For the past few months, I've been working on the second book in a series that began with My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain. For a while, I've been posting chapter updates on my progress as I struggled through the first draft.
Then I stopped.
I didn't stop writing - that process continues - but I stopped regular updates when I realized my progress through this second book wouldn't be as linear as the first book. I knew the general outline of "Food Chain," as it had previously existed as a screenplay. Though the story and characters would go through an extensive evolution, I knew precisely where the story should go.
More importantly, the first book was an unknown quantity to readers. I could always alter characters during the writing process.
Alexander, the main protagonist, is a fascinating character to create, and both readers and professional reviewers seem to have found him intriguing as well. Kirkus Reviews even warned that I risk "making Alexander unsympathetic by pushing his behavior from that of a risible obsessive to that of an outright psychotic." It's that edge of like-ability, however, that gives makes him feel authentic. Real individuals - especially kids - can't be neatly classified into nice, mean, gentle, cruel, aggressive or passive. Alexander's loyal friends like him for who he is, even when he's not perfectly behaved.
In the first book, Alexander lives in near terror of the threat of bullying, even if the reality might not be as perilous as he thinks. In the second book, he'll deal with the consequences of his actions near the close of the first volume.
The second book, though, has unique challenges. First, of course, the characters are well-established. Reviewers have written at length about Alexander and why he does what he does; one boy recently presented a book report, cutting out pictures of kids that he though looked like the characters in the book. For the second book to work, Alexander and his friends need to start from familiar ground. Motivation has to make sense. My objective isn't to freeze Alexander in a single moment in time. Like all of us, he has his personality traits, but he'll learn from experience and evolve in his approach to the world around him. He can't be too brave, but he's not quite as fearful as he might have been at the beginning of the first book.
I didn't expect the second book to be quite the struggle it's become, but as it unfolds, it's an exciting process.
As those of you that have seen my updates on the book's Facebook page are aware, Alexander's strong personality has been a big help. If I veer off the path of believability, I can almost hear him whispering in my ear, "Come on, do you really think I would do that?"
Follow my exploits, literary and otherwise, on Twitter at @rickflix