it.

Then I discovered that when somebody publishes your book, chances are, they're going to ask you to write another. Sure, nowadays it's common for people to write with visions of seven-volume epic franchises dancing in their heads, but that never occurred to me. I'd met my goal, written my novel, and now it was time to get back to my beloved short stories, right?

Wrong. It wasn't just my publisher asking. Friends, relatives, strangers who had enjoyed the book--people had expectations. So, okay, I thought. I can write a sequel. I've got an idea that will work, and I've already done one of these, so it won't be very difficult.

It turned out to be a lot harder than I figured. Here are some speed bumps I encountered on the way to finishing the manuscript for my second novel.

You Can't Go Home Again - I knew my characters cold, I thought--their personalities, fashion sense, favorite ice cream flavor, everything. The only problem was that time had passed since the first story, and they'd grown. Everybody was five years older. They were living with the consequences of their choices in the original story. Their problems and ambitions were different. I had to get to know them all over again. This led quickly to the realization that my audience was also different. I couldn't write the second book assuming everybody had read the first. I would have to orient new readers to my universe without boring the loyal folks who were familiar with it. I had to catch up with the original cast and introduce interesting new characters. I had to revisit the old stomping grounds, but I also needed to take my characters, and my readers, to places they'd never been before.

Couples Skate - Writing the first novel was like free-skate time at the roller rink. I could go wherever I wanted, at whatever tempo I enjoyed, getting as crazy as my imagination (and the limits of good form) would allow. The second book was a couples-skate session that joined me with a lovely but demanding partner named Backstory, and we were going to skate at her pace. I had to link the sequel with what had come before. I had to be consistent with the facts and events I'd already established. My universe had rules now, and I had to obey them. What happened in the first story determined, in part, what could and would happen in the second.

Revenge of the Self-Editor - I learned a lot writing my first novel, and it was only natural that I'd want to apply that knowledge to the second. I certainly hope my growth as a writer will be reflected in this new book. Unfortunately, knowing more also made me more inhibited. Writers talk endlessly about the perils of self-editing, and I'm a first-class offender. It's very difficult for me to write more than a few sentences without going back and tweaking them. Part of my success with the first novel was in suppressing this tendency, getting the words onto paper with reckless abandon. Now I found myself with a whole new database of problems to beware and a catalog of weaknesses in the first story to avoid in the sequel. My self-editor re-emerged with a vengeance, and it was harder to beat him down because I was invested in the story. It was more important to me this time to get things exactly right.

Despite all the new challenges I hadn't expected, I pressed on and finished the manuscript a couple of weeks ago. It took me about twice as long as it did the first time around. I've still got a long way to go—editing, critiques, rewriting—but I'm happy with the story and optimistic about its potential. Yes, there will be a third novel. At the end of Ms. Numeroff's story, the mouse wants another cookie. If you write two novels, chances are, somebody will want you to write one more.

* * * * *

Thank you, Fred, for sharing with us today.

Guest Question: You can answer as either as a writer or a reader--What do you think is the most difficult challenge for an author to overcome in a sequel?

ENTRY RULES Readers, leave your email address (name at domainname dot com/net) along with your answer to the question for your chance to win a FREE autographed copy of the book above PLUS a copy of Fred's next book, The Seer, releasing later this year. If you do not answer the question, and your email address isn't provided, you will not be entered.

This week, the contest is open to US/Canada residents only.


Pegg Thomas said...

The sequel MUST be as good as the original or it will disappoint. I think the most common mistake in sequels is when the characters change from book to book. There is always some character growth, but personality is personality and it should remain constant. The second mistake is to work too hard to put the characters into another interesting situation and it comes off too far-fetched, unbelieveable. Keep it real.
twinwillowsfarm at gmail dot com

Fred Warren said...

That's a great point, Pegg. Character growth/transformation has to be natural, or it won't be credible. In my stories, the main character and his family experienced a life-changing trauma in the first book, and in the second, part of what I'm doing is looking in on them five years later to see how they're coping. Healing can be a slow process. Some things they thought were settled are not. One character was a child in the first book and is now a teenager trying to make sense of things she simply accepted when she was younger.

