Monday, February 11, 2013

No Pressure. Really. It’s Just Your Follow-up Novel, by Damon Ferrell Marbut

The novel following a debut tends toward two basic anxieties:

1. The second book must live up to the first, provided the debut received critical praise.

2. The second book, if a sequel or as part of a series, must also cover 1. but additionally either lend the attachment to the first book a satisfying finality or give room for extension of the series.

Agents, editors and publishers can have significant effects on the labor of creating a new book as a product to market and from which to profit. Or, the self-published author managing his/her own career trajectory might be as nervous based on personal performance expectations. But then, the latter could be comfortable with a follow-up novel because producing the first yielded for them a sense of security in the industry.

I don't find myself in either listed scenario above. Once realizing my current work was becoming a new novel I began determining multiple forms of space in which to write, including schedule and the necessarily quiet physicality of the work itself. I only thought of the book as a follow-up once the first draft was finished after Christmas 2012. I did, by nature, consider my debut, Awake in the Mad World, before recognizing further that the new book is uniquely its own and beyond my scope of comparison.

Also, my debut wasn't really a debut. I wrote three novels and a 220-page collection of letters in addition to 2-3 volumes of poems before Awake in the Mad World published. I understand many authors don’t consider themselves writers until they publish and also experience this same phenomenon. They write prolifically and then choose which manuscript to forge ahead with to press. Others do not. They spend years letting a story marinate and then perhaps take years to write it.

Accepting pressure to perform is too much thinking work in terms of the second book. It's unwelcome distraction. I hope for evolution with each book I write and wish not to compete with those that come before it. I don’t write in serial. New characters lead themselves into original existence without attachment to those of my former novels. I believe the initial commitment and compulsion to a story, to characters, to the art of narrative and experimentation should be the only drive behind continuing to write. Writing because I must. The audience creates itself around my work, as well as defines its impact. To consider anything other than what is written best in the moment is to kill the follow-up before it is finished.



Damon Ferrell Marbut is a Southern novelist and poet. He is author of Awake in the Mad World, which is currently an entrant for the Pulitzer Prize. Originally from Mobile, Alabama Marbut now lives in New Orleans, Louisiana where he is finishing a new novel set in the Big Easy.