I’m happy to welcome author Brenda Marie Smith. Today, Brenda shares an interesting post about sequels and her new release, If the Light Escapes.
After I’d written If Darkness Takes Us and was querying it to agents and publishers, it was time for me to start a new novel. I considered several story ideas, but the only one that captured me was a sequel to If Darkness.
“Don’t do it!” more experienced writers told me. “Never write a sequel to a book that hasn’t been sold yet. Publishers don’t like it.”
But I had this compelling world I’d created, and a cast of characters I had carefully crafted until, to me, they had lives of their own. I couldn’t just abandon them. They’d be hanging there in stasis waiting for me to return and breathe more life into them.
I know this isn’t actually the case, but that’s how it felt to me. They and their world exist in my head, and my mind refused to ignore them. Besides, I had more plans for them. Not to mention that it’s easier to start with characters you’ve already drawn than it is to start from scratch. It was almost as though I couldn’t stop myself from writing a sequel. So, I gave up trying to refrain and started writing.
If Darkness centers on a grandmother named Bea who is keeping her four grandkids when a solar pulse destroys modern life, then their parents don’t return home. She has to teach the kids how to survive without power, cars, phones, or running water. In that story, Bea’s grandson Keno stands out as a complex older teen who is suffering but heroic in the face of it all.
Keno was the character I wanted to focus the sequel on, but because he was so young, I was worried he wouldn’t be able to carry the weight as the protagonist of an adult novel. I needn’t have worried. Keno’s eighteen-year-old voice poured out of me so fast that I literally couldn’t type fast enough to keep up with him. I wrote a 120,000-word first draft in 27 days. Nothing like that had ever happened to me before, and I wouldn’t expect it to happen again.
Of course, 120K words is much too long for a novel in the apocalyptic genre, so I spent months and months refining the story and trimming it down. Meanwhile, I won the 2018 Southern Fried Karma Novel Contest for If Darkness Takes Us, and the prize was a publishing contract. My first ever, from SFK Press.
I had to set If the Light Escapes aside while I focused on publisher edits for the first book and then on marketing it. Then, we had a pandemic. Still, I managed to get a contract from SFK for If the Light in the summer of 2020, and have spent much of 2021 working with an incredibly good team of editors to make it shine. The ARCs are going into production now in early June, and I’m getting more excited by the day.
It’s important to me to write what compels me. I’m not sure I could write a decent novel any other way. In this particular case, it’s working out well that I ignored the advice I was given. But even if I’d never found a publisher for either book, I would still be satisfied for writing what was burning in my heart.
A standalone sequel to IF DARKNESS TAKES US
A solar electromagnetic pulse fried the U.S. grid fourteen months ago. Everything’s gone: power, cars, running water, communications, all governing control and help—gone. Now northern lights have started in Texas—3,000 miles farther south than where they belong. The universe won’t stop screwing with eighteen-year-old Keno Simms.
All that’s left for Keno, his family and neighbors is farming their Austin subdivision, trying to eke out a living on poor soil in the scorching heat. Keno’s still reeling from the the death of his pregnant sister. His beloved Nana is ill, Grandpa’s always brandishing weapons, and water is far too scarce. Desperate thieves are hemming them in, yet he can’t convince his uncle and other adults to take action against the threat.
Keno’s one solace is his love for Alma, who has her own secret sorrows. When he gets her pregnant, he vows to keep her alive no matter what. Yet armed marauders and nature itself collude against him at every turn, forcing him to make choices that rip at his conscience. If he can’t protect Alma and their unborn child, it will be the end of Keno’s world.
IF THE LIGHT ESCAPES is post-apocalyptic science fiction set in a near-future reality, a coming-of-age story told in the voice of a heroic teen who’s forced into manhood too soon.
FROM CHAPTER 3
A huge sliver of moon rises to the east, lighting up the park and Alma’s face with an orange-yellow glow. We pull ourselves up and sit wrapped together on top of the monkey bars like we rule the planet, gazing into our dark subdivision, on the southern edge of our emptied-out city, in the middle of the scary*** world.
“Keno? Alma?” Bobby Carlisle calls from the street. “Y’all come home. Now!”
The crickets and tree frogs have gone silent. I hear Bobby cock his rifle thirty yards away. …Alma and I gape at each other, and then we run.
When we reach Bobby in the street… I scan the trees behind the swings and monkey bars, half a football field away.
Before the sun zapped us, those trees would’ve seemed pretty. Tonight, they’re creepy. I’ve been too worked up about Tasha and Mom to even think about watching the tree line. As bad as things sometimes get around here, I’m still not totally used to life post-apocalypse and the never-ending vigilance.
“I don’t see—”
“Shh!” Bobby aims his rifle…
I shudder and run my eyes back and forth among the trees. With all the different-sized trunks in the deep shadows, people could be hiding in there and blending in.
“There!” Bobby hisses, pointing to the north edge of the trees. And I see—what?… Two pairs of feet… Then …metal flashes in the moonlight. Behind me, Alma gasps. I pull my Glock, flick off the safety, and aim.
Author Bio and Social Media Links
Brenda Marie Smith lived off the grid for many years in a farming collective where her sons were delivered by midwives. She’s been a community activist, managed student housing co-ops, produced concerts to raise money for causes, done massive quantities of bookkeeping, and raised a small herd of teenage boys.
Brenda is attracted to stories where everyday characters transcend their own limitations to find their inner heroism. She and her husband reside in a grid-connected, solar-powered home in South Austin, Texas. They have more grown kids and grandkids than they can count.
Her first novel, Something Radiates, is a paranormal romantic thriller; If Darkness Takes Us and its sequel, If the Light Escapes, are post-apocalyptic science fiction.
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