Writing speculative fiction (light modern fantasy in this case), I have to be especially careful not to cross the often fine line between fantastic and far-fetched, both with the characters and the things that happen in the story. While the reader understands going in that we're walking in the realm of imagination, where the impossible might be possible, I still have to be consistent within the rules I've established and not presume too much on my reader's willing suspension of disbelief


Caprice Hokstad said...

I agree with Pegg and Fred. It has to be at least as good as the first book, and that can be hard if people loved the first one. I also find it very challenging to write the second book in a way that doesn't assume knowledge of the first one. I cannot personally imagine reading a sequel before the orignal. Who in their right mind would do that? But then I once committed to review a book I did not realize was a sequel and I didn't have time to go back and read the first book, so I guess it happens, and you have to write as stand-alone, but it's not an optimal situation. It's tough to balance sprinkling in the details that a reader needs from the previous story without boring the people who actually read it (and who hopefully are the majority of your audience). Not easy.

Thanks for the lovely interview. I loved "The Muse" (see my April 2010blog for review) and am looking forward to "The Seer"!

Greg Mitchell said...

Great post. Excited to see a sequel to "The Muse". I'm really interested to find out where you take it :)

SherryT said...

Hi, Fred! I found reading about your experiences in writing The Muse vs The Seer fascinating. I know where you're coming from from my own experiences with Seabird, Earthbow and now "The Behemoth".

Amongst other things, you wrote:

Their problems and ambitions were different.
Yes, everybody grows and changes. This is not necessarily something that all writers take into account, much to the loss of the continuing story. Children grow up. Older characters get evening older. People's experiences turn them away from certain activities or toward other ones. People who just met in the first book fall in love or now dislike each other after five more years of living in the same town. Essentially, all bets are off.

my audience was also different.
I would have to orient new readers to my universe without boring the loyal folks who were familiar with it.

Oh, ain't that the truth! There is nothing messier in my opinion that trying to write for both the old reader & the new one who is unfamiliar with your characters, their experiences or their world.
Avoiding the "As you know, Bob" for backstory is a huge challenge for me.

Thanks for the post. What a great reminder that writers of sequels are not alone. We all face the same challenges.

Rick Copple said...

I was going to say that the sequel needed to be as good or better, preferably the later, but someone already mentioned that.

I will say, having written a two-book series, a three-book series, and just finished the second of a planned five (min) book series, I think there comes a point if your series is very long that it becomes impossible to effectively sprinkle everything that's gone before to catch a reader up. Think what J.K. Rowling would have needed to put into her seventh book to do that? In a long series, you only bring forth that the reader will need to make senses of this story. Once you get beyond three books, I think that is the tactic to take, and the reader will simply have to read them in order to get the full punch.

Fred Warren said...

Caprice: I suppose it might also be an opportunity to give the unfamiliar reader incentive to seek out the first book.

Greg: Thanks! If you come back and answer the question, you could be one of the very first people to find out. :) Tiff insists you answer the question for your comment to qualify as an entry. :)

Sherry: Yeah, I live in mortal terror of the "As You Know, Bob." I've tried to be more subtle than that, using more internal dialogue, conversations between new and old characters, or addressing common experiences between characters from new angles. I hope I've been successful.

Rick: That's a great observation. I don't foresee this story going beyond three books, but I agree--beyond that point you have to assume a reasonable level of familiarity from the reader.

Carol Moncado said...

I agree that the sequel has to be as good or better than the original. Toy Story is a fabulous example of this. I'd be hard pressed to pick a favorite - I love them all for different reasons. I hope Disney/Pixar is able to keep that up with Cars [this year] and Monsters Inc [next year].

Other sequels [usually the Disney-straight-to-video/dvd/whatevers] aren't quite so good. My local Walmart has a sign for Pure Country 2. Um... I'm not sure I see the point. It was a decent movie, but sequel? Really?

Currently, I have my first MS with an editor. If that doesn't work out, I'll begin officially querying it. It's the first of a 5 book series [originally] that may expand to 7, but they're not all dependent on each other. The two newest [as they've come to me demanding to be written] aren't in the main timeline at all - one is a character who is minor at best and takes place in between two books with the main family - and has little to nothing to do with it except that the character is the same.

In my original list, 2 and 3 cover the same time frame as 4 and part of 5, but a different couple - a family member who is acting odd, but you don't know why till you see it from her POV. If that makes sense.

