Welcome to March of the Sequels, Sarah! First tell us something about your series and in particular the sequel
The Songs of Sefate tells the story of a family tragedy set in Shine Territory, which is basically an alternative version of the Wild West. In the first book, Of Honey and Wildfires, you’ve got business (oil barons) and family dynamics playing a large role in the ultimate tragedy that unfolds. However, I really wanted the series to be an exploration of what happens to everyone around a tragedy rather than the tragedy itself, so the first book is the setup of that tragedy, and then the rest of the series explores the fallout (and eventual healing) from it.
In Oh, That Shotgun Sky (a novella), I moved from the immediate characters in Of Honey and Wildfires and show a bit of the fallout from the first book’s events through the eyes of people a bit further removed from the drama. A friend, a company man, a few women who escaped brothels.
Glass Rhapsody is the culmination of that series. The Union is trying to annex Shine Territory. Shine Territory isn’t too pleased with that notion. I bring it back to the family roots, but some of the characters from Oh, That Shotgun Sky return as well. This book deals with personal grief and emotional trauma with a heaping of politics as well.
I have a series set in the same world, but in Union City (different place, different characters) which I hope to start writing soon. This one will deal with shine prohibition and lots of mobsters. It’ll be able to be read independently of The Songs of Sefate. The first book is called The Reason for Stars.
Do you find that most of your readers continue to read the whole series? Why do you think that is?
You know, I have had pretty abysmal luck with the rest of the books in my series. I think part of that is my own fault (I have literally no time to promote anything) and part of it is probably for any number of other reasons. I think series generally have a harder time selling, so that’s probably part of it. Also, maybe it’s just one of those stories that only appeals to me? I don’t know.
Is it easier to further develop characters you’ve already written in book one?
I find once my characters have introduced themselves to me, it’s pretty easy for me to keep going with them. I slipped back into writing Arlen and Cassandra again really, really easily. Once they are real to me, they never fade.
How difficult is it to add new characters in a sequel into already established relationships?
It depends on the character and what you want to do with them. I think one of the things that makes sequels believable and interesting is how people change. No one stays the same. People are constantly coming and going from our lives, too. Making that aspect of personal growth and transformation natural, and then inserting new people in the mix is exciting. It’s what makes me want to tell a story. I like taking the characters I’ve created and give them new situations and people to deal with. It’s part of life, and it makes them interesting.
Is it difficult to continue with worldbuilding for a world you have already built in book 1? Do you find it easier to switch locations for the sequel and start again with worldbuilding?
Every book is different, and they all demand different things from the author. I had a really easy time with Of Honey and Wildfires and Oh, That Shotgun Sky because they were based on the area where I live. Glass Rhapsody was a bit different, because I was trying to insert politics from another nation into things when the main person dealing with them really just wanted to be left the hell alone, and that kind of gave me a bit of a migraine.
On the other hand, I’m currently writing An Elegy for Hope, which is the book following Seraphina’s Lament in my Bloodlands series, and I think it might be breaking my brain. I’ve finally found my groove, but it was work. However, I’m basically having to rebuild the world from scratch in the second book (for reasons) and I am not enjoying the fact that I did this to myself. It’s a bear to build a new world in a series but have to keep in mind all the stuff you’ve already set up in the first book. As it happens, rebuilding after an apocalypse isn’t easy.
Between An Elegy for Hope and Glass Rhapsody, Glass Rhapsody was absolutely easier for me to write.
Have you ever been stymied by a worldbuilding or plot detail from book 1 that is very inconvenient to deal with or write your way around in subsequent books?
The whole worldbuilding aspect I mentioned between Seraphina’s Lament and An Elegy for Hope has really been the bane of my existence for a while now. I’d go into why, but spoilers.
With my Songs of Sefate series, I had a whole system set up where the Territory was basically owned and operated by this one company, which was run out of the Union (another nation). It was all fine and good in Of Honey and Wildfires, because that was the way things were and no one really had to think much about it. After the ending of that book, though, everything changed and in Glass Rhapsody I had to wrestle with the fallout from Of Honey and Wildfires. I found myself in some weird international political waters that took *a lot of* time brainstorming with my editor to work my way out of. We managed it, but a lot of swearing was involved. I didn’t realize how the fallout from Of Honey and Wildfires would cause these huge political waves that I’d have to wrestle with later.
Did you notice your craft improving from book 1 to subsequent books in a series, and if so, how?
My default writing state is to write powerful emotions evocatively, and when I get too far away from that I get uncomfortable. PEOPLE interest me more than plot, I suppose.
Of Honey and Wildfires is ultimately a story about people and their emotional journeys. What I quickly realized when I was writing Glass Rhapsody, however, was that the story couldn’t just be about people and their emotional journeys anymore. It had to be about these other aspects of the fallout too. The Union wants to annex the Territory. People are moving in to strike it rich with shine (read: magical oil). There are issues with the law (what law?) and how to police people in a place with no rules. I mean, it spreads out. Every action creates a ripple which creates another ripple and I had to account for all those. It couldn’t just be about people anymore because people caused these things to change and that became the story.
I think Glass Rhapsody forced me outside my comfort of writing people-centric stories and made me really examine how to balance more plot-heavy aspects of a story with the inner journey. It’s still more character-focused. It’s still evocative and extremely emotional, but it made me fiddle more with external plot details than I think I have before. Sometimes you have to get out of your comfort zone to explore other ways to do things, and that’s what Glass Rhapsody did for me.
Do you plan out the entire series at once or one book at a time?
I am the EMPRESS OF ALL PANTSERS which is why I’m constantly in these situations where I’m like, “You know, if I’d thought about this when I was writing that previous book, I wouldn’t be banging my head against the wall right now.” I don’t plan anything, ever. Zero. I don’t take notes. I don’t draw pictures. I don’t have the first clue what the book is about. I just sit down when I feel like I have something to say, and then I learn exactly what it is as I go. So, while I do often run into issues where I’m like… “WHYYYYY DID I DO THIS TO MYSELF” (I’m glaring at you, An Elegy for Hope), I have to laugh because I know I do it to myself.
Do you try to make sequels readable as standalones or do you design a series so that readers have to read the whole thing?
Right now, The Songs of Sefate is a series and they can’t be read alone. Bloodlands is the same way. I have a book, The Necessity of Rain, which will come out sometime this spring. Right now, it’s a standalone, but if there’s high enough demand I could *easily* turn it into a series of connected standalone books (I kind of hope I can, because this world is so fun to play with). So, we’ll see. I just go where the story tells me to go.
Do you have any marketing tips for sequels?
Marketing? What’s that?
Ha! Ha! Thank you for joining me for March of the Sequels today! Good Luck with all your books!
About the Author
Sarah has been a compulsive reader her whole life. At a young age, she found her reading niche in the fantastic genre of Speculative Fiction. She blames her active imagination for the hobbies that threaten to consume her life. She is a freelance writer and editor, a semi-pro nature photographer, world traveler, three-time cancer survivor with hEDS, and mom to two. In her ideal world, she’d do nothing but drink lots of tea and read from a never-ending pile of speculative fiction books. She has been running the review blog Bookworm Blues for over ten years, has been editing books for four, and has been a published author since 2019.