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“I actually could not put the book down. It is well written and kept my interest. I want more from this author.”
Reader review of Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead on Amazon.com 

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Thursday, November 17, 2016

Dallas - Part Deux

Here is some poetic justice for you.

As someone who has talked about movies nearly my whole life and who has blogged about them for a couple of decades, I have skewered more than my share of sequels—up to and including the questioning of whether there is any point to sequels at all. So what do I find myself doing these days? Yes, I am writing a sequel.

Let us be clear. There is nothing inherently bad about a sequel. After all a sequel is nothing more than a story not unlike any other story. It is only a sequel because it happens to take place in the same world and uses some or all of the same characters as a previously existing story. That should not necessarily disqualify it from being as good as any other story.

So why do sequels have such a bad reputation with critics and other film snobs? Mainly because sequels to very successful works too often give the impression of having been conceived only as a way to extract more money from people who enjoyed the original book or movie or whatever it was. Readers of my movie blog should be well familiar with the long established role of the sequel. It is to satisfy the fan’s desire to relive the enjoyment of the original (i.e. re-tell the same story) while simultaneously satisfying the fan’s desire to get something brand new (i.e. pretend to tell a different story). Here is another take on the purpose of sequels: to do the same thing over again but bigger and better. This mainly applies to movies, as studios tend to be rather risk averse. They greenlight sequels—and remakes and reboots and spinoffs and thinly disguised plagiarism—because they seem safer, having stories, characters and worlds that have already proven themselves with audiences.

So the fact that I am writing a sequel to Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead means that I am shamlessly cashing in, right? Well, hardly. There is no reason to believe that my third novel—even if it is a sequel—will shift my tax bracket any more than the first two did. So why I am writing it? Mainly because a surprising number of people told me that they really wanted to know what happened next to Dallas Green. I thought I might hear the same thing after The Three Towers of Afranor, but so far I have not had anywhere near the same interest in a follow-up. That kind of surprises me since the second book was really left more open-ended with possibilities for more stories.

To be clear, I really did conceive of Max & Carly (as I am wont to refer to it when rushed) as a one-off self-contained story that needed no further elaboration. I thought Dallas’s trajectory was left pretty clear. It had originally been that of someone who would pretty much follow the same life as his father and who would likely not stray too far from his home town. By the end of the book that trajectory had been changed by his trip to Mexico and his exposure to a wider world and more people and places. He was now going to pursue more education as well as his budding interests in photography and the Spanish language. That seemed a satisfying conclusion to me. Readers, however, still wanted to know what else would happen to him? Would he ever meet Marisol again? Would he ever find out what happened to Antonio? Would he have liver problems from all the drinking he did? Okay, no one actually asked that last question.

As it turned out, the more I got asked about this and the more I thought about it, the more curious I myself got about what life held for Dallas. As a consequence I am now ten chapters and about eighty pages into the first draft of another book about him. I had thought I had had enough of him once I finished the first book, but after a break I am finding him good company again—especially since he is now older and a bit—but only a bit—more mature. For one thing, he does not swear nearly so much. For another, he has gotten somewhat more modern in his thinking.

I will share a secret with you. Some readers guessed a few of the literary influences behind Max & Carly. (Huckleberry Finn was a big one.) But no one guessed one of the main ones. It was Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. Sure, the friendship of two young rednecks in rural 1970s America may not seem to have much in common with a tale of posh English lads at Oxford during the reign of George V but, hey, male bonding is male bonding. The tip-off should have been the way Dallas’s growing interest in Antonio’s Catholicism paralleled the role that religion played with the family of young Lord Sebastian Flyte. I bring this up because Dallas’s story now faces a problem similar to that of Waugh’s protagonist Charles Ryder. Once the flamoybant and magnetic Sebastian left the scene, the story lost something. Charles on his own was not necessarily the most interesting character.

Similarly, practically everybody who has read Max & Carly has told me that their favorite character is either Lonnie or Antonio. Unfortunately for them, neither of those two are in the frame of the sequel—at least not in the early going. Will the new characters in Dallas’s life be able to fill the gap adequately?

More importantly, will it really just be the same story again—only bigger and better?

When the time comes, you can decide.

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