14 April, 2015

Guest Post - Betsy Dornbusch on "Writing Sequels"

I'm happy to have Betsy Dornbusch on the blog again (see her article on the Writing Process). She's here today to talk about writing sequels, as I guess you may have guessed from the title of this post, you clever devils.

And Betsy would know all about writing sequels as the sequel to her debut, Exile, just came out last week - Emissary:

Here, she takes us into the writing process once again and looks at what it's like going back to the world she created in the first book.


Writing Sequels
Betsy Dornbusch

            Writing a sequel is a really big topic because Emissary is such a big book (for me, anyway). At a 140K words, it’s bigger than Exile by 50%, and the book is a sort of trilogy all on its own because it’s sectioned into three parts: Draken in his new home, Draken traveling to his old home, and then back to his new home in a mad dash to defend it against invasion.

            The world of the Seven Eyes is also a big one, but I think you don’t get the sense of just how big it is in Exile. Draken, exiled (duh), doesn’t think too much about his old home except in comparison to the  new one. He’s still in shock from all that happened and dwelling on memories isn’t conducive to staying alive. His new country, Akrasia, has little to remind him of his old, Monoea. It isn’t an old country, nor is it crowded. The biggest Akrasian city isn’t a quarter of the size of Sevenfel in Monoea, the one Draken grew up in. And shifting from a nation of single ethnicity in which he is an outlier to a melting pot kingdom where he actually fits in without much trouble is a big enough adjustment for one book.

           At the start of Emissary Draken is about as recovered from the trauma of being exiled as he’s ever going to get (he suffers from depression). But when soldiers from his old country invade and demand he return home, he knows it means certain death. Unfortunately, they’ve got more than one secret to hold over his head. Going back is a selfless act; his queen, a child on the way, and the well-being of his country are all at stake. But when he gets to Monoea he realized the leaders there have even bigger concerns.

            The plot isn’t at all straightforward, either, and lends itself to some sprawl. There are too many factions with opposing goals, and we only get a limited picture of each with the entire story being in Draken’s point of view. Plot points in the story, as was noted in an early review, tend to fold back on themselves. I guess it’s natural; the whole story is one of Draken having to fold himself back into his past. In a way, Emissary is two stories: one of the present day and one of Draken’s past.

            Such a big story has myriad subplots: love interests, relationships gone askew, running jokes, a cast to keep track of, and an ever-growing body of magic. I found the magic the toughest to manage, because I had to one-up Exile. I knew in each book Draken would be gifted magic from the gods. Draken is a believer but not faithful, and he doesn’t view any of it as much of a gift. He has a tendency to turn his magic on people he shouldn’t and use it in ways the gods never intended. When they give him a necromantic sword in Exile, he has mostly disdain and then uses as a mere tool, ignoring the gods’ favor that comes along with it until forced.

           A minor spoiler for Emissary, one I feel comfortable sharing because it’s on the first page: Draken becomes self-healing. This could be a small, limited gift, but the way it manifests is not. These are big gifts: a sword with the power to give death and life, the ability to heal oneself. Really, they’re as big as the story itself. Keeping the magic in consistent use with a growing tension was one of my biggest challenges in writing this sequel.

            And then of course I’ve spent a lot of time working out how Emissary informs the last installment of the Books of the Seven Eyes. Draken emerges from the sequel cleansed of his old past but saddled with new truths and damage. Fortunately, I tend to plot. That helps.

           A trilogy is an intimidating project. I found writing the bridge piece, the sequel, a major challenge. A sequel does more than further the overall story arc, it has to lead to the next book, increase stakes and tension, grow the characters, but not finish them, and yet leave the readers satisfied they’ve read a complete story with its own subplots and resolution. But it has its advantages, too. The world is mostly established, though we might get to see more of it. Characters are developed and relationships can be deepened rather than launched. There’s a definite satisfaction in returning to beloved worlds. I hope you enjoy returning to the world of Seven Eyes as much as I did.


Betsy Dornbusch is the author of several short stories, novellas, and novels. In addition to speaking at numerous conventions and teaching writing classes, she has spent the last decade editing the online magazine Electric Spec and writing on her website Sex Scenes at Starbucks (betsydornbusch.com). She and her family split their time between Boulder and Grand Lake, Colorado.

Links for ordering Emissary (Seven Eyes, Book 2):

02 April, 2015

Review - The Black Company (Black Company #1) by Glen Cook

Quick review: Think Malazan Book of the Fallen, but focusing only on the marines. Sounds good right?

Especially given the fact that MBotF is one of my all-time favorite series and the marines were always my favorite parts. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying I enjoyed this more, but I can't help but make the comparison and think it a good one. Don't ask me how my mind works, I obviously don't have a clue.

The comparison also makes sense because this series was influential on Erikson's MBotF. They're completely different, but the cynicism is definitely there in this mercenary band (I'm talking about The Black Company now) and it doesn't hold your hand as you're getting acquainted with the book.

As a big Malazan fan, I'm also a huge fan of authors that let you struggle. Authors that trust the intelligence of their readers, that they'll get it, they'll figure things out, and they'll be rewarded by it as well.

I think the part where The Black Company diverges quite a bit from the Malazan world is that where Malazan is vast, The Black Company is not. The limited viewpoint, following the first person account of Croaker (Crokus anyone?) who's both the company healer and historian, definitely holds back the worldbuilding, but I'm not complaining either. Just noting. And that's not to say it's not vast, you just don't get a sense of the world as much when you only follow a single person. I'm sure the world expands as the series progresses.

Overall, this was a really fun book. It's not black and white, you don't even really know if The Black Company is fighting for the right side, but that's what makes it good. They're just trying to make it through their commission.

Plus, there are some great, zany characters, like One-Eye and Goblin, who magically duel each other constantly, pranking each other with the most ridiculous things and then having more ridiculous things gobble up the previous ridiculous things. It's just great fun.

Croaker, the narrator as I mentioned, has a great voice. He takes his job seriously, but there's no pretense either. I can't wait to read more from the annals of the Black Company.

4 out of 5 Stars (highly recommended)