Happy Anniversary, James and Sarah: Her Dear and Loving Husband is Five Years Old

I love the covers for all of the Loving Husband books. They do a great job capturing the vampire/gothic feel of the novels. I can hardly believe this as I write it, but last week marked the fifth anniversary of the publication of Her Dear & Loving Husband. As of this writing, more than 200,000 copies of Her Dear & Loving Husband have been bought or downloaded (mostly downloaded since the novel has been perma-free most of its life). Thanks to some Very Nice People at wattpad.com, Her Dear & Loving Husband was recently added to their Featured List in Vampire Fiction. Prior to being added to the Featured List, HDLH had about 5,000 reads, which by itself is not too shabby. In the past three weeks, 21,5000 new readers have found James and Sarah’s story of eternal love, making a total of 26,500 readers on Wattpad, and that number is growing every day. It makes my heart glad to know that James and Sarah are finding new fans even after five years.

I’ve just finished revisiting HDLH as a way to celebrate the story’s anniversary. As funny as this might sound, I had forgotten how much I love James and Sarah. While I reread Her Dear & Loving Husband, I made a few editing changes, but not as many as I would have expected. I wouldn’t say my writing has changed drastically in the past five years, but there are a few things I’ve improved along the way. I’ve never been a fan of dialogue tags, and I’ve always tried to use them as little as possible. I think it’s more effective to set up the conversations so the reader can follow without having to point out who’s talking. I’m planning a series of posts about writing dialogue for May, but for now I’ll say the fewer dialogue tags the better. Even though I didn’t use a lot of dialogue tags in the earlier version of HDLH, I used them more than I do now so I deleted a number of he saids and she saids. I tightened up a few sentences because I’ve become better at adhering to my “no extra words” rule. I think even James and Sarah superfans will have a hard time spotting the changes, but I felt like, well, I’m rereading the book anyway, I might as well make whatever edits I think are necessary.

Happy fifth anniversary, James and Sarah Wentworth.

 

 

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Do You Have Any Tips for Writing the Second Novel in a Series?

As of yesterday, I officially survived my first term as a doctoral student. One term down, only seven to go! I have a few weeks to replenish my brain cells with some much needed rest, and then in the middle of January it’s back to it. For now, here are some thoughts I had while writing the second book in the Loving Husband Trilogy, Her Loving Husband’s Curse.

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Whenever I have a new writing task ahead of me, something I haven’t done before, the first thing I do is seek information from writers who have traveled that road before. There’s a benefit to searching out tips and hints since others have already been there, done that, whatever that is you’re doing at the moment. It’s important to learn from others, sit at their feet and listen to what they have to say about their experiences, their mistakes, and their successes, like Luke Skywalker learning from the wisdom of  Yoda (I’m not implying that writers are small, green, and heavily wrinkled—though I can think of a few that fit that description). I learned how to open myself up and not become stifled when writing a first draft by reading Natalie Goldberg and Anne Lamott. There is a ton of information—countless articles and books—about how to write a novel. But what do these experts have to say about writing the second novel in a series?

There’s a fair amount of information about how to write a second novel that is just a second novel—in other words, unrelated in any way to the first novel. An unrelated second novel can and should be written in a different style, with different characters, different situations. For myself, I found an unrelated next novel easier to write than the second novel in a series. Her Dear & Loving Husband wasn’t my first novel, you see. Victory Garden, Woman of Stones, and My Brother’s Battle were all written before Her Dear & Loving Husband was published. Since each novel was completely different (different historical periods, different situations, different voices), I could approach it in a fresh way and not feel tied down by expectations created by the previous story.

A second novel in a series, on the other hand, is a completely different animal. It should have the same style, the same theme, and a related plot. Often, though not always, it has the same characters. How do you give readers what they loved about the first book while keeping them guessing so they’re surprised by characters they’ve already come to know and hopefully love? That’s the million dollar question when it comes to writing the second book in a series.

Part of the reason I struggled when I began writing Her Loving Husband’s Curse was because I couldn’t find much information about the problems specific to writing a second novel in a series. With a lack of any hard evidence about what works and what doesn’t, I felt like I was largely on my own. Still, I pressed on and struggled through, missing the sage advice I’ve relied on whenever I encountered a new writing challenge. From the few sources I found, one common theme that echoed throughout was how the second novel needs to be “the same but different.” I agree. But how do I accomplish that?