However, for me, currently, the toughest thing is knowing that no one may want THIS particular sequel. It's the book I've wanted to write for nearly a decade, but a friend convinced me to write 'what happened before that'. But in between a bunch of bad stuff [read: life] has happened to the main characters and I don't know that anyone will want that. Book 1 ends with an HEA, but the beginning of book 2 destroys it...

If that makes sense?


I tend to agree though - the longer the series, the more you just have to say 'hope you've read it all, otherwise figure it out as you go along'.

carol at carolmoncado dot com

Dawn Ford said...

I am unpublished right now (MS is at the publishers and I patiently await word.) and am just beginning to write a second book. The first started off for being written for my kids and it turned out better than I thought it would and so I took it to conference last September. Now, the hardest part for me is that I originally wrote the first in Brazil. I have the main character returning home to the US. It does have to be as good as the first one, but this one will be tougher because I have switched locations. That will be my biggest challenge.

dawnford001 at msn dot com

Sally Bradley said...

I never thought of writing like If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. Made me laugh! The Muse is on my reading list and I'm hoping to buy my own copy soon.

Lelia said...

For me, the hardest thing is remembering what I wrote a couple years ago. I have to go back and recheck names and appearances constantly.
About reading the sequel first: Since I get most of my sf books from the GoodWill Out(something, aphasia, sorry) Store, I usually read the sequel first.
Oh, and if you are wondering how someone with aphasia can write books: I leave a lot of () when I can't recall a noun, and when I find the noun an hour or days later, I go back and put it in.

Karina Fabian said...

For me as a writer, keeping track of the universe details from one book to the next is my biggest challenge. It's easy in the first couple of sequels, but for a series or where you have the world in stories and books, you need to keep a Bible.

What's even more fun is when the stories don't come to you in linear time.

For my DragonEye, PI universe, I had to create a timeline and put each in its proper place. I had the worse time figuring out the years until I found my benchmark--a side character has a big family, so I went by how old the kids were. Good thing Jerry Costa usually gets at least a mention.

Great post, Fred--and the Muse was a great book. I'd love to review the Seer!

Fred Warren said...

Carol: That's one of the scariest parts for me--sequels so often do disappoint. Good luck with your MS and series. Families make a great centerpiece for any story--lots of conflict, powerful emotions, constant change, and readers can really identify with the characters and their strugggles.

Dawn: That's a big challenge, but what an opportunity, too! Having spent some time overseas, I know there are so many complex things happening when someone has to re-integrate upon their return home. Good luck!

Sally: I could have written an entire parody book--"When You Give an Editor Your Manuscript..."

Lelia: That's amazing, and inspirational. I often struggle to find the right word (then replace it three or four times), but nothing like that.

Karina: I'm lucky this series is set close to home, so my universe isn't too complex yet, though the timeline definitely becomes a factor in the second book, when my characters are trying to reconstruct the history of an object they find. I expect I'll be needing that bible to keep book 3 straight--there's going to be a lot of history in that one. :)

I'll probably take you up on that review offer in a few months. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I'll have to respond as a reader as I don't have my first book published yet, let alone a sequel of any kind in the works.

If it's a true sequel and not just Book 2 of an ongoing 100 book epic, then I think that it's finding a worthy theme and plot for the already established characters without rehashing too much already used material. I've seen excellent characters get misused the second go round just because the plot and theme did nothing and they had zilch to work with. I've also seen great characters with a decent enough second plot and theme that basically redid all the actions of the first book with a new setting and I stopped reading halfway through.

As a reader, you need to show me that you can do things different this time. Doesn't mean that you throw out any catch phrase of this one character that he or she said on a regular basis in the previous novel, or suddenly make the cigar chomper a tobacco chewer just to have change. Show me a new situation with new challenges that keep the characters growing and entertaining to me the reader that don't practically repeat anything that came before (unless it's planned and you better damn well do it right!) or you'll bore me and I won't be reading any more sequels, although I might try another original story by you.

I hope this answers the question well enough for you.

Be encouraged,

David James

beyondthecharts at beyondthecharts dot com

Fred Warren said...


Thanks for the advice! Looks like I've got some spittoons to edit out... :)