Sequels Revisited: A Sequel

There approximately a flobbity-gillion sequels being released in 2016. Have you noticed this? It seems like half the movies I’ve seen advertised are sequels, follow-ups, or continuations of years-old franchises — and, prepping for this post, I found about a dozen I haven’t seen advertised.

Fellow Scribe Nicole Evelina wrote about this phenomenon, too, arguing that sometimes you can have too much of a good thing, and I had so many thoughts about it that, naturally, I thought we could use a sequel to her post. I don’t disagree with her: some of these movies are beating horses so dead, they’re basically just pounding on a burial site. But I do think there’s a phenomenon here that deserves some attention.

So what gives? Has Hollywood run out of ideas, or are we collectively so frightened of the future that we’re clinging to familiar characters and stories we already know and love?

Well, the latter may be a bit of a logical leap, but I know from my own experience that when times get tough, the familiar becomes comforting. It’s no coincidence that some of my annual rereads occur during times that are inevitably stressful: my favorite books travel to cons with me, and anniversaries of sad dates find me rereading books that make me smile.

I’m not the only one who does this, either. There wouldn’t be $200 limited collector edition DVD sets if people didn’t enjoy consuming and re-consuming the same media they already love. Comic book continuations of canceled TV series satisfy slavering fans of Joss Whedon shows, and anime series regularly horrify their fans by creating devastatingly cruel sequels to beloved shows.

Obviously, these movies were all in development for ages before their release this year, but it’s hard not to look at our national climate and see a little bit of myself in the collective return to familiar franchises. When we’re immersed daily in hatred and bigotry, it seems right to return to an Earth where we can pull together to fight off aliens (though I hear the new Independence Day is a bust!) or an ocean where the broken-hearted or disabled can be the heroes of their own adventures (Dory, I heart you!). We all need some encouragement and a reminder that some things don’t change, even if those fixed points are fictional characters we continue to love.

I realize this is a romantic view to take of what is clearly a money-making ploy (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny? Really?), but I do think that the successful franchises continue to exist because they offer us something we need. Whether it’s our love for the characters, the power of the stories being told, or the wonders of the world that’s the setting, something keeps these particular stories alive for us. And while I’m now a confirmed Ilvermorny skeptic, I do know that it can be hard to let go of the Harry Potter world.

What do you think? Is there any merit to my faith in the power of repetition?

Too Much of a Good Thing

Have you noticed how lately it seems like you can’t spit without hitting yet another Hollywood sequel or re-boot? There are 27 million Rambo, Superman, Spiderman and X-Men movies. I read last night that they are considering making a sequel to The Goonies and I was all like

nuh_uh_conan_obrien

I mean, re-doing The Craft is bad enough. Are they going to ruin my whole childhood too?

But the thing is, it’s not just Hollywood. The publishing industry is just as guilty. I started thinking about this because I’m four books into a five-book series. I loved the first book but my enthusiasm dimmed with each passing book. However, I still was interested enough to buy the book of companion novellas. But now that I’m nearly finished with book four, it feels very obvious it was originally meant to be a trilogy and then the author’s contract was extended for a two or three more books (not sure if the companion book counts) so she had to do something. Unfortunately, for me, what she did didn’t live up to what she started in the first books.

And this happens all the time. The most widely known example is the Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare. It started as a trilogy and it would have been great if it was left there. But then three more books were added on. And then she went back in time with The Infernal Devices, and forward with this new Dark Artifices series, not to mention the Magnus Bane Chronicles and a companion novel. As a reader I’m going

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I want to see new worlds, new characters, new plot lines from Ms. Clare.  But apparently that’s not going to happen for a long while.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not picking solely on her.  I’m going to commit heresy here by saying the same thing about J.K. Rowling. (I can see Shauna and Kristin cringing right now and getting ready to kick me out of the Spellbound Scribes.) I LOVED Harry Potter – every book, every movie – I even went to see the traveling exhibit in Chicago. I’m not opposed to the play or the amusement park. But, Pottermore put me over the edge and I have no desire to read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child or see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I know she’s doing other things as Robert Galbraith, but at some point, she has to let Harry’s stories be finished. I guess for me it’s one thing when you expand the reach of a series by using its intellectual property (movies, plays, etc) and another when you keep pushing at a series that needs to end. As they say in Frozen,

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I understand that there are fans of both series (and many others that I didn’t name) who can’t ever get enough. But is that a reason to keep going back to the well until it’s beyond dry? I feel like our society no longer respects endings. We have to keep pushing, pushing, pushing until what once was beautiful is now a shadow of its former self. I think that’s what really scares me about adding to the Harry Potter world; it was complete and magnificent as it ended. Why gild the lily?

