Mark Stevens is another one of those Colorado authors I love to talk about. As member and Program Chair of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, he already has a big job putting together together the excellent monthly programs for RMFW. On top of that, he has a real job in the real world (as opposed to the writing world which is surreal). And in his spare time, he writes mysteries.
Antler Dust is a top notch story with a well-drawn protagonist. I'm looking forward to another good read in Buried by the Roan.
Writing a Sequel by Mark Stevens, Guest Blogger
Writing a sequel scared me to the deep, dark core.
The process was a mystery.
How would I make sure my main character changed but…stayed consistent?
How would I keep the story moving…and not let it bog down in back story?
For the two or three people out there who have not yet read Antler's Dust how would I explain how the central protagonist, hunting guide Allison Coil, came to live in the Flat Tops Wilderness?
And (gulp, gasp, ack) what would I do for a plot that would be different…but not too different?
I didn’t have much of a choice. Readers seemed to respond to Allison. She’s tough. She’s outdoorsy. She’s fearless. (I was about to have her back shoulder inked in a dragon tattoo, but then, oh well. Never mind.)
So I needed to bring her back. Okay, well, the truth: I liked her. I wanted to keep her around, too. I wanted to throw some more trouble her way and see how she handled it.
So, what’s a writer to do? How about start with the masters?
Like Nevada Barr, Lee Child, Stephen Hamilton or Ruth Rendell?
I studied. I read. I studied some more. If you read a mystery novel with this particular issue in mind, you notice that most of the character information in a sequel (drum roll, please) comes through character revelations. I tend to prefer writers who don’t put a “stop” sign in the middle of the plot and halt for a few paragraphs (or pages) of background. Those stop signs are like the writer pressing “pause” on the movie projector and stepping out into a spotlight by the stage and saying, “before we go on, you need to know about this one thing that happened to her (or him) back when our hero (or heroine) was a naïve child.” (Or something to that effect).
I like stories that slip this information into your head as deftly as a new, hidden tax on your cell phone bill. I like the information subtle. I want it feathered in. I want just enough, no more.
I’m not saying it’s easy. It’s still so utterly tempting to put up the stop sign and let the back-story spill. But I noticed with Barr, Child, Hamilton & Rendell that they trust the reader. They might mention a few key details, but they don’t whack you over the head with a cast-iron frying pan. If anything, the good ones err on the side of too little information.
And then it occurred to me that my favorite television shows—the episodic ones—don’t spend a moment on back story. Think about it.
(I’m going to show my age here, but still, think about it.)
Kojak. Columbo. Perry Mason. Hawaii 5-0 (Jack Lord style).
These are episodes involving the same character and the back-story is just a fact of life for those who might want to dig deeper or start with the pilot.
Most readers want story, which means that the events keep moving. Less back-story quicksand, more grease. More action. They want a reason to turn the page, not reach for the No-Doz.
So I plunged ahead. The result is the sequel, Buried by the Roan. It sends Allison into the fray over fracking (hydraulic fracturing for natural gas) and a neighborly (i.e., bitter) land-grab case using a little-known Colorado law called “adverse possession.”
She is still Allison.
There’s a bit of “old” information.
I tried to weave it in so it’s not too obvious.
Most of all, I tried to keep Allison moving and thinking, being herself.
Mark, thanks so much for being my guest today. As you know, fracking is a major topic of discussion in my corner of Northern Colorado. Hardly a day goes by without a new article in the paper detailing the debates and protests. Buried by the Roan should be a bestseller in this part of the country.
For a list of Mark's upcoming appearances, visit the Events page of his website. You can also find a short synopsis of each book and an excellent bunch of reviews.