An Embarrassment of Riches

I never thought I’d be in a situation where I had to decide which book to write first, but that’s where I’ve found myself over the last week.

On one hand, there’s Emmeline, who has taken more than a year to mature enough in my head to be ready to come to the page.

On the other hand, there’s Lyra, the heroine of the book I finished writing this spring, and her further adventures. Until recently, Lyra’s story wasn’t ready. My strength is in the character-driven story, the interactions between people and the decisions they make, and Lyra’s story is moving from a very character-centric story in book one to a character acting in a very political world in book two. Never having written political machinations (though I’ve read stories that do it very well), I’m in new territory with Lyra’s future, and I didn’t want to rush into the sequel just to get it done without having any idea what my characters were heading into.

My readiness to start writing another book coincided with feedback from my early readers on SIREN – and all of the feedback was good. Everyone liked it, and wanted to know what was going to happen next. So I lost some sleep over wondering whether I should make them happy by writing the sequel right away rather than giving Emmeline her turn, Emmeline who has been admirably patient for a fourteen-year-old.

Ultimately, I decided to stick with Emmy for now. Lyra’s story will continue to bloom in the background, and she’ll be ready to adventure again once Emmeline’s story is written. I’m excited about this one – Emmy is my youngest protagonist yet, and it’s been fun to try and remember things about the first day of high school to color her world.

And I’ve been lucky yet again – I started Emmeline’s story with the least idea of the characters that surround the protagonist. But I’ve found that when I run, the bricks fly up to meet my feet, and I’m running on ground that builds itself just in time. Characters are showing up and interacting, with more complexity than I ever would have expected for people who just popped up in my brain when I needed them. But popping up they are, and each of them is a person I can’t wait to get to know. Well, one of them is annoying. But he’s supposed to be. And they are all, so far, delightful to write and to imagine.

One of my favorite quotes on writing comes from Neil Gaiman, who said in response to the age-old “where do you get your ideas” question:

YOU GET IDEAS FROM DAYDREAMING. YOU GET IDEAS FROM BEING BORED. YOU GET IDEAS ALL THE TIME. THE ONLY DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WRITERS AND OTHER PEOPLE IS WE NOTICE WHEN WE’RE DOING IT.”

Here’s something I’ve learned – it’s completely true. And it compounds. The more you open up and pay attention, the more things you’ll notice. The more things you notice, the more “toys” you have to throw together and see how they play together. It’s much more interesting to take Barbies away from Barbies and see, for example, how they interact with StarCom guys. (Seriously, please tell me I’m not the only person who remembers StarCom. Magnetic feet, amirite?!)

The more ideas you have knocking around in your brain, the more you pay attention and ask “what if,” the more you’ll find new connections emerging. Sometimes old threads will snap back with new life when you hear a new phrase or a certain kind of laugh or a word pronounced in an unfamiliar way. ANYTHING can cause a spark, but you have to hold on and follow; otherwise, you lose it.

And that’s where I’m at now – two stories in my head, equally loud, at the same time. I’m not even going to try to write two at once and keep them both straight, but I know that Lyra’s story will percolate and develop as I’m working on Emmeline’s, and by the time Emmy’s story is told, Lyra’s should be ripe for picking back up. And who knows? If I pay enough attention, maybe they’ll even spark off each other.

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