Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Apple Crisp & Rototiller: What it's like to write the second book

As I move from my debut book to a more intense focus on my sophomore effort (more on that soon, I hope), I've become quite interested in the whole "second-book" phenomenon. One advantage of a first book is its freshness, its lack of baggage. With the second book come expectations: the writer's, the publisher's, and the readers'.  For some writers, the second book is smoother than the first, but for many it's a difficult trip. I've been asking writers of second books to guest blog about their efforts, and here is my first such guest: Caragh O'Brien, author of the Birthmarked trilogy.

The Apple Crisp and the Rototiller: Writing Books 1 and 2
by Caragh M. O’Brien
Writing the second book in the Birthmarked Trilogy has been completely different from writing the first. I put together the first draft of Birthmarked in a couple months while I was on a leave from teaching, and I had no real expectation of publishing it.  The twists and intensity made it enormously satisfying to write.  Revisions came along with the surprise of finding an agent and an editor who were excited to have me on board.  There was a creative, analytic process of exchanging ideas with my editor, Nancy Mercado, which I found fascinating, and I loved every bit of the hard work involved.  There were setbacks, of course, but over all, Book 1 was simply wonderful, the writing equivalent of apple crisp.  You know, with the buttery crumbles on top.
The second book, Prized, has been far more grounded in the nitty-gritty of real life.  Roaring Brook offered me a three-book contract, so at least I was spared the anxiety of trying to sell the second book, but I did have a deadline to get something on the table.  My first draft took me five painful months to write while I was teaching full-time, and I knew it was a mess.  I was embarrassed rather than proud to send it in, and though my editor remained encouraging and upbeat during early drafts, I feared the book was destined to be a horrible disappointment to the kind fans who were, by then, starting to write me about how much they liked Gaia’s story.
The revising for Book 2 has involved dogged, savage persistence.  Imagine your rototiller turning gouges in the black earth.  I’ve resigned from teaching to overhaul the novel completely and repeatedly, tossing out fifty-page chunks at a time.  I do not say lightly that I resigned from teaching: that choice was grueling, for I both gave up something I loved to do and cut away my safety net of a tenured job.  Yet it allowed me to devote my days to my obsession and brought me a kind of deep, creative fulfillment I’d never imagined.
The results are promising.  I’ve recently finished my ninth draft of Prized and expect the copy edits back this week for final revisions.  My editor thinks it’s terrific, which means a lot to me.  I’ve explored material for Prized that took considerable soul searching, and it has made me a braver person.  I’m not afraid of risk the way I used to be.  I’m more willing to speak up and say what I think.
It’s fair to say the books have made me more like Gaia.  I’m grateful for them both, apple crisp and rototiller, and I’m heading into Book 3 with an open heart.

Caragh M. O'Brien is the writer of Birthmarked, a young adult dystopian novel released by Roaring Brook Press, 2010.  The sequel, Prized, is due out in November, 2011.


  1. I picked up Birthmarked early this summer and LOVED it!!! I can't wait for Prized.

  2. Thanks, Adrienne! Glad you enjoyed Caragh's book.

  3. Wonderful guest blog post! Now I have more books to add to my towering "to be read" pile. : )
    Good luck with that second book!