Independent Bookstore Day, April 27th

On Saturday, April 27th, the country celebrated Independent Bookstore Day! For the past five years, independent bookstores have thrown parties, offered treats, featured guest authors, created kid events and scavenger hunts, and so on and so forth. This one-day national party is meant to celebrate each bookstore's uniqueness and get people into the stores instead of buying books exclusively online. 

Iowa was no exception. Prairie Lights Bookstore had treats and special items available for people who stopped in during the day. The Haunted Bookshop had special deals on books. Next Page Books had giveaways, delicious coffee and treats, and tickets for the Music of Harry Potter at the Paramount Theatre in Cedar Rapids. I mean, who wouldn't want that? 

I spent my day as one of the featured authors at M and M Books, a lovely little place in Cedar Rapids that I've learned to call home. Owned and operated by Bill and Ursla Lanphear, M and M Books is a beautiful place to bring community together. It's run by incredible staff who really care about their customers, authors, and each other. In the past year, they've featured author signings, author readings, and book clubs. They're always evolving, finding out what's best for them and the community, and I can't wait to see where they go from here. 

Saturday, though rainy and cold, didn't exactly put a damper on things. The store was filled with amazing treats (some made by Dana Beatty) and dozens of gift baskets ready to go out to customers who signed up for the newsletter or bought books at the store. 

[caption id="attachment_671" align="aligncenter" width="905"] Picture by Dana Beatty[/caption][caption id="attachment_672" align="aligncenter" width="663"] Picture by M and M Books[/caption]

Local author Jane Melloy and illustrator Mary Campbell showed off their books in the morning, followed by a lovely appearance from Prima the Alpaca who looked stunning even in her wet coat. 

While Prima busily greeted guests at the door, author M.L. Williams and I presented our books at a table and talked with a great group of locals. I had such a wonderful time sharing information about my story with new people and talking with a U of I student both about my writing process and The Iowa Writers' House and The Writers' Rooms. And of course, I always enjoy spending time with M.L. who, despite his grumbling, is one of the nicest people I know! 

Also, my skull pen holder was a huge success. Who would have thought that a care package gift during my first college course, After Hamlet, would be such a big eye catcher. 

Pizza was provided for everyone near lunch time, which was much appreciated and unexpected. Bill and Ursla really know how to take care of their guests! 

Finally, Andrew Ridker, author of The Altruists and the big headliner, wrapped up the day with an incredible discussion about his book and a signing session. If you haven't had a chance to check out The Altruists, go to his site and take a look. I loved his reasons for writing it as it definitely speaks to my generation.  

So, despite the sleet and snow, it was a wonderful day, and I can't thank M and M Books enough for all their hard work and their dedication to local authors. This is truly a great bookstore, and I hope that if you're in the Cedar Rapids area, you'll take some time to stop by and say hi. You never know what treasures you'll find on their shelves. 

Sequel Struggles

It hasn't even been a month since I published The Purple Door District, and I'm already feeling the dreaded sequel struggle. You know the feeling. You finish book one in a trilogy or series. Ideas blossom in your head for the next story. Your characters weave their tales and are ready to continue their journeys. You sit down to write. 

Nothing. 

Yes, this is going to be one of those raw blog posts where I talk about my struggles and then still try to provide some advice thanks to the help of other incredible writers.

Right now, I'm trying not to throw my computer at the wall because I'm so frustrated with the book.  I managed to write part of the story during NaNo, but now I feel stuck. One reason is because I'm intimidated by book one! I've received a lot of really good feedback, and while I know I can still make changes, I don't want to write a sequel that's subpar. Not only that, I'm not working with the same exact cast. New characters are popping in left and right, and they're making the story that much more detailed and difficult. 

Don't get me wrong, the second book was meant to be more detailed and have bigger stakes, as it should, but I didn't think it would cause me quite this much stress and fear. 

I reached out to an incredible romance writer named Eliza David who sent me one of her blog posts about writing a sequel. You can check it out here. She provides some incredible tips such as taking notes of your characters from the first book, and also allowing characters (and conflict) to grow. Check it out!

As I've worked on my sequel, I've learned a few things that I thought I'd share as well. If you have tips, let me know! 

  • Character Bios: Make sure you have character bios and descriptions from the first book and keep adding to them for the second book so you don't have to keep researching and remembering who has what eyes or hair. 

  • Talk it Out: I spent part of the day talking to my co-creator about book two. She had a bunch of valuable advice, and you can do the same with a fellow writer, especially one who has read your book. Outline the next story for them to see if it makes sense and if your book is going to hold your readers' attention as much as the first. 

  • Read Your First Book: This might seem obvious, but I didn't really think about it when I started in on the sequel. I'd spent so much time editing PDD 1, I thought I wouldn't have to read it again. Boy, was I wrong. I think it'll help me stay in the groove of working with some of the same characters once I review it. 

  • Outline: Outline your sequel to see if it makes sense in the world of book one. And if you have another book after the sequel, try to outline that book as well so you know where number two needs to end. Granted, this is more for the plotters rather than the pantsers, but I think it's beneficial to both. 

  • Allow Yourself to Feel Frustrated: Seriously, writing a sequel is scary and hard, so if you get frustrated, it's completely normal. Allow yourself to feel (kick, scream, and cry if you need to), then get back to work. It's better than keeping it all in. 

  • Remember First Drafts Suck: Don't get intimidated by your edited writing in book one. It started off as rough and unpolished as the sequel. The most important thing is to get the words on paper. You can clean it up later. 

Believe me when I say you're not alone in your dread of writing a sequel. Do what feels right for you, and look up suggestions for how to get through blocks and over hurdles.

My biggest suggestion is try to find a way to embrace your book and not be afraid of it. Because if you're afraid what could happen, the only person who will ever know the story is you.

Write it.

You can do it!