Sequels: Their Pleasures and Perils

Every writer knows the moment: you finish a book, hit send, lean back with a mixture of exhaustion and exhilaration.  Done!  Goodbye and good luck, dear book.

But breaking up is hard to do. You and your characters have had a long term relationship. They’ve kept you up at night, accompanied you on your walks, made you miss your turn as you drove.  You’ve made some bad things happen to them, and they’ve surprised you with their shenanigans.  Maybe you’ve written the last chapter, but they haven’t gotten the hint. They’re still hanging around your head.

The end of What Happened on Fox Street left my hero, Mo Wren, balanced on the cusp of many things. Would she really have to leave the place she loved best in the world?  Would she trust her father again?  Would her sister, the Wild Child, ever come to accept underwear?

An image took form in my head: a smooth-skinned nut that swung apart on a little woody hinge. Open, it was two meaty halves, but closed it formed a whole.  I wanted to answer Mo’s questions.  I wanted to find her a true home.  And, bonus–I was sure it would be easy!  I knew her and the other characters inside out.  The book would more or less write itself!

Ha.  Ha ha!  Speaking of nuts!

First came the dilemma of whether the second book would be a “stand-alone”.  I definitely hoped for this.  As a children’s librarian, I’ve seen too many kids reject a book because it’s # 2 and #1 isn’t on the shelf.  But writing a stand-alone meant I had to shoe-horn in a lot of back-story without getting in the way of the new story.  I had to jettison some old characters, or at the most give them a cameo.  That made me worry about disappointing kids who’d read the first book, and expected more mayhem from the Baggott Brothers, more mystery from Mrs. Steinbott.  Tricky business.

Even more challenging was discovering that Mo and the gang had gone and changed on me.  We’ve all seen kids morph before our eyes. They grow taller, hairier, fatter or more bony.  They get shyer or bolder, discover a new talent and lose an old friend, startle themselves and you.  So unless you’re going to freeze your characters in time, a la Family Circus, you’ve got skittery new dynamics. Writing the sequel was like a reunion with dear friends I hadn’t seen for a while.  Some things remained constant, but just as much had shifted. And when you’re talking about family, even one member changing effects all the rest.

In the end, I had as many or more things to figure out with book two as I did book one.   Which is okay, because any book that writes itself is a book not to be trusted.  But writing the sequel turned out to be so hard, I was curious to see how some other authors have done it.

Savvy and Scumble, by Ingrid Law

These are properly called companions rather than sequels, since the second book stars a different character from the first. No matter! Kids who loved the adventures of Mibs will adore the chaos that ensues when cousin Ledge comes into his own, havoc-wreaking power.  Can he learn to control, or scumble, it? (Scumble is an example of the inventive language that enlivens and links both books.) The twisty plot features enough explosions to keep the most reluctant boy reader riveted. These books stand alone, but are twice the fun together.

Nory Ryan’s Song and Maggie’s Door by Patricia Reilly Giff

It’s impossible to finish Nory Ryan’s Song, the story of an Irish girl and her family during the potato famine, without wanting to know what happens next.  Giff answers the question wisely and compassionately in Maggie’s Door, which follows the family odyssey to America.  Young readers will be stirred by the immigrants’ courage and hope, and absorb a lot of history along the way.  Just sayin': Giff has long been among my favorite middle grade writers.

My One Hundred Adventures and Northward to the Moon, by Polly Horvath

Horvath’s quirky, winsome voice is perfect for Jane Fielding, a girl with an eye for life’s wonders. In the first book Jane prays for 100 adventures, and though she only gets 14, those turns out to be more than enough. In the second, her family embarks on a long, bumpy road trip, and Jane at last discovers that she doesn’t want “adventures to get away from things.  I wanted adventures to get to things.”  The voice in the second book has a drollness that seems a precursor of the woman Jane is fast becoming.  Because the second book builds on back story, reading them in order is most rewarding.

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda and Darth Paper Strikes Back, by Tom Angleburger

What writer doesn’t want to hear “This begs for a sequel”?  Angleburger heard it plenty after Origami Yoda struck a chord with kids who love Star Wars, kids who love origami, and kids who love both.  In the first book, a hapless middle schooler communicates with classmates through his paper Yoda finger puppet.  Who knows what will transpire when bad guy Darth Paper makes the scene this coming summer?

As we do with true friends, I hung in there with my sequel.  Just today—ta da!—I turned in the copy-edited pages of Mo Wren, Lost and Found. Here I sit, warm and content, gazing out my wintry window, wondering– just a little– what Mo’s doing right now, if maybe she’s getting impatient to plant those vegetable seeds, or is on her way to the Soap Opera Laundromat, or…

Tricia Springstubb is done with Mo!  She swears it on a big bowl of nuts! Please share your own favorite sequel or companion books below.

