The Big Idea: Jennifer Estep
Author Jennifer Estep is back with another Big Idea for the second installment in her Galactic Bonds series. Come along to see how writing the second book of a series is actually preferable for her, and how much she enjoyed the process of bringing us Only Good Enemies.
Only Good Enemies was released earlier this week. Woot! It’s the second book in my Galactic Bonds science-fiction fantasy series.
Ah, the sophomore book. Sometimes, I think writing/releasing the second book in a series is an endeavor that is even more fraught with peril and potential pitfalls than writing the first book. In years past, if book #1 in a series did well, I would sometimes dread writing book #2 instead of just enjoying the success of book #1.
Why? Well, no author wants to hear that they have fallen into the dreaded “sophomore slump” and book #2 just isn’t as good book #1. But it can be a delicate balancing act to give readers everything they loved in the first book and still push the characters, conflicts, and plots forward in new, interesting directions in the second book.
But over the years, I’ve realized something important—that I usually enjoy writing book #2 in a series much more than book #1 and my sophomore stories are some of the best and most creative books I’ve written.
I love origin stories, so I always enjoy writing the first book in a series and coming up with my characters, the magic system, and the overall worldbuilding. For example, in Only Bad Options, Galactic Bonds book #1, I introduced Vesper Quill, a lab rat (think inventor/engineer), and Kyrion Caldaren, an elite Arrow warrior/assassin. Vesper and Kyrion have an unwanted connection that compels them to join forces to get to the bottom of a deadly conspiracy. Since the book is science-fiction fantasy, it also features a mix of psions/magic users (people with telekinesis and other mental abilities) and technology (spaceships and blasters), along with a variety of climate-themed planets.
But in some ways, writing Only Bad Options felt like I was setting up the pieces on a gigantic game board in my mind. I often feel this way when I write the first book in a series—that I’m so busy introducing the characters, the magic system, and the worldbuilding that I don’t have space in the book to really dig into those things the way that I want to.
As a result, I have started looking at book #2 as a sophomore book. In other words, an opportunity to do more with, well, everything. To create more clashes/conflicts between my characters, to show the lasting consequences of their actions, and especially to give them more opportunities to succeed beyond their wildest dreams or fail miserably. To me, this is the best part and the true magic of writing a sophomore book—the opportunity to add more complex layers to your characters, magic system, and worldbuilding.
For example, at the beginning of Only Good Enemies, Vesper and Kyrion are still dealing with the fallout from everything that happened in the first book. As a result, they are both keeping a major secret from each other. Vesper’s secret could potentially kill her and Kyrion, while Kyrion’s secret could destroy the fragile trust that Vesper has in him, as well as create new enemies for them both.
So right from the beginning of Only Good Enemies, the two main characters are clashing with each other. How they discover and react to each other’s secrets—and how the secondary characters and villains discover and use the information—drives a lot of Vesper’s and Kyrion’s actions, reactions, and emotions for the rest of the book. To me, it makes both Vesper and Kyrion much more interesting characters to read (and write) about and adds a lot more complexity to their story arcs.
In other words, with Only Good Enemies, I feel like I am finally sitting down at that mental game board, knocking over all the pieces I set up in the first book, and seeing how they fall and impact the characters and the overall story. And you know what? It’s a lot of fun, especially writing all those pew! pew! pew! action scenes. :-)
Which do you like writing (and reading) better—the first book or a later book in a series?