The good news: That novel, the one you’ve been working on for years, has sold! The ambiguous news: Now they want you to write a sequel! Quick! Uh, yay? What happens when they story you’ve painstakingly handcrafted over time suddenly has to sprout a whole new storyline? What then? It’s something Wesley Chu had to consider with his latest novel, The Deaths of Tao. Here’s how he dealt with it.
I’m not what you’d call a long term planner. As in if I know I’m going to a buffet for dinner, is it a smart thing to eat a burrito at 3PM? (Hint: I never say no to burritos)
This was especially true when I signed the deal for my debut novel, The Lives of Tao, with the ill-tempered automatons at Angry Robot Books. Before the John Hancock even dried, I was confronted with having to write a sequel in less than a year. Now, at the time, I didn’t think very far past the epilogue of the first book. I always thought of it like The Truman Show where Jim Carrey just takes a bow and exits stage right in an invisible door, and then the credits roll. The director calls everyone together for the martini shot, and then the grip crew starts dismantling the set.
So, what is the Big Idea for the sequel The Deaths of Tao then?
Well, what happens after an epilogue?
See, sequels are tricky things. People who enjoy The Lives of Tao like it for specific reasons. Maybe they think it’s funny, maybe they like the action, or maybe they enjoy Roen the lovable loser’s late coming-of-age story. So the question is, should I keep the fun train rolling and write a similar novel, or should I venture out into the unknown and move in a completely different direction?
A significant portion of the first book was focused on Roen’s training and his transformation from an out-of-shape loser to a svelte agent drafted to fight the evil Genjix in the Quasing War. By the end of the book, he had grown to become a competent and confident field agent.
So for The Deaths of Tao, should I train him some more, like level him up to a Bond-class badass agent and follow a similar path that Lives took to give readers who enjoyed the first book more of what they liked? Or do I turn up the heat, have all hell break loose, and see what Roen’s melting point is after I’ve broken all his favorite toys?
Then it occurred to me: I learned two very important lessons from playing World of Warcraft.
- Leading a guild is one of the best teachers for project management training. Nothing prepares a person for leadership like corralling a bunch of immature gamers hot for epic loots.
- Playing Warcraft requires a player to hit max level first, and then the player goes raiding.
So what do I do with Roen? I had leveled him up to max in The Lives of Tao. In The Deaths of Tao, I take him raiding.
There’s my Big Idea.
It’s been a few years since the events of first book and everything has changed, mostly for the worse. Roen is no longer the bumbling loveable fool still trying to figure out how to throw a punch and tail a suspect without being caught. He’s now leveled up into a badass with a chip on his shoulder fighting in the thick of the Quasing war.
He’s got his work cut out for him, though. The Prophus have been getting whooped on every front and are in danger of losing the battle for influence of the US government. Coupled with the Genjix controlling the Chinese government, the Prophus are nearing complete capitulation. To make matters worse, the Genjix have a new secret plan that just might kill every living being on this planet.
They’re okay with that.
There’s also a new baddie in town by the name of Enzo. A product of their eugenics Hatchery program, he’s young, brash, and brilliant, and he’ll make sure you know it as he kicks your ass.
Roen will have some help. Jill, his love interest in Lives, has her own Quasing now and is fighting the Genjix on the political front, trying to stave off their takeover of the US government. Not all is peachy with their relationship, though. War is terrible and tends to mess up a couple’s relationship. The two will need to figure out how to work things out and raise a child, all while fighting for the very survival of humanity.
At the end of the day, this is what Roen Tan signed up for in The Lives of Tao. He’s leveled up; now it’s time he goes raiding.