22 Responses to Sequels: Their Pleasures and Perils

  1. Let’s not forget Sharon Creech’s companion novels, Ruby Holler and Chasing Redbird – and I think she has other companion books too.
    She’s amazing, that one!

  2. I’m really excited for Okay For Now (Gary Schmidt) coming this April, a companion to The Wednesday Wars.

  3. Tom Angleberger

    Thanks for including me in this. My big question isn’t the sequel, but “how far will it go?”

    One of my favorite items along these lines is from Wilkie Collins. (I’ll withhold the name of the book to prevent Spoilers.)

    I read a book of his which really seemed to call for a sequel. But he hadn’t written one. I found a quote where he explained that he would have done it but knew that if he did the plot would demand that he kill the girl. So he “saved” her by not continuing her story.

  4. Laurie Schneider

    I’m looking forward to hearing more about Mo, Tricia. Fox Street was one of my favorite books of the year and the first my daughter bought for her Kindle. Some of my favorite “companion” novels are Jordan Sonnenblick’s DRUMS, GIRLS, AND DANGEROUS PIE and AFTER EVER AFTER. I also love Kerry Madden’s GENTLE’S HOLLER and the other Maggie Valley books about the Weems family. Oh…and the two Penderwick books.

    Tricia Springstubb Reply:

    @Laurie Schneider, Thank you!!! I’m adding Sonnenblick to my list right now.

    Laurie Schneider Reply:

    @Tricia Springstubb, Hope you enjoy them, Tricia. The Sonnenblick books are true companion novels. On the other hand, I’m happy to hear there will be more Penderwick adventures.

  5. I just received a copy of Gary Schmidt’s new novel, Okay for Now, due out in April, a companion to one of my all-time favorites- The Wednesday Wars.

    I laughed most of the way through that one, when I wasn’t sighing with delight. The new companion (I think his publisher calls it) tells a different character’s story. I’m crossing my fingers I’ll love it as much. Because I sure was looking forward to hearing more from ole’ Holling Hoodhood and I do not want to be disappointed. So far, Holling has made only a tiny appearance in the new book.

    Tricia Springstubb Reply:

    @Augusta Scattergood, I’ve read great reviews of Okay For Now. It’s high on my to-read list.

  6. I haven’t even read “What Happened on Fox Street” (I actually went to buy it last weekend at Borders and they were sold out! Bummer for me, but good for you!!) and I can’t wait to read the sequel!

    Tricia Springstubb Reply:

    @Laura Marcella, Oh wow, thanks for that news!

  7. Oh, I know from personal experience how hard writing a sequel is! I thought it was going to be easier, since the characters and setting are already there. It it So. Not. Easier.

    But I do think there are different kinds of series books, and each has its own challenges during the writing process. You can have what I call true series books–where you really could read the stories out of order and it wouldn’t make a difference (think Nancy Drew or practically any other mystery book out there). The bulk of what is written today, though, is the sequel or trilogy (or quadrilogy, or quint-, hex-, or septilogy), which is really one story spread out between two or more books (Harry Potter, anyone?). There are also companion books like you mentioned (Savvy and Scumble, two of my favorites), and some are none of the above. For example, the Edge Chronicles is really several trilogies combined together. The Chronicles of Narnia is really one very long story told out of order.

    Each of these would be different to write, but still rewarding. And all of them are fun to read!

    Tricia Springstubb Reply:

    @Elissa Cruz, I really wanted to mention The Penderwicks, but a third volume is coming out soon, and I tried to stick to a strict definition of ‘sequel’.

  8. Karen Schwartz

    I like when books are more of a companion than a sequel. Like Savvy and Scumble, focused on a different character but shares a lot of the same world.

    Tricia Springstubb Reply:

    @Karen Schwartz, I know! It gives that world both new depth and an expansive feel.

  9. I love your comment: any book that writes itself is not to be trusted!!!

    So true!

    Tricia Springstubb Reply:

    @sarah aronson, When it comes too easily, I get really nervous.

  10. I love sequels by my favorite authors. What bugs me about trying new series is sometimes the book store shelves don’t have the entire series from the beginning. I don’t want to start with anything but Book 1!

    Tricia Springstubb Reply:

    @Wendy, And so many kids feel exactly like you.

  11. Katie Schneider

    In the Clementine vein, our family loves Megan McDonald’s Stink. Taking a character from one book and making him shine in his own individual piece seems like one of those “oh, that’ll be easy enough” ideas that could go terribly wrong.

    Tricia Springstubb Reply:

    @Katie Schneider, There’s going to be a Judy Moody film this summer!

  12. SO looking forward to spending more time with Mo! And I have two boys clamoring for Darth Paper. For books and sequels, I love the Clementine books. They definitely stand alone, but that bright voice and outlook on life carry through each book.

    Tricia Springstubb Reply:

    @Wendy Shang, Clementine is already a classic, and I think you’re right, Wendy–it’s her voice that sets her apart.