A while back Joanna Penn’s excellent website The Creative Penn featured an interview with Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris, authors of the London steampunk novel Phoenix Rising: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences. I’m paraphrasing here, but one of the aspects of writing a series they talked about was that each book should have its own story yet there should be an over-arching theme that ties the pieces together. They also mention having a dangling plot thread which shows readers that there’s a larger plot throughout the books. As I wrote Her Loving Husband’s Curse, I found this to be true. It helped me to think of the books in my trilogy as being part of one larger story. This way the theme is evident throughout, and the plot feels connected because it follows through each subsequent book. If you’d like to read or listen to the interview, click here.

I also looked to see what other writers have done with their second books. This tip is obvious, though it didn’t occur to me right away. I’m a little slow sometimes. Try reading the second book in several series from different authors to see how the authors handled the transition from book to book. I chose to read the first and second books if I hadn’t read the series before since I wanted to see how the author moved from book one to book two. How much information from the first book does the author use? How does the plot flow from book one to book two, or were they seemingly unrelated or only loosely related? How do the characters change and grow? What is the common thread that binds the stories together? For myself, I only looked at novels that featured the same characters in each book since in my series you’ll see the same cast throughout the trilogy. If the plot in book two seemed unrelated to the plot in book one, I tended not to like book two as much, but that’s simply my personal taste.

Okay, so in this case—writing the second novel in a series—there might not be a ton of information, but we can always look to see how other authors have handled the problem with their own series. If you find a great resource on writing the second novel in a series, or if you have some tips for other writers because you’ve written a series yourself, then share by all means. One of the things I love about being a writer is how we all learn from each other.

Can You Feel It? Writing Scene Sequels

The book was originally known as The Vampire's Wife. I'm glad I went with Her Dear & Loving Husband.

Originally known as The Vampire’s Wife. I’m glad I went with Her Dear & Loving Husband.

When I began writing Her Dear & Loving Husband in 2009, I saw the internal and external conflicts for James and Sarah so clearly in my mind, but I was having trouble articulating it on paper. It was the first time I had ever used two points of view in the same story, and it was also the first time I had a nonlinear plot since Her Dear & Loving Husband moves back and forth between the Salem Witch Trials in 1692 and present day Salem. For some reason, the narrative flow didn’t come easily for me as I plodded through draft after draft. I was lucky enough to find Laurin through an Internet search, and when she critiqued the book she shared the scene sequel with me as a way to slow down and allow the character, and the reader, to think through what is happening. The scene sequel takes place in four steps.

Step 1: Emotion

This is where the character is reacting to what has happened. In that moment when something happens, we feel it first. Before rationality, before logic, there is emotion.

Step 2: Thought

When the emotion of the moment fades away we begin to think about what has happened. Sometimes logically. Sometimes not. But the intention is to make sense of whatever is going on. What does this really mean? What is the right thing to do? For me, the thought stage is where the character questions what has happened, what should have happened, what might happen. If I do A, will B, C, or Z result?

Step 3: Decision

After the thinking is done, what will you do? Will Sarah run screaming from James when she discovers his secret? Will James tell Sarah what the secret is? This is the moment when the character forms a judgment based on his or her thoughts, making a decision one way or another.

Step 4: Action

This is the result of the decision. Once the decision is made, then the character has to do something about it. As Laurin said, sometimes the decision is to deal with it later. But there should be some kind of culmination to the thinking and the decision.

I have become a huge fan of the scene sequel. Laurin told me she kept the formula on a sticky note on her computer for years, and now I do the same. The sequel is relatively simple, just four steps, yet it allows us to understand the characters on a deeper level. I think part of the reason the formula works so well is because it mimics our real-life process of dealing with whatever it is we have to deal with. First we react in an emotional way, then we think about it, then we decide what to do, and then we do it (or we decide to do nothing, which, as Laurin pointed out, is also a decision).

A scene sequel isn’t the kind of thing you want to use at every little event. But whenever something important is happening, it’s helpful to slow down and allow your characters to feel, think, decide, and do. This will create a richer, fuller story for both your characters and your readers.

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