Non-book example: I LOVED the show Entourage. Ditto to Sex and the City. Did their sequel movies need to be made? Did they enrich the series in any way? Nope. They both (I only saw the first S&TC movie) kind of sucked. They dulled what were fantastic series.

And that is my biggest fear of all – that wanting too much will ruin the art. Gluttony is a deadly sin for a reason.

I’m frustrated at the publishing houses (and Hollywood studios) for encouraging stuff like this. They want the big money, guaranteed best-sellers, while I know authors who could be the next big thing if the houses would look beyond their wallets and see the talent in front of them (several of them happen to be my fellow Scribes).  Same goes for Hollywood. You can’t tell me there aren’t talented screenwriters out there writing fresh movies and TV shows. (Hell, I met one while I was at Spring Fling in Chicago. And look at Netflix and Amazon.)

I’m writing this knowing I may be viewed as hypocritical. I’ve already expanded my Arthurian books beyond what I originally intended (four books: three Guinevere, one Isolde) by toying with the idea of telling Morgan’s story as well. But I’m also producing other non-related works, so those who want to move on to other things, can, and I as an author can explore my range and try new things.

Maybe I’m just justifying myself and I’m guilty, too. It’s entirely possible. But I don’t want to be an author who was known only for one thing; I also don’t want to be remembered as one who ran a good series into the ground. And I don’t want that for any of my fellow authors, either, famous or not. So I guess what I’m asking is that we all think long and hard before writing yet another book/movie/etc. in an already complete world.

I know I’m probably going to regret asking this, but what do you think? Am I right or am I crazy? Are there books/movies/TV series that you feel like went on past their time? Why do you think this happens?

 

Living Up to Expectations

Last December I released WORLD OF ASH, my NA paranormal post-apocalyptic novel. It was the first time I’d ever written a book in this genre (not paranormal, that’s ma bread and butter). The age range was familiar to me because the end of my Elemental series the characters were all 18-19 years old, but post-apocalyptic was totally new for me.

WOA (1)

The book was very challenging to write for more than one reason. First, I attempted to write this book in more of a Sci-Fi vein without magic or supernatural creatures. My readers have heard me say that, after accomplishing this, upon my read-through, I hated the book. I just didn’t enjoy it at all. I am not a Sci-Fi nerd. I enjoy watching Sci-Fi far more than reading it. And really I prefer my Sci-Fi along the lines of Doctor Who – with a mix of fantasy.

So I knew I had to revamp the whole book. After a massive overhaul, research into rare plague bearers of Norwegian myths, and changing the whole damn thing from past to present tense, I had a much better book. It’s a dark horse in my catalogue of books, but it is by far my most well-received book.

And that’s kind of terrifying.

When I was first starting out with my plucky YA paranormal series, I was wide-eyed and a bit naïve. I did my research into the biz, made sure I did things professionally and smart, but, mostly, I kept my head down and wrote and polished and published and hoped for the best. I built a readership and enjoyed my work. And, while each release brought with it a new wave of butterflies and mild panic, I had no trouble writing the next book. Not so with this new world.

WORLD OF ASH has set me up for a whole new world of feels. As I sat down to start working on the outline for book two and sat down to start putting words to screen, I realized I was kind of terrified. In my first series I had a pretty good balance of love, hate and somewhere in between with my readers (luckily there wasn’t a lot of a hate, just enough to let me know that I was comfortably in the middle of “not pleasing everyone,” which is what you expect). But so far, WOA hasn’t had any hate or even any, “Eh… it was okay.” People are excited to read the next. They have a lot of questions and feels. I’ve had writers volunteer to beta read the second book who didn’t for the first because they became fans after reading WOA.

This is a lot of pressure that I didn’t expect.

Merida, Brave, exasperated

Like I said before, WOA is my dark horse. I’m not gonna lie and tell you it’s my best seller, because it’s not, but it seems to be the best received.

So I find myself asking HOW DO I LIVE UP TO THESE EXPECTATIONS?

DeanScreamInternally

I don’t. Plain and simple. I need to go back to my old way of thinking, just put my head down and write the best book I can. Often I find myself thinking about the book and thinking I’m not doing a very good job. That I’ll send it to my betas and they’ll rip it apart and the new volunteers will cringe, wondering why they offered to read. But you know what? Every writer has those doubts. Whether it’s their first sequel, or their thirtieth.

So, how am I dealing with it? I just am because I’m a writer and I want to continue to be a writer and to do that, I have to keep writing. I will just allow myself to have my doubts and my worries, so long as I keep writing. My editor and betas are supposed to help me make the book better, so if they hate it, they can help me build it up to the level it needs to be to live up to the precedent that WOA set.

I’ll drink my coffee, add to my soundtrack, build the outline, and somehow find the end of the book and hopefully people will love it as much as the first book. Hopefully.

(Hopefully this is what my betas and my readership will say when I’m done.)

(And then there will be wine.)