A single bad movie sequel almost kept me from ever agreeing to write a series.Way back in 1985, I adored the movie, “Back to the Future.” And I felt just as passionately about the sequel four years later: I despised it.
So when my first book, RUNNING OUT OF TIME, came out, and lots of readers urged me, “You should write a sequel!” I thanked them for wanting more of Jessie’s story, but also listed lots of reasons I didn’t think a sequel would work.
I might as well have said, “I don’t believe in sequels.”
A few years later when my book, AMONG THE HIDDEN, arrived, the sequel pressure became more intense. It wasn’t just readers telling me they wanted a sequel to Luke’s story; it was my agent, my editor, and others at Simon & Schuster. Then my older brother threatened to lock me in a room with nothing but a computer until I produced a sequel. (I think he was joking. Maybe.)
But all the gentle and not-so-gentle suggestions forced me to re-examine my views of sequels and series. Why was I so prejudiced?
I started thinking a lot about “Back to the Future II,” which I saw as the epitome of everything I disliked about sequels. Why did it bother me so much?
With any sequel to a beloved book or movie, there’s the danger that the audience’s expectations will be so high that nothing could ever live up to the experience of the first story. Especially when part of a story’s charm is how it seems so fresh and new and original, it’s just not possible to re-capture that same spirit of originality and innovation. A second outing in a now-familiar fictional universe will never be the same as the first.
But my issues with “Back to the Future II” went far beyond that. The Marty McFly I’d loved in the first movie seemed like a totally different, much less likable person the second time around. The purpose behind his time travels seemed murkier, more contrived, even more selfish. And the ending of the movie didn’t feel like an ending—it felt more like a mere bridge to the third movie.
It’s possible that I would view “Back to the Future II” very differently now than I did 28 years ago, when I was (obviously) 28 years younger. Maybe part of my problem was that I didn’t like seeing the compromises the exuberant teenaged Marty McFly made on his way to becoming middle-aged.
But since I write for kids, I try to think like them as well. And so I let my feelings about the “Back to the Future” sequel guide me once I did agree to write not just a sequel to AMONG THE HIDDEN, but five other related books and other series as well.
Besides the seven-book Shadow Children series, I’ve now also written the eight-book Missing series, the three-book Palace Chronicles series, the two-book Under Their Skin series, and the tenth book in the multi-author Thirty-Nine Clues series. And now, with my newest book, CHILDREN OF REFUGE, I’m on the second book of the Children of Exile trilogy.
Although I still write stand-alone books as well, I’ve moved from disdain for series and sequels to a true appreciation for them. I see the sense of security and familiarity they can provide for kids who might otherwise be reluctant readers, or who are just timid about starting something new. And I’ve seen how all sorts of readers benefit from growing up along with a beloved character.
And I see how fun sequels and series can be for authors.
The tipping point in my decision to write my first sequel came when it began to feel like Luke himself—the main character from AMONG THE HIDDEN—wanted me to continue his story. I could imagine him lonely and afraid, surrounded by strangers, trying to hold onto a fragment of his past: his true identity, his actual name. How could I leave him like that? How could I not propel him forward, into finding a sense of purpose and hope and even friendship among the impostors who surround him?
Edwy in the Children of Exile series is a much bolder, brasher, seemingly confident kid than Luke. But at the beginning of CHILDREN OF REFUGE, he’s also alone and afraid and facing a bit of an identity crisis. He’s also in a place he doesn’t understand, and surrounded by people who don’t seem to want to help.
With AMONG THE IMPOSTORS, CHILDREN OF REFUGE, and all the other sequels and third, fourth, fifth, etc. series books I’ve ever written, I’ve naturally had to put my characters in difficult situations once again. If there’s no problem, there’s no story either. But as cruel as that seems, it’s also been a joy to get to spend more time with those characters—kids I already knew and loved and enjoyed thinking about.
As a reader finishing a book full of characters I love, I often long for more time with them. One of the delights of being an author is that I can make that happen both for myself and other readers, with the characters I’ve invented.
An additional joy of sequels and series books is that sometimes it makes sense to switch main characters, and I get to explore more of the personalities and quirks of characters—like Edwy—who intrigued me in earlier books but were only tangential at the start of the whole story arc of the series.
Of course the characters have to grow and change for the story to be effective, but I still try to follow what I’ll call the Marty McFly rule: I don’t want my characters to change so much that they become unrecognizable.
And keeping my disappointment in “Back to the Future II” in mind, I also make sure each book in any of my series as has its own individual story arc, with a complete beginning, middle, and end. I will confess to occasionally ending a series book with the characters still in danger—or maybe even in worse danger than they were at the beginning of the book. But that’s only after they’ve resolved the problem that’s animated the main action of the book.
(I might possibly have done that to Edwy in CHILDREN OF REFUGE. But you’d have to read the book to find out for sure. No spoilers here!)
CHILDREN OF EXILE, book one of the Children of Exile series, is newly out in paperback this month. Book two, CHILDREN OF REFUGE, just came out in hardback. CHILDREN OF JUBILEE, which will be the third and final book in the series, comes out in September 2018.
September 14th — YA Books Central
After Edwy is smuggled off to Refuge City to stay with his brother and sister, Rosi, Bobo, and Cana are stuck alone—and in danger—in Cursed Town in the thrilling follow-up to Children of Exile from New York Times bestselling author, Margaret Peterson Haddix.
It’s been barely a day since Edwy left Fredtown to be with his parents and, already, he is being sent away. He’s smuggled off to boarding school in Refuge City, where he will be with his brother and sister, who don’t even like him very much. The boarding school is nothing like the school that he knew, there’s no one around looking up to him now, and he’s still not allowed to ask questions!
Alone and confused, Edwy seeks out other children brought back from Fredtown and soon discovers that Rosi and the others—still stuck in the Cursed Town—might be in danger. Can Edwy find his way back to his friends before it’s too late?
About the Author: Margaret Peterson Haddix grew up on a farm near Washington Court House, Ohio. She graduated from Miami University (of Ohio) with degrees in English/journalism, English/creative writing and history. Before her first book was published, she worked as a newspaper copy editor in Fort Wayne, Indiana; a newspaper reporter in Indianapolis; and a community college instructor and freelance writer in Danville, Illinois.She has since written more than 40 books for kids and teens, including Running Out of Time; Double Identity; Uprising; The Always War; the Shadow Children series; the Missing series; the Children of Exile series; the Under Their Skin duology; and The Palace Chronicles. She also wrote Into the Gauntlet, the tenth book in the 39 Clues series. Her books have been honored with New York Times bestseller status, the International Reading Association’s Children’s Book Award; American Library Association Best Book and Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers notations; and numerous state reader’s choice awards. They have also been translated into more than twenty different languages.Haddix and her husband, Doug, now live in Columbus, Ohio. They are the parents of two grown kids.