Writing a Series: It Started as a Stand-Alone Book

A Book Becomes a Series

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A book about a boy going west started as a stand-alone project and is evolving into a series.

Sid Johnson was supposed to be a book about a boy going west on the Santa Fe Trail. Now I’m writing a series. Here’s why. 4 min. read, kid friendly.

I have just finished the final draft of the second book. Honestly, I thought I was writing a stand-alone book when I began Sid Johnson and the Phantom Slave Stealer. I wasn’t sure how it would unfold. And I didn’t expect to find myself writing a series.

I made a promise to the kids who piloted The Black Alabaster Box. When I met with them, they said they loved the book. But please, would I also write about a protagonist who gets all the way to California? While they the loved fantasy in The Black Alabaster Box, they were hungry to know more about life on the trails west. I was thrilled that they had been hooked on the history and wanted more. And there is so much new scholarship about the Great Westward Migration of the 1800s. I wanted to find a way to confront some of the problems the migration west created that remain with us today. I imagined I could do this in one book. I’m not sure I’d have started if I thought I would be writing a series. It sounds too daunting.

Writing a Series Was Lurking in My First Question: Why Did they Go West?

Why did people choose to go west? I started the book by wondering about the backstory of a family who set out for California in The Black Alabaster Box. The time frame had to be 1855-56 to match the earlier book. These are close to the last years that the trails were viable before trains began replacing them. It is also shortly before the Civil War. Later, in the spring of 1856 pro-slavery settlers will ransack Lawrence, Kansas, a town founded by anti-slavery settlers who wanted to make Kansas Territory a free state. With this in mind, I locate the Johnson family in Southern Illinois. Illinois was a free state bordered on two sides by slave states and within easy reach of a third.

Sid doesn’t know his parents are deeply involved with the Underground Railroad. Just as he finds out, their stop is compromised. They have family in California. So they decide to go west. Sid imagines they are leaving slavery behind. He has a lot to learn. So did I. And I found it so interesting that the first book grew beyond reasonable bounds. I knew then that I would probably end up writing a series.

True to my promise, there is no magic in Sid Johnson and the Phantom Slave Stealer. But I couldn’t help throwing in an Easter egg. On a steamship to Westport Kansas, Sid brushes up against magic, though he doesn’t recognize it.  As the story developed it became clear that Sid just couldn’t get to California in one book. He was going to require me to write a series if he was to get past Council Grove in Kansas Territory.

Sid Johnson and The Well-Intended Conspiracy

Sid Johnson and The Well-Intended Conspiracy will be available in January. Here is a preview:

Hidden among Sid Johnson’s most treasured possessions is a letter he promised to take to Santa Fe. Is the letter a family history as he’s been told or the key to a long-forgotten Spanish treasure? Why is its code name Esteban’s Cross? All Sid knows is that he trusts the man who gave it to him and there are others who are willing to kill for it. But the letter is pushed to the back of his mind as he learns firsthand that travelers on the trails west have more to fear from disease than from the American Indians they are displacing. As he grieves over the loss of his home and friends, Sid must deal with an unwelcoming group of boys in the wagon train. And as if things couldn’t be worse, he discovers the letter is missing just when he needs it to save his little sister from kidnappers. Sid learns what true friendship and courage mean as he navigates the challenges of life on the Santa Fe Trail.

The Series is Born

And guess what? I could only get Sid Johnson as far as Santa Fe, New Mexico Territory. So the book that started out as a stand-alone has become a series. Or maybe I can only write in trilogies?  I suppose it depends on how far he gets as he leaves Santa Fe and heads down across the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, the royal road to Mexico.



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