I tried to read Winds of Khalakovo three times before it finally hooked me. I figure that was for two reasons. One, I tried reading the trade paperback first, and that damn thing was more akin to Clue murder weapon than novel. Being a big “in bed” reader, it wasn’t easy to hold up. Once I made the switch to the electronic version, I was able to really tuck into it. Second, Beaulieu doesn’t take a lot of time to ease the reader into things, jumping quickly into the main narrative.
By the time the first book in my series, The Winds of Khalakovo, came out in April of 2011, I was already well on the way to finishing the first draft of The Straits of Galahesh. I didn’t yet have the fear in me that I do now. Fear, you say? Yes, the fear that your book is out of your control when it hits the streets. (Actually, it’s out of your control a good bit before that, but that’s a story for another post.) I was writing as if I were an unpublished writer. Sure, I was mindful about my deadlines, but I’d already developed a steady writing rhythm. I’d planned out the writing of the book almost down to the day, so I wasn’t worried about that.
Everything changed, however, as my new reality sunk in and I realized just how much control I was giving up. Not only could I not change Book 1 at all, the very fact that Book 1 was locked down meant my options with respect to Book 2 were now more limited. I could no longer go back and tweak or adjust for some new idea I’d come up with. Book 1 had suddenly become backstory, and that changed the way I wrote. I was much more careful (or tried to be) about teasing out the story threads from Book 1 and into Book 2, and also about looking ahead to set up Book 3 over the course of Book 2.
There’s another interesting facet of this problem I came across. Or an intensification, if you will. Book 2 of a trilogy (clearly) is not the end. There’s still room to maneuver the story once that book is written, because the overall arc hasn’t yet been completed. Now that I’m well into the third book, The Flames of Shadam Khoreh, I’m seeing another, similar tightening of options. Book 3 is final. It’s absolute. You have to pull everything together to make the entire story one, cohesive whole. The pressure has ramped up even higher, and I find myself nail-biting as I prepare to turn in the manuscript to my editor and alpha readers. It’s not to the point that I’m petrified. I don’t have writers block. But I find myself worried that any change I make to the story is going to screw everything up.
This isn’t true, of course. The only way I can really screw up is by not being honest about what the story needs. And I have to remember that most writers feel this way at one time or another, and that the way to solve the problem is not by freaking out, but by finding my center—or, more accurately, finding the center of this story, the heart of it, the place that made me want to write it in the first place. And that, frankly, is the key to any book, be it a standalone or the tenth in a series. You must immerse yourself not in thewriting but in the story, because it’s there that the very best writing comes out.
If there’s any lesson to be learned here, I think it’s this: all sorts of pressures arise over the course of your writing career—some expected, some unexpected–—and they all present their own unique challenges. The most important thing is to remember that writing is art. You’re writing something only you can write, and that’s a gift. Treasure that and surround yourself with your tale. Lose yourself in it so that the story—the most important part of your writing career by far—gets the focus and attention it deserves.
You can find Bradley P. Beaulieu on the web and Twitter. Be sure to visit the former to learn more about The Lays of Anuskaya series. By day Beaulieu is a software engineer, but by night he drinks White Russians and hums Tchaikovsky while writing. Only the first half of that is true.
Come back later today for an excerpt from The Straits of Galahesh, the second book in the Lays of Anuskaya!