The idea for this book arrived in a burst of inspiration. This seldom happens, by the way. For me, anyway. Usually, the creative process seems less creative and inspiration-based than tedious. As a general rule, I’ll go through hundreds, if not thousands of ideas, before I’m ready to start writing. I come up with a general theme, then try to come up with the best plot I can to explore that theme, then create characters who fit both the theme and the plot. For the most part, I simply sit at my desk and ask myself, “What if?. . .” and try out the various answers. As in, “What if . . . I want to use the theme love and mystery. Okay, what’s the mystery? Is someone missing? Who? Or is something missing? Or is the mystery about an event? Hmmm. . . .” I might lean back in my chair, tap my finger against my jaw and then come up with possible answers. After that, I ask, “Then what?” Little by little, I get closer and closer to the story. Usually, this process takes anywhere from one to two months.
Not so with At First Sight. The idea for this story came on a cloudy afternoon in late January, when I was bringing my son back from the track. I’d turned in the first draft of True Believer, and my editor had suggested that I rewrite the ending. (Essentially, she wanted a more linear ending; the original ending jumped around, since it covers a few years). I knew why she wanted a linear ending . . . but I couldn’t figure out a way to do it while still retaining the suspense and tension that I felt the novel needed. I went round and round a hundred times, trying and failing to work it out in my mind. Needless to say, due to the difficulties in writing True Believer, I was already massively behind on my deadline. That novel was due to be published in April, and was going to press in February. No matter what the solution was, I had to figure it out quick.
At the same time, I was supposed to have a second novel published in 2005. Technically, that second was due now (like I said, I was really far behind), and I hadn’t even begun to think of what the story might be.
All these thoughts were going through my head, the pressure was building. While stopped at a traffic light, I turned to my son and said, “You know what I should do? I should take the original ending of True Believer and expand that into a new novel. That’s the only way to make the ending linear, to give it the pages it deserves but still keep the tension that the story needs.”
“So do it,” my thirteen year old said with a shrug.
“I don’t know if I can,” I said, but as we continued our drive home, I found myself growing more and more excited with the idea. This was the answer not only to all my problems—including coming up with an idea for the next novel—but more importantly, it was something I’d never done before. I’d never written a prequel and sequel, and it’s important to me as a writer to continually come up with new ways to surprise the reader. As the number of novels I’ve written has increased, surprises are more and more difficult to pull off. It would be easy to get lazy, to write the same story over and over again as most authors do, but that’s not something I think my readers deserve.
As soon as I got home, I called my agent. The idea was so shocking—it required, after all, a different ending to True Believer and a whole new way of thinking about the story—that it took her a moment to process the idea. But as I explained my reasoning—I kept thinking I was missing something, but the more I talked, the more convinced I became—my agent first warmed to the idea, and then, as it set in, loved the idea. The same thing happened with my editor.
Taken together, I think True Believer and At First Sight make for a wonderful story. Of course, they can be read as individual novels or even in the opposite order, but to get the full impact, my own belief is that you should read both and in the order they were written.