“I’m writing the sequel.” If someone had told me two years ago that this would be my response to the question, “What are you working on these days?” I would have first collapsed into fits of laughter, then hugged my knees to my chest and sighed. I would have sighed not only because The Oddfits hadn’t yet found a publisher, but also because being the hopelessly impractical dreamer I am, I had already begun outlining the subsequent books I hoped would comprise The Oddfits series.
When I started writing The Oddfits, I had intended the book to be a standalone one. Singapore was as rich a setting as I could hope for, and I wanted to do it full justice. But as I continued writing and revising, more and more glimpses of the More Known World began to insert themselves in between scenes and into chapters. The cracks widened. Sapphire-blue sand dunes and floating wooden islands and underground caves dotted with phosphorescent mushrooms came peeking through. One novel wasn’t enough. There was so much more to tackle. What was life in the More Known World like? How did the Quest operate? What would become of Murgatroyd and what had happened to Ann? And what more was there to the enigma of Yusuf and his extraordinary ice-cream making endeavors?
So I began plotting the arc of a larger story that would unfold across four or five books. (Currently, it looks like it’s going to be four.) I jotted down details about all sorts of things: the flora and fauna and physics of the More Known World; characters’ backstories and trajectories; how the Quest found its recruits and how it was started; and so on and so on. I wasn’t Tolkien – not by a long shot. But I mapped out enough that I knew I’d be a bit sad if I never got to write the remaining books. And because I knew that (1) the likelihood of getting someone to publish The Oddfits was low, and (2) that anyone crazy enough to publish The Oddfits would probably not be crazy enough to publish sequels, I decided to be preemptively sad, but keep thinking about the sequels anyway.
Then the miraculous happened. The acquisitions editor at AmazonCrossing declared she loved The Oddfits and wanted to publish it. And that she also wanted to publish the rest of the series. And so, many months ago, it was with immense elation that I pulled out the notebook in which I had been keeping my notes for the rest of the books, and set to work on composing the sequel: The More Known World.
(In case you can’t tell from the title, it’s set mostly in the More Known World.)
Working on the sequel has been really wonderful, but also very challenging. The difficulties I’m encountering are very different from the ones I faced when writing the first book.
Challenge #1: Expectations
With The Oddfits, it was hard to find the motivation to write because I wasn’t sure if it was ever going to get published. With The More Known World, I have the luxury of knowing that it will be published, but now feel a lot more pressure to perform than I did with the first book. I have expectations to meet since I now have a readership! This is exhilarating and, as most exhilarating things are, a little scary.
Challenge #2: Staying disciplined
Because I’m writing with a deadline in mind, I have to be more disciplined about making time to write every day. This has been much more effective, actually, than writing in fits and starts as I did with The Oddfits, where I would go for weeks without writing anything, then write frenetically for several days in a row. Writing every day is hardly an innovative strategy. A lot of well-known writers do it, including Haruki Murakami, who also swims and runs everyday (which I am not interested in doing). It’s really wonderful though to sit down in front of my notebook every morning (I write out my rough drafts by hand, then type them up and edit later) and surround myself once again with the world and the story that I am spinning. It’s a bit like knitting a big blanket and wrapping oneself in the finished part of the blanket for warmth while one continues to work on it. What I am acutely aware of now as the mother of a one-year-old is that the only reason writing a little almost every day is possible is because we have daycare three times a week and my spouse has a flexible work schedule so he can take care of our son for parts of some days as well. Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own has always been one of my favorite reads, and what she states in it rings all the more true for me now as I negotiate parenthood:
“a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction”
If my spouse and I couldn’t afford daycare, and if I didn’t have the time and space to ruminate and write, any sequels to The Oddfits would be an impossibility.
Challenge #3: Creating the same vividness of place
Many readers of The Oddfits, not to mention my mother-in-law, lamented that the novel ended just where they/she wanted desperately for it to continue – in the More Known World. The funny thing is (as I mention above) I actually started writing The Oddfits with a focus on bringing Singapore to life for readers. More specifically, I wanted to depict Singapore in a way that readers intimately familiar with Singapore would enjoy as well. I didn’t want to dwell on the “exoticness” of the setting or the culture – I wanted people to get a sense of life as it is experienced by its inhabitants on an everyday basis. I don’t know if I’d have the nerve to call myself Singaporean, but my grandparents moved there from Indonesia after WWII; my mother and her siblings grew up in Singapore; and I spent 8 years of my first 17 years of life there. But it is probably the country to which I have felt the strongest attachment.
With The Oddfits, Singapore as a setting came ready made. All the places, history, linguistic and cultural details – they were already in existence. All I had to do was draw on them. I want the same strong sense of place in The More Known World, which is mostly set in one Territory. And I want it achieve it in the same way – without over-focusing on the novelty of the setting and without explaining every detail in an artificial way. I want to describe this Territory as if it actually exists – as if I’m drawing on a rich landscape and history and society that is alive apart from the details I manage to capture in this book.
Challenge #4: Developing the characters
If you’ve read The Oddfits, you’ll probably agree that Murgatroyd can’t, and shouldn’t, remain the same. He needs to evolve. To grow as a person. One of the biggest challenges for me in planning the rest of the series was thinking about how he should develop. The same applies to Ann, whom I want to flesh out much more. It’s taken a lot of forehead furrowing and false starts, but I’m happy to say that I’m pleased with how this seems to be going.
Challenge #5: Finding the right narratorial voice
I started writing The Oddfits in my early twenties. As is inevitable with further experience (in writing, reading, and lived life), my writing style has changed. It was obvious to me upon rereading the manuscript, which parts I wrote earlier in my life and which parts I wrote later. The blithe, innocent style that I identify as characterizing many portions of The Oddfits is not how I write anymore. And if I were to try to recreate it, it would come across as affected in the extreme. I think this is a good thing. It’s a style that is perfect for The Oddfits because it’s a book about a very innocent person. But it’s a style that can’t handle what I want to do with the subsequent books.