I don’t quite know what people imagine a writer’s process to be. Some probably think we retire to book-stuffed studies and write while classical music wafts ethereally through the air. Some probably think we roll out of bed, slam a fifth of whiskey, and vomit onto the page. The short answer is every writer is different. What works for me won’t necessarily work for anyone else. I bring it up now because when I was writing The Dark Price of Ahriman, the second book in the Ahriman Trilogy, I faced some unique challenges based on my personal process.
I like to be working on something constantly, mostly because without forward momentum, the worst parts of my relentlessly self-critical psyche start picking the house of cards I call my self-image apart. So when I finish a draft of a project and send it somewhere, whether it’s to readers or to submit it to a press, I immediately switch gears and work on another one, and if I have nothing in progress, I start something.
Additionally, to keep things moving with publishers, I do my best to juggle the various series I have in progress, from the open ended ones like Fill in the Blank, to the ones with definite endpoints in mind like the Ahriman Trilogy. The idea is that I don’t want to write a sequel before I sell the first one to a publisher, so I don’t end up with a twelve book series I can’t sell anywhere. So when a book is sold, I put the sequel on the queue to write, and I do my best to write them in the order that they were picked up by publishers. In this way I can do my best to make sure fans of the series don’t feel stranded.
The Last Son of Ahriman was the fifth book I finished, sandwiched between my darkest horror, The Dollmaker and Everyman. While those two books, which I had thought were nearly unpublishable, quickly found homes, Last Son did not. This shocked me, as I had assumed it was the most commercial thing I’d written thus far. Young adult, paranormal, shades of superheroic action, this is the stuff that blockbusters are made of. When I sent it out, it was greeted with lackluster shrug after lackluster shrug. It found a home quite late in the game, to the point that I wasn’t able to write Dark Price until after Daughters of Arkham. This was a gap of around three or four years, I believe.
Many writers keep what is referred to as a “series bible,” which is a document tracking little bits of continuity you might need. A character’s eye color, say, or their mother’s name, or an important bit of history from their past. The kind of thing that a writer might forget when the muse is on them, but that a reader — a fan — will never miss. Because I was blessed (or cursed) with a phenomenal memory for this kind of thing, most of my series bibles exist in my head. When I don’t know something, I look it up. Fortunately, I have great editors as well who can correct some of my most egregious errors. Still, with Ahriman, I had to jump back into a world that I had left a long while back and was beginning to think would never be finished.
I already had the beginnings of a document, written concurrently with Last Son detailing my plans for the series. While I can’t talk about those, or the major plotline of Dark Price without massive spoilers, I had already foreshadowed it in the first book. I had the broad strokes, and what I needed was to craft an entire plot, and then make sure it felt like the first book.
That’s the toughest part of longform fiction and switching gears like I do. My books tend to have very different feels — you can’t get much more dissimilar than Mr Blank and The Dollmaker — and when you go back for a sequel after rambling through some other genres, it can be hard to recapture it. After all, “feel” is an ineffable quality, yet undeniably important to the series as a whole. It’s a combination of character moments, plotlines, dialogue, tone, and even word choice that unites in this vague quality that’s hard to define but easy to see when it’s done wrong.
Immersing myself into a series after a long absence has kind of been my thing lately. I recently finished a cycle of book twos (books two?) that of which Dark Price was the second-to-last. It’s only because of the vagaries of the publishing industry that it’s one of the first (behind Get Blank by two years) to come out. Rereading the first book helps (especially for issues of continuity), but to capture the feeling, I like to review my outline of the first book, any notes I took about it or a potential sequel, and even listen to some of the same music I was listening to when I wrote it. Whether or not I succeeded is up to the readers, and I suspect some will say yes, others no, but it’s been working to my satisfaction.
As for the story itself, I will say that this is my attempt to do right what a relatively recent and very famous trilogy did spectacularly and famously wrong. I also wanted to use this book to really explore the idea of Ahriman’s influence on the mages who bind themselves to it. If I never show temptation or fall, then those become informed characteristics. I’m telling you they exist, but you never see it in the actual story. The same goes for the concrete effects the Order of Ahriman had on the world.
The good news is that there’s not going to be as big a wait between this and the final book. I know exactly where this is headed, and what has to happen to bring the trilogy to its conclusion. It might get a little weird, but hey, when you’re talking about a boy that uses the power of a planet-god to fight that planet-god, weird is a feature, not a bug.