Recently, I heard Terry McMillan read from Getting to Happy, this fall’s forthcoming sequel to Waiting to Exhale—and she mentioned that she had to re-read her watershed novel to research the new one. After all, we forget our characters’ voices, occupations and quirks. (Heck, sometimes we forget their names!)
Writing Blood Prophecy is a particular challenge in that regard because it is the fourth book in my African Immortals series that began with My Soul to Keep in 1997. The series follows the lives of mortals and immortals who have contact with Living Blood that can heal any ailment almost instantly, examining issues of life, loss and mortality.
What would it be like if we could live forever?
My Soul to Keep was followed by The Living Blood in 2001 and, finally, Blood Colony in 2008. (OK, so it was a long wait. I didn’t know the series was going to continue!)
Each novel is intended as a stand-alone novel for new readers, but as the author I have to continually check in to make sure I know who’s who and what’s what. Just to make it interesting this time around, I’ve added a pop star named Phoenix I introduced in a completely unrelated novel entitled Joplin’s Ghost.
My African Immortals novels always challenge me because of the fantasy aspect, historical research and character quirks related to their incredible longevity. I’m also asking questions about human nature.
This time around, I’m also realizing that I have a bit more to learn about my African Immortals themselves. The premise of My Soul to Keep was that 59 Ethiopian immortals live in an underground colony in Lalibela, Ethiopia. They were mostly off-stage during the first book, but I actually took my characters to the colony in The Living Blood.
Even so, I’m realizing that I have a lot to learn about them. I try never to retread old ground in a new book, which means I’m having to open up my world a bit.
And while much of the series has focused on a reader favorite named Dawit, he has dozens of Life Brothers I’m still learning about as I go. With advice from my husband and soulmate, Steven Barnes, I’m now writing an essay to fill in some of the foggy aspects of who these men are and what makes them tick. I’ll be writing a similar essay about my antagonist, who was introduced in Blood Prophecy.
What is their history? What are their desires? How can I humanize them? My essays will be very similar to the writing exercises I assign my MFA students and coaching clients. And why not?
The longer I write, the more I have to learn.
Blood Prophecy will be published in 2011.